For the second straight week, the Bearcats were not losing at halftime - but it sure felt like it.
Last week, the 'Cats blew a 14 point lead in the last 2:30 of the first half and went into the locker room tied 14-14 at
Yesterday, after building a 12-0 lead over FCS opponent
"We needed to relax," Butch Jones told us on the postgame show. "We have some individuals that are extremely competitive and when things don't go our way, they press sometimes. We just need to play."
So Jones did his best to boost their confidence.
"These are strong words," Jones told his players at the half. "I believe in you."
"I believe in you," he repeated.
Then the Bearcats head coach told everyone to put a hand on somebody else's back.
"Now repeat after me," Jones instructed them. "I've got your back."
"I've got your back," they said in unison.
The Bearcats responded with a near-perfect third quarter, outscoring
"Our kids did a great job," Coach Jones said. "They were very disappointed at halftime, and I thought we came out in the second half and established a tempo and the physical style that we want to play. We have to start much faster, but every game that we play, we learn more and more about ourselves."
The standouts included sophomore running back Darrin Williams who subbed for the injured Isaiah Pead (bruised knee) and topped the 100-yard mark for the first time in his college career with 117 yards on 13 carries (9.0 avg.).
Senior John Goebel also had an outstanding game, carrying 9 times for 75 yards (8.3 avg.) and two touchdowns.
The 'Cats anticipate having Pead back for Thursday's game at NC State, but Williams and Goebel are certainly capable replacements.
Armon Binns, who was a high school champion in the high jump, long jump, and triple jump, used his leaping ability to go up and over his defender and pull down two TD passes from Zach Collaros. Binns has 13 TD catches in his last 11 games.
"He's got to be a playmaker for us," Coach Jones said. "He gave us a spark and we needed it."
Defensively, the Bearcats were led by junior linebacker J.K. Schaffer who finished with 9 tackles, including one in the backfield.
"The defense played great all day," Schaffer said. "We were swarming to the ball and everyone was excited to be out there. Coming off a loss is no fun, so we had some passion coming out."
I suspect that the Bearcats didn't do much celebrating after the game since they only have three solid practice days before boarding the plane for NC State on Wednesday.
"Guys have to come out focused and ready to practice," Armon Binns said. "We have a really big game against a good opponent and it's going to be a test for us. We'll see what we're made of."
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Here are a few random thoughts:
It's obviously too soon to tell how successful the team will be in Butch Jones' first year as head coach, but the players genuinely seem to love him.
More than just about any coach I've been around, Jones is a master at coming up with little things that promote a family atmosphere.
The latest example is the weekly awarding of "Barb's Chip Dip." A couple of days before each game, two players are selected by the coaches to receive chips and dip from Butch's wife Barb (her spicy dip is apparently legendary). The winners can share the prize with the entire team, their position group, or wolf it down by themselves. Last week's winners were Goebel and Woods.
I don't know the ingredients in Mrs. Jones' chip dip, but it's all part of her husband's recipe for team camaraderie.
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The Bearcats have good starters at most positions, but there is very little experience among the backups.
One big reason is the number of solid contributors who were eligible to return but are not playing this year due to off-the-field issues.
It's tough enough to replace NFL talent like Mardy Gilyard, Tony Pike, Jeff Linkenbach, and Ricardo Mathews, but when you subtract players with remaining eligibility like Demetrius Jones, Dorian Davis, and Travis Kelce, it compounds the problem.
The most important members of this year's team could be Bob Mangine and training/medical staff.
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We're going to have an extra set of eyes in the broadcast booth on Thursday as Pawtucket Red Sox outfielder Aaron Bates will join the radio crew as a spotter.
(photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor)
Aaron attended NC State and expressed interest in joining us in the booth when the Bearcats face his alma mater.
I told him I'd put him to work as long as he doesn't root for the Wolfpack.
We'll see how he does on Thursday night.
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If was great to see old friends in the press box at "The Nip" on Saturday including Elise Keeler who reminded me that I haven't included any photos of The Handsome Lad in my recent blog posts.
So there you go. Hard to believe, but Sam Hoard is 4 ½ years old.
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