Bearcats find Jones' spirit

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CINCINNATI -- Butch Jones doesn't shy away from motivational lines. "Represent the C" is plastered across seemingly every billboard and piece of merchandise at the University. "Hold the rope" covers walls inside the the athletic offices.


One listed inside the Bengals locker room struck Jones and senior John Goebel recently; it read:


"If adversity creates growth, why is everybody so afraid of it?"


The first two games of the Jones era in Cincinnati have been loaded with adversity. A team riding the momentum of an 18-game regular season win streak was sacked back to reality in Fresno - eight times, to be exact. And following two quarters Saturday, the Bearcats led an Indiana State team with three wins in the last 55 games by a mere five points.


Fans arriving at Nippert Stadium expecting to gloat at the expense of the Sycamores were silenced in disbelief. The roars of the crowd were replaced by concerned grumbles at an offense that amassed only 70 passing yards against an FCS bottom-feeder. The pressure filtered throughout the Bearcats sideline as well.  


"I think after we got stuffed in the first half and got held to a field goal, I don't want to say people were hanging their heads but, people were frustrated," Zach Collaros said.  


The frustration flowed into the Bearcats locker room, yet, in what could be considered one of the most concerning moments for this new coaching staff, an interesting connection occurred.


When asked what he said at halftime with the disappointing 12-7 UC lead, Jones held a pause and easy smirk, before allowing the first half was "inexcusable" and that he "challenged the team." That's a politically correct way of saying they probably need to repaint the slogans on the wall.


But the message rang through clear as day.


"Coach said at halftime, our team has to take on his character," Goebel said. "We weren't playing with his character the first half and last game. We were kind of just moping around."


Jones sprints up and down the sidelines and motivates his players in a different fashion than Brian Kelly did at Nippert Stadium. It takes some time to adjust to. Or in this case, it takes some adversity.


"Coach is very passionate, he likes to try to motivate us," Goebel said. "You will see him on the sideline getting on us very hard. We weren't used to that at first. I think in the second half you kind of saw how a Butch Jones Team is."


If a Butch Jones Team resembles anything near what the Bearcats displayed in the third quarter, this program will be fine.


In the first 12 minutes after the break, the Bearcats scored four touchdowns and didn't allow a first down. The offense struck fast with long runs by Darrin Williams and John Goebel and balanced it with a deep pass to play-making WR Armon Binns for a 29-yard TD. The lightning-fast offensive pace found the rhythm of a sweet symphony.


This may have been Indiana State. This 40-7 runaway probably should have occurred from the opening kickoff. But, while it was an unpredictable, circuitous route to the desired goal, the Bearcats found what they were looking for Saturday.


They found their passion. They found their character.


"It's all about emotion and passion and football is meant to be played with passion," Jones said. "Our players want to do well and they get disappointed when they don't, but they have to understand, it's a 60-minute game. In the second half they came out and played with the energy required of our football program."


Maneuvering through the maze to find the path to success with a new coaching staff takes time. The offensive struggles of this team weren't because of a lack of desire or talent.


So focused on the frustrations of not duplicating the highlight reel of the last two seasons which played on the videoboard before the game, the players weren't enjoying themselves.


Ironically, it took maybe the most stressful moment of the season to remind them of that fact.  


"We needed to get our intensity up, our passion up and start having more fun out there," said Zach Collaros, who was 3 for 4 for 60 yards and with one passing and one rushing TD in the third quarter. "It definitely helped coming out the second half as you saw everyone was a little more excited, a little more passionate out there."


They were a little more like their coach.


And in the process, the coach became a little more like his players. He became a winner wearing red and black for the first time in his career.


"This first game was an opportunity for our coach to peel his stripe off and earn his keep," said Armon Binns, turning one of Jones' motivational phrases.


This season, this program, will not be defined by three forgettable hours on an early September afternoon against an FCS opponent.


Thursday night against N.C. State on a national ESPN stage will be a much more telling trial. But in this adverse moment of this afterthought game, they may have gone a long way to figuring out the bigger picture of this program's new direction.

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