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Cincinnati Defeats Indiana 45-24 for Hoosiers' First Loss of Season

Indiana football suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday at Cincinnati. The Bearcats defeated the Hoosiers 45-24 as quarterback Ben Bryant passed for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Next up for Indiana is a road trip to Lincoln, Neb.
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CINCINNATI, Ohio – Indiana’s road trip to Cincinnati took a turn for the worse late in the first half. And fast.

Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant floated a pass to Tyler Scott in stride for a 32-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left in the second quarter. On the first play of Indiana’s next drive, quarterback Connor Bazelak stepped up in the pocket, but he was hit from behind and fumbled the ball. Dominique Perry scooped the ball off the turf and broke free for a 14-yard touchdown return.

Two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half gave Cincinnati a 28-point lead going into halftime. Indiana coach Tom Allen said he wanted Indiana to take a few shots down the field to at least set up a field goal, but it resulted in a disastrous string of events.

This deficit proved too much to overcome despite a second-half surge from the Indiana offense. Cincinnati defeated Indiana 45-24 on Saturday afternoon at Nippert Stadium, giving the Hoosiers their first loss of the season. 

Indiana scored just six total points in the first quarter of its first three games, and the same early struggles continued with three first-quarter points on Saturday. Against Illinois and Western Kentucky, Indiana’s late-game magic was enough to erase early struggles, but a team like Cincinnati – a College Football Playoff team last season – won’t let that happen.

“It’s about consistent execution," Allen said. "That’s really, to me, what’s been our Achilles heel so far, and we leave too much to overcome in the first half for our team."

On Indiana’s second drive of the game, Bazelak looked deep across the field for D.J. Matthews on third down. His pass was a bit overthrown and fell directly into the hands of Bryon Threats for an interception. Indiana safety Devon Matthews came through with a crucial tackle on third down, but Cincinnati capitalized on the turnover with a 24-yard field goal from Ryan Coe.

The Bearcats went on to score touchdowns in four of its next five drives before halftime, carving up the Indiana defense. Cincinnati receiver Tyler Scott became the first player in program history to score three receiving touchdowns in a half, and he torched the Indiana secondary for a 75-yard touchdown.

Entering the season, it appeared Indiana’s secondary was going to be a strength, but Saturday’s performance raised concerns about the group. Tiawan Mullen was a first-team All-American cornerback in 2020, and Jaylin Williams and Devon Matthews were All-Big Ten players. Bryant Fitzgerald is in his sixth season with the Hoosiers, and Josh Sanguinetti and Noah Pierre came up with game-changing turnovers against Illinois. With past success, experience and depth, on paper, this looked like a group to rely on heading into the year.

“Those three big pass plays really were the difference for us," Allen said. "Very disappointed in that. Defense let us down in the first half." 

Bryant picked apart the Indiana secondary all game, completing 24-of-40 pass attempts for 354 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Scott hauled in 10 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns, followed by Tre Tucker’s five receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown.

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"They put some double moves on some of our best guys that they beat one on one," Allen said. "Which was disappointing, without question."

The Indiana offense tried to mount a comeback in the second half, starting with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Shaun Shivers early in the third quarter. Shivers turned the corner and found 47 yards of open field for his second touchdown of the day to make it a 14-point game with 14 minutes remaining. 

“I think this team has character, this team has fight and grit," Allen said. "I don’t think there’s any question about that, but you can’t get down by four scores in the first half."

Indiana's offense has shown flashes of being a dangerous unit, but it hasn't proven that ability on a consistent basis.

“I think we’re close," Bazelak said. "We just got to find ways to start drives well. I’ve said it a bunch, just getting in a rhythm."

Bazelak completed 31-of-66 pass attempts for 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide receiver Cam Camper led Indiana with 10 catches for 126 yards, marking his second 100-yard game in four games as a Hoosier.

Before Shivers’ 47-yard touchdown run, Indiana was unable to run the ball for most of the game. Through the Hoosiers first 32 rush attempts, Shivers and Josh Henderson generated only 46 yards. The Hoosiers lost starting right tackle Matthew Bedford to a torn ACL in Week 1 against Illinois, and starting center Zach Carpenter suffered a hand injury in pregame warmup before the Western Kentucky. Parker Hanna stepped in at right tackle and Caleb Murphy made his second career start at center on Saturday.

“It’s about trying to find creative ways to run the football and be able to take advantage of the strengths of our team," Allen said. "We have two really good backs I believe that can makes plays for us."

Indiana’s defense forced a three and out with just under 10 minutes left in the game, but Christian Harris was flagged for roughing the punter. Allen threw his call sheet to the ground. With a fresh set of downs, Cincinnati ran the clock down to dispel any thoughts of an Indiana comeback.

With this loss, Indiana moves to 3-1 on the season. Next up is a trip to Lincoln, Neb. to take on a Cornhuskers team now led by interim head coach Mickey Joseph. Nebraska fired Scott Frost following a home loss to Georgia Southern and a 1-2 start to the season. That game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET. 

“It’s a long season, every single game is going to be a dogfight," Bazelak said. "It’s going to be tough, just got to put this one behind us, move on. We’ve got another tough road game this week."

  • LIVE BLOG: Indiana football brings a 3-0 record to Cincinnati for a matchup with the Bearcats at 3:30 p.m. ET. Here's our live blog, where you can catch all the action in real time live from the press box at Nippert Stadium. CLICK HERE
  • GAME DAY PREDICTION: Indiana (3-0) travels to Cincinnati (2-1) for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Nipper Stadium. The first road game of the year represents a chance for Indiana to avenge last year's loss to Cincinnati. Here's my prediction. CLICK HERE
  • MEET THE BEARCATS: Indiana football carries a 3-0 record into a difficult road contest against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Coach Luke Fickell and Cincinnati defeated Indiana 38-24 last season en route to the College Football Playoff. CLICK HERE