October 2010 Archives

'Cats Must Keep Building

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When the Bearcats fell behind Syracuse 17-0, my buddy C. Trent Rosecrans - the former UC beat writer for the Cincinnati Post who currently works for CBSSports.com - sent out the following tweet:


I'm guessing the UCBearcats bandwagon is now officially empty.  We'll hear a smattering of Butch Jones talk Monday and back to dark ages.


I'm sure there was an element of snark in C. Trent's tweet, but I really hope he's wrong.


I'm not going to sugarcoat the 31-7 loss to Syracuse - it was flat-out ugly and the Bearcats did not deserve to win.  But I hope that Bearcat Nation isn't bailing on Butch Jones after two months, or worse yet, writing off the last few years as a wonderful fluke.


"I told the team that we only know one thing and that's to go back to work," Coach Jones said after the game.  "There's nobody more disappointed than myself, but we have to deserve to win."


For starters, let's give Syracuse some credit for winning consecutive road games at USF, West Virginia, and Cincinnati.  With home games remaining against Louisville, Connecticut and Boston College, and a road game at Rutgers, I honestly think that my alma mater will win 9 or 10 games this year.  Doug Marrone has built a hard-hitting, disciplined team, and appears to be a shoo-in for Big East Coach of the Year.  But don't forget that he was 4-8 last year in his first year on the job - it didn't happen overnight. 


Secondly, the loss of Zach Collaros proved to be devastating for UC.  When Chazz Anderson stepped into the starting lineup and led the team to a pair of wins as a redshirt freshman, the veteran Bearcat defense held Marshall and Rutgers to 10 points apiece.  For lack of a better expression, Chazz strictly had to "manage the game."  With no seniors on defense this year, the 'Cats probably need to score at least three touchdowns to win a league game, and there's no doubt in my mind that a healthy Collaros could have done that against Syracuse.


As for the defense, I'm as guilty of anyone as thinking it would be better than it's been this season.  But I can't say that I'm shocked.  Last year's team gave up an average of 39 points in its last five games and lost six senior starters in Ricardo Mathews, Alex Daniels, Curtis Young, Andre Revels, Brad Jones, and Aaron Webster.  This year's team was bound to experience some growing pains on defense.


I thought the defense made progress yesterday as it sacked Ryan Nassib four times and forced two turnovers (think Collaros might have produced points on two drives that began at the SU 44 yard line?).  Syracuse finished with a pedestrian 262 yards of total offense.  But there are obvious weaknesses.  The safeties have struggled this season and the 'Cats still need to get more of a pass rush from their front four (only one of Saturday's sacks was by a lineman).  Don't be surprised if tight end Travis Kelce pulls a Connor Barwin and moves to defensive end when he returns from his suspension next year.


"The mark of good football programs is that you win together and you suffer through adversity together," Coach Jones said.  "That's what we're fighting right now.  But you learn a lot about yourselves in the face of adversity.  Nobody is going to quit here.  We're going to keep working and building."


Building is the key word.  In the last few years, the UC football program has attracted record crowds, improved its facilities, and won championships.  Nobody is happy with a 3-5 record, but there's no reason to think that this program can't continue to be one of the best in the Big East.      


In other words, the dark ages are ancient history.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

UC loses three costly turnovers to drown out the positives on Saturday against Syracuse.


CINCINNATI -- The Bearcats needed to create turnovers.


A Reuben Johnson interception and John Hughes fumble recovery equaled two more than UC managed the previous four games.


The Bearcats needed to pressure Ryan Nassib.


Four sacks doubled the most this season.


The Bearcats needed to stop the Syracuse rushing attack.


Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey averaged 3.3 yards a rush through the first half.


On a day when many boxes on the game plan received a check mark, in the end, those meant very little.  


Three plays set the mood of Homecoming. Three plays erased the positive strides of 10 times as many others. Three plays placed 31-7 on the Nippert Stadium scoreboard..


It's unfortunate.


UC's two fumbles and interception led to 17 Syracuse points. In a game hinging on field position and ball control with backup quarterback Chazz Anderson managing the offense in absence of Zach Collaros, those turnovers stood for more than even the 17 points they transformed into.


This team so much driven by passion and energy saw it sapped - three times.


When the defense couldn't overcome the sudden change, the result served as the latest lesson for a unit without starting no seniors and eight sophomores. 


"We turn the ball over and part of growing up as a defense is being able to handle sudden change," Butch Jones said. "We gave up all touchdowns but on one occasion. You got to force a team to kick field goals. You can't give up touchdowns in those sudden change situations."


Despite the first two turnovers, the Bearcats returned from the halftime locker room destined to overcome them.


The drive confused and played with the Syracuse defense. Four third downs were converted. When the Orange ordered up a blitz on third-and-10, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian dialed up the perfect screen. When the middle was exposed on third-and-5, D.J. Woods exploited it with an easy cross. When the secondary broke down, Anderson ran into open space.


UC drove 62 yards in 13 plays with a purpose. It played with determination of placing a bear hug on momentum and never letting go.


On the 14th play, Anderson made a poor choice.


"You got to make smart decisions in the red zone," Anderson said. "They jumped D.J., I should have saw the dig (route) over top. You can't throw interceptions in the red zone. You can't turn the ball over in the red zone. Period. That's on the quarterback."


It's unfortunate.


Nobody will talk about the four third downs he converted that drive, his 214 all-purpose yards or the savvy read and courageous poise in the pocket under pressure he showed on a TD pass to Woods in the first half.


Anderson sat in a folding chair surrounded by reporters after the game and shouldered the blame. He took responsibility for mistakes, whether his or a teammate's. To call him a stand-up guy would be an understatement.


He's not Collaros. Nobody expected him to be. However, when the Bearcats couldn't muster but 29 rushing yards from non-quarterbacks, Anderson was forced to emulate No. 12 against a defense designed to eat up somebody attempting such a stunt.


It's unfortunate.


"I live and die by Chazz, he's my brother one of my best friends on this team," running back John Goebel said. "He's one of the best leaders on this team. If the players voted he would definitely be a captain right now. He's taking it really hard, he's a man of great character. It's going to be hard for him, but I love Chazz. He threw an interception, but it happens. Quarterbacks are going to throw interceptions."


While Syracuse turned three turnovers into 17 points, UC turned two turnovers into two punts. And zero first downs.


Anderson owned his share of the blame, but those reactions to big plays made the difference. 


"Everyone has to step up and rally around the backup quarterback," Jones said. "I thought we took a little bit of progress at times on defense of creating some turnovers and some sacks but you got to get off the field. We have to force three-and-outs and we have to be able to answer sudden change."


Now, the program must react to the sudden change of 3-5, 1-2 and climb uphill into the Big East picture.


Walter Stewart, so often noted for his contagious smile and joking demeanor, answered questions as obviously drained as the rest of his teammates in the locker room.


This isn't normal for Stewart, whose only known success within the Big East and on a national stage.


For today, it's unfortunate. But Stewart's determined to move on.   


"It's very odd," Stewart said. "Especially coming off an undefeated season and being in a position where now you are under .500 and it's kind of weird, but that's what shows the team's character if we are going to keep fighting or give up. We are the defending champs right now still, we have to make the most of our opportunities from here on out."


He's not alone. 


"Is everyone embarrassed? Absolutely," Jones said. "Is everyone disappointed? Absolutely. Is this what we expect? No. But I am going to be honest with you, it's part of being a head coach is to be prepared for these situations and there are no surprises to me. I love our kids and I am going to keep coaching them every day along with our coaching staff."

SU-UC: Matchups to watch

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GAME: Saturday, Oct. 30, noon, Nippert Stadium, ESPN3.com

The Bearcats (3-4, 1-1) face a resurgent Syracuse program riding high after their upset victory against West Virginia in Morgantown. If the Orange didn't have UC's attention then, they do now.

Syracuse (5-2, 2-1) has been able to win both its Big East road games -- at USF and WVU -- with a defense that only allowed a combined 23 points to the two teams. That includes allowing a kickoff return for a TD against the Bulls.

Butch Jones said he's as impressed watching the physicality of the Orange as any team in football. Of course, the Bearcats are backed into a corner themselves. Few teams fight harder than those with their backs against the wall.

The Bearcats defense was exposed by the Bulls for 38 points and a long line of missed assignments along with missed red zone opportunities doomed the team.

Saturday, we learn what type of season and storylines will be followed over the final month of the regular season. With a win, UC positions itself with a legitimate opportunity to make a run at a third consecutive Big East title. With a loss, that will be a long, difficult road to travel. One that will wind through Morgantown, Connecticut in late November and the surging Pitt Panthers. It would set the stage to start worrying about bowl eligibility.

Prior to the season, we would have looked at this game more about the Homecoming festivities than the competition on the field, but all of a sudden we stumble upon a critical turning point game in this team's season.

So, what will determine how it breaks? Let's take a look.


UC run defense vs. Delone Carter/Antwon Bailey

You would have thought this would be the same philosophy against South Florida, only B.J. Daniels, who struggled all season, was able to throw the ball all over UC. However, the tempo of what type of game the Orange prefer to play will be different in comparison to last Friday.

The common thread in every Syracuse win is possessing the ball through the run game. Carter and Bailey are averaging 5.3 yards per rush. 

Here are their rush totals in three wins vs. FBS opponents

Akron  45-202

USF    43-178

WVU   38-183

Now, two losses

Washington  31-112

Pittsburgh     25-77

The Orange want to pound the ball, grind it out, rack up TOP and wear the opponent down. UC's run defense is ranked No. 18 in the country and they will need to live up to that to force Syracuse out of its comfort zone.

If Ryan Nassib is forced to start airing it out -- whether because of UC shutting down the run or the Cats jumping out to an early lead -- it will have Syracuse playing UC's style of game. How did Pittsburgh put on a 45-14 rout? They hit a 79-yard bomb for a TD on the first play of the game and scored four touchdowns in the first half. The Bearcats would love for this to become a high school 7-on-7 tournament from the opening kickoff. The more points, the more likely UC wins. 

But, that all begins and ends with stopping the Syracuse rushing attack of Carter and Bailey. 


Zach Collaros vs. his left knee

Nobody outside the walls of UC knows whether or not the leading passer in the Big East will play on Saturday. In fact, he probably won't even know until he wakes up Saturday morning.

But, if he does decide give it a shot, which I personally believe he will,  the question will be how much of his mobility will still be available. Collaros does a fantastic job of buying time in the pocket to create big plays down the field. When the instincts of avoiding the pass rush kick in, how will that knee react. It's easy to judge it in practice, when you are thinking about every move, but what happens when a lineman breaks through the rush in a split second?

If his knee doesn't respond to the point where he can capably avoid the rush, moving to Chazz Anderson would likely be the best move.


Butch Jones/OC Mike Bajakian vs. Scott Shafer

Shafer's Orange defense is making a habit of winning the halftime adjustments battle. In fact, this year's defense shut out four teams in the second half. That includes both WVU and USF in their Big East road wins.

The Bearcats won the second half against Oklahoma and Louisville -- arguably their two best performances of the season against BCS competition. The only second half they lost since the midseason turnaround was last week against South Florida.

If the Bearcats can't jump out to a significant early lead and force a tempo Syracuse doesn't want to play, then salvaging a win in the halftime adjustments against Shafer will be imperative.


Bearcats vs. themselves

UC felt they were the best team on the field on Friday against USF -- and it would be hard to argue against them. But mental mistakes, blown coverages and penalties were brutal.

Twelve penalties for 115 yards can't happen.

Stepping out of bounds at the 4-yard line can't happen. 

Seven dropped passes can't happen.

Unsportsmanlike penalties can't happen.

Not against a team that limits opportunities the way Syracuse does.

Bearcats Breakfast 10.29.10

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I'll start with what everybody wants to know. That's probably not what I watched on TV last night or my feelings on constructing the perfect Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich (extra jelly, spread evenly without overflow), rather on the status of QB Zach Collaros.

Butch Jones said on his radio show last night that Collaros will be a gametime decision. He said this week that he was hoping to make a call by Thursday, but obviously Collaros' progress has been significant enough that he wants to wait.

If he is that close, it would be hard to imagine him not getting some kind of shot, but that's speculation on my part. Knowing how competitive Collaros is, though, if he doesn't see the field in some capacity it would be a decent upset. He may not play the whole game, but he will be doing everything in his power to give it a shot.

All right, anything else going on?

--- The Bearcats have been pounding the message of creating turnovers all season, but the decibel level is rising. Here's my story about it.  

J.K. Schaffer's acrobatic interception against Oklahoma was the last time UC managed a turnover and especially with what happened against USF, it's obvious for this team to win they need to be better in that area.

Jones said two areas that are the most important for any football team are red zone efficiency and turnover margin. They are currently -7 in TO margin.

As I point out in the story, some of creating turnovers is luck. It seems like the ball almost has to start bouncing UC's way. Of 14 fumbles by opponents, the Cats ended up with only three. That percentage ranks 114th in the country.

--- Dan Hoard talked about why nobody should be concerned with a backup quarterback taking snaps. It's sort of what happens around here.

In fact, he calculated a stat saying backups are 10-0 the last three years.

--- Another point Dan brought up I wanted to touch on was the case of Vidal Hazelton. Bill Koch wrote this piece on him last week while I was gone and I never got an opportunity to touch on it.

Hazelton has been rehabbing like a madman and is hoping to be able to play against Pitt.

He tweeted yesterday that he's "got a surprise coming for Bearcats fans." He said he was running routes at full speed.

I can't imagine the lift that would be for the team, but I only wonder if its worth it. I have never had what I love to do most taken away from me, not once, but twice, in a two year period. So, I can't speak to what's important to him. But I would hate to see him jeopardize his NFL future to come back and play (possibly) one last time for UC.

But, wow, I don't think I've ever seen anybody come back from an ACL as fast as Hazelton. I was watching him a little this week and you almost can't tell he was injured.

--- Brian Bennett breaks down Cuse-Cinci with a video blog

--- Best Syracuse week headline goes to Sam Elliot and the News Record staff. And the story offers some informative nuggets as well.

--- Bearcats Sports Weekly with Tommy G is now up online.

--- I took some pictures of the new Bearcat statue outside Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex. 

--- Here's a breakdown of all the Homecoming events going on this weekend.  

--- Hard to believe this, but the first basketball exhibition is Monday. UC will host a team they played in Canada, Carleton St., one of the dominant programs north of the border.

UC beat them 87-70 on their tour earlier this year. The Bearcats are banged up, but Mick Cronin said for now it looks like everybody except for Kelvin Gaines will be able to play.

--- In some randomness...

SNL is 95 percent garbage unless they have a spectacular guest host these days, but when Arcade Fire shows up next month it will be worth watching, er, DVRing.

--- Ron Washington, the Halloween costume. Let's hope this kid doesn't take on Washington's vice's along with his uniform.

--- Agreed.

--- If you spend 11 percent of your life laughing, you are living the right way. If you watching a TV show where people spend 11 percent of the time laughing, you need to contact a therapist. 

Deja Vu All Over Again?

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By now we should be used to this.


When it comes to starting quarterbacks, UC might as well stand for "Unanticipated Change."


Over the last three years, the Bearcats are an incredible 10-0 when forced to start a backup quarterback (details at end of column).


In 2007, Ben Mauk missed a pair of starts due to a bum shoulder and Dustin Grutza led the 'Cats to wins over Miami and Marshall.


In 2008, Grutza broke his leg in week two, and Tony Pike took over.  Pike started victories over Miami and Akron before breaking his arm against the Zips (with Zach Collaros coming off the bench to lead the team to a game-winning field goal).  The "Next Man In" was Chazz Anderson who directed the 'Cats to wins over Marshall and Rutgers before Pike reclaimed the starting job for the rest of the season.  When Tony got knocked woozy in a couple of late-season games, Grutza got rid of his cast and crutches and rallied UC to second half comebacks at Louisville and Hawaii.


Last year, Pike was gaining momentum as a Heisman candidate when he broke his arm again, and the team didn't miss a beat in the four games that Collaros started.


In other words, if Chazz Anderson has to start against Syracuse on Saturday, there's no reason to think that the Bearcats are doomed.


Zach Collaros is officially listed as questionable due his bruised knee, but did take some limited practiced reps on Thursday.


"Well, he's gone through practice all week long and it will be a game time decision," Butch Jones told me at his radio show on Thursday night.  "Right now it's too early to say because of the amount of time left - every hour is part of the healing process.  The great thing is that Chazz has split reps throughout the whole year.  Our philosophy is to get our number two quarterback ready the same way that we get our starting quarterback ready.  We'll have another practice on Friday and we'll put him through some things on game day and see where we're at.  We always take player safety first.  I know that he's chomping at the bit - I have three text messages from him on my phone already saying, 'I'm ready to go.'  We'll see come game time."


If Collaros is unable to play, don't look for major changes on offense.


"We may alter things a little bit," Jones said.  "We have to play to the strengths of our guy under center.  It all stems from the quarterback spot.  So we may alter a few things in the game plan to play to his strengths if Chazz is the guy.  But the great thing is that there are a lot of similarities between the two guys.  Chazz is probably a little bit faster, and we have an offensive system that we can build around the quarterback. 


"Whoever starts at quarterback, we're just going to need to step up and make plays around him - and not just offensively.  On defense, we have to get off of the field.  And in this game, special teams will be critical - we have to make some plays on special teams on Saturday."    


Collaros is not the only Bearcat looking to make a rapid recovery from a knee injury.  Wide receiver Vidal Hazelton, who tore his ACL in the season opener at Fresno State, sent out the following tweet to his 1,138 twitter followers on Thursday:


Ran routes today like full speed I'm like proud of how far along I've come.  I still got work to do though. Surprise coming soon for the Bearcat fans


Last week, Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Bill Koch wrote that Hazelton hoped to be back for the regular season finale against Pitt, but the next-to-last game against UConn is apparently not out of the question.


"There may be a chance," Coach Jones said.  "We would never do anything to jeopardize him, but he's out there running around and practicing.  It's great to see him in uniform and I think that has really uplifted our kids.  It's a great illustration that if you have a great mentality and work ethic, you can do anything.


"In all of my years of coaching, and I think (athletic trainer) Bob Mangine would say the same thing, the progression that he's made coming back from this knee injury has been unbelievable.  He's rehabbing 8 to 10 hours a day - basically every free moment, whether he's in the training room or at home." 


* * * * *


Here's how I calculated the 10-0 stat for backup QBs:


2007:  Grutza 2-0 starting in place of Mauk.


2008:  Pike 2-0 starting in place of Gruzta.  Anderson 2-0 starting in place of Pike.  At that point Pike returned and started the final 8 games (even when Grutza was able to play), so I'm no longer counting him as a backup.


2009:  Collaros 4-0 starting in place of Pike.


* * * * *


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard


Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.


Sam on rock path.jpg

I was walking over to the UC basketball availability on Thursday when I was told about the new Bearcats statue they put up by the roundabout between Fifth Third Arena and the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex.

People started talking about it, so I was intrigued.

Then I walked over to it and have to admit it wasn't what I expected. The statue is of a Bearcat, but not the friendly, national championship mascot we all have come to enjoy at games. No, this was like a genetically-engineered, man-killing Bearcat one second after you talked trash about its mama. All anger. He doesn't want to hear your complaining and is willing to eat your young to prove his point.  

Good stuff.

Anyway, I popped a couple photos for you guys to grab a glimpse.



In search of turnovers

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The Bearcats have been among the worst teams in college football in creating turnovers, but they're intently focused on reversing the concerning trend.


CINCINNATI -- Drew Frey stepped in front of the first pass of the night from B.J. Daniels on Friday. The USF quarterback with the tendency to make the dangerous throw did just that. The ball fell right into the hands of the Bearcats sophomore.


He couldn't hold on.


At the time, it felt like what would be the first of many turnover opportunities for the Bearcats on Friday. Unfortunately for them, it was essentially their last.


Such has been the 2010 season for the Bearcats defense. A bad bounce here, a dropped interception there and what was a playmaking dry spell morphed into a crop-killing drought.


In the last four games, UC created one turnover. J.K. Schaffer's acrobatic interception against Oklahoma's Landry Jones aside, the Bearcats own nary an interception or fumble recovery.


From Clifton to Syracuse, it's no secret the Bearcats have a problem and desperately need to solve it.


"Yes, it's frustrating," cornerback Reuben Johnson said. "Yes, it's in the back of our heads. And yes we have to make plays. It's a must."


Only Kansas (4) created fewer turnovers than Cincinnati (5) among FBS schools.


The Bearcats' two interceptions ranks 114th of 120.


Seven FBS teams returned more interceptions for touchdowns than the Bearcats have total picks. 


The numbers paint an ugly picture. But the statistics are ones the team focused almost all its energy on erasing - starting Saturday against Syracuse.    


"Great defenses create turnovers," Johnson said. "Point blank. There is nothing to talk about. There is no conversation about it. You look at any great defense in college football, they are great because they create turnovers."


Johnson doesn't lie. Of the top 10 teams in the country in creating turnovers, two are undefeated (Oregon, Michigan St.) and four are ranked in the AP Top 25 (Ohio State, Miami).


Extra drills on stripping the ball and catching it at the highest point filled practices this week at Nippert Stadium. And the Bearcats talk continuously about finding a way to reverse this negative trend.


All that said, I mean, you'd almost HAVE to fall into a few more turnovers by plain luck, right? Not necessarily.


How unlucky has UC been? It ranks 116th in the FBS in fumble recovery percentage. Of 14 balls opponents put on the ground, the Bearcats ended up with it only three times.


For DL Dan Giordano, luck plays a partial role, but personal responsibility looms more relevant.


"We have definitely had a couple missed opportunities where we should have come down with it a couple times, people not pursuing," he said. "This week we have been stressing more. We are going to change this around."


As to how the Bearcats found themselves in this position, blame is tough to place. Fielding the youngest defense in the BCS - with eight sophomores and three juniors - likely plays a role. Making plays becomes as much a learned art form as perfecting a fire zone blitz or inside stunt.


"A lot of it is your overall development of your football program," Butch Jones said. "A lot of times when you play eight sophomores they are not as developed in your strength and conditioning standpoint. It's understanding how to secure the tackle and rip the ball. Watching the game from Friday night we were tugging at the ball and trying to get it out. We just couldn't' get it out. It's overall awareness."


Johnson and the secondary are all too aware of their interception skid. In fact, no starting cornerback or safety owns a pick this year. LB Schaffer came up with one against Oklahoma and reserve nickel back Pat Lambert picked off a pass in the opener at Fresno State.


While pointing fingers at the secondary would be easy, Jones insists the blame should spread to all 11 players on the field, not the four in the defensive backfield.


"So much of creating turnovers and interceptions not just in the back end," he said. "It is generating a pass rush, getting to the quarterback, tipping the ball. It's our linebackers and their pass coverage. Obviously, the secondary is always singled out because that is what everyone sees. But when you are a great defensive unit, which we are striving to be, it's all 11 guys that have a hand in a turnover."


But tell that to Johnson. He made the ESPN highlights on Friday night against USF because he was thinking about creating one of those elusive turnovers. Unfortunately, only the No. 5 on his back chasing Dontavia Bogan for 64 yards could be seen.


"When a defensive back gets beat in front of 30,000 people, everyone is going to see it," Johnson said. "When I got beat on the deep shot, my mindset was make a big play when they throw the hitch route. Great players don't get caught into that mess, great players play the defense that is called."


On Saturday, the Bearcats hope the defenses called can finally land the turnovers to end this unfortunate streak.


"It's going to happen," Johnson said. "We got to keep our relentless attitude and the ball is going to bounce our way."


It almost has to, right?

Bearcats Breakfast 10.28.10

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As I went to bed last night I couldn't help but think how Wednesday night was a great night of television. Yeah, I probably should be having more profound thoughts as I lay down, but let's not judge.

You start off with Game 1 of the World Series between Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum -- and that was about the sixth best thing on last night.

The final season premiere of Friday Night Lights on DirectTV was on and it, of course, was outstanding. I won't go all spoiler alert on you, but it's standard excellence from FNL.

Then, I spent 22 minutes rolling at one of the funnier episodes of one of the funniest sitcoms on TV. If you haven't seen last night's Modern Family episode, I highly recommend it.

Of course, Game 1 was still going on, but I couldn't switch over because I was locked into the fourth quarter of Bulls-Thunder. Watching Derrick Rose play is one of the coolest ways you can waste 20 minutes. Watching the Thunder overcome him was the coolest way I have spent 20 minutes all week.

As I saw posted on Twitter: "Watching your favorite team lose to the Thunder is like being killed by an avalanche of puppies."

How do you not like those guys.

Oh yeah, then as that game ended Blake Griffin showed why he may be the reincarnation of Dominique Wilkins and Charles Barkley combined. Holy crap, what a debut -- he went for 20 and 14 with half of those coming from a foot above the rim. Here are the first points of his career. Sick. 

Last but not least, one of the best, most honest interviews with President Barack Obama you'll see came from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Stewart is obviously a Democrat, but was able to have open, critical debate about issues that are at the center of politics right now. Here's the interview and NPR blog.

If only the TV set could deliver like that every night. Not sure why spent that long telling you what I watched, but there you go anyway.

All right, let's eat....

--- Hard not to start anywhere but Notre Dame today. The details will arise soon, but there are some serious answers that officials of the school need to find and fast.

The kind of negligance it takes to allow a student to stand on top of a scaffolding like that in 50 mph winds is as inexcusable as it is incomprehensible. Here's the AOL Fanhouse story.

Let's just hope programs across the country take notice.

--- On to less serious news, Zach Collaros is improving. At least, this according to Butch Jones yesterday. Jones said he was "encouraged" by what he saw from Collaros, who participated more extensively on Wednesday than he did on Tuesday. He said he looked sharp and Jones put the chance he will play at 50-50, which is about what you could have said at the beginning of the week, but seems like more of a reality now.

We should know the decision by the end of today.

Of course, you can follow me on Twitter for an instant update as soon as I hear, or pop back here periodically.

--- Don't forget to email any and all football and basketball questions today, (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com), I'm throwing together mailbag, so any advanced notice so I can secure the answers would be appreciated.  

--- You hate to even talk about this, but there is a possibility the Big East doesn't fill all its bowl spots. And there is also a chance UC doesn't qualify. Brian Bennett took a look at that doomsday scenario.

It reminds you of just how big a game Saturday will be for both UC and Syracuse. A loss for the Bearcats would force UC to win either at WVU or at home against Pitt, on top of winning the other two they will favored in vs. Rutgers and at UConn -- just to get to 6-6.

--- Syracuse's Doug Marrone quickly turned the Orange around. Coming off their biggest win in his tenure, suddenly the future is looking brighter in Syracuse. This from Kevin Kelly at the Enquirer.

They are riding a wave of momentum, among other cliches.  

--- I put together the latest edition of Ink of the Week yesterday. This time I caught up with the Momma's Boy himself, Isaiah Pead.

--- Would you like a map of Homecoming? OK, here you go

--- Picked up my latest edition of SI and found a familiar face in Faces in the Crowd. That would be UC's volleyball superstar Stephanie Niemer. Well deserved.

--- At The Legion of Excellence Gala four new members were inducted into the Hall of Fame last night. Among those were Olympic silver medalist David Payne, All-America point guard Steve Logan, No. 2 all-time women's scorer Valerie King and six-time All-America swimmer Honza Vitazka.

From the reports I've heard, it was quite a night. Congrats to all involved.

--- Our Voice of the Bearcats Dan Hoard is a Syracuse alum, as some of you might know. Which puts him in a bit of a precarious position on Saturday. The same could be said for Orangeman Tommy Gelehrter.

With so much intensity wrapped in the game for both, I could only hope we could get a moment of complete meltdown like we saw in the booth at FAU last weekend.

Those guys are two of the best in the business, so probably not, but a kid can hope, right?   


Each week throughout football season I will feature a tattoo of a UC football player. Everybody has ink these days and these tatts obviously mean something to the guys. They spend plenty of hours and energy coming up with the perfect concept. They should be given the opportunity to show them off.

What better way to get to know the Bearcats players you cheer on every weekend than to hear about things most important to them.

This week I caught up with running back Isaiah Pead, who currently leads the nation in yards per carry by a running back with 7.7 per touch.

Pead has quite a bit of ink. He doesn't know what the next one he picks will be and takes the thought behind each one very seriously...unlike some others.

Among those that I didn't take pictures of are the first tattoo he got when the Columbus-native first arrived at UC his freshman season.

It's of a lion and on above the lion in script reads, " Fight of a Lion," with "Pride of a King," below it.

"The lion is the king of the jungle and I got big pride," Pead said.

On his left bicep he owns a cross with a ribbon wrapping around it three times. The three words inscribed on the ribbons are Loyalty, Pride and Respect.

"Those are the three main aspects in life I feel are most important," Pead said.

Above the cross reads, "Yesterday is gone...Tomorrow is never promised...Today is all I have."

Pead also inked up a shine going into the cross with a bible verse on it.

However, I have shots of two different tattoos.

Let's start with this one


What: Picture of a football exploding out of a star

Where: Left bicep 

Significance: Through the smoke coming off the explosion of the star reads "A Star was Born,"  with his birthday: 12-14-89 at the top.

A tail trails the expolosion that reads: WWJD





And then last, but most definitely not least, this gem...


What: "Momma's Boy"

Where: Inside right bicep

Significance: "I am a big momma's boy. I didnt' really think of getting a momma's boy tat, I was going to get her name somewhere."




Bearcats Breakfast 10.27.10

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Well, we all survived the great storm of 2010. Or, at least, what was supposed to be the great storm of 2010. While in the Lindner Center during UC's football luncheon yesterday, myself among a small group of reporters stood in the hallway waiting on some players to talk to.

