Brendon Kay threw for a pair of touchdowns, and Cincinnati deprived the American Athletic Conference's top quarterback of another comeback on Saturday, holding on for a 28-25 victory over Southern Methodist.
Cincinnati (7-2, 4-1) got the lead behind Kay's accurate passing and a 17-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that took up most of the third quarter and made it 28-10.
SMU (3-5, 2-2) is known for comebacks behind quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who leads the nation in total yards. He had a pair of short touchdown passes to Darius Joseph, the last with 3:27 to go as the Mustangs got within 28-25.
Anthony McClung recovered the onside kick despite a hit to the head that drew a 15-yard penalty. Cincinnati ran out the clock with the help of a delay-of-game penalty on SMU, getting its fourth straight win.
Kay has been bothered by a sore passing shoulder since summer camp. He had a few extra days off following the Bearcats' last game and had a lot of zip on his sideline passes. He finished 27 of 32 for 299 yards with two touchdown and two interceptions.
Gilbert was 38 of 47 for 403 yards without an interception. Joseph had 12 catches for 103 yards, but SMU's offense could only stand on the sideline and watch as the final seconds ran out.
Cincinnati came into the game ranked fourth nationally on defense, allowing only 280 yards per game while holding down the conference's worst offenses. The Bearcats hadn't faced anything like SMU's fast-pace, spread offense and Gilbert, who was coming off his best game.
The senior rallied the Mustangs from a 21-point deficit to a 59-49 win over Temple, setting school records for total yards (635) and yards passing (538).
They got a good idea of what it was going to be like to stop Gilbert on the opening drive. He completed all seven of his passes for 51 yards and ran three yards for a touchdown on the 13th play. On one play, Cincinnati got called for 12 players on the field while trying to substitute.
Gilbert completed his first 12 passes for 70 yards, but Cincinnati toughened when the Mustangs got in scoring range. Chase Hover missed a 48-yard field goal try and was good from 24 yards for a 10-0 lead. He also missed from 34 yards in the closing seconds of the half.
Those misses would be costly.
Kay had a tough time at the outset, getting sacked twice and throwing an interception. He got into a rhythm on Cincinnati's first drive of the second quarter, completing all five of his passes for 55 yards in a touchdown drive. His 17-yard throw to Chris Moore cut it to 10-7.
Kay completed his next pass as well, a 62-yard touchdown to Mekale McKay for a 14-10 lead. The Bearcats then took control in the third quarter and held on.
Kay completed all seven of his passes for 81 yards in a touchdown drive that opened the second half, culminating in Jordan Luallen's 2-yard run. The Bearcats then went on their 96-yard touchdown drive that lasted 8 minutes, 12 seconds, running the ball on 15 of the 17 plays in the drive, with Tion Green carrying the final seven yards.
It turned out to be too much for Gilbert to overcome.
Freshman JaBryce Harper, the Mustangs' top kick returner, was injured on a kickoff return in the second quarter. He remained face-down on the field but moved his arms and legs. The medical staff called for a back support, strapped him to a stretcher and took him to an ambulance.