Freshman leads Cincinnati to win over Miami in first career start
Two quick touchdowns settled Hayden Moore’s nerves.
The redshirt freshman threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score in his starting debut, and Cincinnati’s struggling defense held on for a 34-23 victory over Miami on Thursday night to end the Hurricanes’ streak of 10 straight wins over the Bearcats.
Moore followed up the best passing game in Cincinnati history with a solid performance. The Bearcats (3-2) surged ahead 14-3 and overcame a scoreless third quarter behind Moore, who was 22 of 33 for 279 yards with an interception.
"He grew up a lot tonight," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I saw his eyes. He was a little nervous going into the game. He knew what he was going to face. But he held in there good."
Good enough to end Cincinnati’s streak of two straight last-minute losses and create a competition for the starting job when Gunner Kiel is healthy. Tuberville said Moore will get a chance to keep the job.
Moore filled in with Kiel sidelined by a neck injury suffered during a 53-46 loss at Memphis a week earlier. Moore took over in that game and threw for a school-record 557 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in only three quarters.
Kiel helped him get ready for the game and cheered him on.
"Literally nothing changed," Moore said. "He was in the locker room beforehand. At halftime, he was pumping me up."
Miami (3-1) was coming off a 36-33 win over Nebraska that featured five field goals by Michael Badgley. He made three more Thursday but missed from 51 and 53 yards as the Hurricanes repeatedly failed to reach the end zone.
Trailing by 11 points, the Hurricanes went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 5 instead of taking the field goal. Brad Kaaya’s pass was incomplete with 4:41 left. Kaaya finished 24 of 39 for 255 yards without a touchdown or interception.
Tion Green’s 41-yard run then put Cincinnati in position to finish it off. Green had 90 yards on 15 carries.
"Our offense has played well all year," Tuberville said. "Our defense finally grew up a little bit."
Moore got off to a solid start, leading the Bearcats to a 27-20 halftime lead. He completed his first three passes as Cincinnati pulled ahead 14-3, the first time the Hurricanes had trailed this season. After five straight completions, he threw an interception — hung the ball in the air too long — that set up a Miami touchdown.
The Bearcats had 300 yards in the first half, with Moore throwing for a touchdown and scoring on a 1-yard sneak.
"It was tough to watch that first half, but it’s something I had to deal with," Hurricanes safety Deon Bush said. "We got better in the second half because people just did their jobs."
The main point of emphasis for Cincinnati was avoiding turnovers. Cincinnati led the nation in turnovers coming into the game with nine interceptions and five fumbles. Miami has been among the best at forcing turnovers.
Aside from Moore’s first-quarter interception, the Bearcats avoided the big mistake.
Both defenses regrouped in the second half. The Hurricanes had 38 yards in the third quarter and missed a field goal, while Moore was sacked twice as the Bearcats managed only five net yards.
Moore finally got going, Mekale McKay in stride for a 52-yard gain. He then threw a 7-yard touchdown pass for a 34-23 lead with 6:54 to go.
"They played really well, but we aided them," Miami coach Al Golden said. "We were playing better defense in the second half but they got that one in the fourth quarter that was a back breaker. We haven’t given up one of them in a while."
The Hurricanes then had the chance to cut it to an eight-point game, but came up empty on the fourth-down incompletion.
Cincinnati’s offense was missing running back Mike Boone and receivers Johnny Holton and Chris Moore to injuries.