BLOOMINGTON, IN – The Cincinnati Bearcats (3-0) may not be a Big Ten team, but Saturday’s game in Bloomington had all the makings of a conference test for the Indiana Hoosiers (1-2, 0-1 B1G).
In front of an electric atmosphere at Memorial Stadium, it was the visiting Bearcats that came out on top, 38-24, through their opportunistic defense, physical running game, and timely quarterback play.
There was a clear “feeling out” process from both teams, with the two opponents exchanging punts on their first two drives each. Then, the first big play of the game happened.
Indiana’s defense stymied the Bearcats’ playmakers for the majority of the half. There was a clear increase in the speed, physicality, and degree of difficulty faced by Cincinnati after their first two opponents this season were Miami (OH) and Murray St. (FCS).
A bit of transfer-to-transfer improvisation took place on IU’s next drive. Stephen Carr took a hand off, and as multiple defenders corraled him, Carr flipped the ball to D.J. Matthews. Matthews scampered around the left end for 14 yards to put IU at the UC 30. Four plays later, Indiana scored its first touchdown of the game on a pass from QB Michael Penix Jr. to Peyton Hendershot.
Points off turnovers were a massive part of Indiana’s first half. Both of IU’s scores came after takeaways, boosting IU to a 14-0 lead. The second forced turnover came on a Ryder Anderson sack and strip of Cincinnati star QB Desmond Ridder. Bearcats OL John Williams picked up the ball and tried advancing it, only for All-American LB Micah McFadden to punch the ball out of his grasp and recover inside the UC 10. Penix hit Carr for a TD in the flat two plays later.
A big moment in this game came with 3:59 left in the first half. McFadden hit Ridder up high, and while no infraction was called live, the officials went to review the play for targeting. The officials deemed targeting occurred on the play, and McFadden was ejected from the contest.
The Bearcats took advantage of his absence. Ridder methodically drove the ball down the field, and RB Jerome Ford powered the ball into the end zone from six yards out, and the Bearcats were on the board. Ford was a menace from the second quarter on for Cincinnati, as the Alabama transfer rumbled to 66 yards on 20 carries, scoring twice.
Penix threw multiple brutal interceptions during the afternoon. After a poor throw in the end zone on the drive before McFadden’s targeting that was picked by Brian Cook, Penix threw an awkward pass against the grain before halftime that was snagged by safety Arquon Bush. Cincinnati tacked on a field goal before the break.
After halftime, Indiana tried to ignite its offense through Matthews. After UC took a 20-14 lead, Matthews burned Bush for a 44 yard gain for Indiana’s first 1st down of the second half, then two plays later, he strolled in from 14 yards out on an end around to put IU back in front. The lead was short-lived.
On the ensuing kickoff, all-conference returner Tre Tucker noticed a huge alley and flew down the field for a 99-yard touchdown. It was Tucker’s second career return TD, after taking one to the house at USF last season. Kicker Cole Smith missed the PAT, preventing UC from going up three points.
After Charlie Campbell gave Indiana the lead before the conclusion of the third quarter with a 49-yard field goal, Ridder drove down the field and lofted a beautiful touchdown pass down the right sideline to Alec Pierce. Tiawan Mullen was on tight coverage, but the perfect pass beat him.
Indiana had major issues finishing drives that took them inside the Cincinnati 10 yard line. Not only did Penix throw an interception to Cook in the first half, but earlier in the game, the Hoosiers failed to get points after Penix was denied on a 4th-and-inches QB sneak. IU’s worst red zone misstep came after sophomore RB Tim Baldwin fumbled the football at the UC 4-yard line. LB Darrian Beavers knocked it out and recovered the pigskin.
After the defense forced a Cincinnati punt, Penix’s final interception ended Indiana’s chances of emerging victorious. As he rolled towards the sideline, he threw across his body, resulting in a giveaway to UC LB Deshawn Pace. Pace finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles and that INT.
Ridder cemented Cincinnati’s win with a seven-yard run and a two-point conversion to Leonard Taylor. The defeat was Indiana’s first at home since losing to Michigan in November 2019, the last FBS game attended by fans at Memorial Stadium.
Indiana Player of the Game
From an Hoosier perspective, D.J. Matthews was the clear standout for the home team. His 148 yards from scrimmage led all players in the contest.
Indiana’s second true road game of the season beckons, as the Hoosiers travel to face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. WKU (1-1) is coming off a loss to Army on September 11 and a bye week on September 18. QB Bailey Zappe vs. IU’s secondary will be a key matchup to watch next Saturday. The game will air at 8 PM ET on CBSSN.