CINCINNATI – As if Miami didn’t face enough of a challenge taking on No. 8 and Big 12-bound Cincinnati on the Bearcats’ home artificial turf at Nippert Stadium, the RedHawks went into the game without their starting quarterback.
Sophomore Brett Gabbert was listed as the starter on the depth chart, but third-year sophomore A.J. Mayer was in the backfield behind center for his second career start when Miami lined up for its first offensive series.
By then, Cincinnati already led, 7-0, on the way to a 49-14 win in college football’s oldest rivalry west of the Alleghenies.
“They were very well-prepared,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said about Cincinnati. “They executed on both sides of the ball.”
The Bearcats’ 15th straight win in the series that dates back to 1888 allowed them to tie Miami with a 59-59-7 record. The loss was Miami’s worst to Cincinnati since falling, 52-14, in 2012.
Freshman running back Keyon Mozee, a transfer from Kansas State, paced the Miami offense with 80 yards on 15 carries. Mayer, who grew up across the Ohio River and often went to Cincinnati games with his grandparents, finished 9-for-28 for 109 yards.
“I wouldn’t say it was nerves or jitters,” Mayer said. “They played man the whole game. I was trying to throw away from the defense.”
Miami avoided a shutout on freshman running back Kenny Trace’s 19-yard run with 3:20 left in the game. Freshman cornerback John Saunders added a 32-yard return of an interception off a tipped pass with 2:30 left in the game.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati’s fifth-year senior quarterback, threw for four touchdowns and ran for one. Last year’s American Athletic Conference Player of the Year finished 20-of-25 for 295 yards.
The game was the seasonopener for both teams. Miami was playing for the first time since Nov. 28 and played just three games last season.
“It felt good,” said fourth-year junior safety Sterling Weatherford, who had an interception. “We were blessed to be able to play football again. A lot of guys waited a long time to play in an arena like this. It just goes you can’t take anything for granted.”
The RedHawks were penalized five yards for delay of game before the opening kickoff, and the game went downhill for them from there as Cincinnati gashed Miami’s defense for several big plays.
Cincinnati, which reportedly will apply next week to join the Big 12, needed exactly 45 seconds to speed to a 7-0 lead. Ridder hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Tyler Scott on the second play of the game for an 81-yard touchdown pass. The connection was the longest of Ridder’s career.
A 50-yard run by junior running back Jerome Ford on the Bearcats’ next possession helped set up Ridder’s 8-yard touchdown pass to junior running back and Franklin High Schoolproduct Ryan Montgomery and a 14-0 lead.
They padded the lead to 21-0 on Ridder’s 23-yard pass to junior tight end Josh Wylie with 2:45 left in the quarter.
Each of Cincinnati’s first three drives featured one play covering more than 20 yards. The fourth scoring drive included a 47-yard pass before Ford scored his second touchdown on a 21-yard run with 8:03 left in the half, while Cincinnati’s fifth touchdown came on Ridder’s 25-yard run.
Cincinnati ran three fewer plays than Miami in the first half while piling up 395 yards of total offense to the RedHawks’ 130.
“When you’re less talented and you don’t execute, you’re looking at 35-0 by halftime,” said Martin, who opened his eighth season with the RedHawks.
Gabbert, the 2019 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year, injured a knee in fall practice and returned before banging his thumb on a helmet. He was in uniform and available on the sidelines, but lack of practice time kept him there. Whether he would be able to play Saturday at Minnesota was unknown.
UC senior Cole Smith, a Middleotwn grad, went 7-for-7 on conversion kicks.