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A season of turnover concludes

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For more, Will Frasure discusses the message left by Armon Binns and the senior class following their bitter final game.

 

Transition and turnovers define a disappointing start to the Butch Jones era and the coach vows an unrelenting work ethic to turn around a 4-8 season.

 

CINCINNATI - The season of turnover mercifully came to an end Saturday.

 

Last year, one last ditch final drive concluded with Armon Binns sliding across the snow in the Heinz Field end zone, lifting the final piece of an undefeated regular season into the air.

 

A year later, one last ditch final drive concluded with Pitt S Dom DeCicco sliding across the Nippert Stadium turf, tackled down with the 29th and final turnover of the UC season tucked under his right arm.

 

That's how it ended. From the blazing opening night in Fresno, Calif., to the freezing finale in Cincinnati, that's how it went.

 

UC finished the season 119th in the country in turnover margin. Only Middle Tennessee State was worse.

 

The Bearcats beat themselves - eight times.

 

"There are a lot of things going good; we have a nice rhythm and things get moving and there is a penalty or an interception or a missed block," said Isaiah Pead, whose fumble stalled a first-quarter drive into Pittsburgh territory. "We've been saying it all year, we got to stop beating ourself. We got more losses than we have wins and they are all from us."

 

They were again on Saturday. Pead's early fumble and an interception of a hit on Zach Collaros that floated to DeCicco left the Bearcats with two long drives and nothing to show for it. Forced to come from behind in a thick snowstorm, the odds stacked against them. As did Dion Lewis 42 carries for 261 yards and 4 TDs.

 

In the end, three turnovers flipped into 14 points defined the day. Defined the season.

 

Facing a disruptive Pitt defense, opportunities to score came few and far between. One trip inside Panthers territory ended in an Isaiah Pead fumble, another in a Zach Collaros interception.

 

But the details of this game were inconsequential. Turnovers, poorly-timed personal fouls and defensive breakdowns melt into the blur of mistakes the 2010 campaign will be defined by. And, for Butch Jones, what the 2011 offseason will be motivated by.

 

"We are coming back and we are working - Monday at 3 o'clock - as a football team," Jones said. "There will be no off days. This is unacceptable. We are going to get this right."

 

Correction will begin with change. Thirteen seniors will leave. Depth doomed the Bearcats this season and Jones needs an infusion of his players to fill holes on special teams and possibly in the starting lineup.

 

Jones said the evaluation will begin with himself and stem down to his assistants and the student-athletes.

 

"Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting," Jones said of what needs to be done. "Develop our younger players."

 

It's clear that starts on the defensive side of the ball. Thanks to a two turnovers inside the UC 5-yard line, Pitt couldn't crack 30 points. But in seven Big East games UC gave up an average of 33 points. They never allowed less than 27.

 

"We have all 11 starters coming back," Jones said. "But we have a long way to go."

 

All eyes turn to 2011 now. The season will hold more significance than could have been imagined when Jones first took over. He needs to cash in on the pattern of marked improvement by coaches in the second seasons. Add in a Zach Collaros in his senior year and the expectations raise as high as they were this year.

 

Another season of turnovers would turn a poor season into a concerning trend. Jones knows that. As do his players.

 

"There is no next week," Pead said. "There is nothing else to think about. You have to work hard and expect the same from the rest of the team. There is no more cutting corners. I feel like a few corners were cut. A lot of comfortability with being two-time, back to back champs, you are going to find a few comfortable people, a few comfortable teammates. We have to get that corrected. As a team, as leaders, as seniors, we got to get back in the lab and roll your sleeves."

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