As everyone came through, each was covered in water more than the other, looking like they just ran the stadium steps for two hours.

"Don't go out there," Alex Hoffman said.

When a 300-pound offensive lineman tells you not to go out there, you don't. It actually wasn't that bad thanks a short walk under cover to the garage, but still a pretty funny scene.

Hopefully all of you are among the residents with power today. I am assuming you are since you're reading this right now.

Yet, I digress. Let's eat...

--- I'm looking to put together a mailbag very soon, both football and basketball related. Send me an email with your questions (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) and I'll start getting your answers.

--- Scott Springer spoke with OL Jason Kelce about the Big East and his bout with illegal touching on Friday against USF. Kelce had some skills with the ball, though, Springer points out that the senior averaged 9.5 yards a carry during his career at Cleveland Heights High.

I, for one, officially cast my vote for Kelce as goal-line running back.

--- Yesterday was all about the quarterback situation, as the two days will be until we get official word from Butch Jones on the knee of Zach Collaros. I had this story yesterday talking to Chazz Anderson, Jones and briefly with Collaros.

Zach was originally on crutches his first walk through the Lindner Center hallway, then walked back through without them later. He was wearing a pretty large brace and wasn't exactly sprinting.

There seems to be a pretty serious sentiment around the team that Collaros definitely could play. But he did not participate fully in any drills Tuesday, mostly tossed on the side.

We should know sometimes Thursday, stay tuned.

--- Whoever plays QB will have to contend with a Syracuse defense ready to get after it. I thought Jones had a telling quote during yesterday's press conference. (You can view the entire presser here)

"They are one of the most physical teams I have ever watched scouting an opponent," he said. "I enjoy watching them."

Coaches compliment the opposing team every week. For once, I would love to see any coach unleash what he/she really feels: "This team is garbage. If we don't wreck them and embarass their families then we might as well quit playing." However, this sounded different from Jones. It sounded truly genuine, and I've not heard him make a statement like that all season.

Linebacker Doug Houge obviously can give the business considering he was just named National Defensive Player of the Week.

--- UC counters with its own linebacker, J.K. Schaffer. The junior was named the UC Scholar Athlete of the Month

Schaffer has winner written all over him for whatever he does once leaving Clifton. Smart guy, considerate, hard-working. I'm a fan.

Unfortunately, I have to eat a little crow with him tonight. I haven't had the opportunity to interview him since I wrote this piece on him. After the interview I talked a little too much trash about how my Moeller Crusaders were going to take out his LaSalle Lancers that week. They did not.

--- Speaking of good people in the UC football program, great story from yesterday's practice by Rontina McCann at Fox19.

--- I went off on an unnecessary tangent in yesterday's breakfast about the knee-jerk reactions of fans.

Brian Bennett's mailbag is a perfect example.

-- BB also issued his stock report for the week with Marcus Barnett making his stock up list. I have a hunch you might be able to read more about Bones in this space some time later this week.

--- Syracuse's Doug Marrone celebrated his big win last week by eating a bologna and cheese sandwich.

Personally, I love bologna and cheese. When I was young I used to get one packed in my lunch. Of course, I also got an apple in there that would squish the crap out of my bologna and cheese and leave violent hole in the middle of the sandwich. And do you know how hard it was to trade an apple for some Animal Crackers in second grade?

Anyway, I'm liking Marrone more an more by the day.

--- Syracuse has ruined three different homecomings this season, including their own. They go for No. 4 Saturday.   

--- Cincinnati247 has a story on the new UC offense talking with Cashmere Wright and Mick Cronin.

Certainly, this team needs to pass and shoot better if they are going to make the NCAA tournament. The return of Parker and Wright should play a significant role in assuring that happens.

--- The Indiana Pacers open their season tonight and Lance Stephenson is on the roster. He's been back with the team all camp. I wouldn't expect him to see many, if any, minutes this season.

--- My favorite headline of the day: "Florida bomb squad defuses a box of kittens"

--- Sports Pickle produced your office's injury report. Great stuff. If I was trying to find myself on the list, I  think I would be: questionable (struggling to think of a reason to get out of bed).


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(Jason courtesy of sidereel.com and "Halloween")
jason kelce.jpg

(Jason courtesy of fogdad.com)

      Among the plethora of offensive plays for UC in their disappointing loss to USF was one where a pass deflected off running back Isaiah Pead and into the arms of center Jason Kelce.  The ever elusive #60 then galloped downfield like a kid scoring his first bag of Halloween candy.

      For those of us familiar with Jason Kelce, it was a joy to watch. Anytime the so-called "big uglies" get the football, it's a real treat. Going back in time, I can recall a game where retired NFL lineman (and ex-Bearcat) Jason Fabini recovered a fumble in the endzone for a touchdown.

      Of all the pancake blocks and rushing attacks big Jason led during his Bearcat career, it was that play that brought the biggest smile to Fabini's face. Ditto for his mother whom I instantaneously found in the crowd and interviewed on the radio.

      Alas, this Jason was not to have the same fate. Not only was Kelce eventually tackled, he was flagged for "illegal touching" in a game that featured that call enough to warrant ESPN putting a "mature" audience alert on screen.

      Not to worry, this "illegal touching" is nothing that might go on in a dark theater or back seat. This is an obscure call that somehow found its way into the UC/USF game twice.

      "Two in one game is usually not good," said Kelce. "First one, I don't know what I was thinking. Second one, I thought you're allowed to grab it, so I just went up and tried to get it. Apparently, it has to be tipped by a defensive player, so now I know."

      Whatever the rule is, I don't like it. Not just because I'm a UC grad, but because it takes the fun out of watching a guy run with the ball who rarely gets the opportunity. For Kelce, a demonstrative sort in the first place, you can bet his eyes were as big as saucers.

      "Let's score on this one!" said a laughing Kelce recalling his brief romp with the pumpkin. "You don't get to touch it too often so you take the little ones you can get."

      And the last time Jason Kelce tucked a football and ran was....

      "High school--I picked up a fumble recovery," said Kelce. "I did score a rushing touchdown my last season. I've got some good moves. I was telling the coaches during the spring, goal-line package running back--they need someone back there."

      While you laugh at the prospect, truth is, Kelce was being a little modest about his running abilities. He did average 9.5 yards per carry at Cleveland Heights High School. Plus, prior to playing offensive line, he was a linebacker and walked-on at UC in the hopes of winning a spot there.

      Of course, that was all before packing on the 280 or so pounds he carries now. As a second team All-Big East offensive lineman with experience at guard and center, Kelce has had to make a physical transition that appears to have worked out well.

      He is now UC's most notable veteran offensive lineman. He's also been around the program long enough to guide his teammates through difficult losses, such as the South Florida debacle.

      "Two years ago at UConn we experienced something similar," said Kelce. "I was starting on that team. We've been through it before and we know if we win out we still win the Big East because South Florida has two Big East losses. Everything's still up in the air for us."

      Thus far, only Pitt has an unblemished Big East mark, but the point Kelce was making was that it was still only one league loss. Not that it makes the USF loss any more palatable. You'd like to think your odds are pretty good when you drop 590 yards on an opponent.

      "The only issues were the penalties and dropped balls and stuff, killing ourselves," said Kelce. "We did a pretty good job of pushing the ball down the field. You like to win the game when you have that many yards and that many points, but that's why it's a team game."

      One thing the team, and in particular, the offensive line hopes to improve on this week is the rushing game. USF pretty much stymied Isaiah Pead and the run game which led to Zach Collaros having to throw more passes.

      "That was one thing the last game against USF that we were really disappointed in," said Kelce. "They did a pretty good job of stacking the box and tackling. We always want (Isaiah) Pead to get going because that helps out the passing game."

      Some of that was due to Junior Alex Hoffman missing the game. Early on, it appears Hoffman will be back plowing the trenches along side Kelce.

      "Yeah, I think we'll be healthy for the first time in a couple weeks," said Kelce. Butch Jones confirmed as much in his Tuesday afternoon press conference.

      Getting the "A" game out of Pead in the line is crucial in beating a much-improved Syracuse team for Homecoming. The last time the Orange were here in '08, UC was clinching an Orange Bowl berth and celebrating. Fast forward to 2010 and a Syracuse win Saturday would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.

      The league's a virtual crapshoot with it all boiling down to who wants it the most.

      "This is as big of a year as I've seen as the league is up for grabs," said Kelce. "There really isn't a weak team this year. All the teams you thought would be good aren't doing as good as they were supposed to do at the beginning of the year. It's really just up for grabs. Each week is going to be a battle. I really don't think the winner of the Big East is going to have zero losses."

      Clearly, Kelce and the Bearcats want to win and clearly they NEED to win. Not that mathematicians are huge football fans, but one more loss puts the Bearcats in an extremely unenviable position.

      Then, there's the Homecoming factor. Nothing quite spoils a parade and a festive atmosphere like a Homecoming loss. No one's used to those and Kelce wants to make sure it stops right here.

      Jason Kelce and many of the Bearcats are not accustomed to losing. Dropping a game at Nippert for the first time since 2007 didn't sit well with many.

      "I had to tell the guys after you lose that you have to sing the fight song," said Kelce about the USF defeat. "So many guys haven't experienced a loss. It's something you take pride in. You love to be successful in Nippert and we don't want to lose another one as far as I'm concerned."

      Research also shows the Bearcats sing with much more gusto after scoring more points than the opposition.

UPDATE: Zach Collaros was on the field for the first 14 periods of practice on Tuesday, but didn't fully participate in any drills. Butch Jones is still likely to wait until Thursday to make a decision.


CINCINNATI -- Junior Zach Collaros will practice this afternoon. He walked around the Bearcats hallways on Tuesday afternoon, both with and without precautionary crutches, while wearing a large protective brace around his left knee.


The official injury is a knee bruise.  


Collaros wants to play. He always wants to play. He's one of the most ferocious competitors on the UC team. It may take a team of UC trainers and some duct tape to keep him off the field Saturday against Syracuse.


"He is a tough individual, he is extremely competitive," Butch Jones said. "I know he is going to do his due diligence in the training room to be ready to play because it's important to him."


No doubt, it should be important to Jones and his staff, as well.


Collaros leads the Big East in passing efficiency (159.16), total offense (285.4), total passing yards, (1,918) and passing yards per game (274).


During UC's resurgence during the last four games, he's averaged 314.75 yards passing per game with 14 touchdowns to four interceptions. He also owns a completion of at least 48 yards in all of the last four contests.


Yet, with five Big East conference games remaining, including a trip to West Virginia and rivalry contest against Pittsburgh to close, putting Collaros' season at risk should somebody fall on it would be a mistake.


Perhaps most importantly, with a bye week following Syracuse and a knee bruise being an injury three weeks of rest would almost surely cure, would it be better on all accounts to allow Collaros to come back 100 percent at WVU?


All of these factors will play into the decision Jones says he will likely make a call on by Thursday.


At the end of the day, however, if trainer Bob Mangine and his staff say Collaros can't go -- he won't go.


"What they say is golden," Jones said.


That could mean a golden opportunity for Chazz Anderson. Once the backup over Collaros, Anderson saw the roles reversed last season before Tony Pike injured his arm at South Florida. What happened next, as they say, is history.


Being passed over and watching the backup who took his spot blossom into one of the top quarterbacks in the country hasn't phased Anderson.


"It's tough, but the relationship me and Zach have right now, I wish him nothing but the best," said the junior who started two games in 2008. "It's been really cool to see him progress because I know it must have been a weird feeling three years ago when I was playing and he wasn't. It was cool to see him get his opportunity and take advantage of that."


Anderson's training for his opportunity and Jones said every week the backup takes the same number of snaps in practice. The third-stringer takes half of that number. It means, as far as practice reps go, this week shouldn't be much different for Anderson.


On Saturday, though, there won't be much that would be the same should he draw the start.


"The difference is the experience," Jones said "Just like everyone talks about Zach started four games in his career going into this year. As a starting quarterback that is not very many. People all of a sudden think he's been a starter. It's a progression. It's game situation, it's the speed of the game, it's the relevance of every play."


Anderson feels prepared. He'll at the very least own more notice than last week. He was thrust into the situation of two minutes of warmup then being asked to drive UC the length of the field for a game-tying TD and two-point conversion. He almost did it, too.


"Almost," he said, "but almost doesn't count."


The opportunity wasn't a complete failure in Anderson's eyes.


"For me, it was an unbelievable compliment," he said. "I say that because the guys had a lot of faith in me. That means the world to me, more than playing or scoring a touchdown. I just want to help the guys win a football game. It was awesome."


We'll see how awesome this Saturday will be for Anderson depending on what happens underneath the most watched knee brace in Cincinnati.


Regardless, Jones doesn't plan to change the offense and Anderson doesn't plan to change his mentality. He said he prepares to be the starter every week and, for him, playing winning football won't be as difficult as one might assume.


"When you have phenomenal athletes around you it is kind of easier to transition and run with the 1's as opposed to the 2's," Anderson said. "From a quarterback's standpoint, just stick with your progressions. You do that on any level on any team you are going to be successful."

Bearcats Breakfast 10.26.10

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We have UC media luncheon and practice in-between avoiding possible tornadoes toady, so we'll just get right to it.

--- Scott Springer takes a closer look at Syracuse and then delves into the mystery that is the Big East.

At this point, as poorly as we have seen every team play in this conference at one point or another, I am pretty sure everyone is going to finish 4-3 or 3-4 with infinite tiebreakers making the decision and it eventually coming down to a beauty pageant between cheerleading squads.

Pittsburgh, now 2-0 in Big East play, seems to have asserted itself early on. They host Louisville. Knowing this league and what we've seen so far from both teams, that really feels like an upset win for the Cards.

--- Syracuse was supposed to be the perfect Homecoming opponent. Now, not so much. 

--- Brian Bennett takes a national perspective look on how life has changed at UC and Syracuse from one year to the next.

He uses a good amount of stuff from Butch Jones' Monday teleconference and Brian's piece certainly rings true, the mood and expectations have most definitely changed around both UC and Syracuse.  

--- The knee-jerk reaction surrounding football programs from week to week drives me crazy. Cincinnati is nowhere near the level of fan bases at some SEC schools like Florida, who experience a down year and rumors start floating about firing Urban Meyer and his two national titles. But this game and in particular the reactionary nature of fans and media becomes a bit much.

Let's look at UC. 

Granted, you can look back at the non-conference slate and see a team that didn't fulfill expecations. You also saw a team that once it found some footiing nearly knocked off Oklahoma, who spent a week as No. 1 in the country. You saw a team then roll off two impressive wins which turned around the mood and expectations. This season was all about Big East play, UC was putting it together, the birds were chirping and the sun was shining.

But now, one game later, the gargoyles returned. The ship is sinking again.

UC didn't play well. Certainly not well enough to win. The youngest defense in college football suffered a growing pain.

But this season will be judged by the overall performance during conference play. If one poor game last week overflows into another loss against Syracuse, it may be time to GPS the location of the panic button. 

Should West Virginia suddenly start tearing down its program to shreds because Syracuse went into Morgantown and won? Should a giant statue of a mustache be built in front of Heinz Field to honor Dave Wannstedt for his 2-0 BE start? (Actually, yes, snapping a photo in front of a mustache photo would become a sole reason to visit Pittsburgh -- but not the point)

The conference season, particularly this year in the Big East will be a battle of attrition. Teams who keep loses from becoming losing streaks will end up on top. That's the way it will work this season. (An embarrassment as big as being the first Big six conference in the BCS era not to have anyone in any of the three major polls, but a reality) 

There are problems that need to be fixed with UC, however, some of those regarding discipline, blown coverages and dropped passes -- which were the biggest reason for the loss -- were not recently an issue to the extent they were Friday night. Maybe call me a homer, but I view the season through a broader lens then one disappointing game and try to see the big picture. It's one of a Big East schedule still wide open where the Bearcats actually control their own destiny.

I'm sure if the Bearcats win big against Syracuse, the knee-jerk will snap the other way and heap too much praise onto the progress of the program. Such is the state of fanhood and perception in college football these days.

--- Uh, sorry about that diatribe, these things just happen. It's like a Facebook Flash Mob, you never know where, you never know when, but when it does, it's impossible to control.

--- Gary Parrish talks about the possible elimination of the summer recruiting season for college basketball. The move could be a major problem for a school like UC which can't right now live of its name and resume, but rather needs to be in the face, selling the product to the players they desire.

--- David Steele at AOL Fanhouse wondered if the Big East is too big for basketball success. He points out that since expansion, no BE team has won the national title. That came in 2004 with UConn -- though four teams have made the Final Four.

Pitt's Jamie Dixon, when he's not busy saving lives, believes the depth and rigorous conference slate of the regular season does wear teams down. It could have been a reason for some of the BE struggles in the NCAAs last year.

Regardless, interesting read from Steele.

--- How about some randomness....

--- Paul was a sports legend. He was revolutionary. He was perfect. He had eight limbs. He will be missed.

--- Back to the Future reunited recently. Michael J. Fox is still looking for a real hoverboard. I am still looking for a better line to break the tension during a possible fight than, "Get your damn hands off of her."

--- Lots of talk of Halloween costumes, I love Baby Birdman.

Of course, I look back lovingly on the days of Baby Mangino.

Those will all pale in quantity to my folks at the Jersey Shore. Who, even as a fan, I can admit their 15 minutes are up.     

--- Nike marketing is the best there is in sports...



Wading in the Waddell

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This past weekend was the last one for Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Waddell, who accepted the position of athletic director of Townson University in Maryland. Mike was one of the 3 headed Mike's who has really made the University of Cincinnati sports landscape more appealing not only to the fan base but to the city and the national media. Mike Thomas brought Waddell with him from Akron and then Mike Harris came via Miami of Ohio and they have really made UC accessible to all media. I remember being on a local station (1230 WDBZ) not part of the broadcast rights, and they made it clear: everyone matters to us. They didn't just talk about  it or even, as some had done before them avoid it; They lived it. Players, coaches, information and partnerships have become the norm. With Ryan Koslen on board the respect continued and although I am not in the mainstream media as much, blogging for the University of Cincinnati has been a blessing thanks to these gentleman and Mike in particular. When I announced the UC basketball games, it was Waddell who said let's get this place excited and he allowed me to do that in a style that the players loved (unfortunately some of the stiffs and starched ones disapproved). Mike Thomas even used my style of intro's when he mentioned his lovely wife Je-Je-Je- Je-Je-Jenny after the start of one game.

I'm going to miss Mike Waddell, who I introduced to Sugar & Spice as well as the other two Mikes because we always communicated away from the campus as well as on campus; and when he had an idea or thought, or even thought something wasn't right, he wasn't afraid to ask. Imagine that: getting feedback and input irrespective of your position. That is the Mike I know; I also know the military influenced Mike who was passionate about success and pushing the envelope. As long as you understand him, you'll enjoy working with him. Ask anyone from CSPN, Cincinnati's sports professional network and Mike was on board; coaching kids, even his own, he was engaging and getting better academically he was trying.

I know this isn't the last of Waddell we'll see; I'm sure he'll be back and in Baltimore rooting for the 'Cats, especially since they're no direct competition for UC. I would neither be surprised to see them on the basketball schedule as a means of a financial boost to their school and as a complimentary trip back to the Nati'. I look forward to seeing him again and I'm sure many others will too. We often have trouble with personalities that don't mirror ours and when you don't accept people for who they are you stymie your own growth. Mike and I have grown because we accepted each other, plain and simple. Mike Waddell, I accept the fact you're leaving for a chance to be in charge and to deploy the best practices you've learned along the way. If you share with Towson what you shared with us and what you learned while you were here, they will win by default. 

I have won because I have a new friend, a new found respect for a job that is under
appreciated and a new school to root for. If Mike is there then I wish them well and I'm sure he feels the same about me and the University of Cincinnati.

All the best my friend and remember the words of Andrea Jung "If you feel like it's difficult to change, you will probably have a harder time succeeding."

Mike Waddell, changing you have done; succeeding you will always do...

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat


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The Big East has more scenarios than you can shake a stick at!

(Photo courtesy baseballdigest.com)

WHAT: Homecoming

WHY: People love a parade.

WHO: UC vs. Syracuse

WHERE: Nippert Stadium


WHEN: 12 noon, day before Halloween

SERIES: Bearcats up 6-4

LAST ONE: 28-7 UC in the Carrier Dome


      What a difference a week makes. After back-to-back reasonably impressive showings against Miami (OH) and Louisville, the Bearcats came back in a non-trophy game last week and made a team that hadn't scored a touchdown in two weeks look like an offensive juggernaut.

      Sure, the South Florida game was entertaining, but it would've been much more entertaining had a few passes been hung onto and a few more drives been completed with touchdowns. 590 yards of total offense ought to be a win in most leagues, but it wasn't to be against the Bulls.

      Quite honestly, looking at the Big East schedule prior to the season, you probably had the USF game penciled in as a winner. Likewise, a home game against Syracuse was probably in your preseason win column. But, as ESPN's Lee Corso says, "Not so fast!"

      Syracuse doesn't look like the orange-helmeted whipping boys that they've been of late.

      In the 90s and early into this decade, the Orange(men) were dominant against UC with superior players that often made the NFL. When UC's Jason Mammarelli drilled a 45-yard field goal as time expired to beat Syracuse 10 years ago, it was considered a major upset over a major program.

      Then, the tide turned in Mark Dantonio's second year and UC's reeled off five straight against struggling Syracuse teams that weren't living up to their historical success. The last three haven't even been close.

      You can bet Coach Doug Marrone will be using that message heavily as the Orange hit town for Homecoming. THEY are the 5-2 team and UC is treading water at 3-4. THEY beat South Florida in Tampa 13-9, while UC's tackling against USF here looked like the "Running of the Bulls" in Pamplona.

      Now, after being dismantled by Pitt 45-14, Syracuse rebounded with a 19-14 upset of #20 West Virginia in Morgantown.

      Does anyone have a handle on this league?

      Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

     The Bearcats now find themselves in a "must win" situation. To be bowl eligible, they need to win three of the next five. In my opinion, that should be four of the next five because I'm not big on rewarding .500 teams with bowl games. However, ESPN needs programming so pretty much anyone with a chamber of commerce and a set of goalposts has a bowl game.

      Will this be the beginning of another Nippert winning streak? Or, will you have new found time to visit Uncle Frank and Aunt Maude over the holidays?


Well theoretically, UC should be able to move the ball. Healthy Zach Collaros or not, the Bearcats offense is designed to move and strike quickly. Heck, coming in cold, Chazz Anderson moved the team and pretty much threw a TD pass. What Collaros, Anderson or perhaps even Brendon Kay would need is consistent catches from the receivers. While Barnett, Woods and Binns put up huge numbers, those could've been even bigger if they had made a few of the less dramatic catches. Also, the return of Alex Hoffman could be key as UC's running game was stifled without him in. When Isaiah Pead can ramble for 100-plus, then there's all sorts of pass plays that will work.

Syracuse beat the Mountaineers with defense and were led by Senior LB Doug Hogue who had 10 tackles and a couple picks against WVU's Geno Smith. For that, he's the National Defensive Player of the Week. Fellow LB Derrell Smith is the leading tackler for the Orange and this group held USF to 9 points and WVU to 14. (Then again, Pitt nailed'em for 45. Who shows? Jekyll or Hyde?)


A healthy Collaros and the Bearcats should be back in repair enough to get back to .500. However, if the injury hampers his scrambling ability, it takes away from his style and that could be costly. The return of Hoffman and/or major corrections on the offensive line is crucial also. If Pead has holes, everything else can work. If Collaros can't go, Chazz Anderson has the discipline to control the game, but he'll need help from the defense....


Redshirt Sophomore Ryan Nassib threw for just 63 yards (one score) on 5-13 passing vs. WVU. On the other hand, B.J Daniels of USF had putrid numbers and came in connecting on routes like the second coming of Joe Montana. Still, Syracuse is a run-first team. Junior Antwon Bailey contributed 94 yards in relief of Senior Delone Carter who left the Mountaineer game in the second quarter injured (after gaining 75 yards). Carter is an Akron Copley product and is the clear #1 if he's healthy. Much like the opposition can give UC fits by controlling Pead, UC can change the Orange game plan by containing their runners. But, can a defense made up primarily of sophomores pull that off?

UC's defensive staff I'm sure will be ready to burn the tape of the USF game in their Halloween bonfires. However, they first need to show it repeatedly to the troops to scare the you-know-what out of them. The truth is (though it does you little good now) playing youngsters eventually leads to a pretty stout squad. The 4-7 unit five years ago barely shaved but they turned into a collection of warriors that led to Coach Dantonio's success and some of Coach Kelly's early success. The guys not making plays now, WILL make plays in future seasons. Thing is, they might not have everything corrected by Saturday.

NOD: The fortunate thing for UC is Syracuse is not a quick strike offense, they won vs. USF and WVU by playing a "tough D, grind it out" style. The defensive game plan rides on how or if the Bearcats tackle the RBs Carter and/or Bailey. Syracuse has tried the pro-style passing attack and pretty much ditched it. IF the Bearcat offense can rack up early points, it will force the Orange to play a way they don't want to play.


Jake Rogers had a good night kicking the football against USF and typically is consistent at home. Kick returners Prince-Tyson Gulley and Max Suter are not the threat that USF presented and if Rogers nails touchbacks then it doesn't matter anyway. Syracuse does offer up Freshman Ross Krautman who drilled four FG's at WVU and has only missed one all season (and is 19-20) on PATs. Kicking in front of a rabid crowd in Morgantown is probably more difficult than "The Nipp", so we'll just throw out the intimidation theories now.

In the punt game, Syracuse has the appropriately-named Rob Long who doubles as their kickoff man. Long averaged nearly 52 yards a pop last week which definitely plays into Coach Doug Marrone's style.

NOD: I'd call the placekicking even between Rogers and Krautman. Long's probably the better punter and neither team offers up a returner that scares you to death.


I sure wish I could. I'm as baffled about this team and this league as anyone. What it all boils down to is: the bad teams are better, and the good teams aren't as good as they were. That leaves you with parity in a league that needs a stand-out team for respect and doesn't have it. West Virginia was ranked but should've lost to Marshall and did lose to Syracuse. Pitt killed Syracuse and Rutgers, but didn't look that impressive in their early games (including losing to Brian Kelly's 4-4 Irish). Connecticut's at the bottom of the league and got shutout by Louisville. Rutgers isn't scaring anyone. And, I'd be less than honest if I didn't tell you that UC's not met expectations (be those expectations right or wrong).

It's a league that no one is grabbing a hold of and running away. You can't look at your "schedule strength" from here on out, because that's all out the window now.

In the end, the team that wants it more will take it, because it's been there for the taking for the past few weeks. Realistically, if UC falls short against Syracuse, the coaching staff can get an early start on recruiting. For that reason, I expect the Bearcats to rise up and take care of business.

--- MARDY GILYARD: Gilyard was inactive on Sunday against Tampa Bay because of a hamstring injury. 

--- TRENT COLE: Cole managed his sixth sack of the season on Sunday and 53rd of his career. He now ranks fourth on the Eagles all-time list behind Reggie White (124), Clyde Simmons (76 1/2) and Hugh Douglas (54 1/2).   

--- BRENT CELEK: Brent Celek hasn't had one of those breakout games yet as the Eagles head into the bye. He had two receptions for eight yards on Sunday..   

--- RICARDO MATHEWS: Mathews and the Colts were on bye Sunday.  

--- JEFF LINKENBACH: The Colts were on bye. 

--- MIKE WRIGHT: For the third consecutive week, the Patriots lineman earned a sack. He now has three for the season and is two shy of his career high he set last season.

He is becoming a force on the NE defense that has won four games in a row.   

--- KEVIN HUBER: Huber only punted three times in the Bengals loss to Atlanta and averaged 41.7 yards a punt, he twiced pinned Atlanta inside the 20-yard line. 

--- HARUKI NAKAMURA: Nakamura had one tackle for the Ravens. He took over for Ed Reed for a few plays when Reed suffered an injury in Baltimore's overtime win against Buffalo. Playing time has been a struggle for Nakamura at this point.

Collaros day-to-day

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Bearcats coach Butch Jones addressed Zach Collaros' health during his teleconference on Monday. Jones said the Collaros will be day-to-day and evaluated as the week progresses.

Monday is an academic day for the Bearcats so there will be no practice, but he does expect him to practice on Tuesday. From that point the team will monitor how he responds.

Because of the physical, blitzing style of the Syracuse, Jones said that will play some role in the decision.

"A big thing is they do put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Jones said. "Everything is about player safety. I don't want to put him in adverse situations."


Bearcats Breakfast 10.25.10

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Did you miss me?

Oh, you didn't know I was gone? All right, I'll have to live with that.

I wanted to thank the News Record's sports editor Sam Elliott for picking up for me as I single-handedly re-invigorated the Key West economy for my good friend's wedding this weekend. Sam did a great job and, unfortunately, wasn't reporting better news.

I did make sure to find time to catch the USF game on Friday night and can only say the more you know in college football the less you understand.

If taking a poll before the game, I would have told you the lock of the century was that game being a relatively low-scoring affair. With one or two long UC drives making the difference. Then a Great Alaska Shootout broke out.

To see a USF offense that didn't score one offensive touchdown the first two Big East games run up and down the field with such ease was probably the shocker of the season to this point.

And the injury to Zach Collaros sure didn't help to put the a little rancid icing on the burnt cake. 

It's a tough one to swallow, but take a look around the Big East. It looks a lot like the NFL. No dominant teams, WVU loses, this one will be anybody's to win and go down to the final week.

