NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Desmond Ridder twice connected with tight end Josh Whyle for touchdowns, and No. 2 Cincinnati remained unbeaten with a 31-12 victory Saturday over a struggling but feisty Tulane squad that kept the game competitive deep into the second half.
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 points at halftime.
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.
Tulane (1-6, 0-4), which was playing without starting quarterback Michael Pratt because of his concussion during last week’s loss at SMU, lost its sixth straight but did have a few standout performances.
Running back Tyjae Spears, coming back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2020 season, rushed for 106 yards on 19 carries, highlighted by his 47-yard touchdown in the first half.
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.
The Green Wave regularly employed direct snaps to running backs in hopes of easing the burden on Horton and also throwing off the Bearcats. While that didn’t produce a victory, it kept Cincinnati from putting the game out of reach until the fourth quarter.
After Cincinnati scored first on Ridder’s 16-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Whyle, Tulane surprisingly surged into the lead in the second quarter with a series of successes that began with linebacker Marvin Moody wrapping up Ridder in the back of the end zone for a safety.
On the ensuing possession, Spears’ long TD run made it 9-7.
The Bearcats responded by driving 80 yards for a score in five plays, 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, returning it to midfield.
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.
Cincinnati: While the Bearcats have won their first eight games for a second straight season and the fourth time in program history, they are now coming off a second-straight game in which they were favored by at least three touchdowns, but won by less. Last week, Cincinnati had to hold on at Navy for a 27-20 win. The Bearcats were favored to beat Tulane by 24 points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. They led by just nine before scoring 10 points in the final 6:16 after a Tulane fumble and failed fourth down in its own territory on successive possessions.
Tulane: Heading into the season, Tulane was expected to contend for a fourth straight bowl bid. In spurts, this performance showed why they made their share of plays against a highly-ranked opponent. But it also showed why Tulane has underachieved. They had costly cross-ups, including a botched handoff that led to a Cincinnati fumble recovery at the Tulane 10 in the fourth quarter, setting up a field goal. The Wave turned the ball over three times and was penalized nine times for 67 yards.
With a second-straight underwhelming victory over a heavy underdog, Cincinnati left itself vulnerable to slipping a spot or two in the AP Top 25 Poll.
Cincinnati: Hosts Tulsa next Saturday.
Tulane: Visits UCF next Saturday.