No. 7 Cincinnati starts slow, then routs Murray State 42-7

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Cincinnati Murray State Football

Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce (12) reacts after being tackled by Murray State cornerback Quinaz Turner (4) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Jerome Ford rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns, Desmond Ridder passed for 243 yards and two TDs, and No. 7 Cincinnati beat Murray State 42-7 on Saturday.

The Bearcats were heavy favorites coming in, but the Racers outgained them 190-83 in the first half and led 7-0 in the second quarter.

“The only way to grow up is to have some adversity,” said Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell. “We kind of saw what we’re made of. We found out a lot about each other in the second half.”

The score was tied at halftime before the Bearcats (2-0) scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions in the second half.

Fickell was concerned about his team’s focus this week with an invitation to join the Big 12 and trips to Indiana and No. 8 Notre Dame looming.

“I don’t want to put my head in the sand,” Fickell said. “It is hard to deal with 18- and 22-year-olds and their ability to stay locked-in and focus when we’re going to get everyone’s best shot.”

Murray State’s game plan to control the clock and keep the Bearcats’ high-powered offense on the sidelines worked well in the first half. Murray State (1-1) held the ball for all but 1:30 of a scoreless first quarter, outgaining the Bearcats 128-7.

“They came out and monotonously were moving the ball,” Fickell said. “It frustrated us as much as anything. I give them an incredible amount of credit for their scheme.”

Racers QB Preston Rice completed his first five passes but was intercepted in the end zone by Ja’Von Hicks on his sixth attempt. Rice scored on a sneak early in the second quarter to put the Racers ahead 7-0.

“We played really good in the first half,” Racers head coach Dean Hood said. “We really should have been ahead six or at least three points. We left points out there. When you play a top-10 team, it’s really going to get ugly, and that’s what happened.”

Rice threw two more interceptions in the opening half. The second, by Ahmad Gardner, led to a 2-yard TD catch by Josh Whyle on fourth-and-goal to tie the score.

Ridder’s impassioned halftime speech got the Bearcats’ attention.

“It fired all of us up,” Ford said. “He said, ‘We get the ball right now. Let’s go right down and score.’”

The Bearcats received the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 75 yards on 10 plays, capped by Ford’s 13-yard TD run to give them a 14-7 lead.

Ford added an 8-yard scoring run later in the third quarter, and Ridder’s 23-yard TD pass to Tyler Scott put the game away in the fourth. Scott had four catches for 74 yards.

It was the first meeting between the schools. Murray State which is picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference for the first time since 1996, has faced three top-10 opponents since 2012.

THE TAKEAWAY

Murray State: The Racers had won six of eight overall dating to last season, but Rice needs to get the passing game going and cut down on the turnovers. The Racers had 307 yards rushing in their season-opening shutout of Mississippi Valley.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats had forced a turnover in 20 straight games before that streak was snapped in the season-opener against Miami (Ohio). They had five takeaways against Murray State, including two fumble recoveries and three interceptions. “We talked about getting that type of swag back,” said senior safety Brian Cook.

HOME SWEET HOME

Cincinnati extended its home winning streak at Nippert Stadium to 22. With Ohio State’s loss to Oregon on Saturday, the Bearcats now own the third-longest home winning streak in the nation behind Clemson and Notre Dame. The Bearcats haven’t lost at home since Nov. 11, 2017, a 35-24 setback to Temple.

BIG WEEK

Cincinnati accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference on Friday. The Bearcats, along with Houston, Central Florida and BYU, will join the conference no later than 2024. The Big 12 is adding teams following the departures of Texas and Oklahoma. “It’s such a big opportunity for not just our entire university and athletic department, but also our city and community,” Fickell said.

UP NEXT

Murray State is at Bowling Green.

Cincinnati is at Indiana.

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