Let's take a look at what they're saying...

--- Zach Collaros is questionable for Saturday's game. Bill Koch had this post after talking with Butch Jones saying Zach might play.

The Breakfast,of course, will keep you updated on his status whenever info comes available during the week. Collaros is really starting to put up some gaudy numbers and give this offense legs. It's almost easy to forget he put up 463 yards because of the bitter taste from defeat, but he's got this offense in high gear.

Collaros is currently ranked 10th in the country in passer rating and 7th in total TD passes with 17, of those top 7 in TD passes, nobody has fewer interceptions.

--- Koch also talks about picking up the pieces in the Big East. He points out UC now needs to win three of its final five games -- including a trip to Morgantown and visit from Pittsburgh -- just to be bowl eligible.

This program even talking about a journey to get to six wins I'm sure sits uneasy with everyone inside the Lindner Center.  

--- Dan Hoard points out how much the self-inflicted errors buried the 'Cats on Friday. Dropped passes, 12 penalties for 115 yards. Just not winning football.

--- BearcatLair with a postgame notebook, including much-deserved recognition for K Jake Rogers, who continues to kick well. He hit three more on Friday night. He's now 8 of 10 on FGs for the season and 24 of 25 in PATs.

--- Brian Bennett breaks out his power rankings with UC stationed in the middle of the pack at No. 4. And fighting Wannstaches sit back at No. 1.

Hard to believe Pitt is really the best team in the Big East right now all things considered, but BB is probably right.

--- BB also projected out his bowl game assignments with UC at the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. I once watched the Bengals-Eagles tie game with a friend who is an Eagles fan at a Beef O'Brady's. The only thing worse than the game was the burger. Let's hope for a win streak.

--- If there is a worse place to be stuck pregame than in an elevator with 5,000 pounds of offensive lineman, then I don't want to know about it. That's exactly what happened to 12 Clemson players on Saturday, though.

--- Cashmere Wright talks about being confused at times last year, though, I thought toward the end of the season he showed significant progress. He contributed at least four assists in four of the final nine games in the regular season. You have to think his breakout offensive showing against Louisville, Providence and USF will appear more consistently with another year in the system.

--- Gary Parrish slips Yancy Gates into the his top 20 big men in the country. If you are a UC hoops fan, seeing a renewed, refocused Gates play this year has to be your No. 1 storyline.   

--- The Big O talks about his big career with Slam Magazine.

--- In some randomness, and a shocking revelation, WWE's Undertaker acts like a musclebound goon. It sure is easy to bow up to a guy who just got smacked around an Octagon and lost his heavyweight title.

Unfortunately, Paul Bearer didn't come out from behind him holding the urn to reinforce Taker's point.

No Mistaking It ... 'Cats Cost Themselves A Win

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The mistake that cost UC the game occurred midway through the first quarter.  The Bearcats had it 2nd-and-goal at the 5-yard-line when Zach Collaros got sacked for a 15-yard loss when it looked like he plenty of time to throw the ball away.  The Bearcats had to settle for a field goal and the sequence breathed early life into the entire USF team.


Then again, maybe the killer gaffe happened in the second quarter when the Bearcats were on the verge of digging out of an 11-point hole and tying the game.  Bones Barnett - who had a sensational night - made a great catch-and-run for a 69-yard gain, but stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard-line as he attempted to launch himself into the end zone.  Barnett was not forced out by a Bulls defender.  Had he focused on staying in bounds he probably would have scored a touchdown.


But now that I think of it, the Bearcats most costly error took place moments later.  UC botched a 1st-and-goal opportunity at the 4-yard-line when Armon Binns dropped a pass that hit him in the chest in the end zone.  For the second time, the Bearcats had to settle for 3 points when they should have scored 7.  In other words, UC left 4 points on the board on two separate occasions in the first half - an 8-point swing that turned out to be USF's margin of victory.


You get the point.


More than any UC game in recent memory, I thought the Bearcats cost themselves a victory with self-inflicted wounds.  The 'Cats committed 12 penalties for 115 yards, allowed the Bulls to convert 7 of 12 third down opportunities, and dropped a bunch of passes - including the throw by Chazz Anderson that went through the fingertips of D.J. Woods on the next-to-last play of the game.  It could have given the Bearcats the opportunity for a game-tying 2-point conversion.


"We put ourselves in position at the end of the game to at least try to get it into overtime, but we made way too many mistakes," head coach Butch Jones said.  "Too many blown coverages - all of their big plays were set up by blown coverages.  Too many penalties on offense . . . way too many dropped balls.  Not to take anything away from South Florida - they're a talented football team - but we can't have self-inflicted mistakes and expect to win."


If the offense can cut down on the mistakes, the Bearcats will score on anyone in the Big East.  The defense, on the other hand, has struggled in the first two league games, and the 'Cats desperately have to find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.


Through 7 games, UC ranks next-to-last in the Big East in sacks, and dead last in forcing turnovers.  The two go hand-in-hand:  Pressure on the quarterback produces fumbles (especially on blind side hits), and less time to throw means more bad passes and/or decisions that lead to interceptions.


The silver lining in Friday's defeat is the fact that the Bearcats fell to a team that already has two losses in Big East play.  Just like 2008, if UC wins the rest of its league games, the 'Cats will capture their third straight Big East championship.


"We've been though adversity and everybody has doubted us for the entire year," Coach Jones said.  "We have good character people in our football program who have a passion for each other and football.  So we'll go back to work, learn from this, and move on."


I'm not predicting that the Bearcats are going to win the Big East.  But it would be a mistake to count them out.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Bearcats Rally Falls Short

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By Sam Elliott, Special to GoBEARCATS.com

Backup quarterback Chazz Anderson almost played hero for the Cincinnati Bearcats.

The junior entered in place of Zach Collaros with 3:25 to play with the Bearcats on their own 29-yard line, trailing South Florida 38-30.

"It's a difficult position to put Chazz into and I thought he did a good job of coming in," said UC head coach Butch Jones. "There was no doubt that he was going to lead us down for a score and the two-point conversion. Our team has great faith and great confidence in him, we just came up a little bit short."

Anderson completed four of his first five passes for 49 yards and a pass-interference penalty against the Bulls set the Bearcats 21 yards away from possibly forcing overtime.

Anderson gained five yards on the ground on first down, but the 16-yard line was as close Cincinnati would come. Anderson's incompletion on fourth down gave South Florida the ball with seven seconds remaining.

"I'm proud of our kids," Jones said. "They could have stopped and quit playing and I thought obviously they played until the bitter end. We had an opportunity there to score and go for a two-point conversion and try to get it to overtime."

Before leaving the game with stiffness in his leg, Collaros completed 30 of 53 passes for three touchdowns, one interception and 463 yards -- third most in school history.

The extent of his injury was not known immediately following the game.

"He'll undergo examination and we'll know a little bit more probably tonight," Jones said.

Should Collaros be unable to play next week against Syracuse, Anderson will likely start his first game since wins against Marshall and Rutgers in 2008.

"There will be an open competition, but right now Chazz is ahead with experience," Jones said. "He's really been doing a great job in practice, but I don't know what Zach's status is right now."

For the first time in school history, Cincinnati had three wide receivers finish with more than 100 yards. Armon Binns caught a career-high 12 passes and two touchdowns, while D.J. Woods and Marcus Barnett each had nine receptions.

High passing numbers reflected Cincinnati's inability to establish a running game behind Isaiah Pead. The junior carried 15 times for 48 yards.

"For us to really be effective, we need to run the football, Jones said. "They took the run game away from us, which obviously forced us to throw the football. We want to have balance."

Despite the loss in their Big East home opener, the Bearcats still have hopes of hoisting a third-straight league championship.

"We still control our own destiny," Jones said. "The only way to fix it is you go back to work tomorrow and try to correct your mistakes and get better as a football team. I believe in our kids. I know that they'll do that. There's 105 disappointed young men, but we can't have self-inflicted mistakes."

With his three field goals and three extra points, Cincinnati senior kicker Jacob Rogers became the school's all-time leading scorer with 316 points.

"It's a great accomplishment for Jake. He's had a great career here and he's really had a great year for us," Jones said. "We're going to need him as the season progresses."

Start of a New Season

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I just read a Facebook posting from Coach Calipari at UK asking what a root canal and media day have in common. For coaches, probably a lot. Which brings us to the BIG EAST women's basketball media day in New York, where the UC Bearcats were picked to finish 15th. At least that's one place better than the prediction last year at this time.

Coach Jamelle Elliott knows that these media interview fests and polls are more for us (reporters) than they are for the teams, and took it all with a smile and a positive attitude. "We're excited about the year," Coach Elliott said, "with lots of new players. Our strength will be in our perimeter play."

This is Coach Elliott's second time through the head coaching circuit and she told the Hartford Courant basketball blogger that she sometimes took the losses personally last season.  "My approach is different because I know what to expect now," Elliott told Paul Doyle. "The best thing about my second year is that I have my first year under my belt. I know kind of what to expect.

"I kind of know myself now. I know that I can't take on everything on my shoulders after every game and after practice, because if I do that I won't be in this game very long. I've got to learn how to control my emotions, learn how to put everything in perspective and realize, basically, I'm not at Connecticut anymore and I'm not going to win every game."

Ah, yes, Connecticut. As the media held a national championship coronation for UConn at media day, even Geno Auriemma said the Huskies are bound to lose. Sometime. Remember that UConn comes to UC this year for a BIG EAST battle. Hey, stranger things have happened. Especially in basketball.

USF-UC: Matchups to watch

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Another session of Friday Night Lights (only slightly more anticipated than the DirectTV season premiere of the final season of the real FNL) takes place tonight.

Unfortunately, I will not be there. Though, I'm not exactly sure who it's unfortunate for. I am the best man in my good friend's wedding in Key West, Fla. So, don't worry about me, I'll be all right.

Luckily, you will be all right, too, as my esteemed colleague, News-Record sports editor Sam Elliot will take care of your postgame column needs with upbeat analysis, quotes and general insight expected of a budding future scribe not yet jaded by the business like the rest of us.

Before I go, however, I do have this list of matchups you need to watch through your breath at Nippert and I need to watch through the stench of shenanigans on Duval Street.  

--- UC enjoyed its first go-round last week, thanks to a defense that showed up in the second half and the domination of Armon Binns.

The switch flips a bit this week as instead of facing a Louisville team riding a wave of momentum as they were from an surprising run in the non-conference schedule, the Bearcats face a USF team backed into a corner after two anemic weeks of offense.

These five matchups will determine how the Bearcats fare in fending off the desperate Bulls on ESPN2.

UC secondary vs. B.J. Daniels 

B.J. Daniels may be a talented runner -- every fan who watched him run around the lot last year against UC is aware -- but as his coach Skip Holtz put it earlier this week, every time they throw they "put the ball in danger."

Daniels has thrown 10 picks in six games. The USF passing offense currently ranks 107th of 120 FBS teams. The Bulls have gone through their first two Big East games without an offensive touchdown.

Playing the Bearcats and their fledgling defense starting eight sophmores could be what Daniels needs. UC only has two interceptions all season and their pass defense is ranked 103rd nationally.

If USF can find a way to move the ball through the air without turning it over, they can be very tough to beat because their defense is that good.

However, if UC can continue the trend of forcing Daniels into turnovers while Rueben Johnson and Camerron Cheatham make plays on the ball, the Bearcats could run away with this one.

RB Isaiah Pead vs. LB Sabbath Joseph

USF's defense only allows 16.7 points per game, 18th in the country. For the most part, they have enough talent on that side of the ball to stop the majority of the plays. The best way to score has been to keep grinding out positive yardage in the run game.

Of the seven drives to result in points against the Bulls in two Big East games, all but one of the drives took nine or more plays to complete. The other drive was a one-play, 7-yard drive by West Virginia following a turnover.

UC mad a habit during its reason offensive explosion of scoring fast. Only four of UC's 12 scoring drives the last two weeks have been nine plays or more. In fact, five have been completed in three plays or less.

USF does a good job protecting against the big play and forcing boring football. Insert Pead and the UC running game. He might not be able to pile on the 8.8 yards per rush (best among RBs in the country), but if he can juke past top tackler Sabbath Joseph consistently, he will be able to keep drives alive for first downs.

UC will need to see more like the 14-play, 77-yard drive that took 6:13 off the clock against Louisville to win this game. That begins and ends with establishing Pead.

UC kickoff return vs. Lindsey Lamar

I documented the numbers on this matchup earlier in the week.

Lamar has proven to be among the most dangerous returners in the Big East this season. Nothing cures an ailing offense like a long return. A key to keeping Daniels and the struggling Bulls attack caged up will be corralling Lamar. 

He took a kickoff 94 yards against Syracuse for the Bulls' only TD of Big East play.

The Bearcats haven't exactly been world beaters in this category and have a ton of youth and inexperience on teams. They need to grow up real fast for this one.

UC rush defense vs. USF

This is a matchup that heavily favors the Bearcats. UC has been among the top teams in the country against the rush. They allowed Bilal Powell to break for 215 yards last week, but more than half of it came on two long runs. Not counting those two, UC held Louisville to three yards a rush.

The Bulls aren't running this year. Not well, at least. The ran for 244 yards against Florida, but in two Big East play games haven't been able to gain any footing. They averaged 2.2 yards a rush against WVU and 2.6 a carry against Syracuse. They failed to go over 100 yards in either game.

If UC can continue its trend of shutting down the run it will force B.J. Daniels to pass and, to go back to the earlier quote from Skip Holtz, "put the ball in danger."

Good Luck To Mike Waddell...and Thanks!

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One of the toughest phone calls I've ever received came from my friend Darryl Parks from WLW in 2006 when he informed me that as much as he and the station would like me to continue broadcasting UC games, it would no longer be feasible.


The news was heartbreaking but I certainly understood.  I had just moved to Boston for family reasons and retaining me as the UC announcer would mean increased travel costs.  As badly as I wanted to remain the "Voice of the Bearcats," I knew this was the possible outcome when I left Fox 19 and moved east.


Enter Mike Waddell.


UC's Senior Associate Director of Athletics wanted me to remain behind the mic and found a way to offset the added travel costs that made sense to the university and the radio station.  Without his efforts, I would have missed back-to-back Big East football championships, dozens of memorable games, and millions of laughs with Chuck, Jim, Mo, and Tommy G.  Most importantly, I would no longer have a job that I truly love.


As you probably know, we are losing Mike to Towson University.  He was named Director of Athletics on September 30th, and while I'm excited for him, it is a huge loss for UC.


Mike is one of those people whose brain ticks a little bit faster than most.  He's smart, creative, and tenacious, and his imprint is all over Bearcat athletics.  There is no doubt in my mind that he will be an outstanding athletic director.


The USF game will be his final event as a UC administrator before moving to Maryland.  It's fitting because he is largely responsible for the tremendous game day experience at Nippert Stadium, and a packed house on national TV will be a perfect send-off.


I'm thrilled that Mike is about to realize his dream of running a collegiate athletic department.


And grateful that he helped me continue to live mine.


* * * * *


So the UC basketball team was picked by the coaches to finish 12th in the Big East this season.


Any idea who was picked to finish 12th last year?




The Golden Eagles went 22-12, tied for fifth in the Big East, and went to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year.


UConn, on the other hand, received a first-place vote and was picked to finish third last season.  The Huskies wound up 18-16 and missed the NCAA Tourney for the second time in the last four years.


My point is simply this:  In a 16-team conference, there are always schools that do much better or worse than expected. 


Here's hoping that Cincinnati is this year's Marquette.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

For Butch Jones, special teams are a significant concern right now. He mentioned on Tuesday that seven current walk-ons are playing special teams. That's a testament to how they have played, but at the same time an obvious concern with the depth of the squad.

Jones says all the time he looks at special teams first when analyzing the talent of the opponent.

Right now, he doesn't like what he sees when watching film of his own group. When breaking down ways in which the Bearcats could lose to a team that hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in two Big East games, the obvious conclusion would be in special teams. It becomes even more obvious when watching KR Lindsey Lamar take a kickoff 94 yards for the Bulls' lone TD against Syracuse.

And that's far from the only big play of the year in special teams for USF.

In fact, three of the Bulls' five most explosive plays of the season came on special teams.

Here's their top five:

Yds   Play   Opp     Who

94     KR     Syr      Lindsey Lamar

67     PR     WKU    Terrence Mitchell

63     Rush  SBU    Marcus Shaw

59     Pass   SBU    Daniels to Bogan

55      KR     WKU    Lindsey Lamar

Lamar also added a 39 yards kick return against Florida.

UC on the other hand has struggled in kick coverage.

They rank 85th in the country in kickoff return yardage allowed, with 22.78 yards per return. And that comes without giving up a return for a touchdown to throw off the average. Eleven teams ranked behind UC in the category have allowed at least one kickoff returned for a touchdown.

Bottom line, this could be the one area where a matchup falls greatly in favor of the Bulls. The Bearcats need to make sure they don't let Lamar beat them.

The special teams concerns don't end there. UC has yet to find any explosion in its own return game since the loss of Mardy Gilyard. The UC kickoff return is currently ranked 109th in the country in average yards per return at 18.77.

Of 26 kick returns this year, only five have gone longer than 25 yards and none longer than 37.

UC returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season and Gilyard averaged 30.5 yards over 42 attempts.

The struggles in kickoff coverage and returns won't define whether the Bearcats earn a third consecutive Big East championship, but if there were any game where it could trip them up, South Florida would be it.

Bearcats Breakfast 10.20.10

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All apologies that there was no breakfast this morning. The server went down so everybody is going to have to go hungry on the breakfast today. But don't worry, I have another post coming later as long as the interwebs don't clog up on me again.


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(Photo courtesy of Associated Press/Ed Reinke)

      As he went across the middle of the endzone in Louisville last week, D.J. Woods may have been thinking of the fumble on a sure touchdown against Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium, or the fumbled punt later that set up the game-winning score for the Sooners. Take away either and the UC Bearcats have a win over the team considered #1 in the BCS.

      Fortunately, D.J. Woods had neither play on his mind and was focused on securing the ball as Zach Collaros zipped his second touchdown toss of the game toward Woods. Woods went up and became the middle of a Louisville Cardinal sandwich, but the ball stayed right in his gut.

      "We were just doing a thing called ball rule," said Woods. "Ball rule is--as soon as we score we tuck it. If you watch it, I'm on the ground actually bringing the ball up to my chest and I tuck it. I knew I was going to get hit. As soon as it left Zach's hands, I'm like, 'this is going to hurt' and soon as I hit the ground I made sure I held onto the ball. I knew if I took a big hit like that and didn't hold onto the ball, things would be a lot different."

      It was another big play by Woods in a year of big plays between himself and Armon Binns. Binns caught three touchdowns that night and went on to be named Big East Offensive Player of the Week.

      "It was a good game," acknowledged Woods. "I give all my thanks to Armon Binns. Armon Binns did his thing and he deserved that. He's a great player and a great leader for us. Me and him are close. I'm happy he was able to have a big game and show what he's made of."

      Binns and Woods have more than made up for the unfortunate injury of Vidal Hazelton in the Fresno State game by combing for 63 catches and 13 touchdowns through six games. (Binns has 32 grabs for 525 yards and seven scores; Woods 31 for 550 yards and six.)

      Against Louisville, while Binns became the "go to" guy, Woods was Mr. Efficiency. Two catches, two touchdowns. As it is for most teams, the Cardinals had to "pick their poison" as usually leaving one in single coverage can prove painful for a defense.

      "Actually, it's kind of everybody," said Woods. "They were playing a lot of man coverage in the beginning, but soon as we scored they got out of it and went 'Cover 2' for mostly the whole game. Everything worked out well, we can't really complain about it."

      After six games, Woods is just 20 receptions away from the total he had last season in 12 games and he's already surpassed his season touchdown total by two. No one will ever know, but he may have been able to reach paydirt again last week if it wasn't for the precautionary measures taken by Head Trainer Bob Mangine and Dr. Angelo Colosimo and the UC medical staff. Coach Butch Jones said in his Tuesday press briefing that Woods, "could've played."

      "I feel fine," said Woods. "I wanted to go back in, but trainers and coaches were taking precautions. Everything's fine."

      Perhaps tougher than getting his lid knocked off in the game, was watching without contributing. Especially in a tight game with his "touchdown /reception ratio" perfect.

      "Oh, it's hard when you see your team playing a close game," admitted Woods. "But, I have all the confidence in the world in Anthony McClung, Armon Binns and 'Bones' (Marcus Barnett) to step up and make the plays and that's what they did."

      While the "Next Man In" philosophy was thrown about last year, there's no greater evidence of it than in this year's wide receiver corps. Hazelton was expected to be the #1 and he's out for the year (though making tremendous rehab strides). Tennessee transfer Kenbrell Thompkins easily would've played but is not eligible according to the NCAA 'til next year. Also, true freshman Dyjuan Lewis surely would've received looks but is not academically eligible.

      Suddenly, what was the deepest spot on the team has became short-handed. Freshman quarterback Munchie Legaux is now lining his 6-5 frame up at wideout in practice and has already made game appearances.

      But, don't worry. D.J. Woods is alright.

      I could tell from speaking with him and by his actions during the Tuesday media gathering at the Lindner Center. He's been cleared by what Coach Jones calls, "the best training staff I've ever been around."

      The sure sign, was Woods sneaking in TWICE to the Bob Goin team meeting room during the Coach Jones press conference to throw down some of City BBQ's sweet tea. The young man enjoys a refreshing class of sweet tea every now and then for those of you that may follow him closely.

      Matter of fact, a couple tall glasses of sweet tea in Louisville and I think Woods would've blown past the Cardinal defenders for two more scores.

      Perhaps the staff will have a Gatorade sipper full of D.J.'s "special mix" come Friday night against USF?

      "They're very fast," said Woods. "They've got a very fast defense. We need to come with tempo and speed. We've got to match everything they do. They're a very good defense, they've got very good athletes on their team. At the same time, if we just do what we do and play with confidence, we're going to be OK."

      And maybe a Woods kick return rests in the tea leaves?

      "Oh man, I feel it," said Woods. "I feel it. Everybody's doing a great job of blocking, I just need to find the holes and explode through them. I feel one's coming up soon."

      I'll drink to that. I prefer the Luzianne brand myself.

Notes from Butch Jones

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Most everything from Tuesday's press luncheon paled in comparison to the Nilla Wafer Banana Pudding provided by City BBQ, but still some good news tidbits for you.

--- Butch Jones reeled off a few stats he was especially happy with from the win against Louisville.

1) UC was 6 of 9 on third down conversions. The 66-percent was a season high and the first time it was better than 50 percent.

2) UC had four scoring drives of at least 70 yards, a season high. That includes the longest in terms of both plays and time (14 plays, 6:13) and the fourth longest (3:47) of the 30 scoring drives this season.

3) UC held Louisville to three points in the second half.

4) UC owns the youngest BCS conference defense in the country in starting eight sophomores right now. They are also one of two teams in the country without a senior starting on defense. The other? Alabama.

5) The starting defensive line of Derek Wolfe, Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and John Hughes played 70-plus snaps since the Bearcats operated more out of the 4-3 base defense than at any point this year.  

6) UC's three turnovers led to 14 Louisville points.

--- Jones also dispatched some injury updates. He confirmed again that D.J. Woods is fine, he will play this weekend and probably could have come back on Friday night, but they were erroring on the side of caution. He did not suffer a concussion.

--- Alex Hoffman is a wait and see if he will be ready to go on Friday. He will be monitored and re-evaluated later in the week.

--- Wesley Richardson will return to practice today and they will see how he responds.

--- Jones talked about the play of J.K. Schaffer and Maalik Bomar. UC only has four linebackers playing on its defense or special teams right now. The depth just isn't there.

"I estimate JK and Maalik probably played the equivalent of a season already," he said. "But that's where we are at in our program."

He thought the game was "a little bit fast" for Bomar on Friday night. He had the fewest number of tackles since Indiana State and was without a tackle for loss for the second consecutive game. 

As far as attacking the problem at that position, Jones had this solution:

"Develop your younger players and go recruit. There's a premium need of linebackers in our football program right now. We address that through recruiting. It's getting those four individuals to play the best they are capable of playing and being warriors." 

Bearcats Breakfast 10.19.10

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I spent quite a bit of time on campus yesterday taking in the mini-basketball media day as well as the conclusion of UC's football practice. One thing occured to me as the disappointment from there being no lemonade at Chick-fil-a sunk in, was all the teams in sports that thrived after the loss of bigtime players. Some of the great teams of all time did so, in fact.

The thought process sparked from hearing Mick Cronin, Sean Kilpatrick and Yancy Gates talk about making up for the loss of Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn.

You don't even have to leave campus to realize that. UC won two national titles right after the Big O left.

The 2001 Mariners won 116 games after losing Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod and Randy Johnson the years prior.

Not to bring this program up, but Xavier enjoyed one of its best seasons in 2004 after David West and his National Player of the Year award departed for the NBA. They made the Elite 8 and nearly toppled No. 1 seed Duke to make the Final Four.

The list goes on and on.

Not to say Stephenson and Vaughn were the caliber of the players mentioned above, but they were the key cogs in the Bearcats system last year.

With experience at key positions, the possible emergence of Yancy Gates on the horizon and an early-season schedule conducive to building confidence, that would create a nice setup for the team to build a powerful, new identity very fast.

Whether it happens or not is yet to be seen.  

It's amazing what a lack of lemonade will do to your brain.

Let's eat....

--- I wrote about the team's outlook of the run defense after Bilal Powell gouged them for 215 yards on Friday. It was the first time all year we saw the UC run defense struggle with anyone.

They aren't concerned.

--- Scott Springer posts a preview of the Scott Springer Bowl. Since he owns degrees from both schools, he earns the title. If only we could come up with a Keg O'Lies-type trophy to designate it. Maybe a signed photo and set list from his favorite Bruce Springsteen concert.

Regardless, he takes you in-depth into the matchups and reminds everyone that I look like Trent Dilfer. Which I actually enjoy. Except for the lack of wealth, prestige and rings I own in comparison to him.

--- Brian Bennett posted his power rankings. The Bearcats jumped up to No. 2 and the supposed preseason powers have creeped back to the top after demoralizing non-conference losses.

Pitt's 45-14 win at Syracuse may have been more of an indictment on USF than the Cuse. Maybe the Cuse are who we thought they were and their win at USF was nothing more than beating up on what apparently is a lifeless football team right now on offense (15 points combined in the last two games) 

For UC's sake, it hopes that's true.

--- B-twice also has love for Armon Binns in his review/preview.

--- Bill Koch writes about protecting the football . UC is currently (minus)-6 in turnover ratio after being plus-9 last season.

Zach Collaros played safe with his passes until the Louisville game. The two picks doubled his total for the season.

D.J. Woods scared himself into ball security after the problems against Oklahoma, so the situation improved. But it is a major concern.

--- The Tampa Tribune talks about UC expecting a stiff USF defense.  

--- As a reminder, Friday's game against USF is a Ring of Red game. So, dress accordingly. With it being a Friday night and considering that women are more attracted to men who wear red, well, it could be a win-win for male Bearcats fans. .

--- I completely missed this on Friday, but Paul Daugherty wrote this piece on Isaiah Pead for SI. Good stuff.

--- The kickoff for homecoming against Syracuse is noon. Great news for early risers and for sports writers who suddenly have a Saturday night available.

--- Chad Brendel at 247sports has a story on the maturity of Yancy Gates. That storyline was the talk of media day yesterday -- and rightfully so.

Gates is down to 265 after playing around 270, 275 last year and says he can feel the difference just walking to class.

The best line I heard to define how different Gates' focus and attitude differs this season came from Mick Cronin.  

"Now I don't have to coach his attitude and effort," he said. 

"He was our hardest worker in every strength and conditioning session according to Dave Andrews, for the last five months. To a point where he stopped conditioning sessions with strength and conditioning with no coaches present to redo drills because he didn't think we were doing it hard enough. To say that's a 180 is an understatement."


The light appears to have popped on for Gates, who went on to say he believes he belongs on the Preseason All-Big East team. He probably won't be there when it comes out this week.

"Just more motivation to prove people wrong," Gates said.

--- Former UC soccer star Omar Cummings continues to tear it up for the Colorado Rapids. Colorado earned a playoff berth and Cummings scored another goal.

Here's the story and an interview with him.  

--- For some randomness, first off, I can't believe I didn't know that they are filming Hangover 2. The details are that this time the four guys -- everyone is back -- end up in Bangkok, Thailand. And Mel Gibson makes a cameo.

--- Who knew MC Hammer and Jay-Z were fueding. But since they are, we all might as well make fun of it.  

Recycle Binns

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It's no surprise that Armon Binns won Big East player of the week; 8 receptions, 175 yards and 3 touchdowns put you ahead of the class in a league that has produced the likes of Larry Fitzgerald among others. Armon was coming into his own as the receivers like Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard were putting the final stamp on their careers. Now that his turn has come front and center, starting last year, he is proving to be a legitimate go to receiver.

Armon is on the verge of being the recyclable and renewable energy for Zach Collaros and the UC offense. Just keep going back to him; and back to him and....you get my drift. When a player is hot you go back to them until someone stops them. And as Armon gains more confidence and Zach confirms that confidence by going to him for big plays, this offense will return to its high power posture we've come to know. With Isaiah Pead running well and John Goebel the perfect compliment, the running game looks good. Now add a healthy Ben Guidugli at tight end and your weapons are set for attack on the Big East. 

