Desmond Ridder threw two touchdown passes and ran for score late in the fourth quarter as No. 7 Cincinnati capitalized on its big opportunity and beat No. 9 Notre Dame 24-13 Saturday in a game the Bearcats hope can be the centerpiece of College Football Playoff resume.
Cincinnati (4-0) wanted to use its first Top 10, regular-season matchup as a statement game, heading into its American Athletic Conference schedule. No team from outside the Power Five conferences has ever reached the playoff. Never even came close.
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To break that barrier Bearcats almost certainly needs to go undefeated and this trip to Notre Dame (4-1) stood as the toughest test on the schedule. Not to mention the biggest stage they’ll appear on this season.
The Bearcats were not quite dominant, but they were plenty good enough in their first trip to South Bend since 1900 to snap Notre Dame’s 26-game home winning streak.
When told how loud the crowd can be at Notre Stadium this week, Ridder quipped that it wouldn’t be for long.
The senior delivered, going 19 for 32 for 297 yards. He hooked up with Alec Pierce six times for 144 yards, and was at his best after Notre Dame cut the lead to 17-13 with 8:20 left in the fourth quarter.
Ridder went 3 for 3, with a bullet down the middle for 36 yards to Leonard Taylor, on the ensuing drive. He capped it off with a 6-yard TD run around left end that made it 24-13.
Cincinnati took advantage of three turnovers by Notre Dame in the first half to jump out to 17-0 lead. The miscues by the Irish were killers.
Jack Coan’s pass was intercepted in the red zone by Ahmad Gardner on ill-advised throw under pressure that ended Notre Dame first and best drive of the half.
The Irish tried freshman Tyler Buchner at quarterback for a coupe of series, hoping his mobility could spark the running game. But Buchner’s pass was picked off by DeShawn Pace while getting hit, and Pace set up Cincinnati in the red zone.
Ridder flipped a 1-yard pass to Taylor to make it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
Chris Tyree fumbled the ensuing kickoff back to Cincinnati and the Bearcats turned that into a 23-yard field goal by Cole Smith.
Ridder and the Bearcats put together their best late in the second quarter, going 80 yards for a touchdown. Ridder was 3 for 4 on the drive, each completion for more than 20 yards, including the 27-yard touchdown to Tre Tucker that beat Irish All-America safety Kyle Hamilton.
The Bearcats were up 17-0 with 40 seconds left in the first half and for the third time Cincinnati fans, decked in red in the upper reaches of the south end zone, were chanting “Let’s Go Bearcats!”
Cincinnati: The defense locked up Notre Dame for most of the game, getting a shut-down game from All-America cornerback Gardner and good pressure from Myjai Sanders and Darrian Beavers.
Notre Dame: Drew Pyne, who took over last week in the second half against Wisconsin when Jack Coan went out with an ankle injury, came off the bench in the third quarter again for the Irish — this time just to provide a spark.
Pyne was OK, showing some Ian Book-ish mobility and getting rid of the ball a little more quickly than Coan. The sophomore was 9 for 22 for 143 yards and his 32-yard touchdown pass to Braden Lenzy with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter cut the lead to 17-13. Jonathan Doerer missed the point after.
Cincinnati: Host Temple on Friday.
Notre Dame: At Virginia Tech on Saturday.