CINCINNATI. OHIO — It was an ugly win in a series of ugly wins. Cincinnati held firm again in the final minutes of play, this time needing two sets of four stops from inside their own ten-yard line.
The score was 28-20, the down was 4, and the yardage to go 5. With his team’s back against the wall, LB Deshawn Pace made a seemingly game-winning tackle one-yard short of the line to game to give his team team a close-knit victory against Tulsa in the final minutes of play.
“It’s about winning,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said after the game. “We’re not going to try to live up to what someone else expects of us in the way we do things. We all would like some things a little bit better. It’s a lot of shifts and momentum and a lot of things that went on this week that our guys had to handle.”
Fickell’s team would need more than that first fourth down stop to come up with victory. Inside their own two and with the ball in Desmond Ridder’s hands, the Bearcats star quarterback mishandled a snap, fumbling the ball away to Tulsa for his team’s fifth turnover of the day.
This time with a first down from inside the five, the Golden Hurricane looked poised to send the game into overtime (barring the two-point conversion try). Shamari Brooks earned the first crack at the end-zone with a run up the gut. He dove toward the goal-line, but remained a yard or so short. Following up on second down, the senior took it out to the right. Again, he was short.
Tulsa’s last crack was highlighted by a final effort power run from Steven Anderson. Diving towards the plane but subsequently fumbling the ball into the end-zone, a controversial play appeared to give the Bearcats the ball back. Upon further review the runner was short, and Cincinnati squeaked out a scary victory in an AAC Championship Game rematch.
“Shoutout to my defense for definitely saving my butt right there,” Desmond Ridder said. “It just slipped out of my hands.”
Despite his late-game follies, Ridder produced a solid showing with a pair of touchdowns through the air and one on the ground. The senior quarterback went 15-for-23 on passing attempts with 274 yards at his helm, opening up the scoring off an option keeper to his right.
Jerome Ford followed up the first-quarter showing with a punch of his own up the gut to expand the advantage to 14-0. Ford, who stands at top three in the FBS for overall rushing TD’s, would later leave the game due to an undisclosed injury. He finished the day with seven carries for 24 yards and a single score.
The Golden Hurricane responded on their subsequent drives with a combo of a field goal and touchdown. Shamari Brooks capped off a drive with 2:44 in the half eight-yard TD run. The extra point was missed by Zach Long, but the Tulsa kicker later redeemed himself through a successful field goal try nearly two minutes of game time later.
Halftime: Cincinnati 14, Tulsa 12
Traversing into the second half up two points for the second week in a row, Desmond Ridder Tulsa’s battle cry on a 4-play, 72-yard drive that was capped off by an Alec Pierce TD. Pierce currently leads him team in receiving yards at 603.
The Bearcats offense continued to look flawless on their next drive, this time taking it 44 yards in three plays after finding Michael Young Jr. towards the back of the end-zone.
Those would be there last points of a game that saw a not-so flawless offensive performance in the fourth quarter.
Final: Cincinnati 28, Tulsa 20
If the committee was looking for a valid justification of Cincinnati’s public outcry over their No. 6 ranking, they didn’t get it. The Bearcats have failed to cover spread in three straight matchups — Navy, Tulane and Tulsa — and quite frankly aren’t racking up the ideal style points.
The good news comes in the form of No. 3 Michigan State’s 11-point defeat against the Purdue Boilermakers. “Sparty,” as their fans refer to it, entered Saturday as one of Cincinnati’s undefeated companions. But after losing at the hands of unranked Purdue, MSU’s loss gives way to a realistic possibility of Cincinnati moving up a spot in the CFP Rankings.
The main focus now shifts to whether or not Georgia can put the final nail in the coffin for Alabama’s CFP hopes in the SEC Championship Game. If the Dawgs win (and do it in a convincing manner) the Bearcats would be in prime position to jump the Crimson Tide, especially considering ‘Bama’s struggles against their competition appear to be more imminent in recent weeks. The Crimson Tide narrowly edged out LSU on Saturday by a final score of 20-14.
There’s also the triple O’s — Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Oregon — to worry about. In an idealistic world for the Bearcats playoff hopes, at least one of those three programs would have to drop a game at some point down the home stretch.
(Despite owning a 1 in the loss column, both the Buckeyes and Ducks are ranked ahead of the Bearcats.)
Oklahoma is likely set to encounter a slew of four-straight games against ranked opponents (Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and the Big 12 Championship Game) before the committee’s final selection on December 5th at noon.
The cross-state Buckeyes (Ohio State) will host Purdue next week in a game that, by many standards, qualifies as their toughest Big Ten matchup so far. As referenced earlier, the Boilermakers pulled off the upset of No. 3 ranked Michigan State today. Perhaps most peculiar of Purdue is their consistency in slaying highly regarded opponents — with their win today, the school possesses an FBS-leading 17 wins as an unranked team against top five foes. Factor in their beatdown of the Buckeyes just a few years ago in the 2018 college football season, and you’ve got yourself some must see T.V.
Cincinnati Key Stat Leaders
Passing: QB Desmond Ridder, 15-23, 274 yards and two touchdowns
Rushing: Desmond Ridder, 12 carries, 43 yards and one touchdown
Receiving: WR Alec Pierce, five receptions, 113 yards and one touchdown
Tulsa Key Stat Leaders
Passing: QB Davis Brin, 17-26, 149 yards and one touchdown
Rushing: RB Shamari Brooks, 25 carries, 132 yards and one touchdown
Receiving: WR Josh Johnson, seven receptions, 65 yards
Full Remaining Cincinnati Schedule:
@ USF Bulls, Friday, November 12
SMU Mustangs, Saturday, November 20
@ East Carolina Pirates, Saturday, November 27