PHILADELPHIA – The No. 20 Cincinnati Bearcats went from bad to good to very bad on the way to their first loss of the season Saturday.
The Bearcats (6-1, 2-1 AAC) rallied back from an early 10-0 deficit to take a 17-10 third-quarter lead, then imploded in the fourth quarter and overtime in a 24-17 loss to the Temple Owls (5-3, 4-0).
The Bearcats, coming off a 4-8 season, were off to their best start since 2009.
“You can’t get overwhelmed with being 6-0 and forget about the things that got you there,” UC coach Luke Fickell said. “This is an opportunity for us to quit worrying about the undefeated, the rankings and really kind of go back to work.”
Both the defense and the offense played a hand in the UC meltdown.
The UC defense let Temple drive 75 yards in seven plays in the last 2 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 17.
“They just took shots. They made some plays down the field and you have to give them some credit,” Fickell said.
In overtime, Temple’s Isaiah Wright got wide open in UC’s man coverage and caught a 25-yard TD pass on third-and-10. That forced the Bearcats to match it, but an offense that hadn’t scored since midway in the third quarter wasn’t up to the task.
After running back Michael Warren II plowed 11 yards to the Temple 14, the Bearcats offense went backward. An early snap behind quarterback Desmond Ridder left the Bearcats with second-and-21, and a personal foul pushed them even further back.
Ridder was intercepted on third-and-36 by Shaun Bradley to end the game.
Normally a strong dual-threat option, redshirt freshman Ridder struggled with Temple's pressure - he was sacked three times - and had his worst game of the year. He ran for only 9 yards with a fumble and completed just 14 for 33 for 111 yards with one interception.
"If you can’t protect the quarterback, it’s going to be a long day,” Fickell said.
It didn't help that placekicker Cole Smith missed three of four field goal tries. Smith made one from 44 yards but missed from 37, 49 and 39.
One of Smith’s misses, though, was a bit peculiar. With 1:46 remaining in the first half, Temple called timeout to stop the clock. There was also a television timeout.
The Bearcats snapped the ball after the timeout and Smith’s kick split the uprights, but the officials ruled the ball had not been marked for play out of the television timeout. Moments later, Smith missed wide right.
“There is no explanation for it,” Fickell said.
Two early UC turnovers gave Temple short fields and set up a 10-0 lead. A Ridder fumble led to a field goal and James Wiggins' fumble on the kickoff return led to a Randle Jones 16-yard TD catch.
But Warren II ran for a 24-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and true freshman Charles McClelland's 42-yard dash with 6:09 left in the third quarter gave the Bearcats their first lead, 17-10.
The Bearcats' defense dominated for almost three quarters before Temple's final drive, intercepting Owls quarterback Anthony Russo three times. But the rush never laid a hand on Russo and that proved to be their undoing when Russo threw two late TD passes.
“You could sense and feel a little bit of that going down the stretch there,” Fickell said. “Defensively, you play so well for so long and something has to give down the stretch.”
Russo was 20 for 41 for 237 yards passing and three TDs.
Warren II rushed for 132 yards on 25 carries and McClelland ran for 70.
Cincinnati at SMU on Saturday, Temple at UCF on Thursday, Nov. 1.