UCF Knights hand No. 20/19 Cincinnati Bearcats 1st conference loss since 2019
ORLANDO, Fla. – Entering Saturday, the last regular-season loss in conference play for the University of Cincinnati football team came on Nov. 29, 2019. That's 17 straight American Athletic Conference regular-season wins.
Cincinnati had won 19 straight games in conference play including back-to-back wins in AAC title games.
Both of those streaks are over.
The No. 20/19-ranked Bearcats (Associated Press/coaches polls) allowed 258 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground and fell to Central Florida 25-21 in front of a sold-out crowd Saturday inside UCF's FBC Mortgage Stadium.
"I think they had a good game plan going into our game," Cincinnati graduate linebacker Wil Huber said. "But the reality is stopping the run comes down to physicality and violence at the point of attack. That's something we didn't have tonight. It was one of the points of emphasis. We've got to continue to grow each and every week. It was not something that we like to see, but we've got to fix it."
UCF (6-2, 3-1) outgained Cincinnati (6-2, 3-1) on the ground, 258-35. Running back Ryan Montgomery had 40 yards on three carries, while Charles McClelland had 36 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback Ben Bryant was sacked three times and finished with -41 yards on the ground. Curiously, running back Corey Kiner did not see the field against the Knights despite being healthy and available.
Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said the decision was just to "go with the hot hand."
"We'll look back at it and see if we don't need to get three guys (Chuck, Monty and Kiner) in there," he said.
After both teams stalled on their opening drives, the Knights knifed through the Cincinnati defense and set up a 31-yard field-goal try on fourth-and-7. UC linebacker Deshawn Pace blocked the kick but was offsides. UCF then moved up 5 yards and netted a 26-yard kick to take an early 3-0 lead.
The Knights then went up 10-0 after the Bearcats allowed a 26-yard gash by UCF running back RJ Harvey.
With graduate defensive lineman and team captain Jabari Taylor sidelined with an injury, Cincinnati surrendered 120 rushing yards in the opening quarter. UCF dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee had a 19-yard run during that stretch.
The Bearcats offense, led by Bryant, managed just 30 total yards through the first quarter of play.
"I think we just got to start faster," Bryant said. "That's a big thing every week, though. You've got to focus and start fast and just continue. And then you're getting first downs. That'll be a good thing for us."
Bryant finally found some rhythm in the second quarter. The senior hurler led a 10-play, 65-yard drive that included Bryant linking up with wide receiver Jadon Thompson for a 32-yard gain down the left sideline and Bryant throwing a 21-yard rope through the Knights defense to receiver Tre Tucker, who finished with a game-high 10 catches for 110 yards.
But the Bearcats stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Ryan Coe to make it 10-3 with 9:19 to play before halftime.
The game took a scary turn on the ensuing drive. Plumlee scrambled to his left for nine yards before Cincinnati cornerback Arquon Bush laid a big hit on him as he headed out of bounds. Plumlee, who appeared to knock helmets with Bush on the play, rose to his feet and then stumbled to the ground on his way back to the huddle. Plumlee was ushered off the field and never returned after suffering a concussion, UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. Sophomore backup Mikey Keene led the Knights the rest of the way.
Plumlee completed seven of his 11 passes for 71 yards and carried the ball seven times for 26 yards. Keene, in relief, finished 15-of-21 passing for 176 yards.
Bryant managed to lead the Bearcats back into the red zone before halftime, but again the offense stalled. Cincinnati settled for another 33-yard field goal by Coe to pull within 10-6 at the break.
The Bearcats converted just two of eight third-downs and managed just 12 rushing yards in the first half.
Penalties continued to plague Cincinnati. The defense had a chance to get off the field early in the third quarter, but defensive lineman Eric Phillips jumped offsides on fourth-and-1. Fortunately for the Bearcats, the Knights fumbled in the red zone and UC linebacker Deshawn Pace collected the loose ball at the 2-yard line.
But the offense again was unable to capitalize. Bryant was sacked in the end zone for a safety. and UCF extended its lead to 12-6 with 7:52 to play in the third.
Cincinnati's offensive struggles continued, but so did UCF's. Then Bryant finally ended the Bearcats' touchdown drought.
Bryant led a 10-play, 84-yard drive that ended with him finding Josh Whyle for a 14-yard score. The touchdown put Cincinnati ahead 13-12 with seven seconds left in the third (its first lead of the day). It also marked the 15th touchdown of Whyle's career, the most by a tight end in program history.
"Josh is such a great guy," Bryant said. "He's one of my really good friends. We golf a bunch all summer long. He works super hard. He's a great leader for us and I'm super happy for him. He's going to continue to do great things."
UCF then milked the clock. The Knights strung together their longest drive of the day – a 13-play, 77-yard clinic that took nearly six minutes off the clock. UCF gained 55 yards on the ground during the drive and capped it with a 3-yard score by running back Isaiah Bowser to go up 18-13 with 4:36 left. Their two-point conversation failed.
Bryant and the offense countered with a massive drive of its own. The Bearcats marched 75 yards in seven plays, including a 39-yard run by Montgomery to give Cincinnati the 19-18 advantage at the 3:04 mark. Then Bryant found Tyler Scott who caught a two-point conversion with one hand. It was Scott's first action since suffering an ankle injury in the first quarter against South Florida on Oct 8.
It took UCF all of 2:16 to retake the lead. The Knights drove 75 yards, and Harvey ran from 17 yards out for the game-winning score with 48 seconds left. Harvey finished with career highs in carries (18), yards (84) and touchdowns (two).
Cincinnati returns to Nippert Stadium on Nov. 5 to host Navy. The Midshipmen (3-5, 3-3) defeated Temple on Saturday.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Bearcats football score vs. UCF: Live UC updates