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.


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