HOUSTON — Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville could only focus on the mistakes — including his own.
Gunner Kiel's career-high 523 yards and four touchdowns were not enough to overcome a slew of penalties, a safety and three turnovers in a 33-30 loss to No. 18 Houston on Saturday.
"We're killing ourselves on offense," Tuberville said. "We've got a good offense, but you can't give up nine points to them on offense. We're not good enough to do that on the road, especially on defense."
Kiel threw two interceptions and missed receivers on four straight passes on the game's final drive. He was also sacked in the end zone by Trevon Stewart for a safety with 4:54 remaining in the third.
But the turning point for Cincinnati (5-4, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) came on the first drive of the second half.
Tied at 14, the Bearcats attempted an onside kick that went out of bounds to set Houston up on their side of the field.
"That was a miscommunication," Tuberville said. "That's my fault. We didn't communicate very well. Everybody has got to communicate on that, and it just kind of blew up in our face, but that's my fault."
On the drive, the Bearcats appeared to have stopped Houston on the 1-yard line. But a facemask and three unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, including one by Tuberville, gave the Cougars another chance.
"Well, their left tackle moved. Everybody in the stadium saw it, and they didn't call it," Tuberville said. "Their guy even stopped, and I don't even think it was a facemask. I didn't like the call. I still don't like the call.
He added: "We've got to do a better job than that. When you're on the road you can't let things like that get by. We kind of just shot ourselves in the foot."
Two plays later, Ward hit Tyler McCloskey for a 1-yard touchdown pass, the first of 16 straight points to open the second half.
The Cougars then held on to improve to 9-0, 5-0 for the first time since 2011 — ahead of a potential matchup between undefeated teams when it plays Memphis Nov. 14.
Cincinnati committed 11 penalties for 84 yards.
Kiel hit Chris Moore for two touchdown passes and one each to Nate Cole and Shaq Washington for Cincinnati. Kiel's first interception was returned 51 yards by Brandon Wilson for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
But Cincinnati fought back to force Houston into an unfamiliar situation.
"We hadn't had a four quarter battle like that since Louisville so it's been a while," Houston coach Tom Herman said. "We knew they were going to score some points and we found a way to win it there at the end."
Cincinnati's defense held the Cougars to three points in the fourth quarter. Kiel two touchdown passes down the stretch including his second to Moore with 5:07 left in the game made it 33-30. Moore finished with 140 yards receiving.
"We knew coming into this game that it would be a close game and that this team has fight," Moore said. "No matter what the circumstances were or what the score was we would always fight to the end of the game to try to win the game."
Cincinnati's efforts ultimately came up short.
Greg Ward Jr. led scoring drives on two of three Cincinnati turnovers, finishing 16 of 24 for 161 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. He also ran for 119 yards on 16 carries.
Kenneth Farrow rushed for 106 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown to help Houston. He opened the scoring with a 2-yard run for an early first quarter lead. His first score was set up by Joeal Williams' block of Sam Geraci's punt, putting the ball at the Bearcats 20 yard line.