Ridder, Whyle, help No. 2 Cincinnati top Tulane, 31-12

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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.

MOMENTUM SWINGS

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.”

THE TAKEAWAY

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.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

With a second-straight underwhelming victory over a heavy underdog, Cincinnati could slip slightly in the AP Top 25 Poll.

UP NEXT

Cincinnati: Hosts Tulsa next Saturday.

Tulane: Visits UCF next Saturday.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.