But rest assured nothing is more alarming to defenses than knowing when it's third and long, or that if you're in the red zone, the other team has wide receiver you can't cover. You don't have to speak on it, you just know it. Know this: Armon Binns is becoming a receiver that fits that profile and if he and Collaros continue their chemistry and Pead keeps running the way he has, thanks offensive line, recycling Armon Bins every series will put the Bearcats closer to another Big East title this year. A title some thought was out of reach; but with Armon Binns, going to get the ball or another title is well within reach.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat. 

The numbers looked gaudy and the highlight repeating on SportsCenter all night looked worse.


On the surface, it would appear Louisville RB Bilal Powell ran all over the Bearcats defense. At 24 carries for 215 yards, the assessment wouldn't be all wrong.


For a Cincinnati defense ranked No. 8 against the run entering the game, the numbers were uncharacteristic - but not concerning.


"It was just two plays," defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. "We gave up two big plays."


Two extremely big plays, to be exact. However, Wolfe is correct.


Powell broke off an 85-yard run where he kept his balance and shook off what appeared to be a mundane 3-yard gain to bolt the length of the field for a score. He also took a quick hit up the middle 46 yards to break the Cardinals out of their own end early in the third quarter.  


However, if you take away those two runs, the Cardinals ran 32 times for 97 yards. That's three yards a carry.


Unfortunately, you can't drop the best and worst performances like a golf handicap. Those big runs count. But Wolfe and company believe the will be fine entering a Big East season featuring some of the top running backs in the country.


"I give props to that kid, he didn't stop running," Wolfe said of Powell. "That was our fault because we didn't finish a play. We watched the film. That is why we have been working on that this week. When the play is away, especially, me, John (Hughes) and the backside guys on that play, we were running to the ball but we weren't running to the ball with a purpose."


Better to learn the lesson in a win than a loss. If ever there were a week where finishing plays will be at a premium, it will be against USF quarterback B.J. Daniels. He makes a living off of keeping dead plays alive.


Daniels rushed 16 times for 74 yards last year, but also kept play after play going with his legs as he threw for 208 yards.


"You got to keep him in the pocket, keep him contained," Wolfe said. "Keep him running side to side instead of north and south."


A major player in completing that task will be Walter Stewart. The sophomore spent much of this season lining up at defensive end, but while focused on stopping the run against Louisville, he played more snaps at linebacker in the base 4-3 than any game this season.


Not coincidentally, he enjoyed his best game of the year. Stewart lived in the Louisville backfield for eight tackles, two for a loss.


"It was a product of just being bounced around because the offense doesn't really know where I am at," Stewart said of his versatility between DE and LB. "It allowed for me to sneak into the back door and make some plays."


On Friday, he hopes to make more plays and return the rush defense numbers to where they belong.


"We are not rattled at all," Stewart said. "Stopping the run is what we hang our hats on. (Powell) got a few runs, but I don't think that is going to happen anymore for the rest of the year."

Building from Scratch

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So, you think recruiting is tough? How about recruiting from scratch? How about recruiting when you don't have a team? How about building on a legacy when there's no legacy yet? That was the job facing UC Lacrosse Coach Lellie Swords when she was named the Bearcats' first-ever lacrosse coach on Feb. 16, 2007.

She came to UC from one of the top lacrosse programs in the country, Johns Hopkins, so to say she went from feast to famine wouldn't be a far-fetched analogy. But constructing a building starts with a solid foundation, so Coach Swords and her staff started that foundation with every recruit who took a chance on the vision of the program. Brick by brick, recruit by recruit, the lacrosse legacy is being constructed each season.

I bring this up now, because UC lacrosse just announced its next 10 recruits who will join the program in 2011. Included are state champions, All-State selections, first team All-Americans. Local players are joined by seniors from East Coast lacrosse powerhouses. Oh yes, and most of them are academic honor roll students as well.

Congratulations to Coach Swords and the lacrosse staff on the new recruit class. It's just the next layer of the foundation that will only mean a stronger program for years to come.


The Campaign Begins

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Now that my heart rate has returned to normal following the Bearcats' scintillating win over Louisville, do you know what I find myself thinking about?


Collaros for Heisman.




Not this year of course.  The Bearcats' slow start doomed any remote chance that Zach might have had of even being considered.


But think about 2011.


For Zach to have a prayer of winning the Heisman, four things would have to happen.


  1. Monster Stats.  In 2011, Zach will be a 5th year senior with a year's worth of experience in Butch Jones' quarterback-friendly offense.  This year, despite early-season struggles on the offensive line and the loss of one of his best weapons in Vidal Hazelton, Collaros ranks 7th in the country with 17 touchdown passes and 10th in QB rating.  For his career, Zach has 27 TD passes and only 5 interceptions.  While he'll lose a great target in Armon Binns, I'm hearing the Kenbrell Thompkins is the next outstanding Bearcat receiver.  If Zach is healthy, his numbers should be eye-popping.


  1. Must See TV.  Big East candidates for Heisman face skeptical voters in much of the country, so it helps to have a breakout performance (or two) on national TV - preferably early in the season.  The Bearcats have a road game at Tennessee and a home game against NC State early next year, so the opportunities will be there.


  1. Highly-Ranked Team.  When the Bearcats climbed into the Top 10 last year, Tony Pike started to appear on Heisman watch lists.  If he hadn't been injured, Pike almost certainly would have earned the highest Heisman finish in UC history (as it turned out, Mardy Gilyard finished 9th).  Cincinnati would need to have another near-perfect season for Zach to have a shot.  With Collaros, Isaiah Pead, and D.J. Woods back on offense and everybody back on defense, the Bearcats should be formidable next season.


  1. A Little Help.  This year's leading Heisman candidates include Denard Robinson, Kellen Moore, LaMichael James, Terrelle Pryor, Andrew Luck, and Cameron Newton.  Do you know what they all have in common?  There's not a single senior in the group.  For Zach to have a legitimate shot, several favorites would have to go pro early and others would either have to perform below expectations or get injured.  But it seems to me that the presumptive favorite for the Heisman rarely wins.  Last year, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy were at the top of the list to begin the season and the trophy went to Mark Ingram.     


Why am I thinking about this midway through the 2010 season?  I honestly have no idea.


But when Zach is invited to the Best Buy Theater in Times Square in December of 2011, just remember that you heard it here first.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard


Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad, enjoying the fall foliage.


Sam's leaf pile.jpg

Bearcats Breakfast 10.18.10

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Well, today's my 30th birthday. Pretty odd feeling.

I feel very much the same that I did when I was 29, except I have a lot more posts on my Facebook wall.

As you know, I try to keep this pretty light here, so I won't go into some depressing diatribe about getting older. Plus, I don't have time. I have a pile of Facebook messages to return.

Let's talk Bearcats....

--- Great game on Friday from a spectator's point of view and definitely from a Bearcats fan point of view. Perhaps nobody had a better game than Sean Hooey, though. He moved over to RT to make his first start and shut down the UL pass rush, that led the BE in sacks.

They rarely pressured Zach Collaros. The only time you heard Hooey's name was when he went out for one play with an injury.

My buddy Dean wants to start a chant for Hooey during the games, and it might be worth looking into. It's hard to cheer offensive lineman, because nobody really knows when they are doing something well. But I think anytime Isaiah Pead rushes for a short first down off right tackle, the crowd can chant all together....


The Es are obviously a high-pitched squeel of sorts. And it probably won't catch on. But he deserves it after that performance.

--- I wrote about Armon Binns after the game. Binns was named the Offensive Player of the Week in the Big East on Monday.

ZC threw a career high five touchdowns and did a great job of putting Binns in a position to make plays, but I coudn't get over how Binns continues to go get every ball on those go routes and come down with it. He reminds me a little bit of Carl Pickens. For his play on the field, not his tendency to be a d-bag off it.  

The only thing more amazing than Binns' play was Louisville leaving him one-on-one over and over again. But, that's a product of the invigorated running game as well.

--- Bill Koch posted a blog that touched on a number of different topics on Saturday. Among those was Butch Jones commending Marcus Barnett for the way he's played. Barnett rarely gets thrown to and doesn't show up much in the box score, but Jones claimed Barnett is blocking downfield as well as any receiver he's had.

It also said that D.J. Woods, Wes Richardson and Alex Hoffman all look like they may be able to play Friday against USF.

--- Brian Bennett started what will be his weekly bowl projections. The latest has WVU winning the BE and going to the Fiesta Bowl.

He has UC going to Charlotte for the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Which would be fantastic...for me. One of my favorite restaraunts in the country is there, The Cajun Queen. Hot Jambalaya!

--- Tim Adams at BearcatLair gave out his awards and rightfully started with the offensive line.

--- Is Mo Egger an objective observer? Not exactly. Is he supposed to be? No. Is he the best blogger in the city? Probably. Does he have the his fingers squarely on the pulse of the Bearcats fan base? Absolutely.

--- Dan Hoard is opening the campaign of Zach Collaros for Heisman...in 2011.  

--- The News Record put together a pretty sweet slideshow from Friday night's win.

--- Tommy G with a feature about UC's strength and conditioning with Dave Lawson.   

--- The first BCS standings of the year came out yesterday and Oklahoma sits at No. 1. West Virginia was the highest ranked Big East school at No. 20.

Oklahoma, Oregon, Boise State and TCU are the top four. Ugh.

Starting third is bad news for Boise, whose BCS will only get worse with their cupcake schedule the rest of the way. But, they are still atop the Fanhouse Fab 40, which I am sure makes it all better.

--- Sad, sad news on Rutgers DE Eric LeGrand, who suffered a neck and spine injury.

--- Nothing brings out contrived wierdness more than Midnight Madness. Thanks to RTC for the roundup.

--- Tough news to hear about Robbie Hummell, who tore the same ACL from last season in the second drill of his first practice. Just awful. Dana O'Neil has her take.

--- Yeah, I can dunk over 7 people too. Pepperdine's Keion Bell is a freak.





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(Collaros before his 75-yd TD run at USF/Courtesy ESPN)

WHO: A popular rock quartet known for power anthems like "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Reilly".

OK SMART GUY, WHO'S PLAYING: UC and USF (South Florida Bulls from Tampa, FL)

WHERE: Back in the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium

WHEN:  Friday (yes, FRIDAY) 10/22

KICKOFF: Best be in your seat by 8 p.m.

THE SERIES: UC leads 5-2

LAST TIME: A tad over a year ago, UC won in Tampa 34-17.

      Here we go, Friday Night Lights again!

      Only this time, the venue is Nippert Stadium where the Bearcats and Bulls hope to carve into the high school football attendance numbers for the night. Like it or not, when ESPN tells you to suit up Friday night, you suit up Friday night.

      What early on probably looked like an intriguing match-up between two exciting quarterbacks in UC's Zach Collaros and USF's B.J. Daniels is now a contest to see who goes above .500. One year ago, this was the #8 Bearcats against the 21st-ranked Bulls.

      UC won the game thanks to Collaros subbing for the injured Tony Pike and running for 132 yards and two touchdowns. 63,000 plus were on hand to cheer South Florida into the national spotlight, instead Collaros gave the Bulls a dose of their own medicine with a 75-yard touchdown romp from the QB position.

      B.J. Daniels certainly gave the Bearcats fits that night, but it was Collaros out of the bullpen for the victory and some even argued that UC should stick with the sophomore over senior Tony Pike. Of course, after the Pitt win in the snow, everyone claimed to be long-time Tony Pike supporters through thick and thin.

      Fast forward a year and both teams have new coaches. Butch Jones is here and Skip Holtz (rumored to be a candidate here also) is there. With both, comes slight changes in philosophies and styles in both teams.

      If you follow trends, you'd have to say UC's adapting to Jones better than USF's adapting to Holtz. The Bearcats almost beat the #1 BCS team in Oklahoma, and then lit up Miami (OH) and Louisville. That's 109 points in the last three tilts.

      On the other hand, USF did beat Florida Atlantic 31-3 back on 10/2, but since then they've tallied just nine points in a loss to Syracuse and six in the West Virginia defeat. So, UC's outscored them 109-46 the last three times out.

      Trends or not, a 3-3 record does not put you in a position of supremacy over another 3-3 team, especially one from talent-rich Florida. The Bulls lost to the in-state Gators 38-14, but much like the Miami Redhawks, the Bulls hung with the boys in Gainesville for awhile.

The message there is, they won't be overcome by a large crowd and they have faced decent competition.

      As I always mention in these contests, I have degrees from both schools. I'm proud of what USF has accomplished in football. However, a quick tour of my basement and my wardrobe would show you where my heart is and that's with the college that gave me my first degree.

      As unbiased as I possibly can, I shall now break down my two collegiate alma maters....


Last year USF had to prepare for Tony Pike's aerial attack and they couldn't stop the lanky senior from throwing a pair of touchdown passes before he left the game injured. Then, when Zach Collaros came in he added a wrinkle the Bulls weren't prepared for and he made them pay twice with his feet. Now, you have the threat of Zach on the ground, plus the possibility that he just might burn you for five touchdown tosses like he did Louisville. Assuming D.J. Woods is healthy, the one-two punch of Woods and Armon Binns is tough on anybody. Let's face it, when Marcus Barnett (who caught 13 TD passes as a freshman) is an afterthought, your top two receivers must be good. Also, a healthy Alex Hoffman at right tackle should pave the way for Isaiah Pead to run for 100-plus yards again which is something the Bulls didn't have to game plan for last year.

The USF defense has played respectably outside of allowing Florida 38 points (most of which came late). Holding West Virginia to 20 in Morgantown is really not all that bad and no other opponent has even reached that mark. The Bulls are young and will only get better led by sophomore LB Sam Barrington the tackle leader. Senior DE Craig Marshall is the run stopper with 6.5 TFL, four sacks and an interception.

NOD: The UC offense seems to be hitting its stride and the home field advantage always weighs heavy here. The effectiveness of the running game with Pead has opened a lot of things up.


Contain B.J. Daniels. That's really the key to the whole game. If you let Daniels scramble for big yards or elude tackles in the backfield, you will soon pay. Senior Mo Plancher is usually the "go to" RB, but sophomore Demetris Murray can also be a threat. On the receiving end, Daniels favors senior WR Dontavia Bogan, while on the other end Evan Landi can make plays.

The UC defense is much improved from last season when Daniels successfully eluded them time and time again. Getting Wes Richardson back in the defensive backfield should help immensely and the unit as whole had some very impressive moments at Louisville. Hopefully, Chazz Anderson can imitate a feisty B.J. Daniels in practice (or whomever is selected for that role).

NOD: To me, it looks like the Skip Holtz system is discouraging B.J. Daniels from trying to win the game with his feet. Much like Collaros, it looks like the coaching staff wants him to put the ball in other player's hands, not necessarily his own. The last two games, the Bulls have been stagnate on offense.


Patrick O'Donnell has been effective punting the ball for UC, although I wish he had more shots to boom the ball rather than delivering it rugby style. The return game is down a bit with the injury to Darrin Williams, leaving D.J. Woods as the only option sometimes. If his bell is rung, the duties go to a true freshman in Anthony McClung which could be nerve-wracking.

USF has a punt returner (Terrance Michell) with a 67-yard return and a kick returner (Lindsey Lamar) with a 94-yard effort. The Bearcats haven't broken anything yet. Punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann has a hyphen in his last name, while O'Donnell has an apostrophe, so I guess we're somewhat even there. The Bulls kicking has been shared by Maikan Bonani and Eric Schwartz.

NOD: Jake Rogers has more touchbacks than the USF kickers, but Bonani's been more accurate. (Regarding USF's other kicker, the "Schwartz" hasn't always been with them). Kick returns should be a concern in this game with USF possessing great speed. D.J. Woods has been close to breaking kicks--but still not yet.


Well, usually a visit by USF comes with cold weather. Below 30 and they're completely toast. Add a light jacket in the 40s and some Bulls still might wear longjohns. Indications are for there to be a "nip" in the air, but it shouldn't be a factor in scaring USF back to their team heater.

From an outsider, USF looks like a team that has not totally "bought in " to their coaches methods quite yet. From what I've seen of the Big East so far, no one stands out, so this is really another game the Bearcats should nail down.

     As an aside, it turns out Bearcat blogger Paul Dehner Jr. is 30 as of this Monday.   I recall that being somewhat of an odd, dark day in my life too.   However, I would absolutely jump at the opportunity to go back in the "Wayback" machine and experience the despair that Paul's having today. 

     Please, buy the young man a beverage and offer up some encouraging words for the future should you see him this week.

Birthday Party.jpg




Armon Binns sets career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns in a 35-27 victory against Louisville on Friday.

LOUISVILLE -- On third-and-9 and backed against the wall of a 28-27 advantage in fourth quarter Friday night, Zach Collaros scanned the offense and saw a cast of unfamiliar faces surrounding him.


D.J. Woods looked on from the sidelines with a head injury.


Marcus Barnett, lined up to his right, was a backup to open the year and is still trying to locate his role in the offense.


Anthony McClung lined up beyond him. The freshman played in his first game only two weeks ago.


As Collaros swiveled his head to the left, however, the comfort level changed. There stood No. 80, Armon Binns. 


"All he has to do is give me the look," Binns said.


A total of 55,106 fans shaking Papa John's Cardinal Stadium knew that look. Twice before, they'd seen it turn into Binns streaking alone down the sideline for touchdowns.


But in this situation, in this critical spot, with Collaros' other go-to target out of commission, Louisville wouldn't possibly leave Binns in one-on-one coverage again would they?


One look delivered the answer.


"Oh yeah," Binns said of his presnap thoughts on third-and-9, "I know he's going to me."


Sixty-two yards of carrying career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns all alone down the green turf, the receiver responsible for one of the most famous receptions in school history added another chapter to the scrapbook.


Chapter title: Cincinnati 35, Louisville 27.




Binns raised over top of Louisville Bobby Burns to turn the Cardinals DB's night from bad to worse and placed UC in position for the 13th consecutive conference win. Only, this one was different. A new cast didn't carry the credentials of the previous 12 down I-71. They unloaded the bus with a series of questions as to how a team with 12 seniors would respond in situations like third-and-9.


Binns and Collaros are one of the few connections still in tact from those days. The senior WR came under some question for a non-conference slate where Woods and Pead stole many of the headlines. He enjoyed some moments, but not to the level expected of him.


He hadn't won a game for them yet. The kid with the NFL future hadn't added to his prospective NFL highlight reel.


Until Friday.


When all was said he done his career high numbers will look gorgeous in bold atop his NFL resume: 8 receptions, 175 yards, 3 TDs. And what amounted to the game-winner.


"You can always rely on Armon to make a play," said Collaros, who set a career high of his own with five touchdown passes.




Rarely can receivers win games for teams. And in fact, if it were not for the heroic play of a UC defense that allowed but one field goal in the second half after being burnt for 261 yards before halftime, Binns' play wouldn't have mattered.

If it weren't for Camerron Cheatham leaping to knock down
Louisville's final opportunity, Binns' three TDs could have come in defeat.


If it weren't for the gutsy play of RT Sean Hooey, filling in for Alex Hoffman and holding down a line that didn't allow Collaros to be sacked and rarely hurried, Binns' great plays would have been irrelevant.


To say Binns won this game for UC, might be an overstatement. But they don't win without him. With attrition surrounding the Bearcats on offense and new players at seemingly every position Frdiay, Collaros to Binns still worked.


And as long as Binns is there, the Bearcats will always have a chance. He sits tied for fourth on the team's all-time TD reception list with 17. The Collaros to Binns combo has connected nine times for scores.


Reuben Johnson knows all too well about how difficult defending the two can be. He attempts to stop Binns every day in practice, particularly the deep fade Binns has taken to the house time and again.


"I win a couple," said Johnson, who led UC with 10 tackles, nine of the solo variety. "If you come to practice you probably hear me talking a little smack to him."




He doesn't win often, though. Few do. So, from Johnson's perspective on the sidelines on third-and-9, he barely needed to watch the play as it developed.


From his angle, it only took one look to put Louisville away.


"That ball goes up on third down I am raising my hands because I got all faith and confidence in Armon Binns," Johnson said. "To me he's one of the best receivers in the Big East, in the nation, in college football. If I could pick any wide receiver in college football, I am picking Armon Binns. He's my first pick."

UC-UL: Live Chat

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Keg of Nails Rivalry Page

Keg of Nails Rivalry Page

Let's take a look at five matchups UC needs to win in order to beat Louisville tonight.

UC RT Sean Hooey vs. Louisville pass rush:

There's no secret to the resurgence of the Cincinnati offense. When the offensive line started to play better and Isaiah Pead returned, the Bearcats reverted to the explosive form of last year and what everyone expected this season.

A major aspect of that change was the swap of now RT Alex Hoffman and now RG CJ Cobb. Well, Hoffman will not play this week after suffering an injury against Miami. Hooey will take his place on the edge and must step up to control a UL pass rush that leads the Big East. Their 3.65 sacks per game is third nationally. It should be noted half of their 18 sacks came against Eastern Kentucky, but there's no denying they are rushing the passer much better than in the past.

You have to imagine Charlie Strong will be bringing his pass rushing linebacker Daniel Brown and emerging DE Rodney Gnat around Hooey's edge to test him. Brown had two sacks against Arkansas State and Gnat leads the team.

If Hooey can hold his own, it will free up the entire UC offense to break big plays downfield to Armon Binns and DJ Woods.

Louisville RB Bilal Powell vs. UC run defense:

Powell makes Louisville go. That will be especially true without RB Vic Anderson. He's the only weapon that truly strikes fear into the heart of the defensive coordinator. Powell's ranked 8th in the nation with 137.8 rush yards a game. He broke two TDs of longer than 70 yards.

Of course, Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray put fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators, but UC's stout rush defense held him to one of the least effective days of his career.

The Bearcats currnetly are ranked 8th in the country in rush defense.

The combination of Maalik Bomar and JK Schaffer attacking the gaps held open by Derek Wolfe and company up front has been difficult to beat.

Stop Powell. Stop the UL offense. Period.

Adam Froman threw an interception in every game, except for last week against lowly Memphis. In two losses against Kentucky and Oregon State, his completion percentage was under 60 percent with just one total TD pass.

Forcing Froman to beat them would be playing to the Cards weakness.

UC RB Isaiah Pead vs. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez:


Yeah, that's right. The Bearcats aren't playing Nebraska, but Martinez holds the current lead for yards per rush at 10.8. No. 2 is Pead at 9.8 yards. The spread is all about explosive plays --- Butch Jones' spread thrives off of explosive plays in the running game.

If Pead can continue to keep up with Martinez's 10.8 yards a rush and break a few long runs, it will put Louisville's defense in a bad way trying to figure out how to stop the UC offense with Pead running free.

And, honestly, I can't think of many defenses that could stop UC if Pead runs with the explosiveness he did against Miami.

UC vs. quick start:

The common thread through both of Louisville's losses this season have been slow starts. They fell behind 20-6 against Kentucky in the first half and then were down 34-14 to Oregon State early in the third quarter.

UC asserted itself early last week against Miami in its strongest showing of the year. The Bearcats need to get off to a quick start and early lead in order to force Louisville into a more pass-oriented attack. From that point on, it would just be a matter of containing Froman and holding off the Cards surge.

UC secondary vs. Louisville WRs:

The knock on the UC defense has been its young secondary. They appear to be getting better each week, but are still extremely inexperienced, particularly at corner.

Top UL WR Doug Beaumont is questionable, but even if he doesn't play WR Josh Bellamy has been solid in his absence. Bellamy caught two TD passes against Memphis and has 15 receptions on the year.

The emergence of Reuben Johnson and Cammeron Cheatham at the corners may end up telling the tale to whether UC can win the Big East and that begins tonight against the Cards.

Bearcats Breakfast 10.15.10

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Battle for the Keg of Nails Rivalry Page

Happy Game Day, everyone. This will be my first trip to the Pizza Palace in Louisville and I'm pretty excited to check out the place and take in what I am told should be a pretty raucous enviornment.

Of course, it won't take much to top the other road trip I took to Fresno. That has become the new bottom rung when people tell me about how terrible some stadium press boxes and facilities are.

The unmarked elevator I thought would either take me to press level or 1985 still haunts my dreams.

But, I hopefully will be in a much more cheerful mood than I was that night tonight when I open up the live chat at 7 p.m.

Tha'ts right, the LIVE CHAT will open at 7 p.m. tonight and run throughout the duration of the game. So, feel free to show up early with any questions, comments, suggestions, favorite Kragethorpe memories you would like to share. I will be there to give you live updates and any insight you are seeking.

And of course, you are more than welcome to come mix it up with me and other commenters as the game goes on.

Hope to see you there, just pop over to this blog and join in as you watch on ESPN2. Your announcers are Joe Tessitore (unfortunately without Teddy Atlas) and Rod Gilmore.

Let's eat....

--- For those interested in national perception and NOT FOR GAMBLING PURPOSES, the Bearcats are three-point favorites tonight at Louisville.

Both opened the season with new coaching staffs and both teams find themselves in similar spots tonight, but with different feelings about their path to get there. The Cards overachieved in non-conference by competing against Kentucky and Oregon State, but running up some sluggish wins against Arkansas State and Eastern Kentucky before really putting it together last week against Memphis.

UC turned it on with the well-played loss to Oklahoma and dominance of MIami (Ohio). However, with so much higher expectations here, the road to the Big East was viewed differently among the base.

But, playing at top level, UC owns a talent advantage right now over U of L.   

When asked if it was easier to take over a program coming off down years where everybody hated the coach, opposed to great years where everybody loved the coach (on the field, anyway), Jones wouldn't concede either way, but admitted there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

"It's a balancing act," he said. "The advantage of coming into a program that's won is players expect to win. They have that experience. But a lot of times when you look at a program that's won...it's what have the younger players done in your program? Sometimes it's they landed on third base without every getting up to bat and hitting a triple. They just think all this is easy, we just win and forget the hard work and all the effort that goes into it in practice.

"When sometimes you maybe go into a program that doesn't have a lot of expectations, you have a lot of players that are driven because they are hungry because they have never experienced it. They are going to maybe drink the Kool-Aid a little bit faster. Tell me what we need to do to win. I think you see that in Louisville. I think they're hungry."

If Louisville were to find a way to win, there will be a whole lot of Kool-Aid drunk on 6th St.

--- We haven't heard much from Ben Guidugli this season -- partially due to injury and partially due to the lacking offensive line early on -- but this would be a fantastic game to see him break out.

As Bill Koch pointed out in his blog, U of L is a special game for the Highlands product who wasn't offered by the Cards.

--- UC owns a 12-game conference winning streak, and Koch talks about what that means to the team, but they haven't been easy and the last time UC went to Louisville toward the beginning of the streak, it wasn't either.

The Bearcats won 28-20, but trailed in the second half, 20-14, in a heavy downpour before coming back to win. John Goebel scored a TD late to build the lead to eight and a stand on fourth-and-1 ended it. (That said, I would like to request Goebel for tonight's postgame) 

Here's the highlights:


--- Brian Bennett did a Q and A with D.J. Woods, who enjoyed a nice bounce-back game after the two-fumble game against Oklahoma.

He scored his first rushing TD to add to his team-high total of 5 touchdowns on the year.

He leads the Big East with 5.8 catches and 97.8 yards a game.

--- BearcatLair says Armon Binns' practice habits helped turn his season around.

--- West Virginia asserted itself as the conference favorite last night. The convincing 20-6 win proved the Mountaineers are the most well-rounded team in the BE right now and USF has maybe the most disappointing offense in college football. They look lost.

--- Rivals hands out midseason awards and Louisville took the honor of biggest surprise and coach of the year. I am sure Bearcats fans, players, coaches and staff are devastated they went unrecognized. The Rivals Midseason Awards are the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards of college football. But not even the good BEAs, the one given away before the ceremony on the "Red Carpet" the features Fran Drescher, Mark Ruffalo and the cast of According to Jim.  

--- The Voice of the Bearcats put together some notes on UC, including some deserved offensive line praise. Dan Hoard also pointed out Mick Cronin stating his belief Yancy Gates will be All-Big East this season. Very well could happen.   

--- Paul Daugherty weighs in on UC and its decision to stick with Mick Cronin. I've talked about this a number of times tbrough different outlets so I won't do it again here, but they have made the right call. The numbers across the Big East insist they have made the right call.

And this year, for progress to continue, the NCAA tournament needs to happen.

As they would say in A Few Good Men, "These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed." 

--- One sentence I loved in Bill Koch's Q and A with Mick Cronin in today's Enquirer was this, when asked if this year is make-or-break, Cronin responded: "Every year is make-or-break year in coaching. In my third year, what would have happened if we'd won eight games?"

The stakes are higher and the expectation level raised, but the pressure to meet said expectations sits only shades stronger for Cronin this year compared to last year.

--- Dickie V (who I love, feel free to tell me what an idiot I am) put out his top 40 for the preseason. Seven Big East teams made the cut. UC did not. Surprisingly, Louisville did. Of course, Rick Pitino has always been a Dickie V favorite.

--- UC photog Brett Hansbauer posted some of the goofy outtakes from his session taking individual player photos this week. It includes an appearance from photogenic SID Mike Harris showing off the enthusiastic postgame handshake.  

--- Oh, by the way, season tickets are on sale now.  

--- Remember to check back here before and during the game tonight for the Live Chat and the best Kragthorpe joke will win an underwhelming prize from me.

After Taking Heat, The O-Line Shines

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There are 101 players on the University of Cincinnati football team, but five of them received the bulk of the criticism for Bearcats' slow start - the starting members of the offensive line.


After allowing 15 sacks in the first three games, the offensive line was getting more hits than Deadspin after breaking the Favre/Sterger story.


