CINCINNATI — Cincinnati got its first taste of Big 12 football on Saturday against Oklahoma, the program that has set the standard in the conference for most of the last two decades.
The Bearcats held up OK, but were outplayed in a 20-6 loss to the No. 16 Sooners and Dillon Gabriel, who threw for 322 yards and a touchdown and ran for another TD.
Cincinnati coach Scott Satterfield said his players and their fan base should be encouraged by the performance.
“They’ve won a lot of championships,” Satterfield said of seven-time national champion and 14-time Big 12 champion Oklahoma. “They’ve been around a long time, and this is our first game in the Big 12, and our guys went toe-to-toe.
“This should be encouraging to our guys and to our people to say, ‘Hey, listen, we’re not that far off.'”
Gabriel, a UCF transfer, completed 26 of 38 passes, rebounding from his three-interception performance in his last trip to Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium in 2019 and notching his first career victory in three tries against the Bearcats.
“It was different from the last time I was here for sure,” Gabriel said. “It was just a great atmosphere. I loved that I was able to finish it out.”
Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) outgained Cincinnati 322-235 through the air.
Cincinnati’s points came on two field goals. The Bearcats (2-2, 0-1) have gone 15 straight drives without scoring a touchdown, dating back to last week’s overtime loss at home to in-state foe Miami (Ohio).
Carter Brown made a 40-yard field goal to open the scoring with 7:39 in the first quarter.
Oklahoma responded at the end of the quarter, capping a six-play, 66-yard drive with a 5-yard strike from Gabriel to Nic Anderson.
The Sooners grabbed a 10-3 lead on a 34-yard field goal with 8:40 to go before halftime.
Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones threw a pass into double coverage in the end zone on the ensuing drive, resulting in an interception by safety Key Lawrence. The turnover was the closest the Bearcats would come to a touchdown.
Brown missed a 26-yard field goal just before intermission, continuing the Bearcats’ woes near the end zone.
Brown bounced back by netting a career-long 54-yarder to pull the Bearcats within 10-6 at the 8:22 mark of the third.
Oklahoma’s offense countered with a nine-play, 75-yard surgical drive. Gabriel punctuated it by calling his own number on a 1-yard score to put the Sooners ahead 17-6 with 5:23 before the fourth.
“Dillon was able to extend a couple plays,” Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said. “There are some designed plays we run for him too. There was a speed option. He ran a quarterback draw which he did a really nice job. It is always good to have that. It is what we call a plus-one run game.”
Oklahoma surged ahead 20-6 following a 30-yard field goal in the fourth, and then the Sooners defense picked off Jones for the second time.
Oklahoma’s defense sacked Jones twice.
Oklahoma: The Sooners’ march toward a 15th and final Big 12 title got off to a solid start. Oklahoma, which is scheduled to join the Southeastern Conference on July 1, 2024, has more conference championships than any other Big 12 program. No other program has more than three. Oklahoma has now held opposing teams to 17 or fewer points in each of its first four games.
Cincinnati: A morning of celebrating ahead of their first Big 12 game ended in an afternoon of despair as the Bearcats failed to get anything going offensively under the offensive-minded, Satterfield. Cincinnati lost back-to-back games at home for the first time since 2017.
Oklahoma: The Sooners return home Sept. 30 to host Iowa State. Oklahoma has won three straight meetings against the Cyclones. The Sooners haven’t lost in the series since Oct. 3, 2000 (37-30) in Ames, Iowa.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats look to capture their first win in Big 12 play Friday night at fellow Big 12 newcomer Brigham Young. Like Cincinnati, BYU joined the conference in July.