Rising-Power Cincinnati Punishes Notre Dame For Stealing Its Best Coaches

ANNAPOLIS, MD – DECEMBER 31: Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell is congratulated following … [+] the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Military Bowl on December 31, 2018 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Something happened at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday that hadn’t taken place in more than four full calendar years.

The home team lost. 

Not since Sept. 9, 2017, when Georgia escaped with a 20-19 win, had Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish fallen at The House That Rockne Built. Twenty-six straight wins followed, marking the second-longest home winning streak in school history. 

Two wins away from tying Frank Leahy’s 28-gamer from 1942-50, Kelly’s crew collapsed in the face of a favored visitor, a Group of Five program that’s been on the rise for several years under coach Luke Fickell. 

This 24-13 loss to No. 7 Cincinnati, far more lopsided than that margin might indicate, came one week after Kelly passed the legendary Knute Rockne as the winningest coach in program history. 

“It sucks to lose at home and lose a streak,” Notre Dame pass rusher Isaiah Foskey said. “They were the better team today.” 

Barely a month into the 2021 college football season, two of the four-longest active home winning streaks have been stopped. Three weeks earlier, Oregon went into the Horseshoe and pinned a 35-28 loss on Ohio State, ending the Buckeyes’ home winning streak at 23 games. 

ORLANDO, FL – JANUARY 01: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on against … [+] the LSU Tigers in the first half of the Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Clemson took a 30-game home streak into Saturday night’s game against Boston College, but suddenly it’s Cincinnati that owns the nation’s second-longest active home streak (23 games). 

Even if ninth-ranked Notre Dame hadn’t been so shaky on its way to a 4-0 start, this one had streak-ender written all over it. The Bearcats have won 31 straight now as favorites, dating to a November 2017 road loss to East Carolina, and senior quarterback Desmond Ridder now owns a 34-5 record as the starter. 

Every time a throw absolutely had to be made, Ridder seemed to make it on Saturday. In building a 17-0 halftime lead, he tear-dropped a 27-yard touchdown pass over the shoulder of Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame’s star safety. 

Later, as Notre Dame desperately tried to rally behind third-string quarterback Drew Pyne, Ridder would hit rangy wideout Alec Pierce for 45 yards and tight end Leonard Taylor for 36 more. 

Ridder did this against first-year Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, the star assistant who spent the past four seasons with the Bearcats. Once the final kneel-down was done, Ridder tucked the game ball under his left arm and made a beeline for Kelly — another coach Notre Dame plucked away from the Bearcats, albeit more than a decade ago (after the 2009 season). 

Ridder shook Kelly’s hand, then spent a few moments with Pyne, the scrawny little overachiever from Connecticut, before wrapping his right hand around Freeman’s shoulders for a quick hug. 

With that, one of the modern college game’s most underrated stars raced for the far corner of the stadium and a vocal throng of red-clad fans in the visitors section. The wet ball slipped out of Ridder’s hands on his first try, but he quickly scooped up his fumble and launched a celebratory throw at least 30 rows into the stands. 

ATLANTA, GA – JANUARY 01: Desmond Ridder #9 of the Cincinnati Bearcats looks on from the sideline … [+] during a game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images)

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The chants of “U-C! U-C!” only grew louder. 

You see? Oh, everybody saw, all right. 

The Bearcats were worthy favorites. The Irish were championship pretenders. 

And sometimes the farm team beats up on the big leaguers.

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