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'No moral victories'

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CINCINNATI - On the schedule, the 31-29 final score against Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium will list as another loss for the University of Cincinnati - the third in three tries against BCS schools under new coach Butch Jones.

 

To those that weren't among the 58,253 at Paul Brown Stadium, it will be another win for a top 10 team in the country and another loss for the struggling Big East.

 

Those who experienced the emotional roller coaster of Saturday night between Oklahoma and Cincinnati? They know better.

 

They'll tell you all about it once they get their voice back.

 

In a game everyone expected to leave their seat by the end of the third quarter, the Cincinnati fans did just that. Only they screamed at the top of their lungs in front of them.

 

A team, a program, left for dead on the national landscape, resuscitated back to life.

 

Isaiah Pead changed the face of the Bearcats offense with 21 carries for 171 yards and controversial tip of an elbow away from 62 more. Zach Collaros sprinted sideline to sideline, manufacturing points from every blade of turf at PBS.

 

A young defense, talented but raw, shut down one of the most prolific running backs in college football. Sophomore Maalik Bomar forced a fumble. Without the Bearcats' most experienced corner, Dominique Battle, young players like Camerron Cheatham and Pat Lambert pounded their chests and flexed after adding to the season-high nine tackles for loss.

 

The swagger of 12-0 returned.  

 

Once the final onside kick attempt bounced into the arms of the No. 8 team in the country, the bottom line read the same as the two meaningful games that preceded it.

 

But as clear as the Cincinnati skyline overhead, this was different. The team Butch Jones built under the context of passion, character and pride, showed the Bearcats fan base what the future looks like. 

 

It jumps up and down with passion and doesn't stop swarming for four quarters, whether inside the sidelines or out. 

 

In the end, four turnovers sealed the Bearcats' fate. But a team in desperate need of confidence earned it.

 

Saturday was a lot of things for the Bearcats: A turning point, an offensive breakthrough, a claim for national respect.

 

Just don't call it a moral victory. For the Bearcats, it wasn't. Just ask them.

 

"There are a lot of good things to build off of," junior linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. "A lot of positive things to look at for the upcoming weeks. But I wouldn't say the word victory in any sort of fashion."

 

Jones beat reporters to the punch by answering in his opening statement before the question could be asked.

 

"There is absolutely no moral victories," he said. "They made more plays than we did, but I think you saw a team with heart. I think we have come of age."

 

The swap of offensive lineman Alex Hoffman and C.J. Cobb -- moving Hoffman to RT and Cobb to RG - allowed Collaros to drop back without fear. His 23 of 38 for 305 yards and 3 TDs resembled the numbers expected of the junior QB.

 

But a strip from behind as Woods neared the goal line on a long pass over the middle, fumbled punt return and inability to score touchdowns in goal-to-go situations left UC two points short.

 

Even though the Bearcats didn't win Saturday, they showed they can - against one the elite teams in the country.

 

That's why Pead, even in arguably the best game of his young career, couldn't peel away enough sting to put progress in perspective.

 

"I feel like we outplayed them tonight," Pead said. "I feel like we took their will early. But they also have players, too. Kudos to them, but I feel like we were the better team today, but instead of beating them we beat ourselves."

 

The stark reality that everything gained between the sidelines on Saturday didn't garner any tangible results is tough to swallow. Particularly for a player like D.J. Woods, who set a career high with 171 receiving yards on seven receptions. He added a 25-yard punt return. Unfortunately, none of those stats will be remembered.

 

A fumbled punt and fumbled would-be touchdown will stain his memory. But it won't dirty Jones' image of his receiver.

 

"DJ also made a couple big plays for us," he said. "It's just an individual trying to make a play. We coach ball security on every single snap. He knows it. But it is just one of those things that happen. I will live and die with DJ Woods. I love that young man."

 

In many ways, Woods' night was symbolic of the entire UC team. The negatives were as obvious as they were devastating. But the positives were such a stark difference from the previous three games of this season, they demanded attention.

 

This may not have been a breakthrough win for the Bearcats, but should make everyone associated with Cincinnati believe one isn't far off.

 

"I just can't say enough about our kids tonight," Jones said. "And I know they hurt. You got a locker room in there of 105 individuals who hurt right now and they should hurt. But I think they showed a lot tonight.

 

"I sense a hunger. There are no moral victories, everyone is extremely disappointed. The more you give the more it hurts when you lay it on the line. I thought we took great strides tonight, but still we came up a little bit short."

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