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Turnovers tell unfortunate story

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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."

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