SOUTH BEND – Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder said this week that the Notre Dame Stadium crowd wouldn't be loud for long after the Bearcats invaded.
He was wrong – Cincinnati fans made plenty of noise.
The large Bearcat contingent was treated to arguably the biggest win in program history, a 24-13 defeat of No. 9 Notre Dame in front of an announced crowd of 77,622 that served as seventh-ranked Cincinnati's official entrance into the College Football Playoff race.
For Notre Dame (4-1), it was a bitterly disappointing day that saw the program's 26-game home winning streak – its longest since it won 28 between 1942 and 1950 – come to an end and its hopes for a third Playoff appearance in four years likely go up in smoke. The defeat was the team's third in the regular season since the start of 2018.
“All we needed to do was be efficient at the basics today and we weren't efficient at the basics today,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, who coached Cincinnati from 2006 to 2009. “We didn't coach very well today and we didn't play very well. That's the long and that's the short of it, and Cincinnati was the better team today.”
The game slipped away in a disastrous second-quarter flurry. The trouble began when change-of-pace quarterback Tyler Buchner, in the game to provide a running threat, threw weakly off his back foot and was intercepted by Cincinnati's Deshawn Pace, who returned the ball 27 yards to the Notre Dame 8. Three plays later, Ridder found Leonard Taylor with a 1-yard pass for a 7-0 lead.
The situation worsened for Notre Dame when Chris Tyree, who returned a kick for a touchdown against Wisconsin on Sept. 25, muffed the ensuing kick and the Bearcats (4-0) recovered, setting up a field goal.
The visitors finished off their onslaught with a five-play, 80-yard drive in just 1:08 before halftime that ended in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Ridder to Tre Tucker over the head of All-American safety Kyle Hamilton.
At the break, Cincinnati led 17-0 and the Irish had turned the ball over three times.
“At the end of the day, I think Notre Dame beat Notre Dame today,” Irish linebacker Drew White said. “We made too many mistakes and didn't execute well.”
At halftime, Kelly replaced starting quarterback Jack Coan, who had thrown a red-zone interception on Notre Dame's first possession, with Drew Pyne, a redshirt freshman.
Pyne led a pair of touchdown drives in the second half and went 9 for 22 for 143 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to Braden Lenzy with 8:20 left that drew Notre Dame within 17-13. Lenzy made a spectacular, nearly-one-handed catch on a jump ball for the score.
Kelly told Pyne during warmups prior to the second half that the underclassman would be playing in relief of Coan in the second half.
“My heart didn't drop, there was no nerves, there was no anything,” Pyne said of entering the game. “It was just the same calm, the same (mindset) I had in the first half.”
Kelly said after the game that it is too early to tell whether Pyne will be the starter going forward.
“It's all on the table,” Kelly said. “I'll be as transparent as I can about the quarterback situation; we're trying to figure it out, too. We know we can't continuously go into the game and say 'All right, who's up next?' We've gotta figure this thing out and build some continuity.”
Despite the heroics of Lenzy, Pyne and Isaiah Foskey – who strip-sacked Ridder to give Notre Dame a short field on its first touchdown drive – the Bearcats put the game away with a six-play, 75-yard drive late in the fourth quarter that ended with Ridder going around the left side for a 6-yard touchdown scramble.
When the final horn sounded, chants of “U-C!” rained down from the Bearcat fan section. In the celebration, Ridder joyously grabbed one of the oversized cheerleader flags emblazoned with the team's logo and raced through the end zone holding the pole aloft while the Irish glumly sang the alma mater on the opposite side of the field.
White, who recovered Foskey's forced fumble and ran it 28 yards to the Bearcat 40, said Notre Dame will let the loss soak in for 24 hours – as they do after a win – then move on to preparing for Saturday's road game against Virginia Tech.
“Guys are going to be down, we're going to be watching film, we're not going to feel good about it,” White said. “But coming in Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, we're going to be ready for Virginia Tech, because it's going to be a good game and they're going to try to beat us too.
“We can't let one game define the rest of our season. We need to continue to battle.”