No. 23 Cincinnati Bearcats drop opener at No. 19 Arkansas Razorbacks

(Cincinnati Enquirer)
Published: Sep. 3, 2022 at 9:31 PM EDT
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Cincinnati Enquirer) - The University of Cincinnati football team’s 2022 season began the same way its last two seasons ended – with a loss to a Southeastern Conference opponent.

No. 23/22 (Associated Press/coaches polls) Cincinnati committed 10 costly penalties and allowed 223 yards rushing en route to a 31-24 loss Saturday at No. 19/22 Arkansas. It marked the first season-opening loss under sixth-year head coach Luke Fickell and just Cincinnati’s third defeat (22-3) in as many seasons (Alabama in 2021 and Georgia in 2020).

Bearcats quarterback Ben Bryant, in his first start for the Bearcats since Nov. 29, 2019 (34-24 loss at then-No. 18 Memphis), threw an interception on the Bearcats’ opening drive. The senior quarterback tossed a pass intended for wide receiver Tyler Scott who ran a quick out route. Arkansas cornerback Dwight McGlothern jumped the route, picked off Bryant’s pass and returned it 51 yards to the Cincinnati 29-yard line.

Bryant’s turnover led to a 15-yard touchdown run for Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson.

To make matters worse for the Bearcats, Cincinnati’s kicking woes from a season ago continued on its next possession. After Bryant couldn’t connect with wide receiver Will Pauling for a likely touchdown from seven yards out, Delaware transfer kicker Ryan Coe missed a 25-yard field goal.

Coe missed another attempt in the opening half from 48 yards out.

With Bryant struggling with his deep ball and thus struggling to move the chains, Cincinnati went scoreless on each of its seven first-half possessions.

Arkansas grabbed a 14-0 advantage when Jefferson found tight end Trey Knox on a five-yard score to close out the first half.

After yet another overthrown pass from Bryant to Scott, this time in the back of the end zone, the Bearcats finally got on the board on a five-yard run by LSU transfer and former Roger Bacon High School standout Corey Kiner at the start of the third.

Arkansas answered the sophomore running back’s touchdown with one of its own, as Jefferson linked up with Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood on a 19-yard strike to go up 21-7 at the 2:59 mark in the third quarter.

Bryant then seemingly settled down. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound La Grange, Illinois, native thew a dime to Scott for a 30-yard gain down the left sideline. Bryant then connected with Hawaii transfer Nick Mardner for a 35-yard score through the middle of the Razorbacks defense. Bryant’s first touchdown pass of the season made it 21-14 Arkansas with 6:50 to play in the third.

The Razorbacks fumbled on the ensuing drive, as Jefferson coughed it up on Arkansas’ own eight-yard line. Defensive lineman Eric Phillips recovered the loose ball.

Cincinnati was in position to tie the game at 21-21, but a false start penalty by tight end Leonard Taylor and a pair of delay-of-game calls on Bryant foiled Cincinnati’s plans for a touchdown. The Bearcats had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Coe that made it a 21-17 game with 4:44 left before the final frame.

Arkansas countered with its own field goal, a 32-yarder, to go back up seven at the end of the third.

The Bearcats committed several costly penalties. One negated a big play at the beginning of the fourth. Bryant threw a screen pass to Charles McClelland for a 24-yard gain that set up the Bearcats at the Arkansas one-yard line. But a holding penalty by offensive lineman Jeremy Cooper halted the drive, and after another delay-of-game call, Cincinnati was forced to punt.

After Arkansas stalled on its next drive, the Bearcats bit itself in the foot yet again. Bryant fumbled after being blasted on a blindside sack. Bryant’s turnover led to another Arkansas score, as Jefferson found Knox again to put the Razorbacks ahead 31-17 with lest than 10 minutes to play.

But the Bearcats weren’t finished yet. Bryant found Taylor for a 15-yard touchdown to pull Cincinnati within a seven with 5:49 remaining. Taylor’s score capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive by Bryant and the Cincinnati offense.

Jefferson then used his big frame to run through the Bearcats defense and run down the clock.

Notable injuries

Bearcats starting center Jake Renfro, a 2021 first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection, is out indefinitely after suffered a knee injury in practice during the week. Sophomore Gavin Gerhardt started in Renfro’s place. Cincinnati senior running back and punt returner Ryan Montgomery left the game and did not return.

This story is from our media partners at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

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