TOLEDO, Ohio -- Cincinnati's habit of getting off to slow starts finally caught up with the No. 21 Bearcats.
They suffered their first defeat of the year at Toledo on Saturday night, struggling with costly turnovers, special teams mistakes and missed passes in a 29-23 loss.
Cincinnati didn't score until the second quarter and its only lead came late in the third quarter. Even that lasted just a few seconds.
Bernard Reedy was barely touched as he took a kickoff and scampered up the field 91 yards to put the Rockets back in front 26-20.
It was Reedy's third TD on special teams in three weeks. He had an 89-yard kickoff return in a 52-47 victory over Eastern Michigan last Saturday and a 66-yard punt return in a 50-35 win over Central Michigan on Oct. 6.
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said he knew Reedy was dangerous but giving up the score in that situation was inexcusable. "We finally get over the hump and bam they get a kickoff return," Jones said.
The Bearcats (5-1) have been a slow starting team, struggling in the first half the last two weeks against Miami (Ohio) and Fordham.
They got behind again Saturday, trailing the Rockets 13-0 just a minute into the second quarter.
The Rockets' defense, which allowed 624 yards and a lot of big plays a week ago against Eastern Michigan, kept the multitalented Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux and his high-scoring offense in check. The Bearcats had been averaging 37 points per game and were tops in the Big East in yards and points
Legaux had 228 yards passing and 66 yards on the ground, but never seemed to get on track.
His 25-yard touchdown pass to leaping receiver Damon Julian gave the Bearcats a short-lived 20-19 lead.
Toledo (6-1) has won its last six games by averaging more than 36 points per game after an opening loss at Arizona.
But it was the Rockets defense and special teams that changed the game.
"If you would have told me that our defense would hold the explosive Toledo offense scoreless in terms of touchdowns, I would feel pretty confident that we would win the game," Jones said.
The Rockets got five field goals from Jeremiah Detmer, the last one coming with 42 seconds left after the Rockets ate up seven minutes with a pivotal drive. The Rockets have won six straight an after opening loss at Arizona.
Toledo's David Fluellen rushed for 162 yards on 24 carries. He shouldered the load on the Rockets' decisive drive that ate up seven minutes in the fourth quarter.
He carried eight times on the final drive in what was his fourth straight game with over 100 yards.
The Bearcats had one last chance, Legaux's second interception of the game ended any hope for the Bearcats and set off a wild celebration at Toledo's Glass Bowl where the Rockets have beaten Colorado, Pittsburgh and Kansas in recent years and are 4-1 against Top 25 teams.
Cincinnati's defense, which ranked 10th nationally, allowing 14.4 points per game, was playing without their leader on defense, senior end Walter Stewart who leads the team with five sacks this season. Stewart suffered an undisclosed injury against Fordham last week.
Nothing went right for the Bearcats early on.
They fell behind 10-0 when Legaux floated a pass into the chest of Jermaine Robinson, who ran down the sideline midway into the first quarter for a 75-yard TD. It was Robinson's second interception return for a score this season and the fourth of his career.
"We worked on disguising coverages all week and we knew we could confuse him," Robinson said.
Cincinnati appeared set to build some momentum when it recovered what was initially was ruled a Toledo fumble inside its own 10 yard line, but the officials changed the call after looking at the replay.
Toledo punted just once in the first half and controlled the game early on, but a handful of long plays for the Bearcats brought them back.
Ralph Abernathy's 52-yard run set up Legaux's 2-yard scoring plunge, cutting Toledo's lead to 13-7.
Tony Miliano added a pair of field goals on the Bearcats' next two possessions to get them within three at the half.