Indiana had plenty of chances to pull off an upset over No. 8 Cincinnati on Saturday, but the Hoosiers were ultimately doomed by mistakes in a disheartening 38-24 home loss.
In the loss, Indiana turned the ball over four times, failed on a fourth-down deep in Cincinnati territory, allowed a 99-yard kick return touchdown and committed a few costly penalties. The Bearcats were more than happy to take advantage of those errors and emerged from Bloomington with a coveted victory over a Power Five opponent.
We’ll find out later in the year just how strong of a resume boost this will provide for Cincinnati, but it still goes in the books as a quality victory for a program with College Football Playoff aspirations. Last year, Cincinnati went undefeated in the regular season but finished all the way down at No. 8 in the final CFP rankings. The lack of a difficult schedule was the main culprit. Entering 2021, Cincinnati had this game and the trip to Notre Dame in two weeks circled on the schedule.
After Saturday’s win, it’s one down, one to go for the Bearcats. Cincy now has a bye week before the chance to take down mighty Notre Dame in two weeks.
Indiana controlled the game early, but melted down in 2nd half
The Hoosiers actually jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the game, but a few of those aforementioned mistakes completely changed the course of the game.
First of all, the lead should have been bigger. Indiana failed on a quarterback sneak on fourth down from the Cincinnati 10-yard line. Later, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix threw an interception in the end zone.
The game seemed to really shift with a penalty.
Late in the first half, with IU’s lead at 14-0, a targeting penalty on Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden on third down gave Cincinnati’s offense a first down. The Bearcats were able to cash in on that drive with a Jerome Ford touchdown, cutting the Hoosiers’ lead to 14-7 with 1:33 left in the first half.
On the ensuing possession, Penix threw another ugly interception to give the ball back to Cincinnati near midfield. That good field position allowed the Bearcats to tack on a field goal and cut the deficit to 14-10 at halftime.
The second half was much more high scoring.
The teams traded touchdown drives late in the third quarter, making it a 21-17 advantage for Indiana. On the ensuing kickoff, UC’s Tre Tucker went 99 yards to the house to put the Bearcats back in front, 23-21, with 3:41 left in the third.
Indiana would respond with a field goal to go back ahead, 24-23, with 41 seconds remaining in the third. The Hoosiers would never lead again.
Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder found tight end Alec Pierce for a 19-yard touchdown early in the fourth to give Cincinnati the lead for good.
Indiana’s next three drives went like this: fumble at the Cincinnati 2-yard line, another Penix interception and a turnover on downs. With those miscues, Cincinnati’s lead ballooned to 38-24 and the Bearcats were able to cruise to victory.
What does this mean for Cincinnati?
In the four-team playoff era, it's going to be a tall task for a Group of Five team to compete for a national title.
It's going to take an undefeated season that includes some marquee non-conference wins for a G5 team to even sniff the top four. Entering the season, Cincinnati thought it had two non-conference opponents that could bolster a resume with Indiana and Notre Dame.
So far, Indiana looks much worse than it did last year. Notre Dame does too.
Still, going into South Bend in two weeks is going to be a challenge and a road win over a Big Ten team has to count for something. There will be some tricky spots during conference play, too.
All Cincinnati can do is do its part and beat the teams on its schedule. If the Bearcats do that, they will at least be in the conversation at the end of the season.