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Bearcats Fall Flat, Lose 20-9

Well that was disheartening.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Gross. Putrid. Disgusting. Stop me when I’ve hit an adjective that you think properly describes the Cincinnati Bearcats 20-9 loss to the UConn Huskies.

In a season in which every game has seemingly been another step down on a ladder into the abyss, this game shows that UC may have just found the bottom.

In the loss the Bearcats failed to score a touchdown for the first time since a 10-3 setback against Rutgers in 2012, which was also the last time they failed to score more than 10 points. They also managed a grand total of two rushing yards on 22 carries.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom at first. Hayden Moore returned as the starting quarterback and looked solid on the Bearcats’ first drive. He completed 5-of-6 passes but just missed connecting with Nate Cole on a third-down play, which led to a UC punt.

Moore and company continued to move the ball down the field well later in the first quarter, and got the ball inside the UConn 10-yard line early in the second, helped by a nasty catch from Cole.

During that drive, on first-and-goal from the nine, Cole appeared to make a touchdown reception and a great one at that, but after review, the would-be touchdown was reversed and UC was forced to settle for a field goal, something that would happen twice more before the end of the first half.

The most frustrating of those drives occurred after Alex Thomas picked off a pass from Bryant Shirreffs and gave the UC offense the ball at the UConn 16-yard line. Despite excellent field position, shoddy play calling cursed the Bearcats to three points rather than seven following a four-play, minus-10-yard drive.

UConn finally got something going offensively, driving 60 yards to the UC 28-yard line with just over a minute to play. However, a Linden Stephens interception stopped the drive and gave UC the ball back.

At that point, leading 9-0, UC decided to be aggressive and throw the ball. That strategy backfired, unfortunately, as Moore was intercepted.

Even then, it still appeared that the Bearcats would maintain their 9-0 lead at the intermission, but a breakdown in the secondary allowed Shirreffs to connect with Tyraiq Beals for a 59-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the Huskies’ ensuing drive. If you’re looking for a turning point, that might have been it.

Coming out of the locker room, UC still had a lead and some adjustments at halftime would help it figure out how to turn drives into touchdowns rather than field goals or punts.

The problem was, no adjustments came, at least on the UC sideline. After punting on their first drive of the second half, the Bearcats were unable to put up any sort of resistance up against the Huskies, who drove 88 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown and took a 14-9 lead. They would add a field goal later in the third quarter (one that banged against the uprights and still went in) and then another one in the final minutes of the fourth quarter which essentially put the final nail in the coffin.

In the interim, the UC offense failed to get much of anything going, punting or turning the ball over on downs on every single possession of the second half, while committing a number of costly penalties on both sides of the ball.

When the dust settled, Moore had finished with a season-high 315 yards on 29-of-56 passing, as the Bearcats were forced to throw almost exclusively in the last 30 minutes. Devin Gray (nine receptions, 98 yards), Cole (five receptions, 76 yards) and Kahlil Lewis (six receptions, 57 yards) were the top targets, while Tion Green and Mike Boone were both beat into submission in the run game, accumulating a total of 22 yards on 12 carries combined.

On the other side, Shirreffs was picked off twice, but he had two touchdown passes and 224 yards on 18-of-33 passing and also managed to escape the pocket and rush for 52 yards and a number of critical first downs. Arkeel Newsome rushed for 116 yards, including a 67-yard scamper and Noel Thomas was a pain all day, catching nine balls for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Following the loss, which ended a five-game winning streak against UConn and was just the third in 13 all-time meetings against the Huskies, the Bearcats are now 3-3 overall and 0-3 in American Athletic Conference play. As they enter the bye week, head coach Tommy Tuberville’s job status will be under intense scrutiny because there simply isn’t anything to feel optimistic about right now.