"I felt badly because I knew it wasn't just their fault," quarterback Zach Collaros told me this week.  "Sometimes I held the ball too long or a receiver ran the wrong route; sometimes a running back missed his protection.  But to the average eye, it was all on the offensive line.  They took a lot of heat, but they handled it well."


In the last two games, Cincinnati has gained 461 yards against #8 Oklahoma, and 609 yards against Miami.  Clearly, the o-line has made major strides. 


"I love those guys and I knew they would take care of business," Collaros said.  "They work the hardest of anyone on the team.  They're always in there watching film and trying to get better, so it might have been an area of concern to the outside world, but in this program we knew that those guys would get it right."


Unfortunately, just as the offensive line was gaining confidence, right tackle Alex Hoffman suffered a sprained knee against Miami.  He'll miss the Louisville game (Visit the Game's Rivalry Page) and sophomore Sean Hooey will start in his place.


"It does impact us because Alex has been a model of consistency and losing him hurts," said head coach Butch Jones.  "But that's the game of football, and now Sean Hooey has to step up.  He's been waiting for an opportunity and he's going to be challenged.  Louisville leads the Big East in sacks, so we have to do a good job."


The emergence of Isaiah Pead should help.  The junior from Columbus has rushed for 169 and 197 yards in his last two games, and ranks 2nd in the country at 9.8 yards per carry.


"Having Isaiah Pead in the lineup is an unbelievable threat," Collaros said.  "He can make a play out of nothing and that takes a lot of pressure off of the offensive line and off of me."


"We have to get him his touches - not only in the run game, but in the passing game as well," Coach Jones said.  "He's a very explosive football player and when you have a great back, we have to make sure he gets his touches.  It's like a basketball player - when they're feeling it, you have to feed him the ball."


Pead is averaging 100.5 yards in the four games that he's appeared in, but in one of those games (NC State), Isaiah did not have a single carry.  In the games in which he's actually carried the ball, Pead is averaging 134 yards - which would be tied for 9th in the country.


"The mark of a great running is patience," Coach Jones said.  "When we got here - Isaiah would be the first to tell you - we would give him the ball and he would run right to the sideline because he wanted to outrun everyone.  He's really worked hard on the tempo of his runs.  Now, on a lot of those runs, he has a tempo of about 80 percent of full capacity before making a cut with great burst and acceleration.  That shows me how much better he is getting and I'm excited about that."


Pead will not be the only outstanding running back on the field on Friday night - Louisville's Bilal Powell ran for 204 yards last week vs. Memphis and is averaging 137.8 yards a game.  The Cardinals lead the Big East in both rushing offense (217.8 yards) and passing offense (243.4 yards), but stopping the ground game is the Bearcats top priority.


"It all starts with stopping the run," Coach Jones said.  "As we get into the Big East Conference, our opponents are going to try to run the football.  This week, we're number one at stopping the run and Louisville is number one in rushing the football, so something's got to give."


In all likelihood, the winner of that battle will be given The Keg of Nails.


* * * * *


I'm looking forward to seeing the Bearcats take the field in their new Adidas TECHFIT jerseys on Friday night.


  Adidas tech fit.jpg


These state-of-art jerseys are 30% lighter than UC's previous uniforms, and do not hold moisture - you can dip them in a bucket of water and they come out the same weight.  Additionally, a jersey that looks like it would fit my 4-year-old son Sam can be stretched to fit a 320-pound offensive lineman.


"The exciting thing is that we're one of only seven teams in the country that will have this product," Butch Jones told me.  "These jerseys have been designed specifically for us - they even say 'Represent the C' on the inside.  That's all part of being a big-time college football program."


It's hard to imagine a high-tech jersey being the difference in a football game, but it can have an impact on recruiting.


"It's huge," said Coach Jones.  "We're able to say, 'Look what Adidas thinks of us.'  I think our jerseys are some of the best in the country and you would be amazed, there have been times in the recruiting process where we'll say, 'Why are you attracted to the University of Cincinnati?' and a kid will respond, 'Coach, I really love your jerseys.'  So it's something that we take very seriously and we're excited to wear them on Friday night."


* * * * *


Last week's 45-3 win over Miami marked the first team this season that the Bearcats didn't fumble.  In fact, it was the first time that UC didn't fumble at least three times.


It was great to see D.J. Woods handle the ball 10 times without putting it on the ground.  After losing two key fumbles against Oklahoma, Woods carried a ball everywhere he went on campus for two weeks before facing the RedHawks.


dj woods.jpg 

"D.J. is a very emotional young man and that's kind of what gives him his edge as well," Coach Jones told me.  "We use a phrase called, 'snap and clear.'  It's being able to play the snap and then clear it from your mind.  His maturity level has really grown and I've been really proud of how he's handled himself.  We take great pride in ball security.  Our coaching staff is not accustomed to this - the last two years, we were number one and number two in the country in ball security.  So we know how to teach it."


* * * * * 


I was extremely honored to emcee a luncheon on Wednesday that marked the beginning of a two-year celebration of the 50th Anniversary of UC's 1961 and 1962 National Championships.


It was great to visit with former Bearcats Tony Yates, George Wilson, Larry Elsasser, Dale Heidotting, Larry Shingleton, Carl Bouldin, Bill Abernathy, Tom Thacker, Fred Dierking and Bob Wiesenhahn, along with former coach Tay Baker.


Cincinnati plans to honor members of the back-to-back championship teams at every home game over the next two years, and the Bearcats will wear special throwback jerseys at one home game per month.


Mick Cronin was one of the featured speakers and he had some great things to say about Yancy Gates.


"Yancy was thrust into the spotlight at a young age and what hasn't killed him has only made him tougher," Cronin told the audience.  "I'm extremely proud of him.  He spent some time this summer out in California running sand dunes with a guy that used to train Jerry Rice.  He also told me that he ate rice every day for about 30 days.  When I asked him what he weighed he said, 'They don't even have scales, but I can tell you I'm a lot lighter from going up that hill than I was three weeks ago.'  I firmly believe that Yancy is going to be an All-Big East player because I see him every day.  He's grown up a lot.  A lot of our players have, but they don't have the talent that he has.  You have to have an All-Big East player in our league - let's be honest - and he's ready for the challenge."


I look forward to watching practice next week.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Bearcats Breakfast 10.14.10

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I spent much of the week talking to players and coaches about J.K. Schaffer. I felt like he was deserving of a feature, but was looking for an angle. Some players have an amazing backstory like Mardy Gilyard or a controversial mouth like Chad Ochocinco and the stories flow off the fingers.

J.K. is a little different. He comes from a solid background, he says all the right things, does all the right things, seemingly never misses a tackle and is the picture of consistency.

Perfect for a coach, but not a headline grabber for a writer. But, despite the fact he's so confident his LaSalle Lancers are going to beat my Moeller Crusaders for the first time in 94 years on Friday, I felt like his story shined because of all the atributes I mentioned above. Too often, we don't appreciate consistency. We don't appreciate the tireless worker. We don't appreciate the good guy.

Well, at least for one story, I wanted to emphasize the importance of consistency and work ethic on this team. You can't talk about that without talking about J.K. Schaffer. Great player, better guy.

Here's the story

Also, here are a few extras I wasn't able to squeeze into the story:

J.K. Schaffer on consistency:

"I just want to roll my sleeves up and get out there and get the job done becaue my coaches expect me to be a real consistent guy. They expect me to be the same guy all the time and get my job done and help my teammates do their job, too." 


J.K. on his college decision (I will point out that my alma mater OU was the only other school smart enough to extend an offer to the Schaffer):

"I wanted to come (to UC). That was my first choice if I was getting this offer I was taking it. I made sure to get recruited by the MAC schools. I didn't try for Ohio State or anything. I could have probably ended up going to Kentucky. Ohio University was the only other school that actually offered me because I took this offer as soon as I got it. But I couldn't have went to any of the big schools. Miami (Ohio) turned me down.

"I love playing Miami." 

Kerry Coombs on what he saw from JK when he recruited him at LaSalle and spotting attributes important to the program:

"The thing I noticed watching J.K. in high school was he was always at the ball. When you got guys that are always at the ball they are going to be good players. You got to sometime throw out some of the measurables that everybody else goes by. I don't care who else is recruiting kids, because I think that is the biggest farce going. Our focus is, "Do they fit what we need?' If they are our kind of guys and they fit what we need, then we are going to offer them a scholarship regardless of whether they've been offered by every school in the country or nobody in the country, because that is of no concern."


Coombs on what makes JK special:

"We wouldn't have been wrong with J.K. Schaffer if he never played a down because he's such a quality person to make your team better. The fact he's come in from the very first day and competed is indicative of what kind of player - he's going to play in the NFL. He has everything about him, but it doesn't define him."

Coombs on why J.K. has been so effective this year:  

"I think the scheme fits what he does, he's an incredible student of the game, so he doesn't get fooled, he doesn't make mistakes. And he's a very sure tackler. You don't just make tackles because you're at the ball you also have to be a physical tackler who comes to balance well. J.K. has tremendous closing speed and great power and very, very good balance. Anybody who watched the interception against Oklahoma or in pass coverage, he has tremendous balance."


Butch Jones on Schaffer:

"Part of being a great linebacker is having great instincts. J.K. has great instincts and he's very intelligent. He puts his time in. That doesn't happen by chance, it happens with film study, work ethic. He has made himself a player. That is what is so rewarding to watch him play, is that he's a self-made player. He's a self-made man."


LB Maalik Bomar on how Schaffer helped him work into the role:


"Especially in film room. We will sit there together and watch film. He'll tell me what I'm thinking and ask me what I'm thinking and basically it is like that to see if we are on the same page. That is what's helping us today, we think basically on the same page.


All right, just wanted to let some of those quotes see the light day, 1) because I spent the time to gather them and 2) because I think it's interesting insight to how much people respect Schaffer and what he does.


Anyway, let's eat...


--- No TV station dedicates more time to delivering all the sports news in town like Fox19. Rontina McCann had this report from UC this week.

--- The AP's Joe Kay pieced together a number of nuggets for a story about UC regaining its swagger.

--- Former St. X running back Darius Ashley moved over to defense for Louisville and could see some time at corner Firday night against UC.  

--- Hearing names like Ed Jucker and Tony Yates celebrated can't help but remind you of the proud basketball tradition at the school. UC celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its back-to-back championship teams on Wednesday. Here's the story from Bill Koch, who no longer has a van for sale, in case you were wondering.

Scott Springer also had an excellent piece on the function.

--- Koch wrote that RT Alex Hoffman will not play on Friday against Louisville.

It's a blow for UC, who saw a resurgence of the offensive line the last two games after Hoffman and Cobb switched positions. After allowing 15 sacks through the first three games, they only allowed four the last two.

--- Here is the full injury report for Friday's game against Louisville. The notables are, as previously discussed, Alex Hoffman for UC. For UL, RB Victor Anderson won't play. That just mean more Bilal Powell, which probably woulnd't be considered the best news the Bearcats have heard. 

--- Sam Elliot talks about the clean slate the Big East provides for the News Record.

--- Brian Bennett talks about two key matchups that will decide the Keg O'Lies. UC rush defense vs. Bilal Powell and UC offense vs. UL defense, particularly in the trenches where he thinks UC can overpower a smaller Cardinals front.

--- B-twice also predicts UC will win. That might not be the best news, however, considering he went 0-2 in conference play predictions last week.    

--- Great news as former UC long snapper Mike Windt, who spent the preseason with the Bengals, was signed by San Diego yesterday.

Windt played well in the preseason, didn't miss a snap and even recovered a fumble on special teams, but wasn't going to unseat incumbent Clark Harris unless Harris played especially poor. Great to see his effort didn't go unnoticed. Best of luck to him because that position runs on as short a leash as exists in the NFL. He's the fifth LS for the Chargers this season.   

--- UC hoops wearing throwbacks! They don't bring the excitement of the old school Houston Astros or Tampa Bay Bucs, but cool to see nonetheless. (H/t 247sports)

--- Some randomness...

--- Zach Galiafanakis produced another genius Between Two Ferns, this time with Bruce Willis.

Here's a sample question: "When you were making The Whole Ten Yards, were you ever worried it might be TOO good?"

--- I am sarcastically flabbergasted I didn't make this list.

--- Sports Pickle nails the pop culture story of the day...again.

--- Mounting elephants can be awkward. Although, I can't imagine it being more awkward than this. (H/t Hot Clicks)


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uc 1961.jpg
uc-1962 champs.jpeg

      To start what will be a two-year celebration, UC honored the members of the back-to-back national champion basketball teams Wednesday at Great Hall at the Tangeman Center. For those unfamiliar with their heroics (their banners hang on the wall of Fifth Third Arena) they won the national title after the 1960-61 season and again in '61-'62. And, if it weren't for a heartbreaking loss to Loyola-Chicago in 1963, it would've been THREE titles in a row (and perhaps another year of celebrating).

      UC radio voice Dan Hoard was the MC, and plenty of basketball elite was on hand, including Mick Cronin's staff and current player Yancy Gates, UC alumni director and former player Myron Hughes, and Corie Blount, Terry Nelson and Armein Kirkland from the Bob Huggins years.

      Of course, the featured attractions were the players and support staff from those title teams whose championship black and white videos played on the big screen on stage. Of the living who appeared were: then-Assistant Coach (and later Head Coach) Tay Baker, Bill Abernathy, George Wilson, Larry Elsasser, Tom Thacker, Dale Heidotting, Fred Dierking, Tony Yates, Larry Shingleton, Bob Wiesenhan and Carl Bouldin.

      The highlight of the afternoon was toward the end when Dan Hoard took a wireless mike into the crowd and interviewed the team members. Doing something like that now often gets you short responses from shy players. After 50 years though, none of these guys were shy and they all had great stories.

      I wish I was able to speak individually with each one, but as the room cleared out I was able to chase down Bob Wiesenhahn, Larry Shingleton and Coach Tay Baker.

      Wiesenhahn delighted the crowd with his admission that he was "kind of pyscho" when he played. Teammate Dale Heidotting acknowledged as much when he mentioned, "Wiezy was in the locker room before the Xavier game doing push-ups!"

      Naturally, I had to ask about his "Norman Bates" reputation, of which he was eager to respond.

      "I psyched myself up," said Wiesenhahn. "My roommate and I used to set little fires in the trash can in the room before the game--Carl Bouldin and I. I used to like playing on the road more because people would hate me and that would fire me up more."

      If you've ever seen pictures of Bob Wiesenhahn when he played, he looked like the classic "enforcer". Barrel-chested, big armed with elbows flying, Wiesenhahn was the type of player that Mick Cronin described as, "not making it to halftime in the Big East".

      Wiesenhahn claims that he could dunk from the foul line like Michael Jordan back in the day and he still looks like someone who could rough you up a little if you did him wrong. He was the classic player Cincinnati falls in love with--blue collar, not polished, but constantly relying on his head and heart and busting his hump 100 percent of the time.

      "I was the leading scorer on the team which is overlooked a lot," said Wiesenhahn. "I averaged 10 rebounds a game, I could do other things. I was the emotional leader, if I said something guys would all do it. We just got along so good. It was a nice bunch of guys."

      Despite being the toughest guy on the team, Wiesenhahn was the most "choked up" as he recalled the unity and closeness of the team. He's been through a lot, but he really looks like he could give you five solid minutes on the floor right now if you needed him.

      "I lift weights and I work out," said the 71-year-old Wiesenhaun. "I've had a lot of operations and knee problems. I've had six operations, I've had a five-way, I've had cancer, I've been shot by a gun, broken jaws, broken nose, fingers, I still take care of myself. I eat fish five days a week. I do everything I can."

      Watching the Bearcats in what seems like slow motion black and white probably doesn't do them justice, but the game played 50 years ago is much different than now. However, Wiesenhahn makes some legitimate points about what is acceptable now that wouldn't have been acceptable at the Armory Fieldhouse in the early 60s.

      "That was back when people didn't carry the ball down the floor and people didn't fall down," said Wiesenhahn. "Nowadays, they take one step here and another step here--that's walking. The rules haven't changed."

      While it may sound like "grumpy old men" to some of you, it sounds like great and entertaining discussion that's probably held each time these gentlemen get together.   

       Recently, those visits have been more frequent. As you can imagine, like the '72 NFL Miami Dolphins, these guys have a lot to toast. Most teams never make it to a Final Four, this group went to three and won BACK TO BACK national titles which seems nearly superhuman now.

      "We started early in the summer, three summers ago and we'd get together at a restaurant and chat and tell stories about each other," said Larry Shingleton. "We're as close now as we were back when we were playing. The word 'team' is the key to the whole thing. I didn't have any problem saying to (Ron) Bonham, who could knock the eyes out of the basket, 'Damn it Ron, I'm tired of guarding your man and mine. Guard your own!' He wouldn't get mad, he'd just do what I asked him to do."

      Shingleton is the guard whose free throw could've given UC three titles in a row. Since then, he's made a habit of sending a card to various athletes whose efforts come up painfully short. Shingleton's thoughtfulness has made many disappointed players feel better. It's the same care and concern he's had with his teammates for 50 years.

      "Put aside the basketball, we were thick as thieves individually off the court," said Shingleton. "That common bond was transferred over to the court and we hated to lose. Whatever it took to win, that's what we did."

      What it took to win, was a change of styles. Prior to UC's national titles, they went to two straight Final Fours under George Smith, who went onto become Athletic Director as Ed Jucker took over the team in 1960. Those teams featured Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, which is why everyone is surprised to learn that the Bearcats won it all AFTER Oscar turned pro.

      "Go back and research that, who did they lose to?" challenged Shingleton. "They lost to the University of California and the University of California played defense primarily. Two years, back to back, that's who they lost to. So, when Juck (Ed Jucker) took over we said, 'We're going to start playing defense.' Everyone was upset, maybe we'd win 52-38, but we won."

      Coach Tay Baker expounded on the Robertson years when the "Big O" scored a then-record 2,973 points in his THREE seasons of eligibility.

      "Oscar's there three years and had an opportunity to win a championship," said Baker. "I think it points out that they don't hand you that national championship, you've got to earn that thing. It's a tough, tough deal. There wasn't a better team for three straight years in which Oscar played, but unfortunately, we hit a team like Cincinnati when Oscar was playing California. They were team-oriented and did a heck of a job of controlling the tempo of the game."

      Thus, a concept and an idea was born sometime between March 19, 1960 and the fall of the '60-'61 campaign as Jucker took over from Smith and Baker became top assistant.

      "People really come to see individual performances, but every team doesn't have an individual that's capable of performing at a level that people want to see like an Oscar Robertson," said Baker. "We had to go a different direction and say, 'Hey, if we get anything done, it's going to be collectively, not as individuals.' We had very good players who had specific skills and you put them all together and all of a sudden you've got a pretty solid team."

      Baker saw that group though their college career, coaching them on the freshmen team. An avid golfer now at 83, Baker doesn't look much older than his former players who are in their late 60s to early 70s.

      "I came when Oscar (Robertson) was a senior," said Baker. "You see, freshmen were not eligible then so I had Tony and Thack (Tom Thacker) and Larry Shingleton and Dale Heidotting on the freshman team. They were on all three of those teams after that, the two national championships and the runner-up. I'm kind of proud of those guys, they got a lot accomplished."

      Perhaps the understatement of the day.

The underdog

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J.K. Schaffer was undersized and under-recruited coming out of LaSalle in 2007, but developed into one of the premier defenders in the Big East.


CINCINNATI - At first glance of recruiting J.K. Schaffer at LaSalle High School, Bearcats assistant Kerry Coombs didn't see a future Division I linebacker.


Those traits would reveal themselves upon deeper investigation.


At first, he saw a puppet.


"He is a much better athlete than you might think when you meet him in person with his red hair and big smile," Coombs said. "I used to tease him, he looked a bit like Howdy Doody."


Fortunately for UC, Coombs quickly peeled past the layers of freckles, undersized frame and questioned talent to uncover the perfect football player to fit this program.


Some didn't bother to dig.


Check that, almost everyone didn't.


jk schaffer.jpegThe All-Ohio linebacker sold himself to Mid-American Conference schools across the state, hoping to land a scholarship offer. Ohio University offered. No others did. Miami (Ohio), a MAC school living in Schaffer's own backyard, decided to pass.


But Coombs saw an underdog. While nearly every school on the recruiting trail viewed that as an excuse for why Schaffer would fail, everyone close to him knew it was the reason he'd succeed.


"I like being the underdog," Schaffer said. "It doesn't allow me to get complacent which I can't do, because I am not a guy with all the talent in the world, just blessed with talent. I have no time to be complacent or else I am going to fall a step behind."


Seventeen starts into his Bearcats career, Schaffer's a step above. He finished second on the team in tackles while starting 12 games as outside linebacker in 2009. He led the team with 10 tackles in the Sugar Bowl.


This season he seamlessly handled a move to middle linebacker and through five games ranks second in the Big East and 23rd nationally with 9.8 tackles per game.


The kid nobody wanted turned himself into the one everybody missed.


"My whole life, I've fed off of trying to prove people wrong," Schaffer said. "I try to live that everyday. There is nothing more that I love than to prove someone wrong who is doubting something I can do, something my team can do, something my teammates can do. I love proving people wrong and going out there and trying to earn things. I don't like anything being given to me."


The only thing being given to Schaffer these days is responsibility. On a unit without a senior starter, the junior gladly accepted the role of quarterback of the defense by moving to the middle during preseason.


When evaluating his impact, it's easy to point to the numbers. Schaffer owns 49 tackles, 16 more than the second-leading tackler on the team. He also grabbed one of the Bearcats' two interceptions - an amazing acrobatic pick against Oklahoma.


Schaffer wouldn't be considered the flashiest guy on the field. The Oklahoma play may be the closest to flash Schaffer offered in his time at UC.


Sometimes, his impact comes quietly. But, unlike most linebackers in college football, he plays every snap. And on seemingly every snap, he makes plays.


He picked up 16 tackles against N.C. State and followed with 13 the next game against Oklahoma. 


On a defense with so many players attempting to figure out what their role should be early on, it's hard to imagine where the Bearcats would be without Schaffer this year.


"I don't even want to think about that," Butch Jones said. "The biggest thing you can see is he's consistent. That's the biggest thing you can say that describes J.K."


The consistent approach serves as the foundation for his numbers, but Schaffer provided much more than tackles and defensed passes. When he vacated his outside linebacker position to move to the middle, unproven sophomore Maalik Bomar filled his spot.


Bomar needed somebody to guide him through his first experience as a Division I starter. Schaffer gladly accepted the role of big brother and showed him the way. They worked extra hours in the film room and the weight room as Bomar packed on 20 pounds during the offseason.


A laugh fills the space between words when Bomar talks about how Schaffer calls him "young pup," considering Schaffer's only 51 days older.


"I told him, 'C'mon, that died off in the summer,'" Bomar said. "I paid my dues."


"I like to give him a hard time just because he's doing so well," Schaffer said. "I got to keep him down to earth and keep his head in it."


Both stay in it through competition. Tackles, forced fumbles, defensed passes and other stats are all worth two points while a sack is worth three in their yearlong battle.


By virtue of a significant lead in tackles, the teacher holds a strong lead on the student. But Bomar is making a charge with 24 of his 33 total tackles coming in the last three games.


"Even if I am coming from the backside, when I am running everything down, I'm thinking, 'I hope J.K. doesn't get there before I do," Bomar said. "But, if I am getting a play to my side, I will sacrifice myself because I know J.K. will be there."


The relationship forms the hammer for the No. 8 rushing defense in the country. Facing the No. 18 rushing offense in the nation at Louisville on Friday (Visit the Game's Rivalry Page), they have their hands full. Staring down a lineup of premier backs like Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis, West Virginia's Noel Devine, Connecticut's Jordan Todman and Syracuse's Delone Carter, the odds infer UC can't hold up its high-ranked position.


Go ahead, count Schaffer out.   


"I always say that every time our team is the underdog, I'm happy because it puts a little chip on our shoulder, gives us a little extra spark," he said. "I like it because it keeps me hungry."


In so many ways, Schaffer embodies the image of the only program he wanted to join out of high school: Lacking the supposed tangibles, overlooked, constantly counted out.


"I can't believe as many teams missed him as they did," Coombs said. "But, a lot of that is a function of, I don't know, bias or prejudice or whatever. We'd take 100 J.K. Schaffer's and we'd have a darn good football team."


The same way Coombs saw more than a freckle-faced, undersized kid nobody wanted from LaSalle, he sees more in Schaffer's future than a year and a half in Clifton.


"He's going to play in the NFL," Coombs said.


That's a bold claim. Schaffer's size by the UC media guide is 6-1, 223 pounds. The average size of an NFL linebacker is 6-2, 247.


Fighting to make an NFL roster, Schaffer would be considered a huge underdog.


Of course, he wouldn't want it any other way.

--- MARDY GILYARD: The time is now for Mardy. Due to a season-ending injury to Mark Clayton, it appears Gilyard could be inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this week.

It's unfortunate that both Donnie Avery and Clayton have gone down, but it has provided a path for Gilyard to show what he can do and grab a permanent position as a fixture in the St. Louis offense, not to mention develop chemistry with Bradford.

There's plenty of quotes and analysis of the position battle in this story from BND.com.

Gilyard caught two passes for 22 yards in the Rams ugly 44-6 loss to Detroit.  .

--- TRENT COLE: Cole enjoyed a solid week with four tackles, one for a loss and a QB hit in a 27-24 win against San Francisco on Sunday night. He played a key role in containing Frank Gore to 2.9 yards a rush on 18 carries.  

--- BRENT CELEK: Another week with buddy Kevin Kolb at QB and another week with a touchdown for Brent Celek. He caught an 8-yarder from Kolb for Philly's first score of the game.

He finished with three receptions for 47 yards and nine targets.   

--- BRANDON UNDERWOOD: He had one tackle in Green Bay's loss to Washington.

--- RICARDO MATHEWS: Mathews was inactive for Indianapolis against Jacksonville.  

--- JEFF LINKENBACH: Didn't see much action this week. 

--- MIKE WRIGHT: Wright missed a couple sessions of practice with an injury during New England's bye week last week. But returned on Monday and is expected to play this weekend.  

--- KEVIN HUBER: Huber had maybe the punt of the year when he blasted one 73 yards on Sunday. It probably flew about 65 yards, before unfortunately bouncing into the end zone. The touchback from his own 27 still made for a ridiculous 53-yard net. 

--- HARUKI NAKAMURA: Nakamura has been for the most part displaced by Tom Zbikowski at safety, but some people following the team believe its time for that to change. Here's one such blog post.

--- TONY PIKE: He is becoming the most popular quarterback in Carolina by not doing a thing. When standing around with a clipboard is helping your team more than the other two quarterbacks who play, you know it's a bad situation.  

Bearcats Breakfast 10.13.10

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The basketball team held its pep rally at Fountain Square Tuesday and opens practice this weekend. We are little more than a month away from the opener Nov. 15 against St. Mary's.

Talk of the basketball team started to light up the message boards a little bit this week and, as is typically the case with preseason chatter, most of it seems positive. Despite the Bearcats sitting in the bottom six of most of the preseason Big East polls you will read, they have as good a chance as any of the teams outside the top 4/5 in the league to surprise and jump into the NCAA tournament.

Everyone has holes to fill -- especially after the mass exodus of the 2010 Draft. Everyone has questions left behind. There is so much talent in the BE that it's only a matter of which team can mature and find ways to win despite their problems. For the first time, the Bearcats own a talented, experienced team to fill those holes.

No superstar exists, so people count them out. But, in the Big East, the majority of superstars don't enter as stars (Lance Stephenson being the exception), they develop. UC has a chance to witness the development of stars this year. I will talk plenty more about the basketball team in the coming month, but it's refreshing to read some positivity out there aorund the program. None of it really matters as far as how the team will play, but it is deserved.

--- Adam Zagoria believes Sean Kilpatrick will be a big reason why UC can succeed this year. Here's his story.

--- All right, back to football. As a reminder, there will be a watch party held at Dave and Buster's in Tri-County on Friday night for the U of L game.

--- Bill Koch wrote a story about the offensive line. The line, all anybody wanted to talk about during the first three weeks of the season, hasn't been mentioned much the last two games.

The only time anybody notices them is when they mess up. It's a tough life. Silence has been golden for the Bearcats the last two games, though.

It will be tested against the Cards, who lead the Big East in sacks with 18.   

--- Brian Bennett chatted with Louisville QB Adam Froman, who called this the "biggest game of our season, hands down."

Louisville, despite a strong start, is still fighting for any semblance of respect after the last two years of ugly football. Playing at home on ESPN, you can feel a little bit of the big-game urgency in Froman's voice.

I don't think there's any doubt UC will get Louisville's best shot Friday night.

--- B-twice also offered his midseason review of the Bearcats.

--- The Big East is the only BCS conference without a team in the Sagarin top 20. But none of that matters, because the winner of the conference will still be headed to a BCS Bowl, whether the Mountain West likes it or not.

That's why there's plenty to play for even though so many BE teams tanked the first five weeks. This from Shannon Russell.

--- Charlie Strong is calling out the fans to show up on Friday. Taking on the fan base in any fashion is rarely a good idea. But, it feels like Strong did so with just the right amount of tact that it could work. It doesn't hurt that he's turned the team around from the Kragethorpian disaster faster than anyone imagined.    

--- If you haven't read the eye-opening confessions told by former agent Josh Luchs, than you need to drop everything and do so immediately. For the first time I can remember, a former agent talks openly about paying players, how many times he did, mentions names and comes perfectly clean on the dirty business of paying college atheltes. Unreal.

--- I know this isn't a Notre Dame blog, but I was sad to hear news that Elder product Kyle Rudolph will be done for the season with a nasty hamstring injury. That may be the last game he plays for the Irish since he's expected to be the top-ranked TE prospect in the country.

