CINCINNATI (AP) — Michael Warren II's career-long 81-yard touchdown helped spur Cincinnati to a 37-21 win over Tulane on Saturday for the Bearcats' first 6-0 start since 2012.
Warren broke through the left side of the Tulane line and dove into the end zone for a 10-7 second-quarter lead and Cincinnati (6-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) pulled away from there. Warren gained 123 yards on 18 carries for his third straight 100-plus-yard rushing performance and fourth of the season.
Warren's run — the third longest run from scrimmage in Bearcat history — negated a 17-yard touchdown pass from Justin McMillan to Darnel Mooney for Tulane (2-4, 1-1) and Cincinnati led 24-14 at halftime after the teams traded touchdown runs.
"I just saw a cut, made another cut and got vertical," said Warren, who sparked the offense that had struggled until then. "It takes one play to get us clicking. It was the play to get the team riled up and get the momentum."
Tulane's Darius Bradwell scored from 19-yards out after a 64-yard kickoff return by Ryan Jones with 2:51 left in the first half.
Desmond Ridder, 15 of 25 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception, ran up the middle for a 28-yard score with 41 seconds to go until halftime
"It was a pass play. I came off my first read and saw a hole in the pocket," Ridder said.
Cincinnati's Ethan Tucky blocked Zachary Block's punt, setting up Ridder's 14-yard touchdown pass to Kahill Lewis, but Cole Smith missed the point-after attempt to keep the game within two scores.
"All week the special team coordinator (Brian Mason) talked about effort in a sense with all 11 guys straining," Tucky said. "It was like surreal. You dream about it when you're a kid making a play like that in a stadium with the student section cheering. When it actually happens it's like crazy it's any amazing feeling."
The Bearcats put the game away with nine-play, 87-yard touchdown drive culminating in Tavion Thomas' 25-yard scoring run.
"We were able to put that thing away so we could relax the seven or eight minutes but It was a battle. It was a fight," Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. "That second quarter and even later in the third quarter, the defense was on the field a long time."
The second-year coach has his team bowl eligible after a 4-8 season. Cincinnati has not played in a bowl game since 2015.
"I didn't even bring it up to the guys in there," Fickell said. "It is something that's in the back of your mind. We don't want anything to slow us down."
Cincinnati's defense forced Tulane off the field by holding them to 3-for-15 on third down and 0-for-4 on fourth down.
"Their defense did a great job," third-year Green Wave coach Willie Fritz said. "They whipped us up front and did a good job tackling and pressing us. It was hard for our receivers to get open."
McMillan, a transfer from LSU, took over for starter Jonathan Banks. He completed 11 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, including a 14-yard pass to Terren Encalade with 4:25 left to play.
It was McMillan's bid to win the starting job.
"He did some good things," Fritz said. "We'll evaluate it."
Green Wave leading rusher Bradwell followed a 143-yard rushing effort last week against Memphis with 88 yards on 16 carries.
Tulane leads the series between the teams 11-6.
Tulane: The Green Wave offense was perfect in the Red Zone coming into the game with the Bearcats. Tulane was in the Red Zone eight times in their first five games with six touchdowns and two field goals. They remained perfect with three touchdowns and three trips against Cincinnati.
Cincinnati: Michael Warren's 81-yard touchdown dash in the second quarter was the third longest run from scrimmage in Bearcat history. Joe Miller ran 91 yards for a touchdown in 1953 against Xavier University, the longest ever for Cincinnati. Ethan Tucky's blocked punt was Cincinnati's first blocked punt since October 25, 2008, Connor Barwin, now a NFL player, did it.
Tulane: The Green Wave will take a week off before hosting Southern Methodist University on October 20 at a time to be announced.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats will also rest a week before they travel to Temple on October 20 at a time to be announced. It will be the first of two straight road games.