CINCINNATI (AP) — Charles McClelland rushed for a career-high 179 yards and two touchdowns including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter as No. 24 Cincinnati held off South Florida 28-24 on Saturday.
McClelland's 35-yard touchdown run with 9:24 remaining put the Bearcats ahead to stay, helping them extend the nation's second-longest home winning streak to 30 games. Only Clemson’s 37-game streak is longer.
Cincinnati has won 18 consecutive games against American Athletic Conference opponents.
"I felt like I was seeing everything perfect," said McClelland, who had a career-high 21 carries. “I was staying on my end points and seeing my reads. The offensive line blocked their butts off. It was easy running for me.”
South Florida (1-5, 0-2) made things difficult for the Bearcats (5-1, 2-0), taking three leads, the last at 24-21 early in the fourth quarter on Gerry Bohannon's 16-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Weaver. The two had earlier combined on a 9-yard TD pass.
“They came in here with a really good game plan,” said Bearcats coach Luke Fickell. “We didn't play with the passion and the energy we should. I don't want to take anything away from South Florida. I worry when we look and see a 1-4 team. That's what I worry about. But we found a way.”
Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant threw first-half touchdown passes of 28-yard to Jadon Thompson and 14 to Nick Mardner to help the Bearcats overcome an early 10-0 deficit.
The Bulls rushed for 51 yards on their opening drive including a 22-yard touchdown run by Brian Battie to put them ahead 7-0. Bryant was intercepted by Aamaris Brown on the Bearcats' first offensive play, and the Bulls converted the turnover into a 21-yard field goal to go ahead 10-0.
“We got an interception on the first play on defense. We got the start we wanted,” Bulls head coach Jeff Scott said. “We knew it would be a ball control game.”
Bohanon’s 9-yard TD pass to Weaver gave South Florida a 17-14 halftime lead. It was Cincinnati’s first halftime deficit since Oct. 4, 2019 when they rallied to beat Central Florida 27-24.
It appeared the Bearcats had regained control when McClelland’s 1-yard plunge capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive to put them ahead 21-17.
“With Chuck feeling the way he is, we just needed to keep riding him,” Fickell said.
Bohanon, who ran for 117 yards and passed for 121 yards, gave South Florida its final lead after the Bulls stopped the Bearcats on fourth-and-one at the 12.
The Bearcats rallied one more time.
Cincinnati has won five straight against the Bulls, who dropped to 0-9 versus Top-25 opponents under Scott.
“We came up a little bit short," Scott said. "They haven’t lost a conference game in three years. To get the chance you have to play well all game and deliver the knock out blow. We had an opportunity to do that and weren’t able to finish it off.”
The Bearcats, who will move to the Big 12 Conference next season, haven’t lost at home since Temple beat them 35-24 on Nov. 10, 2017. “We haven’t lost at home since I’ve been here,” said senior offensive lineman Dylan O’Quinn. “It’s just an expectation by all of us that we don’t lose at home. I don’t plan on it.”
Fickell tied Rick Minter for first on the program's all-time wins list with 53. It took Minter 10 seasons to reach that total. Fickell is in his sixth season.
South Florida: Due to Hurricane Ian, the Bulls played four straight road games for the first time in program history. The last time they played three straight road games was 2006. The seven games played outside Tampa is a program high. South Florida has lost its last 15 road games. “It has been a difficult four weeks," Scott said. "I can’t remember a time we played four straight games on the road (and) we played three top-20 teams without 14 scholarship players.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats had a slew of injuries Saturday. They lost leading receiver Tyler Scott to an ankle injury late in the first half. Bryant left in the fourth quarter and did not return. Cincinnati already was without running back Corey Kiner who did not dress due to a hand injury. Kiner, an LSU transfer, had scored a TD in each of the first five games. “The bye week comes at a good time,” Fickell said. “This will be a good week to figure out who we have (available) and continue to grow.”
South Florida: Hosts Tulane next Saturday.
Cincinnati: Plays at SMU on Oct. 22.
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