--- If you are going to sneak into a zoo at 1 a.m., I probably would still avoid the tiger cage. I would definitely avoid petting them while they sleep.

Which reminds me of one of the greatest songs in a comedy. Ever.


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keg of nails2.jpg

      Regardless of where you go to high school, if you do so across the Ohio River in the Bluegrass State there's a strong push for you to continue your collegiate career in Kentucky. Particularly if you're an athlete.

      While that might not be a popular statement, that's been my feeling after cover years of years of sports and attending prep events at various Northern Kentucky schools. Sure, UC might be 30 minutes away across the bridge, but at times that bridge has felt like a wall.

      Covering numerous Kentucky state championships involving Boone County, Highlands, Beechwood, Covington Catholic and Newport Central Catholic, I can tell you that those boys are brought up looking to continue their careers at UK or Louisville. Plus, Louisville has always had an "in" as the host of those title games.

      However, things have changed...a bit. Nearly a decade ago, Gino Guidugli originally committed to play at Kentucky (I was at the press conference) even though his fellow former Highlands quarterback Jared Lorenzen was already there (I was at his press conference too). Then, Hal Mumme had some NCAA issues and suddenly Gino was coming to UC.

      Not that he was the first, or the last, but suddenly playing at a venue that was easier for your family to get to (albeit across the water) became popular. Others also came around this period--Kirt Doolin, Jeff Reinstatler, Adam Wulfeck, Doug Jones, etc.

      Now, the northern Kentucky football fields are fertile ground for recruits and are being mined not only by Kentucky and Louisville, but by the Cincinnati Bearcats.

      That brings us to Ben Guidugli, the Bearcat tight end that is no longer looked at as, "Gino's brother".

ben guidugli.jpeg

        He's carved out a decent career as an offensive threat and is nearing full capacity after returning to Nippert in the Miami (OH) game to catch four passes and find the endzone.

      However Ben, like many of the Kentucky prepsters, faced the same in-state pressures. In his case, like Gino's, everything worked out for the best, but this week's opponent holds some special meaning for him.

      "They recruited me but I didn't get an offer from them," said Guidugli of the Louisville Cardinals. "They wanted me to play defense."

      Of course, Ben didn't help matters by recording an interception and a fumble recovery in one of his two trips to Louisville with the Highlands Bluebirds out of Fort Thomas. But, he wanted to play offense and the offer never came.

      "There's a little chip on my shoulder, definitely," answered Guidugli about U of L snub. "In-state guy. Didn't get the offer from them. That chip's always on my shoulder when I play Louisville."

      However, a UC offer came from Mark Dantonio, and now Ben Guidugli despises the 'Ville just like all good Bearcats. Still, he embraces the chance to return there every now and then as he's had success at the prep and college level on that field.

      "Going back to Papa John's Stadium, I won a state championship there," said Guidugli. "I won one my junior year, my sophomore year we lost. Going back to Kentucky--it's a big deal for me."

      It's also a big deal for the Guidugli family who have followed all four Guidugli brothers on the gridiron. Friday evening as you head south, it's a good chance you'll be driving next to someone related to a Guidugli. Odds are, they will have received their tickets by way of Ben.

      "I've been asking guys on the team for tickets," said a grinning Guidugli. "Hopefully, I can come up with 10 or 15 extra."

      As for the Keg of Nails game, it's the beginning of the Big East and it's a game both schools desperately need. Guidugli's hoping that a healthy offense will propel UC back to where they've been the past two years.

      "I feel like it's up in the air and whoever wants it is going to take it," said Guidugli. "If we're the hungriest team, we should take it."

      One thing's for sure, Guidugli IS HUNGRY. Missing a game and watching his understudy score a touchdown was difficult. Missing the toughest opponent of the year (Oklahoma) made it even worse. Plus early on, the tight end position was not being focused on offensively.

      All of the above led to great frustration.

      "It felt good to just get back in the game after missing that Oklahoma game," said Guidugli. "Doing all that rehab and all that stuff, to finally get back out there felt so good. To block somebody, to catch a ball, to just get back into the offense--I wasn't really finding my niche in the offense the first few games--it felt good to get back in there."

      The key stat in the Miami game for Guidugli was the ankle checked out fine. Scoring has a funny way of healing players too. Guidugli hopes to avoid the training room from here on out.

      "That was the first time I've ever been hurt as far as high school and college where I missed a game," said Guidugli. "I was definitely not used to that and it was definitely hard for me, mentally more than physically."

      There are many popular sayings that can explain how Ben Guidugli feels. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" comes to mind. "You don't realize what you have until it's gone," is another.

      Be it those, or the fact that Bobby Petrino "dissed" him years ago, a revenge-seeking Guidugli is not something any "red bird" wants to deal with.

Fun with Isaiah Pead

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Isaiah Pead has always been a good quote. He's not afraid to say something controversial if that's what he believes.

Last year, the Columbus-native made a comment that Cincinnati would beat Ohio State that drew some understandable eyebrow raises from the folks up north.

He didn't say anything controversial on Tuesday, but did make some interesting comments about a myriad of topics.

One week after winning the Victory Bell, Pead and company will attempt to keep the Keg O'Lies (formerly known as the Keg O'Nails). One thing I never realized was the accomplishments of the junior class.

"I have never been without the keg," he said. "I haven't been without any of our trophies. Big East or rivalry. It's kind of me and my class, it's kind of big for us. As a team it is to. As a class, coming in and all of us as a team, we haven't been without it so we are not trying to start."

The Bearcats have won 12 consecutive Big East games and two consecutive wins against Pitt, five against Miami and two against Louisville make UC perfect in rivalry games the last two years.

And don't think Pead isn't aware of the run of 12 straight in conference as the new conference season begins.

"We take pride in that, play with a little chip on our shoulder," he said. "Walking around with two Big East back-to-back rings, it kind of does that to you. But yet, you've got to stay focused from our outsiders and stay as a team. Consistency. Off to the next game."


There are a number of aspects of Isaiah Pead that I love. Dan Hoard said at halftime against Miami there is no running back in the Big East he would trade for. He wants Pead.

Sure, Noel Devine, Dion Lewis, Jordan Todman, Bilal Powell, they are all good, but here is why I agree with Hoard.

I can't attest to the personalities of any of those aforementioned backs, but I love the unselfish attitude Pead exhibits. When you are a stud back in college, it's very easy to be consumed by your yards, touchdowns and everything else. While Pead is aware of his stats and does watch some of the other runners in the league, his priority falls far from a number of carries or total yardage.

"You want to see the carries and make the big run and the big plays, but yet you want to see a play action and everybody bites on you and it goes for a touchdown," Pead said."That's just as good as taking the 80-yarder to the house."

Here's more of the same from Pead as he talks about how much he keeps an eye on stats of all the great RBs across the Big East.

"You got to keep an eye on your competition. The best out of the conference. You want to be the best in your conference, but you also want to be the best team as a conference. I tend to look at the stats, I tend to maybe catch a game and criticize and pat on the butt something they did wrong, something they did right. At the same time I just want to be a champ. I just want to win games. If it comes from me getting two carries or 32 carries, I am going to do it. I am down for whatever the coach wants me to do, I am going to do it. If I have to kick the game winning field goal, I am down for it."


So, who is Pead most impressed by of all the RBs in the Big East?

"I would have to say Noel Devine," he said. "I used to watch him his freshman year when I was a senior in high school. Even before he was in college I watched his highlights. He has that edge about him. He has that cihp on his shoulder. He is fast, he knows he's fast and he uses that his advantage. I've always kind of liked his style, his swagger so to say."

Butch Jones said at his Tuesday press conference that the ankle injury sustained by RB Darrin Williams is serious.

Williams will be held out Friday against Louisville and the following week against USF. After that, Williams will be re-evaluated by the staff. Jones said, at that point, there is a chance he could be ruled out for the year.

"We are continuing to address it," Jones said. "There is a chance we could have him back in a couple weeks and a chance he could be out the rest of the year."

Jones deferred any technical analysis of the injury to the training staff, but said it is an issue with the bone and is more than just a high ankle sprain.

Williams had 20 carries for 144 yards in three games. Most of those came against Indiana State when he rushed 13 times for 117 yards.

"It's very unfortunate because we thought he was playing extremely well for us," Jones said. "Again, it gets back now our depth becomes a concern at the running back spot next week."

Isaiah Pead will continue to start with John Goebel as his backup. The third running back will likely be George Winn, who has played in mop up time against Indiana State and Miami.

He has 30 carries for 129 yards on the season.  

Bearcats Breakfast 10.12.10

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At UC practice Monday, the team had the Keg O' Nails and the Big East championship trophy out on the sidelines. First off, I'm a little disappointed in the Keg O' Nails because it is the epitome of false advertising in college football. Yes, it's a wooden keg, but there are no nails. A few years back, some unidentified UC players may or may not have cracked it open in search of said nails, only to be disappointed.

I talked about college football trophies here last week and went through some of my favorites. I love the concept. But you know what I don't love?


As fans of UC and U of L, you are being lied to. It's time to change the name of the Keg O' Nails to something else. I petition your help for a new name. Keg O' Air is nowhere near as catchy, but accuracy is more important than flair, right? Or at least, it used to be before the Internet. (Damn you, Al Gore!)

Maybe, the Keg O' Kragethorpe, in honor of one of the great coaches in the rivalry -- at least from a UC perspective.

If you have a free minute today with some suggestions, send them to me (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or post in the comments section. This is serious business and we owe it to ourselves to take the trophy to task.

Anyway, let's eat...

--- The new-look Bearcats will take the field on ESPN Friday night against Louisville. No, not new-look because of their recent resurgence. New-look because they will be sporting new TECHFIT adidas uniforms.

They look pretty smooth. The extra stretch and fewer seams allows every player to have a perfect fit. Less hanging uniform means no more of those tackles like the famous Earl Campbell attempt in Houston where his jersey rips off. Nobody's pulling UC down by the jersey with these things.

Michigan, Notre Dame, Louisville, Texas A&M, UCLA and Tennessee will also debut the new uniform technology later this month.

Depending on your nerd level when it comes to uniforms, you may or may not want to watch some of the detailed videos with information about the new threads.  

--- Louisville's Charlie Strong sparked the program over the first five games of his tenure and they currently lead the league in total offense. This became a huge game for them, not only because of the Keg O' Lies but because they played themselves into position to be considered a surprise title contender in the wide open conference. C.L. Brown at the Courier-Journal talks about that.

--- Brian Bennett talks about some Big East stats through the first five weeks that could be misleading. Two of those are Louisville's rushing numbers and Cincinnati's defensive rushing numbers.

UC is first in the Big East against the rush (although, rank 8th against the pass and 7th overall) while Louisville is first in rush offense, pass offense and total offense.

B-twice believes both will come back to earth. This game will go a long way to determing which does faster.

The Cards offense hasn't been tested much, except at Oregon State where they responded in a 35-28 loss. Hanging 28 in Corvallis is no small task.

They only scored 16 points against Kentucky, but as folks in Clifton know, judging a team with a new coaching staff by what they did in Week 1 should probably be considered unfair.

--- In case you haven't seen any highlights of Saturday's game yet, they are attached to a notes package from our man Tommy G.

--- There's a long list of players on the Cardinals with local ties, as Scott Springer points out here in his game preview, and Charlie Strong made it a point that he plans on recruiting the heck out of the Cincinnati area.

He proved that my snatching Winton Woods' Dominique Brown this past year. Jones makes a big deal about building a fence around the city and not letting the local talent leave, and rightfully so.  

In that same light, he said Monday he doesn't see this as a game that would provide any sustained effect on recruiting. He pointed out that recruiting is about relationships formed with the players, not about one win or even a string of them.

--- Charlie Strong had plenty more to say about his team and this game at his presser on Monday. Card Chronicle, delightfully declaring itself Charlie Strong's 9th favorite blog, has some notes and the video.

---  Bill Koch points out Jones wasn't aware of Isaiah Pead being three yards from 200 on Saturday. Even if he was, I don't think it would have mattered much. Jones shies away from being a numbers guy and runs away from being an individual stat guy. It's all about team.

--- I meant to put this in yesterday's Breakfast and it pretty much cost it being useful information to you in the least, but at 11:30 a.m. today the UC basketball team is holding a pep rally on Fountain Square.

The coaches will address the crowd at noon and it is supposed to go until 1 p.m.

--- Breaking news alert: Stephanie Niemer is still better than everyone in the Big East. For a BE record 5th consecutive week, she was named the Player of the Week in the conference.

--- In some randomness, a man found a 13-foot, 620-pound alligator in his backyard. (I get squirrels and my temperature boils). He shot it six times, one richochet glanced off one of his grandchildren's leg.

He's going to mount the gator, but in the redeeming aspect of the story, he's keeping the head and giving a foot to his each of his four grandchildren.

Where does an 8-year old put a mounted gator foot exactly? 

--- For the record, this would not be allowed as my Ink of the Week. 


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keg of nails.jpg

WHAT: The Battle for the Keg of Nails between UC and Louisville

WHAT'S IN THE KEG: (Don't tell anyone...nothing!)

WHEN: Friday night lights on ESPN at 8.

WHERE: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium

SERIES: 27-21-1 in favor of UC

LAST GAME: UC won 41-10 at Nippert last year

      The first thing you notice about the 2010 Louisville Cardinals under new head coach Charlie Strong is they're better. After a disappointing 4-8 season under Steve Kragthorpe (which led to his eventual firing) Louisville AD Tom Jurich raided Urban Meyer's staff at Florida and chose the Gators defensive coordinator as the next head coach of the Cardinals.

      So far, Strong's men have a 3-2 mark and their most impressive game may have been a loss. Going to always tough Oregon State, like the Bearcats did last year, the 'Ville came away with a 35-28 loss in a game that many had penciled in as a blowout.

      Strong has also made his presence known in the Tri-State area as Louisville continues to filter in and snare the occasional recruit that bypasses UC for the trip down 71 by way of the Gene Snyder and/or the Watterson Expressway.

      For UC to continue to hold serve in this series, this infiltration MUST stop.

      The list of Cardinals with area ties are as follows: Fr. LB Preston Brown from Northwest; Jr. DT Greg Scruggs from St. Xavier; Soph. CB Darius Ashley from St. Xavier; Fr. QB Dominique Brown from Winton Woods; Jr. TE Josh Chichester from Lakota West; Fr. CB Jordan Paschal from Trotwood-Madison; Jr. LB C.J. Peake from Trotwood-Madison; Soph. RB James Miller of Covington, KY; Fr. LB Tyon Dixon of Colerain; Sr. G Mark Wetterer from Anderson; Soph. TE Stephon Ball from St. Xavier; Jr. TE Zach Meagher from Glen Este; Soph. DT Drew Davis from Beechwood; Jr. DE Zach Kiernan from Newport Central Catholic; and Jr. P Josh Bleser from Covington Catholic.

      Certainly Louisville's had a decent program in the last decade or so, but for UC to continue to fare well they simply can't let anyone wearing red with a beak on it near the 275 beltway.

      Enough of Scott's soapbox, let's move onto the Keg, shall we?

      This is a trophy so little respected by Louisville in 2002 (when UC knocked'em off 24-14) that they had to send an equipment guy into find it. Then-coach John L. Smith was so sure of victory that he didn't even bother bringing it on the field.

      From there, it's gained in respect from Louisville as after their last win (2007 at Nippert in Brian Kelly's first year) Cardinals center Eric Wood paraded it up and down the sidelines rubbing UC's nose in it. (That coming from a local Elder kid too!)

      That didn't sit right with me as a fan and I know the coaching staff didn't care for it as UC's come back to win at Louisville with gimpy Dustin Grutza making plays for an injured Tony Pike and win at Nippert as Zach Collaros lit'em up like a Christmas tree last year.

      Alas, it's another year. Collaros doesn't have the same personnel or numbers but still has an arsenal of weapons that can score at will when clicking. Louisville has a "Strong"-er team and the usually reliable home field advantage.

      So, who does the nailing?


Minus the injured Tony Pike, Zach Collaros had his way with Louisville's secondary last year throwing just two incompletions (15-17, 253 yards and three TDs). Collaros surely is capable of that precision again, but now has the added running threat of Isaiah Pead as #23 is now more of a focal point of the offense. The upside for UC's backs is that George Winn might be the most worn out of the group after 19 lugs and he's third-string! Both Pead and Goebel's workdays were pretty much done at halftime after 10 carries apiece (197 yards for Pead, 68 for Goebel). That type of a running game can only open up passing lanes for D.J. Woods and Armon Binns to run crazy. Heck, Ben Guidugli was even located and found the endzone. A healthy Guidugli at TE combined with the talented wideouts and backs gives Charlie Strong a collection of talent that he really didn't see on all cylinders last January as Florida's defensive coordinator in the Sugar Bowl.

Collaros will have to look out for Sr. DE Rodney Gnat (who's just a tad bigger than that at 6-3, 253). Gnat leads the 'Ville in TFL and sacks. S Shenard Holton is the team's tackling leader and CB Johnny Patrick has picked off a pair of passes. While the Cardinal defense "threw a shutout" against Memphis last week, the Tigers are reportedly horrific. Also, despite hanging with Oregon State in Corvallis, the Beavers did put 35 on the toteboard in the win.

NOD: Based on the last two games, UC's offense is beginning to gel. Plus, there's the extra motivation of showing Strong that they're much stronger as a unit than what he saw in the Superdome back in January.


Memphis or not, 56 points is nothing to sneeze at, and the 28 scored at Oregon State is also impressive. On the other hand, of Sr. Adam Froman's nine TD passes, four of them came last week. Ditto Sr. RB Bilal Powell who racked up 204 of his rushing yards (689) against the Tigers. Powell's been pretty consistent and he's someone UC didn't see much of last year, with the bulk of the running going to Darius Ashley and Victor Anderson. Ashley (St. X) is now a CB and Anderson's second-string.

Louisville does have some good receivers led by Sr. Doug Beaumont and Jr. JUCO Josh Bellamy. At TE, Cameron Graham has been a target and there's always 6-8 Josh Chichester (Lakota West) to watch out for with his massive height advantage.

UC will have to pressure Froman to be successful and Derek Wolfe and Dan Giordano have both been successful of late at sneaking through. JK Schaffer and Maalik Bomar's assignment will be to slobber-knocker Bilal Powell and/or Victor Anderson should Louisville try to pound the ball.

NOD: Holding Powell below 100 yards is crucial playing in Louisville's stadium. Also, a pick or two vs. Froman would go a long way toward messing with his confidence. Any momentum changers like that take the crowd out of the game which is crucial. Back in the day at Papa John's (under Smith and Petrino) the Louisville faithful could make itself heard, especially if you were heading toward the closed end of the stadium.


Louisville's receivers Beaumont and Bellamy are the primary return men, while D.J. Woods has the dual function for UC. All are capable of the big return, but none have broken free yet. The Cardinals punter is local product Josh Bleser out of Covington Catholic. Kicking is Jr. Chris Philpott who's made 5-6 and all 20 PATs.

The Bearcat kickoffs have all but ruled out long returns as Jake Rogers consistently hits the endzone. Patrick O'Donnell has a better leg than Bleser.

NOD: The return games are even. UC's got some fresh faces on the "gunner units" plus veteran Orion Woodard is a name you usually hear called every week on a special teams tackle. Placekicking goes to U of L's Philpott at home, although I can't recall the last UC/Louisville game that's came down to kicking.


Admittedly, I'm a little biased and still not a huge fan of Papa John himself as I remember the Papajohns.com Bowl (which he's since pulled out of) when he came to the radio booth with some handlers assumably to be interviewed. When he found out he was supposed to be in the TV booth and NOT the radio booth, he left and barely acknowledged our existence. Guess which pizza I don't eat now?

IF UC is fortunate enough to jump out to a huge halftime lead like last week (and I would think this would be more competitive) I would recommend to Butch Jones to lay the hammer down in half #2. For anyone that remembers the 70-7 drubbing UC took in the rain a few years back when QB Gino Guidugli was hurt, the Cardinals DID NOT back down. Matter of fact, John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino were notorious for humiliating their opponents and I find them both classless. Not that Coach Jones will text me at the half, but I would keep scoring until the scoreboard exploded.

This is a Big East game and the Big East early on appears to be wide open. The Bearcats have made great strides in their play in the last two games and if they continue to improve you logically could see them in the same league position at the end of the year. This game will test UC's consistency. If they come out with a similar effort to the Oklahoma and Miami (OH) games, then a wave of optimism should take over.

Such optimism and support is needed as the Bearcats host a Friday game themselves the following week against South Florida. Success or not, selling another brand of football on Friday nights in Cincinnati is almost sacrilegious in a town known for it's prep football pride. Fortunately, the marketing staff did an outstanding job of selling season tickets over the summer to offset those that might opt for bleacher seat and "split the pot" in the 'burbs.

Either way, your attendance is anticipated and appreciated be it here or Louisville.  A word of warning too:  the Kentucky Highway Patrol is usually WELL AWARE OF when there's a football game played in Louisville or Lexington that Ohioans might attend.

Ju$t a thought.....

Make My Funk The Pead Funk!

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Isaiah Pead left a funky odor on the uniform of the Miami Redhawks this past Saturday and it was sweat and cleat marks. 197 yards on 10 carries set the tone for the beat down that occurred this past weekend. Pead was funky indeed but so was the rest of the offense and defense; they were supposed to beat Miami handily and they did; The were supposed to make a statement after the Oklahoma loss and they did; and they were supposed to give the fans a reason to believe and they did that too. They also showed respect by taking the starters out and it was critical for Coach Butch Jones to see who he could count on should there be an injury to a  starter as the Big East season begins.

One guy that is game ready is Pead; 402 yards on 41 carries this season is insane, nearly a first down a touch! Give the offensive linemen credit and one thing is for sure, the defensive coordinators in the league will have their work cut out for them because when this young man gets going he gets in a rhythm that is hard to explain. Kind of like a funky rhythm, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins style. The kind you never get tired of...So make my funk the Pead Funk and as James Brown said "Make it Funky". Football runners love to get in a rhythm and that comes with carrying the ball again and again. And when you look at the lineage of runners that have come through this University, you have no doubt that Isaiah will be the next one to leave his mark in Clifton. 

So I'm going to get the funk out of here and watch a documentary on George Clinton and the Parliment Funkadelic story and while I'm rockin' my head back and forth, I'll be imaging a Re-Pead performance from Isaiah and the UC offense. It's Big East Time and the 'Ville, as in Louisville awaits. They know UC is coming and the question is can they stop the 'Cats? More specifically their running game. It's coming down 71 South this Friday night with no intentions of letting up, so let the music play and keep running away!

Thats the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

Bearcats Breakfast 10.11.10

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The Bearcats took the title of big winners of Cincinnati's big weekend. Well, I shouldn't say that. I heard Tinkerbell put on quite a show during the second performance of Disney on Ice.

But, it would have taken a lot of Triple Salchows to top what UC accomplished Saturday night.

The first half was one of the most impressive showings this football team has had, not just since Butch Jones took over -- that is obvious -- but probably since joining the Big East. Nobody is handing UC any awards for winning a fifth consecutive Battle for the Victory Bell for the first time since 1900, but they now starting to believe this team can be as good as was projected before the season began.

The real tests begin Friday down in Louisville. So, with that, we move from the Bell to the Keg of Nails and another team rolling with some confidence after a 56-0 victory against Memphis.

Let's eat...

--- Hopefully you all read my column following the game Saturday. If not, I won't hold it against you if you go read it now.

Heading to postgame with the players, I wanted to take an interesting angle and, considering the long, wild road that dropped UC off at the beginning of Big East play feeling as good as they have all year, I was curious if they viewed themselves as the favorites to win the Big East. The league hasn't exactly been a Battle of the Titans to this point.

I half expected a player to say they did believe they were the favorite. College players, particularly riding the momentum after a big win, tend to be pretty high on themselves. Those with two consecutive Big East titles own reason to.

However, Isaiah Pead said this team still feels disrespected. He also said he feels they deserve that disrespect.

For a team facing the lighter end of the Big East schedule with Louisville, Syracuse and USF coming up, playing with a chip on their shoulder and fighting for respect is one of the best mantras you can hear.

It's very easy to say this after a game like Saturday, but I feel good about the direction and potential of this team 

--- Dan Hoard wrote this piece and said he wouldn't trade Pead for any back in the BIg East. I tend to agree. I am still amazed by the complete 180 degree flip his presence in the backfield makes for this offense. Having the explosive threat in the running game opens up all the passing lanes on the edges.

The man averaged almost 20 yards a rush. Think about that.  

That's how Jones racked up so many yards at Central, was by the run setting up the pass, and we are starting to see that work here. Although, he never had a back with the home run capability like pead with the Chippewas.

--- Tim Adams at Bearcat Lair says what many people have been thinking since the Big East resurgence of UC football --- it's time to drop the Miami game.

I would say, yes. I would say that the numbers are getting lopsided and the two teams, their two conferences, have so clearly taken on alternate levels of talent and execution that the move would make sense. I would say the series is taking up one of the precious non-conference spots so critical to success in the Big East, where your schedule will constantly be challenged on a national level.

I would say that, but I would be forgetting that this series has been going on for 115 years. You don't mess with tradition. Not like this. Since there has been football, these two teams  have played. As long as there will be football, that shouldn't change.

--- Bill Koch, who really showed off his giving side by bringing two boxes of cookies to the press box for the game Saturday, showed off some writing at well, talking about UC's approach moving to Louisville.  

--- Want a comparison of the UC-UL rivalry? I thought so.

--- Here's all the videos from players and coach Jones from after the Miami game.

--- Brian Bennett turned his Big East power rankings upside down. Now, if they were ranking teams by coaching ability, yes, Pittsburgh would belong at 8th. But, I have a feeling the Panthers will find a way to climb their way back up.

Though, they did look awful against Notre Dame. And Wannstedt continued to be far less impressive than his formidable mustache.

--- Louisville is tops in the league in yards per game and tied for first in sacks.

--- OK, how about some randomness

Cigar Guy: Beyond the Glory.

Alphonoso Smith becomes one of my favorite players.




Miami Gets "Bat-ted" Around

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Butch Jones wore an interesting black t-shirt to practice on Friday.


It featured a white Batman logo on the front with a C-paw in the middle and it served as a reminder to his players.


"We always have a theme of the week and this was 'The Bat Game,' Jones said after Saturday's 45-3 win over Miami.  "We wanted to be like bats flying around all over the place at night.  Our kids were so proud and so excited to play a night game at Nippert Stadium.  They kept saying, 'Coach - wait until you experience a night game at Nippert.'  We wanted to play like bats and fly around with great effort and I thought we did that."



The theme seemed especially appropriate after watching Isaiah Pead rush for a career-high 197 yards on 10 carries before sitting out the entire second half.


Like a bat, Pead darted rapidly in every conceivable direction to avoid Miami tacklers.  The junior from Columbus has rushed for 364 yards in his last two games.


"It's special to watch him play," said quarterback Zach Collaros.  "He's my favorite player since I first got here so it's cool that I'm handing him the ball now."


"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now," Coach Jones said.  "The offensive line did a great job and Isaiah is one of our big playmakers.  He averaged over 19 yards a run - that's a pretty good night."


Pead missed the Indiana State game and did not carry the ball against NC State due to a knee injury, and it is obvious that Cincinnati is a different team with him in the lineup.  Not only does he enhance the running game, but the threat of Isaiah going the distance on any play prevents the opposing defense from making an all-out assault on the quarterback, giving Collaros more time to throw. 


"I'm really focused," Pead said.  "When I sat out those two games I was able to get more film study in and talk to the offensive line.  I didn't want to come back in and be a bust."


Instead of a bust, he's been a beast.  As I tweeted at halftime of the Miami game, I don't think I'd trade Pead for any running back in the Big East (and yes, I've heard of Dion Lewis and Noel Devine).


Isaiah had a career-best 80 yard touchdown run against the RedHawks, and just missed another long TD as he got tackled at the 3 yard line after a 69 yard sprint.


"My whole mentality is to score - just score," Pead said.  "By any means necessary - whatever you have to do, just scratch and claw and score.  It's disappointing some times as a running back to make a guy miss and then not top it off by scoring a touchdown." 


But Isaiah was certainly not disappointed in the outcome as UC retained the Victory Bell for the fifth straight year.


"This whole game was for the seniors," Pead said.  "We had never won the bell five years in a row, so this was for the seniors because we feed off of them."


"I thought we had our best week of preparation to date and it showed," Coach Jones said.  "We had to control the game up front and I thought our front seven controlled the game." 


Now that the Bearcats have secured the Victory Bell, they'll try to hold on to the Keg of Nails for the third straight year as UC opens Big East Conference play on Friday night at Louisville.


"There are no pushover games," Pead said.  "We're in the Big East now and we have to be focused in every game and stop making mistakes.  We have to play with a chip on our shoulder because we're the two-time Big East champs."


No custom-designed t-shirt needed this week.  If Butch Jones is looking for a motivational theme, there should be plenty of "2-Time Big East Champion" items available at the bookstore.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Party like it's 2009

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CINCINNATI -- The Butch Jones Bearcats felt the progress being made over the course of the first four games, but no more than a gimmie victory over Indiana State to show for it.


After Saturday night, they don't just own the first FBS win, but a spot in the record books.


A team buried in a sea of doubt and question only two weeks ago unveiled a glimpse into what it can possibly become. And it looked more explosive than even the best of the Brian Kelly era - if only for one night.


