CINCINNATI — Oklahoma safety Jonathan Nelson hustled down the field to thwart one Cincinnati touchdown.
Then, he thwarted another.
Saturday night, those two defensive plays — along with a pair of key fumble recoveries in the fourth quarter — proved to be the difference, as OU held on for a 31-29 victory in front of 58,253 at Paul Brown Stadium.
With OU ahead 14-9 in the second quarter, UC quarterback Zach Collaros found D.J. Woods streaking wide open down the middle of the field.
But before Woods could score, Nelson punched the ball out of Woods' arms into the end zone, and teammate Quinton Carter recovered the fumble for a Sooner touchback.
“That was huge,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Great hustle play. Great effort.”
Two possessions later, the Bearcats were knocking on the door again.
But on Collaros' fade attempt to Armon Binns, Nelson raced to the corner of the end zone, leaped over Binns and intercepted the pass to give OU another touchback.
Yet even with those miscues, it took two more fumble recoveries to finally put the Bearcats away.
Midway in the fourth quarter, UC trailed just 24-22 and had the ball at midfield, but OU defensive end Pryce Macon batted the ball out of Collaros' hand and into the arms of Jeremy Beal.
Then, after the Sooners were forced to punt, Woods muffed the return, and OU's James Hanna recovered the ball inside the UC 10. Two plays later, Landry Jones hooked up with fullback Trey Millard for a touchdown to put OU up 31-22 with under 5 minutes to go.
“We had some good fortune,” Stoops said. “And we made a few plays when we had to.”