CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati wanted to establish the running game Saturday against South Florida, and an early fumble by Gerrid Doaks didn't discourage them from having the senior running back carry the load.
Doaks ran for 102 yards and a touchdown, Tre Tucker returned a kickoff 97 yards for a score and No. 15 Cincinnati had five interceptions in a 28-7 victory over South Florida on Saturday.
It was the first 100-yard rushing game for Doaks since November 2019 when he ran for 123 against UConn. The Bearcats (3-0) ran for 189 yards, after managing only 69 last week in a win over Army.
Doaks who lost a fumble on his third carry of the game, had 89 rushing yards in the first half. He capped a 13-play, 92-yard drive with a 10-yard TD run to put Cincinnati ahead 7-0 in the first quarter.
“Nobody wants to see a fumble,” Doaks said. “Just need to go back out and play the next play. During the week it was hinted at, and they kind of rode me.”
Tucker returned the kickoff late in the third quarter to put Cincinnati ahead 28-7. It was the first kick return TD by a Bearcats player since Ralph David Abernathy IV in the Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt in December 2011.
“It wasn't scripted to be like that, I just saw (an opening) and hit it,” Tucker said. “Last year, I had a few of those that were really close. Once I got past the kicker, I could have taken it to another gear. I wasn't even tired so they weren't going to catch me.”
The game started sloppily with four turnovers, two by each team, in the first 11 snaps.
South Florida (1-2) used four quarterbacks, with sophomore Jordan McCloud going 12 of 21 for 137 yards with two interceptions. Freshman Katravis Marsh got the start, but he threw three interceptions, including two in his first four attempts.
USF tied a school record with the five interceptions.
“Our defense kept us in the game but we didn’t play complimentary football," USF head coach Jeff Scott said. "Our offense wasn’t very good.”
Cincinnati was denied its second touchdown when safety Chris Townsel wrestled the ball out of Jayshon Jackson's arms for an interception in the end zone.
It was one of six turnovers in the first half, three by each team.
“We've got to take care of the football,” Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell said. “Some of that is us pressing. It gives us a good emphasis on the bye week.”
Bearcats cornerback Coby Bryant had two interceptions in the half, his first two-interception game since October 2018 against Temple.
With 39 seconds left in the first half, Desmond Ridder found tight end Josh Whyle in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown, putting Cincinnati ahead 14-0.
“That's a really nice play,” said Fickell. “Josh is coming into his own. Tough thing is we have three (tight ends) playing really well for us.”
Ridder was 16 for 26 with 143 yards and two touchdowns with a career-high three interceptions.
“Des is a competitor,” Fickell said. “He was hanging his head. He wants to perform at the highest level. We need to find ways to get better.”
Bearcats tight end Bruno Labelle caught a 3-yard TD pass from Ridder to make it 21-0 with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
Johnny Ford scored on a 2-yard run late in the third quarter for USF to make the score 21-7, but the Bearcats immediately answered with Tucker's kick return.
USF's scheduled game last week against Florida Atlantic was postponed due to issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bulls lost 55-0 at No. 10 Notre Dame two weeks ago. They had 12 players unavailable for Saturday’s game, including eight on defense. “We knew we would have to go through this," Scott said. "We have played top-15 teams the last two games. Our guys are getting experience. We just have to go through this and get better.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Cincinnati tied a school record with its 15th straight win at home, the sixth-longest active streak among FBS schools. The Bearcats last won 15 straight home games from Nov. 8, 1952 to Nov. 13, 1954. Cincinnati is one of seven teams in the FBS to go undefeated at home the last two seasons, joining Ohio State, UAB, Central Florida, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame.
No fans have been permitted in Nippert Stadium yet this season, only family members of players and coaches for both teams, and the band and cheerleaders who are socially distanced in the stands. Fickell said his players might have been impacted by the bland surroundings on Saturday. “For the first time, I thought we played, I don’t want to say down to the opponent, but down to an atmosphere,” Fickell said. “We were looking for a little bit of energy and it just wasn’t there.”
South Florida hosts East Carolina on Saturday.
Cincinnati plays at Tulsa on Oct. 17.