For the first 26 minutes of Indiana football’s game against the No. 8 University of Cincinnati on Saturday, the defense held Cincinnati to 39 yards on its first six drives.
The Hoosiers had a 14-0 advantage, but they could have built a much more secure lead if not for offensive turnovers. Between their two first quarter touchdowns, they drove into the red zone twice.
The first drive ended in a turnover on downs when junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. couldn’t convert a fourth down quarterback sneak. The second ended in an interception in the end zone.
Indiana’s inability to extend the lead was enough to keep Cincinnati in the game.
“You’ve got to score touchdowns, and we did not,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “This one’s on us.”
Through the rest of the game, the Bearcats did what top-ten teams do and took advantage of each opportunity it was presented, resulting in a 38-24 victory over the Hoosiers.
The shift in momentum came with four minutes left in the first half. Graduate student lineman Ryder Anderson hit Cincinnati senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, forcing an incomplete pass. The referees reviewed the play and ruled Indiana senior linebacker Micah McFadden to be disqualified for a targeting hit on Ridder.
Cincinnati took advantage of McFadden’s ejection. Before the penalty, Cincinnati was facing a fourth down from its own 25-yard line. The fresh set of downs reinvigorated Cincinnati and started a 75-yard touchdown drive to get on the board.
“When you lose your captain, that’s tough,” Allen said. “Other guys have to step up though and that to me is how you’ve gotta respond. Sometimes life’s not fair.”
Cincinnati had only converted two first downs before McFadden’s ejection. Cincinnati punted on its first two drives, and senior defensive back Marcelino McCrary-Ball intercepted a pass from Ridder to halt the third. Indiana turned that into 7 points, driving 50 yards to take a lead.
On drive six, after two more punts, Anderson hit Ridder from behind. The ball was knocked free and picked up by Cincinnati before it popped loose and was recovered by McFadden.
Indiana consumed the six yards it needed to score again. With five minutes left in the half, Indiana had a 14-0 lead off the back of its defensive turnovers.
“We were dominating them to that point,” Allen said. “Dominating them. They had one first down up to that point almost to the end of the half.”
Cincinnati outscored Indiana 38-10 after McFadden’s ejection.
Cincinnati’s second half play highlighted the disparity between an unranked team and a ranked one. Indiana’s defense couldn’t make mistakes and needed to be perfect. When it wasn’t, Cincinnati drilled through.
Early in the fourth quarter, senior linebacker Thomas Allen was called for a roughing the passer penalty. Ridder turned that drive into the go-ahead touchdown.
Indiana was only able to add one more touchdown late in the third quarter. In the fourth, after adding a field goal, it drove into Cincinnati’s red zone again. This time, Indiana fumbled on the four-yard line, its third red zone turnover of the day.
“You can’t be in the red zone three times and get no points,” coach Allen said. “To me, that’s the game right there.”
In six red zone trips, Indiana only converted three times for 21 points. Penix finished the game 17-40 passing for 224 yards.
“It’s frustrating being in a good position and to be able to come away with points and you don’t,” graduate student wide receiver D.J. Matthews Jr. said.