CINCINNATI (AP) - Ben Mauk held his black helmet in the left hand. He slowly made a fist with his passing hand, then relaxed it. Not once did he look up from the floor of the elevator on his way to a postgame interview.
This first loss hurt a lot.
Mauk couldn't make 4 more inches on a fourth-down sneak, a near-miss that became the turning point in Louisville's 28-24 victory Saturday night that ended Cincinnati's nine-game winning streak.
``Like any time two good teams go after it, it comes down to just a couple of plays,'' said Brian Kelly, who suffered his first loss as Cincinnati's coach.
For the first time this season, most of the big plays went against the Bearcats (6-1, 1-1 Big East), who slipped from No. 15 to No. 23 in the poll. A defense that led the nation in interceptions couldn't get one, and a fastbreak offense that had been on a roll couldn't get a few more inches when needed.
``Turnovers are something we've been banking on all year,'' safety Haruki Nakamura said. ``Usually, we set up our offense. We're a big-play team.''
Instead, it was desperate Louisville (4-3, 1-1) that made the plays against a defense that has had its biggest weakness exposed in the last two games. Cincinnati plays zone defense, and Rutgers and Louisville have picked it apart by completing short passes in front of the defenders.
Louisville's Brian Brohm also threw over the defense, completing a 51-yard pass that set up the go-ahead touchdown. The senior quarterback was 28-of-38 for 350 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Cincinnati forced nine fumbles and got 16 interceptions in the first six games, setting up 100 points. The Bearcats didn't get a turnover in this one.
``We're used to getting turnovers,'' Kelly said. ``Two things happened that hadn't happened - they threw the ball over our heads and we didn't get turnovers.''
Brohm, who could be the top pick in the NFL draft, patiently found the open receiver and hit him.
``We tried to take care of the ball in the passing game,'' Brohm said. ``We knew they would give us things underneath and when they do that, they are trying to bait you into trying to force things.''
The offense also fizzled when it had chances to pull it out.
Mauk came up about 4 inches short on a fourth-and-1 sneak near midfield. On the next play, Brohm completed a 51-yard pass to the 3-yard line, setting up the Cardinals' go-ahead touchdown.
Cincinnati's offense also froze after a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the fourth quarter. The Bearcats had to settle for a field goal instead of a tying touchdown.
It all added up to their first loss under Kelly, who took over after the regular season in 2006 and led the Bearcats to a win in the International Bowl. It also ended their best start since 1954.
``Win or lose, we were going to put this game away,'' Mauk said. ``Our record is 0-0 going into the next game.''
That's quite a comedown from the 6-0 mark going into the last one.
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