CINCINNATI – George Winn ran for a career-high three touchdowns and passed for another off a trick play on Saturday, leading Cincinnati to a 35-24 victory over Syracuse that included a change at quarterback for the Bearcats.
Munchie Legaux was benched after nearly throwing an interception in the third quarter. Senior backup Brendon Kay threw a 13-yard touchdown pass that put the Bearcats (6-2, 2-1 Big East) ahead to stay.
Cincinnati was coming off back-to-back losses that featured five interceptions by Legaux. He threw one in the first half Saturday and was repeatedly booed on Saturday by the crowd of 26,180, the smallest for a game at Nippert Stadium this season.
Coach Butch Jones changed quarterbacks three days after saying he'd never considered benching Legaux, who finished 11 of 22 for 124 yards with one interception.
The Orange (4-5, 3-2) were coming off the biggest comeback in school history, overcoming a 20-point halftime deficit to beat South Florida. Syracuse couldn't recover after Winn's 2-yard run made it 35-24 early in the fourth quarter.
It was a sloppy game all-around. Cincinnati had two fumbles and Legaux's interception that led to 17 Orange points in the first half. Syracuse set up a pair of touchdowns by fumbling twice deep in its territory, including on the opening kickoff.
The Orange also missed a field goal, had another blocked, and got penalized 12 times for 104 yards.
Ryan Nassib's fumble off a blind-side hit gave Cincinnati the ball at the Syracuse 15-yard line late in the third quarter. Kay replaced Legaux and completed two passes for the go-ahead score. Kay went 3 for 3 overall for 32 yards.
Winn carried 30 times for 165 yards — both career highs — and scored on runs of 5, 1 and 2 yards. He also got a touchdown off his first career pass, taking a handoff on fourth-and-2 from the Syracuse 37-yard line in the second quarter and lobbing a left-handed pass to wide-open tight end Travis Kelce.
Syracuse had won its last two games and was trying to move above .500 for the first time this season. The Orange couldn't overcome their many mistakes and allowed the Bearcats to run for 263 yards.
Nassib was 23 of 47 for 286 yards.
The game started badly for Syracuse — Jeremiah Kobena fumbled the opening kickoff at the Orange 28-yard line. Four plays later, Winn ran 5 yards for a touchdown. The Bearcats helped Syracuse even it when Anthony McClung fumbled a punt at the Bearcats 11-yard line, setting up Nassib's touchdown on a 1-yard run.
Cincinnati's Ralph David Abernathy IV fumbled at the Syracuse 11-yard line in the second quarter. The Bearcats' third turnover led to another Orange score. Nassib completed two passes to Alec Lemon — a 42-yarder that got the drive going and a 14-yarder for the touchdown and a 17-14 halftime lead.
They traded touchdown drives to open the second half. Winn scored on a 1-yard run, and Jerome Smith dived in from 1 yard out for a 24-21 Syracuse lead.
Legaux was hit hard after he threw a third-down pass that was nearly intercepted — Brandon Reddish dropped a sideline throw with a clear path to the end zone. When Cincinnati got the ball back on Nassib's fumble at the Orange 15-yard line, Kay took over. Legaux stood on the sideline with his helmet on.