NEW ORLEANS – Two underwhelming victories in a row has Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell answering questions about whether the still unbeaten, second-ranked Bearcats are living up to their billing.
Ridder connected twice with tight end Josh Whyle for touchdowns, and No. 2 Cincinnati pulled away late for a 31-12 victory Saturday over a struggling but feisty Tulane squad that didn’t trail by more than nine points until the latter half of the fourth quarter.
“We know we’ve got to do a better job,” Fickell said. “We know what brings the energy to our program. We’ve got to find better ways to get that going earlier in games.”
Jerome Ford rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown – his 14th this season – for Cincinnati (8-0, 4-0 American Athletic Conference), which briefly trailed in the second quarter and led by just two at halftime before outscoring Tulane 17-0 the rest of the way.
“We’re 8-0; that’s all we care about,” Ridder said. “No team’s just going to lay over for us, no matter if we’re No. 2 or No. 18. It doesn’t matter, every team is going to give us their best.”
Ridder passed for 227 yards and three touchdowns to go with his 47 yards rushing, but also was sacked in the end zone for a safety and intercepted. Whyle caught four passes for 79 yards.
“We don’t try to pay attention to the rankings,” Whyle said. “Yeah, it was ugly. We could have done better. But a win is a win and we’re going to celebrate.”
But if Bearcats want one of just four College Football Playoff spots, they’ll have to pay attention to rankings – and the first CFP rankings of this season are due out Tuesday night.
Tulane (1-7, 0-4), which was playing without starting quarterback Michael Pratt because of his concussion last week at SMU, lost its sixth straight, but did have some standout performances.
Running back Tyjae Spears rushed for 106 yards on 19 carries, highlighted by his 47-yard touchdown.
“Spears is a good back; he’s tough and has good speed,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said.
“I thought we took a step forward, particularly on the defensive side of the ball,” Fritz added. “There are some good things to take away from this.”
Third-string QB Kai Horton, a freshman, started for Tulane because backup Justin Ibieta also was hurt. He completed seven of 16 passes for 79 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked four times.
Cincinnati cornerback Coby Bryant‘s third interception of the season on Horton’s deep pass ended Tulane’s last scoring threat early in the fourth quarter, when the Bearcats’ still led by just nine.
After Cincinnati scored first on Whyle’s 16-yard catch, Tulane surprisingly surged into the lead with a series of successes that began with linebacker Marvin Moody wrapping up Ridder in the end zone for a safety in the second quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Spears’ long scoring run made it 9-7.
The Bearcats responded with an 80-yard, five-play scoring drive, highlighted by Whyle’s 28-yard catch, Ridder’s 37-yard scramble and Ford’s 3-yard TD run in which he pushed through a pack of defenders.
Cincinnati looked primed to pull away when Evan Prater intercepted Horton’s screen pass in Tulane territory, but Macon Clark intercepted Ridder several plays later.
Soon after, Horton fumbled as he was sacked by Malik Vann, but the loose ball bounced up to 6-foot-4, 305-pound offensive lineman Rashad Green, who bowled his way forward for a 15-yard gain.
That set up Merek Glover’s 41-yard field goal to make it 14-12 at halftime.
“They came out and executed well, kind of put us on our heels,” Whyle said. “We just had to go out in the second half and execute the way we know how.”
Cincinnati: This marked the Bearcats’ second-straight game in which they were favored by at three or more touchdowns but won by less. Last week, Cincinnati held on at Navy, 27-20. The Bearcats were favored to beat Tulane by 24, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. They led by just nine before scoring 10 points in the final 6:16 after Tulane’s lost fumble and failed fourth down in its own territory.
Tulane: Heading into the season, Tulane was expected to contend for a fourth straight bowl bid. In spurts, this performance showed why as they made their share of plays against a highly-ranked opponent. It also showed why Tulane has underachieved. Costly cross-ups included a botched handoff that led to a Cincinnati fumble recovery at the Tulane 10, leading to a Cincinnati field goal. The Wave turned the ball over three times and was penalized nine times for 67 yards.
With a second-straight underwhelming victory over a heavy underdog, Cincinnati could slip slightly in the AP Top 25 Poll.
Cincinnati: Hosts Tulsa next Saturday.
Tulane: Visits UCF next Saturday.