CINCINNATI – Tulsa’s Steven Anderson fumbled as he was reaching for the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Jabari Taylor recovered for a touchback and No. 2 Cincinnati held off Tulsa 28-20 on Saturday.
Desmond Ridder threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns, and Alec Peirce had five catches for 113 yards and a touchdown to help the Bearcats (9-0, 5-0 American Athletic) extend the nation's second-longest home winning streak to 25 games.
“Well, that was a wild one,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. “It's about winning against a team that is a much better football team than their record shows.”
Shamari Brooks ran for 132 yards for Tulsa (3-6, 2-3), and Anthony Watkins added 105.
When Tulsa was stopped short on fourth down at the 4, it appeared the Bearcats would just run out the clock. But Ridder fumbled on a sneak, giving the Golden Hurricane life.
“The snap slid right through my hands,” Ridder said. “No excuses. Shout out to the defense for saving my butt there.”
Anderson gave it back on the fourth-and-goal play from the 1.
“It’s a tough, tough way to lose,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “We get the ball back, we’ve got to get it in the end zone.”
The Bearcats beat Tulsa 27-24 on a last-second field goal in the AAC championship game last season.
The game Saturday didn't feel like it would be that close when rushing TDs by Ridder and Jerome Ford put the Bearcats ahead 14-0.
The Bearcats had a rough series in the second quarter when Ridder was sacked twice and leading rusher Jerome Ford was helped off with an apparent left leg injury. He did not return.
Brooks' 8-yard TD run capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive by Tulsa late in the first half and cut the Bearcats' lead to 14-9, but the point-after attempt was missed.
Zack Long connected on a 50-yard field goal and Tulsa trailed 14-12 at halftime. It was the second straight week that the Bearcats led 14-12 at halftime.
Cincinnati outgained Tulsa 165-36 in the first quarter but was outgained 120-66 in the second.
Ridder and the Bearcats responded with touchdown passes to Pierce and Michael Young Jr. to go ahead 28-12.
“Coming out at half, we knew we needed to push the ball more and get over the top,” Ridder said.
But Tulsa wasn't finished.
Davis Brin threw a 21-yard TD pass to JuanCarlos Santana and the 2-point conversion to bring the Golden Hurricane to 28-20 with eight minutes left. But Tulsa couldn't punch it in at the end.
“We knew we had our backs against the wall,” Cincinnati linebacker Darrian Beavers said. “It was crunch time.”
Ford's injury left a big void in the Bearcats' offense. He finished with seven carries for 24 yards. Fickell had no update on Ford's condition but said he considered putting him back in the game. “We talked about it but the confidence wasn't there,” Fickell said.
When Fickell saw that his players weren't celebrating the win in the locker room afterwards, he talked to them about not taking winning for granted and ignoring the focus on style points as it relates to the College Football Playoff. “Don't lose sight about what this is all about,” he said. “Some people can strip the joy from you. I won't do that as a coach.”
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane relied on the ground game to keep the Bearcats' high-powered offense off the field, rushing for 297 yards. It was the fifth time this season that Tulsa has rushed for 200 or more yards. “That's what they did to us in the championship game, they ran downhill on us,” said Fickell.
Cincinnati: After relatively close wins the past two weeks against Navy and Tulane, the Bearcats needed an impressive performance to sway the playoff committee. But Saturday's performance isn't likely to move the needle. Montgomery said that shouldn't matter. "Whether you beat a team bad enough or whatever, it's finding ways to win,” he said.
Cincinnati is ranked No. 2 for the third consecutive week. But the Bearcats are more concerned with their No. 6 ranking in the first College Football Playoff rankings, which they felt was disrespectful.