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No. 2 Cincinnati, Tulane moving in opposite directions

Oct 16, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Arquon Bush (9) brings down UCF Knights wide receiver Ryan O'Keefe (4) in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Arquon Bush (9) brings down UCF Knights wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe (4) in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Cincinnati keeps winning and Tulane keeps losing.

The Bearcats (7-0, 3-0 AAC) will visit the Green Wave (1-6, 0-3), who have lost five in a row, in an American Athletic Conference game Saturday in New Orleans.

Cincinnati is coming off the biggest threat to its College Football Playoff aspirations, as Navy took it to the wire before Arquon Bush’s interception with 25 seconds left sealed a 27-20 victory.

“I’m glad that week’s over,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. “We needed a challenge, and we got one.”

The closest games Cincinnati had played before last week were a 24-13 win at Notre Dame and a 38-24 win at Indiana.

“We hadn’t really been put to a test in the fourth quarter when really it’s uncomfortable, and you’ve got to be able to perform in those uncomfortable situations,” Fickell said. “Hopefully, we look at it as an opportunity for us to grow.”

The Bearcats know they control their fate in terms of a potential berth in the CFP. But with five regular-season games and a potential AAC championship game, they still have a lot of work to do.

“We’ve got to continue to do a better job of handling all the things that come along with the success or the wins and the attention that we’re getting,” Fickell said. “For me that message will continue to be to stay humble and stay hungry.”

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The game against Navy was a reminder that opponents tend to be highly motivated when facing an opponent having the kind of season that Cincinnati is having.

“We can’t look past any opponent, because we know every opponent is going to give us their best,” Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder said. “We have to be focused and locked in every week and keep improving.”

On paper, Tulane doesn’t appear to be much of a threat to Cincinnati. The Green Wave’s losses have come by an average of 20 points.

But Tulane is battle tested, as this will be its fourth game against a ranked opponent, following Oklahoma, Ole Miss and SMU.

“Obviously it’s been a difficult year,” coach Willie Fritz said. “We’re going to keep after it every day and stay as positive as we possibly can.”

Fritz might not have his starting quarterback available against the Bearcats.

Michael Pratt is in concussion protocol after being injured in Saturday’s 55-26 loss at SMU. No. 2 quarterback Justin Ibieta has been sidelined for the past month because of a torn labrum, so if Pratt can’t play, the Green Wave would start freshman Kai Horton.

It won’t matter much who plays quarterback if Tulane doesn’t play better defensively. The Green Wave are allowing the third-most points in the country — 42.3 per game.

Fritz said he and his staff are simplifying their defensive game plan to try and cut down on mental mistakes.

“We can’t be so simple that the other team knows what we’re doing every play,” Fritz said. “But everyone has to understand their assignment and carry it out.”

–Field Level Media