The Bearcats retreated to the halftime locker room with pockets overflowing with gaudy stats. The Bearcats scored on seven of eight possessions. They racked up 480 yards of offense, 264 on the ground. Isaiah Pead had 10 carries for 197 yards. They scored three touchdowns on drives lasting less than 33 seconds.


At game's end, their 609 total yards ranked fifth in school history. It was the highest margin of victory in the Miami series.  


Most importantly, the 45 points scored in the first half marked the most against an FBS opponent in a half since, well, the recent archives couldn't find it. Maybe later in the week, after we sift through the last 120 years of box scores, we'll find a more prolific showing.


Point being, it hasn't happened recently. And it sure hasn't happened since the recent UC resurgence.


Miami's defense wouldn't be confused for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Heck, even the 2000 Cincinnati Bengals. The RedHawks allowed 51 points to Missouri and 34 to Florida. They were called for a throat-slash gesture while trailing 28-0. The Cradle of Coaches has experienced better seasons.


However, the precision and explosion showcased by the UC offense was reminiscent of the good ole' days. Like, 2009.


With the 2009 stats returned 2009 swagger - Isaiah Pead carrying the flag.


Pead built on the breakout game against Oklahoma with the most dazzling of his career. He rushed 10 times for 197 yards, but those numbers tell half the story. On an 80-yard TD run he blew past Miami safety D.J. Brown down the sidelines, despite Brown having an angle and 5-yard head start.


"I was in full throttle," Pead said. "Not to sound cocky, but when I get in full throttle there's not too many people that can catch me - angle or not."


And that wasn't his highlight of the night. Pead turned around Demetrius Quarles in Barry Sanders-like fashion while breaking a 69-yard run the opposite direction.


"He's electric back there," WR Armon Binns said. 


Funny Binns would utter such a comment. The same could be said about the senior receiver. He showed why Mel Kiper ranked him among the top returning senior receivers this year, twice out-jumping a Miami defense back for touchdowns, the second and fourth longest of his UC career at 48 and 32 yards.


The combination, along Zach Collaros' precise 14-of-17 passing for 216 yards, has the UC offense cashing in on preseason expectations.


"(Pead) keeps our offense balanced and keeps us explosive in all aspects of the game, whether throwing or running the ball," Binns said. "It keeps you on your heels because you don't know what's coming."  


Oh, by the way, Saturday marked the first time UC didn't allow a touchdown to a non-Southeast Missouri State opponent since beating UConn 27-3 on Nov. 10, 2007.


Suddenly, as the Bearcats open Big East play on Friday at Louisville, the team written off by critics looks like the closest thing to a conference favorite this side of West Virginia.


Pitt? Kelly owned them again Saturday. And Kelly isn't owning much more than a path to 7-5 this season.


Syracuse? They beat USF 13-9 in a game only a mother could love and I just can't force myself to go there yet.


UConn? Did you just lose to Rutgers?


Rutgers? Did you just lose to Tulane?  


Oh yeah, and there is the issue of the two rings.


All that said, Pead still doesn't think the two-time defending conference champs are viewed as the favorites.


"Nah, of course not," Pead said. "Of course we are not the favorite. To the world we aren't the favorite. In our eyes we are.


"We still feel disrespected. I really feel like nobody is wrong in disrespecting us. We had a 1-3 record, now 2-3. We know what we have. There is no 1-3 in the Big East. We got to go undefeated."


The path to preparation for Big East play was circuitous. Some larger goals were lost along the way. But, in the end, the team feels as prepared and confident as could be expected entering the most important seven games of the season.


"It's been a journey and it's been a process," Butch Jones said with a slight smirk that told all the story of the roller-coaster non-conference slate.


As Big East play begins Friday in Louisville, the Bearcats new journey begins. At least on Saturday, the new journey looked a lot like 2009.

A triumphant return of the Bearcats Beat mailbag on the eve of the Battle for the Victory Bell. It's no Paul Bunyan's Axe (the pure damage an axe can do in comparison to a bell is no contest) and a far cry from the Clemson-South Carolina Hardee's Trophy (because I assume it comes with a chocolate milkshake).

Of course, Bowling Green and Toledo hold the Battle of I-75 (I thought that was Friday rush hour at Mitchell Ave.) and the trophy is a peace pipe. You would have assumed my Ohio Bobcats would have played a role in that trophy.

Still, the Victory Bell is a fun prize and the Bearcats have been ringing the crap out of that thing all week.

Here's to hoping they do it plenty more on Saturday night. Now, let's open some mail.

From Mike, a three-parter:

First - development of young players, especially where we will be losing seniors.  For example -A  Offensive line.  I think we have 3 seniors starting.  I can see in the individual game stats that Sean Hooey has played in 3 of the 4 games, and that Austen Bujnoch has played in just 1 (examples). 


Yes, senior Sam Griffin (LT), Jason Kelce (C) and C.J. Cobb (RG) are all starting. Randy Martinez (LG) and Alex Hoffman (RT) are both juniors. So there is a need to develop the players behind them.

It's hard to judge offensive lineman, at least to my relatively untrained eye when it comes to the trenches. And getting an accurate report on progress and strengths and weaknesses of players at this point just isn't going to happen when coaches are trying to hide any problems during the season.

That said, we can only judge by snaps and Austen Bujnoch just hasn't recieved many. He only played against Indiana State.

Hooey has seen more time, playing in every game and appears to have a bright future. The coaches obviously have trust in him. I would say there's a pretty good chance he will be starting somewhere next year.

Andre Cureton was a guy I think coach Stripling hoped would be playing a larger role at this point in the season, but he has only seen time against Indiana State as well.

Evan Davis, who opened the year as a starter at RG hasn't seen the field in either of the last two games. He, of course, had major problems against Fresno's Logan Harrell in the opener. The position has a lot of work to do in development over the offseason.

More from Mike,

A similar question come up in rotation on the field.  Derek Wolfe as an example, since it is hard to miss him on the field.  For the Indiana State and NC State games (I was there, by the way), it seemed like Wolfe almost never came out.  Against Oklahoma, it seemed like he got a lot more rest.  (And one of the better Oklahoma drives was when he wasn't in.)
Granted, coaches can only say so much on these subjects, but it seems like we could get a little more than what I have seen.


Coaches were very much concerned about snaps, particularly for Wolfe. He had 80 snaps in the NC State game. As well-conditioned and as much of a gamer as Wolfe is, that is a lot to ask of anybody. I think that's a big reason you saw the debut of freshman Roney Lozano against Oklahoma. He helps take some pressure off the exhausted lines. Also, you see a lot of nickel defense to Walter Stewart in the d-line rotation and allow more depth that way as well.

A third time from Mike,

Next - one of the things I liked about the Minter program that Dantonio maintained was high graduation and decent academics, plus community service and involvement.  Yeah, every coach has these in his talking points, but sometimes they don't go much beyond talking.  This could easily evolve into a multi-part question, but I think you can see where it is headed.  I would love to read about it.  Are these being maintained?  It seems like we lost a lot of players this year.

Nobody can deny this has been one of the areas where Butch Jones has been a success. Jones talks a lot about it and really means it. One thing you could say about Brian Kelly was it was all about winning football games. He didn't care as much about personal development or all the other exterior aspects of the college experience as Jones does. That's no slight on Kelly, it is just always been a point of emphasis with Jones.

During Jones' first quarter overseeing academics, the Bearcats acheive a team GPA of 2.7 during the Winter 2010 quarter, up from a 2.4 in the Fall 2009 quarter. A total of 32 student-athletes achieved a total of 3.0 or higher. JK Schaffer had a 4.0.

The Cats in the Community program continues to run and be a major success. The entire point of the Represent the C message is that no matter where you go or what you do you must remember that you are representing the program and the city. Players know that all too well.

From Steve,

Is Clint Shepherd in class, or will be in January or some other scenario?

How about the current status of Lewis, Ty Phillips, and Robert Martin? Are they in school, or even planning on ever attending UC?

Clint Shepherd is not currently enrolled in UC, he suffered an injury and is rehabbing.

Ty Phillips and Robert Martin never arrived at UC and the school (and the website you are currently reading) is not permitted to speak about their status.

Dyjuan Lewis is currently enrolled, but not allowed to practice.

From Gary:

Paul: Adding TCU and Villanove would be great for the Big East Conference. Then we can add UCF and the U. Houston and create a great 12 team football conference.
Eastern Div:                    Western Div:
1. Uconn                         1. TCU
2. Syracuse                     2. U. Houston
3. Rutgers                       3. USF
4. Pitt. U.                        4  UCF 
5. W. Virginia                  5. Cincinnati
6. Villanova                     6. Louisville
With these 12 football programs and these TV markets we could negotiate a great TV contract or start our own BE TV network. That would mean more revenue for the Big East Conference. Then we could add a championship football game in Yankee Stadium at the end of the season. This would make for a stable football conference in the future. Lets's hope the Big East management team can pull it off. 


Everybody is looking out for their own interests right now and waiting to see how much more expansion movement happens after the season. What you propose would be a nice move for the Big East, but if that happens likely won't be dictated by the conference. The Big Ten still holds all the cards and could very easily pluck a Big East school. The BE powers are obviously feeling the same way you are judging by their rumored pursuit of TCU, which would be a great find. I don't know that Houston would come with them. But there are a number of schools in the ECU, UCF range that would love to jump up to a BCS conference.

It's almost absurd to make many more observations than that because this expansion game changes from day to day.

Well, that's all for now.

Thanks to everyone who reads and I look forward to seeing everybody at Nippert on Saturday night. Remember you can follow me on Twitter here to keep up with everything during and after the game and all the news and notes during the week.

I hope everybody plans on making it down to the first night game at Nippert this season. I'm yet to experience one, so I am excited to see what it's like myself.

I'll have a few more posts today. No live blog this week, since most of you that read will be at the game. We'll be sure to pick it up for the Louisville game, though.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter Saturday for all the insight, analysis and jokes about the museum center.

Let's eat... 

--- Bill Koch writes that UC badly needs a win. He points out an obvious truth, this program was supposed to be beyond rationalizing losses even to good teams like Oklahoma, NC State and Fresno State.

There is a pressure to string some wins together and the schedule sets itself up here to do just that.

--- Brian Bennett believes that win is coming with his Week 6 predictions. He has UC romping in a 35-14 blowout.

--- Collegesportsmatchups.com gives the nod to the Bearcats as well, but by a slightly closer margin.

--- The Big East's automatic status is going nowhere. At least, it is as solid as anybody else's until 2012 when nobody knows what the hell is going to happen. 

Brian Bennett calms any fears and points out these things run in a four-year evaluation cycle. The success of the Big East, in particular UC, over that time assure the the Big East as one of the top six conferences in college football. Combine that with the major markets the conference holds down and you have yourself no reason for concern.

That is until expansion makes everyone lose their minds...

--- I talked yesterday about the need for more prodcution from Walter Stewart. Well, Tim Adams at Bearcat Lair took it a step further and has an in-depth look at Stewart and the lack of defensive production in general.

UC is on a pace to set the lowest sack and TFL numbers in seven years.

Stewart talks about why things haven't gone to plan to this point and why he thinks they'll turn around.

--- Miami has done a much better job this season of making halftime adjustments, as Pete Conrad points out. They have outscored opponents 61-57 after the orange slices this year compared to losing 187-103 last year.  

--- Former Bearcats standout Pete Mickeal went wild in FC Barcelona's game against the Lakers on Thursday. Mickeal hit a huge 3-pointer late and nearly had a triple-double with 24 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in Barcelona's 92-88 upset of the fighting Kobes. In fact, he checked Bryant for much of the game and held him to 15 points on 2-of-15 shooting. 

--- The Seton Hall blog the South Orange Juice ranked UC 11th in its preseason Big East power poll. I am sure Mick Cronin feels extra motivated knowing a reputable media power player like the Juice left them out of the Top 10.

--- Did you know the NHL season started last night? Neither did I.

--- Friends don't let friends watch Mario Lopez reality shows. Unless it's a Bayside-Valley Wrestling Match to the Death, producers need to stop making shows with this guy.

--- If Kentucky is Ohio's Mexico, then the actions of Miss Kentucky Latina make perfect sense. She lost her crown recently. But to be fair, stabbing a man in the neck with a ball-point pen was the talent that won her the title.

--- New Mexico State students have found real motivation to push the football team to its first win. "Once you get a win, then you can get it in."  

--- Those guys may want to pick up one of these in the meantime. (Disclaimer: Is a real toy. Completely sophomoric and immature, but real)


Each week throughout football season I will feature a tattoo of a UC football player. Everybody has ink these days and these tatts obviously mean something to the guys. They spend plenty of hours and energy coming up with the perfect concept. They should be given the opportunity to show them off.

What better way to get to know the Bearcats players you cheer on every weekend than to hear about things most important to them.

This week I caught up with former Winton Woods star Chris Williams, who made his first career start against Oklahoma at strong safety.

Williams' tattoo experience deviates slightly from the typical stories. Most of the guys on the team with tattoos have significant reasons for them. Whether it be a deceased familiy member, representing their hometown or an important moment in their life. Not Williams. He has his own reasons for tattoos. Like Shark Week.

Yeah, let's start with that one.

Williams1.jpgWhat: A shark

Where: Left arm, near elbow

When: This was the first tattoo Williams got after he graduated Winton Woods. He admittedly went crazy once he turned 18 and has been under the needle a total of 12 times -- most of which happened during his senior year.

Williams on the tattoo: "Everybody has to get tattoos because they mean something," Williams said. "I just wanted to get something that I like. Why not? I like Shark Week. So I got it for Shark Week. I couldn't go to the ocean, I couldn't go to an aquarium, so I decided to get a shark tattoo."




The theme of random tattoos continues as you make your way around Williams' artwork. Especially this one:


What: Ms. Pacman

 Where: Right forearm

When: This was one of the tattoos Williams got during his wild senior year of ink. He also had an ATI near it, which stand for Addicted to Ink. He has stars on his elbows and a tattoo for his father further up his right arm.

Williams on the tattoo: "Got Ms. Pac-Man when I was 18. The week I turned 18, the first week of basketball seaosn I got this done. I ended up getting Mr. Pacman afterward -- Ms. Pacman and Mr. Pacman. You got to have both." 




Williams' theory on tattoos all originates with one of the first ones he ever got done. Clearly, Williams is a joker. So, this one makes perfect sense.

Williams2.jpgWhat: A joker, with a finger pointing out with the inscription, "Joke's on you" at the bottom

Where: Left forearm

When: First tattoo he got once he turned 18.

Williams on the tattoo: "In high school everybody said I was the big jokester so, I got a clown. He is pointing a finger, so I asked if he could throw joke's on you at the bottom since he's pointing the finger."

What's next?: "I am about to get Elmer Fuud next. When I played in the Big 33 last year, everybody was uptight in the game. I said you got to start interacting with people. So I would just see somebody and since I was a funny guy...there's a kid that goes to West Virginia, I used to call him Triple-X because he looks like Vin Diesel from that movie XXX. I started to give everybody nicknames. Somebody said, what's your nickname? I said Elmer Fudd, which was in my favorite rap song. They said, 'You look like Elmer Fudd.'"

The Reds have seen better days, but if Bronson Arroyo can go out and shut it down on Friday, nobody will care about the Halladay no-hitter -- at least not within the context of this series.

And, we learned Travis Wood is ready to start Game 4, so there's that. I would delve deeper, but there is really no reason. Friday is a new game -- one the Reds must win.

You can say the same about UC on Saturday. The Bearcats desperately need a win, if only to see as a tangible result of the progress they've made. That and the horror of Miami crossing the sideline to take the Victory Bell at Nippert might cause chaos on campus.

That said, let's eat... 

--- Bill Koch posts a blog about Butch Jones' impression of Miami QB Zac Dysert. Jones recruited Dysert while at Central Michigan and has been a big fan ever since.

He says Dysert will be one of the great MAC quarterbacks. That's saying something at a school that produced Ben Roethlisberger.

--- The always dilligent Koch also had an injury update on Ben Guidugli -- it looks like he's going to play. The same cannot be said for Darrin Williams.

--- I wrote during Higher Ground about Maalik Bomar, the kid out of Winton Woods. He put on 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason and was being counted on to fill in for JK Schaffer at OLB.

Butch Jones said then he was buying stock in Bomar. Well, the market is booming. Bomar has turned into a beast and a centerpiece of the defense. Koch had an update story on his progress.

My only concern was the other person I referenced in the Higher Ground story for his muscle gain was Walter Stewart. Stewart made a Bomar-like impact in his first season last year but has leveled off a bit this year. Hard to tell if its a product of spending more time on the D-line, off the field in nickel or the extra weight or what, but the defense could use a little more production from Stewart.

He has one sack, but only 12 tackles on the season --- three for a loss.

--- John Goebel is a delight to chat with. He's insightful and honest. Two qualities you don't often see in player interviews at any level. It should be no surprise considering he managed a 4.0 during the winter quarter, tops on the team.

His resurgence this season has been fun to watch and Bearcat Lair has a story about how he's enjoying the ride.

--- Down the Drive previews Miami's defense. The unit has been formidable to this point, ranking No. 34 in the country and No. 24 against the rush.

--- Miami's Dayonne Nunley has been a big part of their defensive rise. He's not short on confidence. This from Pete Conrad at the Oxford Press.

--- Brian Bennett says you need to be rooting hard for Notre Dame to lose this week. I'm sure that will be a stretch from your daily routines.

--- Brian Grummell at Fanhouse forgets UC is in the Big East for a minute, but eventually ranks them 6th in his poll.

--- UC held its Basketball 101 program this week, which is becoming one of the more popular events with female fans. Here were some of the sights and sounds from Fifth Third Arena.

--- Bad news for Louisville basketball is always good news for Cincinnati basketball.

--- Seton Hall is ready to roll. They will be the surprise title contender in the Big East. Mark it down.  

--- Now, time for some randomness...

--- Headline questions like this one make me think some writers should spend more time eating cookies (which says something considering the already high cookie:hours worked ratio) and less time digging up ridiculous fodder.

--- Stanford just found the front page of its recruitment brochure.

--- I love Friday Night Lights, but am concerned as to what they are trying to sell with the final season promo.

--- Dan Patrick is the best in the business. Also, I nearly beat him in a game of PIG at the age of 12. Here's a story about his great success since leaving ESPN. In case you didn't know, he's on from 9am-noon every weekday on 1360AM locally.   

--- Ever look at a Reeses Cup and said, "This is not nearly fattening enough nor enough of a danger to my health." Well, these people have.  

No major plays for the UC products this week, but it was a good one for Alex Daniels, who found his way onto a practice squad.

Here's a look at how some UC products fared during Week 4.

--- ALEX DANIELS: Daniels has a new home. He was signed as a member of the Dallas Cowboys practice squad this week.

It sounds like he will be working as a fullback there. But, regardless, great news for Daniels who recently accepted an injury settlement from the Raiders after going undrafted.

--- TRENT COLE: Cole didn't have quite the monster week he did in Week 3, but was solid. He had four tackles, including a tackle for loss in the Eagles 17-12 loss to Washington.

--- MARDY GILYARD: One week after grabbing his first career reception, Gilyard added two more in St. Louis' surprise 20-3 victory against Seattle.

He had two receptions for 13 yards and added two kick returns for 22 yards.      

--- BRENT CELEK: Not surprisingly, Celek benefitted from the return of close friend Kevin Kolb at QB. Celek was targeted seven times and caught his first touchdown of the season.

His stock is up, certainly until Mike Vick returns.

He caught three passes for 27 yards with the score.   

--- BRANDON UNDERWOOD: Underwood, in just his second game back from injury, was relatively unnoticed with two tackles in Green Bay's 28-26 victory against Detroit.

--- RICARDO MATHEWS: Mathews was inactive for Indianapolis against Jacksonville.  

--- JEFF LINKENBACH: Some more honros came the way of Linkenbach. Curt Curtis of the Indy Star wrote this in depth blog post about the play of Linkenbach.

Coach Jim Caldwell had this to say about how Linkenbach played:

"He hung in there," Caldwell said of Linkenbach's showing in Denver. "He played tough, he's a scrappy guy."

Linkenbach didn't start against Jacksonville with the return of Charlie Johnson.

--- MIKE WRIGHT: Wright spent most of his night plugging the middle on the defensive line with DT Vince Wilfork moved to the end in New England's rout of Miami. 

It worked as Wright managed a sack of Chad Henne. He also had a pass defense.  

--- KEVIN HUBER: Huber had an average day for the Bengals. He punted three times for an average of 38.6 yards. His long was 50. 

--- HARUKI NAKAMURA: Nakamura continues to do a diary during his time with the Ravens for the Carroll County Times. It's not exactly mind-bending stuff, but it's hearing from Haruki.

He had one tackle in Baltimore's win at Pittsburgh.

Basketball 101

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So here I am, sitting courtside at the scorer's table, my usual seat as the public address announcer for UC women's basketball. But as I'm writing this, the people I 009.JPGsee on the court are all ages, all heights, and all skill levels. This night is the inaugural Basketball 101, an evening that nearly 75 women came to campus to learn the game, and to get to know some of the players.

There's men's assistant coach George Jackson working up a sweat as he teaches his group perimeter defense; there's former and present players working with the ladies on dribbling drills. There are tours of the basketball locker rooms. All in all, a good time.

But let's face it, this night is more than an opportunity for those of us who wished we played the game to get on the court; it's a night to celebrate UC basketball, both men's and women's. This is the first time I've seen the court since the 50th anniversary logos honoring the men's national championship teams have been added. It's amazing it's been that long, but it's also a reminder of what winning a title means to a program and to a school.

Which brings us back to the UC women's team. Men's coach Mick Cronin got it right earlier when he spoke to the group before the event; it takes time to build tradition and to build a program. Mick knows it first hand, being a native of Cincinnati. This is the second year of the Jamelle Elliott building program here. I'm seeing on the court Shelly Bellman, who petitioned, and received, a sixth year of eligibility because she wanted to be on a team led by Coach Elliott; I'm seeing Chanel Chisholm, who had to sit out last year because of transfer rules and a knee injury, just coming into her own as a Bearcat. I see a lot of young ladies enthusiastic about the season.

So yes, this is a fun night to introduce the x's and o's of basketball to those of us who wish we could play. But it's also a night of team building, and not just the UC Bearcat team. It's building a team of community supporters and fans, who want to be here to see this program grow. Practice already has started. The season starts in less than a month. It's going to be an exciting time for women's basketball in Cincinnati.

After watching the 30 for 30 Red Sox documentary last night, I'm officially jacked up for the baseball playoffs. It's amazing how different postseason baseball is from any other sport. When you hang on every pitch it reminds you why the game is so great. Nobody who watches a playoff game and cares even a little about a team can revert back to the old baseball crutch of how boring the game is. Every play matters.

To have the Reds as a part of it for the first time in ages, I wasn't sure how I would react. Turns out, I'm nervous. I can't remember the last time I was nervous for a sporting event. Covering as many as I do, they tend to all blend together. I remember being excited for UC-Fresno State. I remember being excited when I covered Pitt-Xavier in the NCAA tournament last year.

But not nervous. 

I think that's why we've seen this city rally around the Reds like few other teams, issues, events in recent memory. Watching this young team come together makes us all feel like we are a part of it.  

I have no idea what's going to transpire over the next few days and if the odds fall as they are setup, the Phillies will have little problem with the Reds.

But what if they don't? Baseball is a crazy game and the Reds have enough ability that they could flip the switch and shock the Phillies. If they do that, then what stands in their way? The Phillies are the resounding favorite to win the NL. Like they said in Boston in '04 -- Why Not Us?

OK, I'm nervous again.

If you aren't a Reds fan then A) What's wrong with you? B) I better not see you using your buddy's Reds gear to get a free coney at Skyline today and C) Here's a flow chart to help you pick who to root for. 

Time to talk some UC... 

--- I was able to chat at length with D.J. Woods and some of his teammates yesterday about how he's dealing with what obviously was a game where he was especially hard on himself afterward. Here's my story.

Woods is hard on himself because he's as competitive a guy as you'll find out there. I was surprised he guaranteed he wouldn't fumble again, but at the same time,that's his personality. He's focused at all times on being a better football player. Right now, that focus is set square on keeping the ball high and tight and not being lazy with it.

That should be great news for Bearcats fans.

--- Bill Koch points out that fumbling is not only a D.J. Woods problem. Zach Collaros actually leads the league in total fumbles. He has lost the ball 8 times, but five of those UC has recovered.

--- There were plenty of other news and notes from the media availabilty yesterday. I posted a recap of playing Munchie Legaux at WR, injury updates, Jones talking about confidence and a number of other things.

--- Brian Bennett talks about his excitement to start saying the name Munchie Legaux. He will fit right in here, a sports town that in recent history has seen Frostee Rucker, Tu Holloway, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Chad Ochocinco and Dick Pole.

--- Cincinnati Bengals QB and former Butch Jones system star Dan LeFevour stopped by UC practice yesterday to take in some football on his day off. Word is that he has begun developing a relationship with Zach Collaros and popped around periodically to be a contributing piece of Jones' program.

--- Mayor Mark Mallory will be at practice today to present the Bearcats with City of Cincinnati flag. One question -- we have a flag?

--- Rivals.com ranks the top 120 FBS teams in the country. UC falls in at No. 71. Since I know you were wondering, the mighty Ohio Bobcats are slotted at 104.   

--- Sam Elliot talks about UC burning more redshirts for the News Record.

--- How about some randomness....

--- Can we take Florida, lop it off, let it float into the Atlantic Ocean, but still keep the Keys as a province? You didn't even need to tell me what state this sign was in. I already knew.

--- I can't remember this much hype for an NBA video-game release, ever. We once again realize why there will never be another Jordan. Fifteen years later, he's still the biggest draw.

--- If you hit a parked car, you're probably not the best driver. This guy felt like he needed to leave some more evidence of that on tape.

--- Sometimes you need a lawyer, sometimes you need a bathtub, sometimes you need a wolf. Indeed.


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jimmy nipp.jpg

(courtesy of newsrecord.org)

      As you will hear ad infinitum (fancy Latin word for endlessly) this week, UC and Miami (OH) are meeting for the 115th time. They started playing in 1888, Miami's won 59, UC 48 and seven times it's ended in a despicable tie.

      In terms of area college football, it's the closest thing you'll find to basketball's "Crosstown Shootout" with Xavier. Most of the kids have played against each other somewhere along the line and once they're on the field, it's the Hatfields and McCoys (though neither team has a player with that surname).

      Bottom line, in terms of football, there's no getting along here.

      Legend has it that UC "borrowed" the clanging device that's come to be known as the Victory Bell. Folks in Oxford want it back and have had it returned several times only to lose it again.

      For UC, they've won the last four and have grown quite partial to the Victory Bell's presence in the Lindner Center trophy case next to the Keg of Nails (Louisville) and the River City Rivalry (Pitt) trophy.

      Then there's the more personal side of things that senior RB John Goebel wants to spread the word about. To him, beating Miami in "The Nipp" is of utmost importance.

      "Our stadium's named after Jimmy Nippert, who in the game against Miami of Ohio got cleated and a month later died," recalled Goebel, the noted historian. "If they don't know it, I'm going to tell everybody. I'm a Sigma Sigma and he's a Sigma Sigma too. It's very serious within that community and within the student population."

      For the specific details of UC's stadium name, we go to the "Nippert Stadium" section of www.gobearcats.com that confirms Goebel's knowledge:

      In 1916, construction began on a permanent brick-and-concrete stadium structure, which was completed, section-by-section, as funds were raised.

     During the season-ending clash with rival Miami (Ohio) in 1923, Jimmy Nippert sustained a spike wound injury and died a month later from blood poisoning. His grandfather, James N. Gamble of Procter and Gamble, provided the funds needed to complete the horseshoe-shaped structure, and the James Gamble Nippert Memorial Stadium was dedicated on Nov. 8, 1924.

      In football, whatever motivates a squad is good and apparently Goebel and the Bearcats have plenty of ammunition on the Redhawks that should help them lock into their "game faces" come Saturday night.

      "I've got a lot of friends that go to Miami of Ohio and I know how a lot of the students feel about it ," said Goebel of the heated rivalry. "I know how the players feel about it. I know guys who have played there. We know about the traditions in their locker room that have to do with the C-Paw and stuff. They kind of disrespect it a little bit. It's personal for us."

      A presence such as Goebel's could be important in a game like this as younger players might not have the appreciation of the rivalry. Nationally, the rivalries with Louisville, West Virginia and Pitt are bigger. Locally, this is the game that you can "ride" your neighbors or co-workers on all year (depending on the outcome and their allegiances).

      Honestly, this has the makings of a "trap game" as UC cannot afford to overlook a much-improved Redhawks team. Miami's been down and a win over a UC team that's been getting all the press in recent years would do a lot for their program and their egos.

      On the other hand, the Bearcats at 1-3 are in no position to overlook anyone and need to keep the hunger they had when they regained the Victory Bell in 2006 in Mark Dantonio's final year as coach.

      John Goebel was around then and the Bell's been in Bearcat possession ever since.

"I don't think it's me, but it means a lot to us," said Goebel. "It is great to have the Bell. I remember my freshman year when we actually won it back from them. I remember the feeling of sprinting down over there and grabbing it from them. It's a terrible feeling--I remember the looks on their faces, the looks on the senior's faces. It was terrible. I don't want that happening to me."

      Sure, it's kind of a young adult version of "Capture the Flag", but each fall it's fun to get the blood boiling between these two schools separated by a couple counties, Route 27 (Colerain), a large trash mountain and a handful of cornfields.

      "I don't want to see anyone come onto my field and cross onto my sideline to steal the Victory Bell," said Goebel. "It's been in the locker room. Each week that we play them we put it down in the locker room, down on the practice field and ring it as much as we want."

