For a short while on Saturday, it seemed as though Tulane might be able to stay with the #2 Bearcats in Yulman Stadium. The Green Wave (1-7) knew their slim bowl hopes would only stay alive if they could somehow top Cincy (8-0). Willie Fritz’s team, despite not having normal starting QB Michael Pratt, showed glimpses of fight but in the end Cincinnati was just too good.
After forcing a punt, the Bearcats got on the board first when Desmond Ridder led his offense 99 yards in 16 plays whilst chewing nearly eight minutes off the first quarter clock. Tight end Josh Whyle hauled in his second touchdown of the season to put Cincinnati up 7-0.
The Greenies punched right back, though. After another punt by the offense, linebacker Marvin Moody got Tulane its first points when he hit Ridder in the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing possession, freshman quarterback Kai Horton and the Wave offense marched 68 yards in just six plays. Running back Tyjae Spears galloped in for a long 47-yard touchdown and, to the surprise of many, Tulane led Cincy 9-7.
The Bearcats, however, did what they do so well and responded immediately. Ridder and company sliced through the Green defense with ease and Jerome Ford capped the quick drive with his 14th touchdown run of the season. Shortly after, Horton tossed the first of his two interceptions on the day and the momentum was starting to shift back the way of the visitors.
Tulane DB Macon Clark thwarted that momentum shift, at least briefly, when he returned the favor and picked off Ridder and returned the ball to midfield. The Green Wave offense worked their way down to the Cincinnati 24 and kicker Merek Glover nailed his 41-yard field goal as time expired on the half. Tulane trailed by just two at the break in a game that was expected to be a blowout.
Luke Fickell must have given his Bearcats team quite the speech at halftime because a different Cincy team roared onto the field in the second half. The defense kept forcing Tulane punts and near the end of the third frame, Ridder connected with Whyle for his second touchdown of the game.
Horton threw his second pick to begin the fourth quarter and Spears would add another turnover when he coughed up the ball later. Cincinnati tacked on ten more unanswered points before the game came to an end and, in spite of actually trailing Tulane at one point, came out with a comfortable 31-12 victory.
The loss for Tulane guarantees that the streak of three consecutive bowl seasons will come to an end this fall. Willie Fritz’s team hung strong for a while against the #2 team in the country (a sight we’ve seen before this season) but with Pratt sidelined this outcome seemed all but inevitable.
The defense, however, finally tightened up a little compared to recent games. For only the second time all year, the Green Wave defense held their opposition to under 400 total offensive yards (the only other was FCS Morgan State). Ridder still threw for 227 yards but that isn’t his best performance of the season. There are no moral victories, of course, but at the very least Fritz ought to be pleased that his defense held one of the scariest offenses in the AAC somewhat in check.
The Bearcats, on the other hand, did not play their cleanest game but were able still secure the win due to their depth of talent. They’ll have to perform better down the stretch but having enough to get the job done even when it isn’t the best day is part of being a championship caliber team.
Up Next: Tulane will travel to the Bounce House next Saturday afternoon to take on UCF. Kickoff against the Knights is set for 3:00 PM CT.
Cincinnati will look to keep their undefeated season going at home against Tulsa next Saturday. The Golden Hurricane and the Bearcats will kick off at 3:30 PM ET.