      By around 11 p.m. Saturday night, we shall see (as always) for whom the bell tolls.

High and tight

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WR D.J. Woods moves on from an excruciating conclusion to the loss against Oklahoma with renewed focus.  


CINCINNATI - D.J. Woods is tough on himself. This used to be a fact only teammates and those close to him knew. A look here. A mumbled self-criticism there.  


Ten days ago, a national television audience found out as well. With viewers tuned in to see a possible Cincinnati upset of the No. 8 team in the country, ESPN cameras zoomed in close; then closer still. Woods sat on the bench, head bowed, the fresh, painful wound of a game-changing fumble exposed for all to see.


It was the second fumble of the heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the Sooners for Woods.


The numbers show D.J. Woods enjoyed a career night, all part of what has to this point been a career year. Woods caught seven passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. One week prior against N.C. State, Woods pulled UC out of an offensive slumber with a 68-yard reception on his way to a game-high 146 yards.


His 108.8 receiving yards per game is tops in the Big East and good for 7th in the country.


In that lonely moment on sideline of Paul Brown Stadium, those numbers meant little to Woods. They still don't.


Only one number matters: 4. That's the number of Woods' fumbles resulting in turnovers.


"I could care less about numbers," Woods said on Tuesday. "It is good to have yards and catches and touchdowns and stuff like that, but again, you are kind of killing the team with the fumbles, so that is the kind of stuff I worry about."


He's worried about it every day since.


"I think I am just being lazy with the ball," he said.


So, over the last week, whether walking to class, or to get food, or to his apartment, he's tucked a ball under arm, pinned against his chest.


"Just everywhere I go," he said. "Just high and tight, high and tight."


If not for the four lost fumbles Woods would be talked about as the hero of an offense beginning to find its personality. The Bearcats uncovered the quick-strike attack that highlighted the path to a perfect regular season last year. Of the six most explosive UC plays this season, Woods has five of them. He connected for gains of 69, 68, 55 and 36 through the air and added a 37-yard kick return against Fresno State.


Fair or unfair, few people are talking about Woods' average of 160 all-purpose yards a game, good for 11th in the nation. They're talking about the fumbles.


A week after Butch Jones pledged his support of Woods in the postgame press conference, the leaders of that team joined Jones and took up residence at his back.


"I feel for D.J.," senior running back John Goebel said. "He is one of the best players on our team. He is having a great season. It's a team sport. You can blame it on anybody. I missed a chip and Zach (Collaros) got hit and he fumbles the football. You could blame it on that. It's unfortunate."


Even more unfortunate is Woods isn't alone. UC has the third most fumbles of any team in the country with 15. Their 7 lost is tied for second most resulting in turnovers.


They didn't lose a fumble until Game 8 last season.


While Woods isn't the only violator, he's taken the brunt of the heat.  


"People were overreacting to saying this and that about D.J.," Collaros said. "If it wasn't for D.J. we may have never been in that (Oklahoma) game. He's a heck of a player. He's going to come back strong against Miami. He's been working his tail off all week, I can't wait to see what he's going to do."


Neither can Woods. With the same scrutiny he put on himself and ESPN cast out into millions of households, Woods is attacking the problem.


He's taken responsibility for what transpired. Some players approached Woods after the final fumble on the punt. Others kept their distance and waited a few days for the frustration to simmer down. It eventually did.

One week later, Woods adamantly owns the mistakes he made. He guarantees he won't have any fumbles to own again.


"I am very hard on myself," Woods said. "I don't like making mistakes. Who likes making mistakes? With me, making careless mistakes with fumbles and things like that, I am especially hard on myself. I know that can't happen. I got to learn from it, but at the same time, I have to just move on."


This Saturday against Miami, Woods will do just that - with the ball high and tight.


Nice to have some game week fodder to talk about and Butch Jones gave us media folks 19 minutes and 12 seconds of it to digest on Tuesday.

For the record, the City BBQ has really taken a step in the right direction this year. It was moist, well-seasoned and the cornbread cassorole dish as a side item was delicious.

Since you don't care about that, however, we'll focus on the football developments to come out of the luncheon. 

So, let's get right to it.

--- The biggest nugget of information to me was Jones said he is going to burn some redshirts of a few of the true freshman because they are ready to play.

Most notably, quarterback-turned-receiver Munchie Legaux will play against Miami.

Legaux appeared destined for a redshirt year behind Zach Collaros, Chazz Anderson and Brendon Kay, but the 6-5, 185-pound freshman from New Orleans recently moved over to wideout with the ineligibility of Kenbrell Thompkins and Dyjuan Lewis along with the ACL injury to Vidal Hazelton.

Legaux did it all at Edna Karr HS, but Jones said at Signing Day Legaux wouldn't play WR. Of course, a lot changed since then so he thinks this will be a great move.

CB Devan Drane should also see the first action of his career with the defensive backfield depth depleted by the season-ending injury to Dominique Battle.

CB Adrian Witty, DL Roney Lozano and WR Anthony McClung had already seen action as freshmen.

"The time is now," Jones said. "It's about winning now. We are never going to play somebody who is not ready. Our coaching staff has done a great job from the minute these freshmen walked in in August of preparing everyone. We want every freshman to come in with the mentality that they are going to play as true freshman. We do extra skill development sessions with them after practice. Some were maybe not quite ready Game 1, but Game 5, they're ready. Some will probably be ready Game 6 or Game 7. It is about putting the best personnel on the field. Not just on offense or defense, but on special teams as well, to win football games."


Jones continued and got more into Legaux's situation:

"In August, was he ready to play receiver? Nope. Did we ever think he would have to play receiver in August? No, because you are sitting there and you have a receiving corps of the players that you have. We have Vidal Hazelton, Kenbrell Thompkins and Dyjuan Lewis, now those three individuals are off your team. That is the thing about football. You never are the same team from Week 1 to Week 12. The teams that usually win on a consistent basis stay fairly healthy. Right now we have had to fight the injury bug a little bit. That is where the continual improvement with our youth has really shown and now some of these individuals like the Devan Dranes and Adrien Wittys and Munchie Legauxs and Roney Lozanos, now they are ready to help us win."

--- Jones pointed out that the combined record of the Bearcats' four opponents during the time they played that schedule was 14-4. Fresno State has gone on to 3-1, with only a defeat at Ole Miss as a blemish. NC State is 4-1 with only a loss last week to Virginia Tech. And, of course, Oklahoma followed up the win against UC with a victory in the Red River Rivalry and are undefeated at 5-0.

For the Oklahoma game, UC only had 12 players on the field that played at least one snap in the Sugar Bowl. Turnover and attrition have made a lasting impact in one year and the brutal stretch left some wear and tear on the Bearcats. It sounds like the week off went a long way to helping them recover.

"When you play so many young football players, a lot of time when you are preparing for your opponent you are not able to practice the fundamentals you need," Jones said. "I was excited to get back to the basics all week long. It was an opportunity to get our health back. I think we saw the accumulation of four physical football games. We played some hignly competitive teams. Just to get our health back, to get in the training room and come together as a team."

--- INJURY UPDATE: Drew Frey is 100 percent and will play on Saturday. Ben Guidugli will return to practice this Tuesday, expect him to play against Miami. Darrin Williams is still being evaluated and Jones will wait and see where he is at later in the week before making any committments.   

---  The Bearcats desperately needed the confidence derived from the game against Oklahoma. With a week to think about it, even in defeat the confidence has grown around the team and Jones could sense that this week.

Jones pointed out Chris Williams started at safety for his first career start. Only thing is, he's long been a cornerback. Roney Lozano played his first game on the D-line. Anthony McClung made the first catch of his career. DB Camerron Cheatham played a major role. A lot of young players were taking part. For the team to hang in, particularly with that kind of inexperience on the field, meant a lot of the mentality going forward.

"You had a number of players, but we felt that they stepped up," Jones said. "Our players did gain some confidence. They understand that we have to play within ourselves, if we played fundamental football and play for 60 minutes we can play with anyone in the country.

"I saw leadership starting to form. Everything is about leadership and the morale of our football team. So that was very encouraging. That was very exciting, but that game is gone. We can't get that game back> Miami doesn't care how we played against Oklahoma. It's on to the next thing. It is not what have you done for me lately, but it's what can you do for me next? That's where we live. It's the now. I was very encouraged because I thought I saw a team mature a little bit. I thought I saw a team come of age with leadership. Now we have to carry that into this week's preparation."  

--- On top of the confidence, the Bearcats appear to have taken major steps in the right direction...except win, of course. Miami presents a prime opportunity to do so. Still, Jones doesn't necessarily think they need a win just to keep the players on board. They need a win because they need a win every week and they are competitive. You have to love Jones' resolve and belief in his system. All that said, a win sure would help expedite the process.  

"Our players are starting to see the fruits of their labor. Has it happened slowly? Absolutely. Has it happened the way we wanted it to? No. We live in a microwave society. Those red steps that are in the Lindner Center. I believe it is the second largest freestanding staircase in the world. It is a step by step process. You don't just jump from the bottom to the top. The same thing with our football team. We have a very young football team so it is a step by step process.

"Are we disappointed? Yes. Do we expect to win? Yes. There isn't anybody more competitive than our players and our coaching staff, but I think they see each week when we get closer and the big thing is we can't beat ourselves. We have been our biggest opponent sometimes in turning the football over. Again, not executing, 10 guys on the same page and one missing their assignment and it's a team game. What we have to do is play 11 as 1. We cannot turn the football over and we have to play with the tempo and style that we need to play at."

--- Earlier this week, Miami coach Mike Haywood talked about how Kerry Coombs has done such a good job recruiting in Cincinnati it has forced his hand to move some of his efforts to other areas.

Jones talked about hearing that compliment:

"I have seen a lot of his comments," Jones said. "We are going to take care of home. I said that from the minute I stepped on the podium December 16th. We are gong ito take care of home. We are going to put our focus and energy of representing the C and having individuals in this community that understand what it takes to represent the C. And also go out in the Midwest and the South and get players that fit our profile. I think that is a compliment. I know Mike meant that to be a compliment. That is what we are striving for."

--- Again, the game will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Nippert. You can view it on ESPN3.com, which you should have if you have Time Warner.

Dave Weekley will do play-by-play with Warrick Dunn on analysis. So you have that going for you, which is nice.

The Re-Mix

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OK the second season of 2010 is now underway after the Bye week and 2 things are clear. The first half of the season is over and the Oklahoma game raised the bar on the performance of this team going into the Big East conference.

We will see what effects it had when Miami comes to town this weekend and expect UC to be solid in all 3 phases of their game. Young players have now been exposed to major college competition; healthy players have healed and veterans have proven they can lead. The challenge is simple: do it for the rest of the year all the while cutting down on self inflicted mistakes.

The makings of a winner start internally and this was a time the troops had to rally around each other and recommit to the Cattitude that the country was learning to respect. With respect, accountability, bragging rights and Big East creditability on their shoulders, it won't be easy but the reality is its very doable.

So starting this Saturday, we should see the UC team that made Oklahoma sweat to death, minus the mistakes. If that happens victory, and the bell ring loud on campus. From there it's just a building block to take into the next game. UC football is at a crossroad with respect. Was it the wonder years with Brian Kelly that made people think it was his magic wand that produced the type of firepower, excitement and buckle down in the fourth quarter defense UC was getting noticed for? Or is this Bearcat Football, tried and true?

That's what I love about the remix; you get a little old and a little new. How the DJ spins it determines the outcome of the party. I think you're gonna' love this mix; I'm ready to dance myself!

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat...  


Last night, I took part in one of the more rewarding tasks of the daily week: I emptied my DVR. All the shows that piled up over the past week and teased me every time I flipped through knowing all well I didn't have time for any finally got watched.

Community continues to be one of the more underrated shows on television and I've already given up on the Jimmy Johnson edition of Survivor. Once his hair moved out of place for the first time, the novelty sort of wore off.

I have long been a huge fan of 30 Rock and Cash Cab. So, to see Tracy Jordan ride the Cash Cab to the hospital ranks as my favorite gag of the new Fall season.

Ben Bailey: Weighing up to four tons, what kind of mammal is Shamoo?

Tracy: She, is an Orka, Benjamin. FYI, they're very difficult to keep in a home aquarium.

Fortunately, or unfortunately if you're NOT interested in hearing about my TV watching habits, the fodder is about to pick up around UC. I'm heading over to the press luncheon this afternoon to chat with some players and Coach Butch Jones.

As always, if you have any questions you would like either coach or a player to answer, feel free to send them my way. (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) If I don't get your email until after the luncheon, no worries, I will also be at practice later this afternoon and can find out the answer to your query then.

Meanwhile, how about some Breakfast... 

--- Scott Springer proves he knows more about this current Miami team than we do. He's seen his fair share of Battle's for the Victory Bell, enough to know if UC takes the RedHawks lightly there could be more drama than anybody is hoping for Saturday.

Also, he references one of the great SNL sketches of all time.

---  If there is anybody that knows not to take the MAC lightly, it's Butch Jones. Bill Koch writes about how Jones' time with the Chips will help out this week.

--- Tommy G with a great story checking in with young Mitch Stone. I can't wait to see his mohawk around Nippert.    

--- Miami is a little banged up for the UC game. Pete Conrad says five players who have started at least one game are at least listed as questionable, if not out, this weekend.

--- I'd like to take a moment of silence for the death of all hope and optimism for Rutgers football.

---  Some news and notes from around the Big East.  

--- Seriously, anybody interested in slowing down Stephanie Niemer feel free to step up. I am assuming they are just going to rename the Big East Player of the Week Award, The Niemer, at this point.

Make it four weeks in a row she has won it as she continues to terrorize the Big East and UC has won eight consecutive matches because of it -- the last six in straight sets. They are now No. 21 in the country.

--- In some randomness, it turns out Diana Taurasi is hot. Really hot.

--- When fleeing the scene of a crime, you may want to pick a vehicle that goes faster than 10 mph

--- The evolution and potential growth of Cigar Man makes me happier than Jessie Spano's pharmacist.

--- I probably need to expand my audience to the UC student, so, here's a look at 20 awesome dorm pranks.

I went with the full toilet papering of the my neighbors room when I was living the dorm life. Obviously, the bigger, faster, stronger skill set of the new generation has taken the game to a new level.


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(courtesy SNL)

WHAT: The Battle for the Victory Bell featuring UC and the Miami Redhawks

WHERE: 'Tis at "The Nipp" this season

CLEAT ON BALL: Around 7 p.m. (when the youngin's like it)

SERIES: Miami leads 59-48-7 (and yes, I saw one of the ties)

LAST TIME: Then #10 UC beat the Redhawks 37-13 in Oxford

      Well, here we go with version #115 of the Victory Bell game which has added importance for the Bearcats as they desperately need a win to get their season on track. At 1-3, they made obvious improvements in some areas in the game against #8 Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium, but still came away with an "L" (despite giving the Sooners their best game thus far).

      Meantime, the game's equally vital for Miami as they're trying to restore pride in their program after a horrendous 2009 that saw them go 1-11. Early on, the indications are this team is much improved as they already have more wins than the Bearcats (3-2).

      Miami has extra motivation in this one as they've not clanged the Bell as their own since Mark Dantonio was coach in 2005. Since then, UC's won four straight and outside of a few cameo appearances here and there, the Victory Bell has resided in the 4th floor lobby of the Lindner Center.

      From a UC perspective, the rivalry has lost its luster since the Bearcats began getting ranked and knocking off ranked teams. From a conference point of view, the rivalries with Louisville, West Virginia and Pitt are more important.

      However, at 1-3, that is the alarming thing about this game. Miami (OH) also boasts Tri-State area players and bragging rights for collegiate supremacy around here matter greatly. If UC enters into this game thinking they're "above" playing a team from the MAC, they could be in line for a MAC SMACK.

      Sure, as the teams have evolved, the Big East rivalries are more important nationally. But locally, the Battle for the Victory Bell has been a big deal and there's nothing worse than discounting an opponent. Honestly, was #8 Oklahoma up more to play UC or Texas the week after?

      You probably sense my concern.

      While some of these games have been blowouts, there have been some memorable outcomes and tight ones. From my own perspective, I was on radio for a tie, a loss on a final seconds kick-off, and back-to-back triple and double overtime thrillers.

      How does this one shake out?


Clearly UC's changes on the offensive line paid benefits as did the return of Isaiah Pead vs. Oklahoma. Pead was able to ramble for 169 yards. Also, Zach Collaros was protected enough to throw for 305 yards and three touchdowns and D.J. Woods was able to snare seven passes for 171 yards and a score.

But, Pead didn't find the endzone, Collaros purely improvised two of his scoring passes and Woods should've had two visits to touchdown turf. Despite improvement, there was disappointment in the self-inflicted wounds.

Miami's defense is still young. They hung with Florida 'til the fourth quarter, but let's face it, those weren't the Tebow-led Gators. At Missouri, the Redhawks were tagged for 51 by the Tigers. Redshirt junior LB Jerrell Wedge leads in tackles, TFL and sacks and he may be on the lookout for UC's Marcus Barnett as both attended Frederick Douglass HS in Maryland. UC must also watch sophomore LB Evan Harris who has scored two defensive touchdowns this year.

NOD: With the extra preparation and the strides made vs. Oklahoma and the fact that it's a home game, you side with UC. Miami must hope for the Bearcats to struggle like Florida did in game one against them. If the Redhawks can keep within spittin' distance, it could be a game.


Miami QB Zac Dysert, a redshirt sophomore, will sling it around and keeps improving. He was 33-47 for 286 yards last year against UC and is coming off a 31-46, three touchdown performance against Kent State. He's 6-4 and 212 pounds and tends to target senior WR Jamal Rogers (8-90 vs. Kent State) and another senior Armand Robinson. His tall target is 6-4 Andy Cruse out of Turpin HS. The go-to RB is senior Thomas Merriweather, with the understudy being freshman Tracy Woods, Truthfully though, the best RB on Miami's sidelines is probably their offensive assistant, Deland McCullough who wrecked havoc here and in the MAC for years in the 90s.

UC's secondary is minus junior Dominique Battle now (ACL) so a young defensive group just gets younger and that weighs in Dysert's favor. However, JK Schaffer and Maalik Bomar continue to play inspired football at LB and Derek Wolfe and Dan Giordano have had their moments on the defensive line. I believe the Bearcats can stop the Miami run game, but the pass defense might depend on how many times they can coax Zac Dysert to throw it to a black jersey.

NOD: If Dysert throws 2-3 interceptions, that should weigh in the Bearcats favor. If UC stopped Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, they should be able to stop Merriweather, Woods and company on the ground. The key for the Bearcats is making sure this game is no longer a game by the time the fourth quarter rolls around.


D.J. Woods still has game-breaking return skills but must lose his imaginary friend "Fumblelina". For the screaming critics, I challenge you to successfully catch a high football in the lights with 250 pounds of bad breath storming at you. Kickoff returns have been disappointing in general as Mardy Gilyard is sorely missed (as is Vidal Hazelton for that matter). Jake Rogers missed an extra-point last week which seems to be a yearly occurrence. Brian Kelly had a way of shaming Jake into success and perhaps Coach Butch Jones can push those same buttons.

The Redhawks feature KR DeMarco Paine, P Zac Murphy (Kings HS) and K Trevor Cook on special teams. Cook has been pretty accurate (9-10 FGs, 12-12 PATs). On punts, UC's Pat O'Donnell can boom them but best be on the watch for sophomore DE Austin Brown who blocked one last week that Evan Harris snagged and took to the house.

NOD: It might take all four years, but since his first year I've been predicting D.J. Woods to break a return and I'll keep standing by that. You have to go with Miami's Cook on kicking accuracy, but O'Donnell is a good 10 yards better on punts most days than Murphy. I don't feel overly confident if this gets into a late-game kicking contest (but am always open to being proved wrong).


As stated in the opening, it would be a drastic mistake for UC to look past this game toward the Big East schedule. A cocky 1-3 team is ignorant. I don't think UC's your typical 1-3 team, but if they give Miami a chance to breathe in this game, the much improved Redhawks could hang around and pester you like a summertime mosquito biting at your ankles.

Make no mistake, Mike Haywood's Redhawks are growing up and improving and are not going to be overwhelmed by the Nippert noise when they've already played in front of over 60,000 in Missouri and 90,000 in Gainesville. Yes, UC should win by a couple scores, but anyone that claims to be shocked if the Redhawks seriously compete doesn't follow much football.

      See you at the game as we hope to hear some Bearcat "clangs" Saturday night.

Bearcats Breakfast 10.04.10

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Bye weeks are the worst. Watching all the games on Saturday feels a little empty without a UC game to break down. And I just saw a commercial where Snuggie wearers do the Macarena. So, I'm questioning everything in life.

But, I digress. And it's Miami week.

The Redhawks surprised a lot of people to open the season by pushing Florida before the Gators eventually blew the game open in the fourth quarter. Still, Miami is no pushover. Even in a perfect regular season last year, Miami gave the Bearcats more than they wanted.

Butch Jones knows all too well how good Miami can be and, maybe more precisely, how difficult the MAC can be.

Of course, Jones had a two-game winning streak against Big Ten foes during his tenure at Central Michigan and had two extremely close losses to Purdue while there as well. Jones addressed playing against the MAC today in his coaches' teleconference.

He said from watching Miami grow and progress as a young team last season, he thought by the end of the year that they were one of the better teams in the conference.

UC should win and that's why they are 14-point favorites. But with some injuries that we will monitor this week to Drew Frey, Ben Guidugli and DJ Woods, they may not be playing at full strength, so we shall see.

--- Miami coach Mike Haywood has moved some of his recruiting efforts to Columbus, Texas and other parts of the country because Kerry Coombs and the Bearcats are doing such a good job of keeping the Cincinnati talent at home.

Coombs' value to this staff is impossible to measure, whether it be his insane energy on the sideline, coaching ability or relationships among coaches in the city, he produces from every angle.

There's a reason the first thing Butch Jones did at UC was retain Coombs.  

---  Miami is coming off of a 27-21 win against Kent State.

Zac Dysert was impressive, going 31 of 46 for 294 yards. Anthony Kokal intercepted a pass in the end zone late to clinch the victory.

--- Bloggers unite! Bearcats Blog and Down the Drive got together to talk about UC to this point in the season.

--- Brian Bennett decided to revert to a more standard power rankings setup this week. He has UC at No. 4. This week was much better for the Big East than last. Of course, there was nowhere to go but up.

UConn routed SEC stepchild Vanderbilt and appears to be finding itself.

Also, Pitt's Ray Graham was incredible in place of Dion Lewis at running back against FIU. He was named Big East offensive player of the week. He had 29 carries for 277 yards and three touchdowns. He's averaging 9.5 yards per carry. Wow.

Dion Lewis is still Wannstache's starter, but we will be seeing plenty of Graham going forward.

--- Should have more after the press luncheon and player availabiliy tomorrow, so be sure to tune in.   

--- Teach me how to Dougie, teach me teach me how to Dougie.

Kevin Huber is the ultimate Cincinnati guy. He grew up here, played football at McNicholas, went to UC and now punts for the Bengals.

Last year, in his rookie season, his 43.2-yard per punt average tied for the second best on the team since 1999.

This year, he's been off to a hot start, including a difference-making performance against Carolina. He swung field position in an ugly game, twice pinning the Panthers deep in their own end.

I caught up with Huber this week to talk a little bit about how he attended the Reds game on Tuesday night (and even won a $100 gift certificate playing the Hollywood Casino Fan Fortune game), how much time he has spent keeping up with UC and where he's going from here with the Bengals.

PDJ: How many Reds games do you get to during the year?

KH: Try to get to as many as I can, a lot more during the summer. As many as I can.


PDJ: Do you keep much contact with what's going on at UC?


KH: Try to, when they came down here to practice before the game last Thursday I was out there talking with the guys, the punter and kicker, seeing how they were doing, if they needed any help with anything. I try to get up there as much as I can. I haven't been able to get to a game yet, I hope to get to a few before the season is over.


PDJ: How much of a connection to you still feel with the coaching change it is a whole different group than when you were there?


KH: It's a little hard to connect with the coaches still. I know coach (Kerry) Coombs. The other coaches I have met them, I haven't gotten to know them.


PDJ: What do you make of the struggles they had through the first four games?


KH: Its hard, they got a lot of good players .They are going to be all right. They had some tough games, some good teams, to be close to a team like Oklahoma, as many mistakes as they did make, the fact that they were still in the game was big.


PDJ: How much do you keep track with some of the other former Bearcats in the NFL? They had a big week last week. You played well, Trent Cole had two sacks, Mardy Gilyard with his first NFL catch.


KH: I talk to some of the guys. Trent, I didn't know him much, that was my true freshman year. I knew Brent (Celek) a lot better than Trent. It was good seeing Tony (Pike) in Carolina, catching up with him. We were roommates my freshman year. Whenever I know there is a guy there I try to talk with him, try to get in touch with them and see how they are doing.


PDJ: How was Tony mentality about his situation down there?


KH: He was pretty positive about it. He thought he was in a good situation. He was doing what he can to make himself better everyday. And hopefully one day, he just wants to get that chance to get in there and try to get a spot.


PDJ: Where are you at, what are you trying to work on most at this point?


KH: My consistency. That has been my knock on myself as long as I can remember. I would always have the one or two punts that kind of gets me every time. I had that two weeks ago. I had the pretty good average going into the game and I had those last two punts that kind of killed me. The biggest thing I am working on is plus-50 hits. The biggest improvement I want to make last week, getting the ball inside the 20.


PDJ: Pretty gratifying to have that kind of profound effect on a game from the punting position, don't see that too often.


KH: Part of it is the field position I was punting from. A lot were plus-50 hits where I just had to get it down there. The last one in particular, the gunners Morgan (Trent) and Bernard (Scott) did a great job getting down there. Plus, they made it easy all game the weather as it was, Clark (Harris) did a great job getting snaps to me.


PDJ: You guys are pretty comfortable in those slow, grinding types of games?


KH: When it comes down to it, it's not anything different. We practice those kind of punts and those kind of situations all the time, backed up, you just have to take advantage of where you are and make the best of the field.

If there is a better month than October, then I'd love to hear what it is. This has long been my favorite month of the year and this is the first time in about six years I get to experience it back in my hometown of CIncinnati.

October living in the South was different. There's a different vibe. It's still hot and there's no real progression of the leaves changing. The arrival of Fall makes for such a great backdrop for the best time in sports. Postseason baseball, NFL heats up, college football plays some of the biggest games of the season, Midnight Madness, NBA openers (then we can stop paying attention until May). It's a smorgasbord.

This year, I throw in my 30th birthday. Which normally would bring people down, but Jay-Z told me 30 was the new 20, so I am going with that.

This will be a particularly fun month for UC football. WIth all the ups and downs of the non-conference nearly behind them, opening Big East play could be a resurgent month. Judging by the Oklahoma game, this team appears prime to roll into a wide open Big East schedule and compete for a third straight Big East title. The open of the BE schedule comes with some winnable games. If the team can build some W's and confidence at the same time they will be primed to tackle the torturous close of the season with WVU, UConn and Pitt.

But for one weekend, they rest. But, that doesn't mean nothing's going on, so let's eat...

--- Bill Koch wrote about former Winton Woods coach Troy Everhart, who is now an assistant with the Bearcats.

Not only is Everhart a piece of this team's future success, but two of the players he helped mold as well.Maalik Bomar is developing into one of the best LBs in the league and Chris Williams' role will only be more vital with injuries mounting in the secondary.

--- Down the Drive has a take on Isaiah Pead. I would disagree that Pead was overlooked coming into the season, most people I read had him in the conversation with Noel Devine, Jordan Todman and Dion Lewis.

But I don't disagree that he can be the engine to make this offense go. Butch Jones likes to establish the run and also hit explosive plays. It's rare you can do both at the same time consistently, but with Pead's elusiveness and speed he's able to capitilize off the spread out defense as well as any back in the league.

--- Scott Springer talks with Andre Revels, who is now working for Northwestern Mutual. Some correllations were brought up between this year's defense and the one Revels was a part of about three years ago when a young group was first coming up.

UC only hopes players like Bomar and JK Schaffer can have the kind of impact Revels did on the university.

--- Wayne "Box" Miller talks about the bye week. It seems to come at a bad time, just as UC grabbed some momentum, even in a loss. But being able to rest up a significant group of banged up players outweighs any sapped Uncle Mo.

--- The bye week also makes for very little being said about the team, so we'll go for some extended Friday randomness....

--- I may be a little late on this, but did anybody think that maybe the 3-year-old girl shut her eyes and wished for a bloody, 75-person brawl for her birthday?

--- Put me in the contingent rooting agianst Boise State and their cupcake schedule. If you are on the fence, just remember, a boo for Boise State is a boo for Kid Rock. I believe I just forced your hand. 

--- Tool on tool crime with Doug Gottlieb and Jim Mora.  

--- Of course, you know I've got to have a mustache link. How about the top 10 staches in sports today. (No sign of Jason Kelce's Higher Ground stache, though it would be in my honorable mentions)

--- I am really torn here. I love hip-hop, in particular old school classics, but I loathe Jimmy Fallon. I once went and saw Fever Pitch for the sole reason of booing him whenever he failed to be funny.

That said, Justin Timberlake spins it into a pretty fun piece on the history of hip hop.

--- Remember, in class today, please turn off your cell phones. Or else you might provoke one of these angry outbursts. Actually, on second thought, these are pretty awesome.

When in class, you must remember, this isn't Nam, there are rules. (Big Lebowski=obviously NSFW)