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September 2011 Archives

Four things to watch

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Sorry to disappoint the consistent Breakfast patrons, but the blog is taking a road trip this weekend to lovely Asheville, NC for a Ohio U. reunion with a wedding somewhere in the middle of it.

I'll be back to break down all things Miami next week and fill all your bye week needs.

Until then, here are four statistics the Bearcats need to achieve in order to return The Victory Bell to Clifton for the sixth consecutive year.

1. Five sacks. Seems to be a nice little number the Cats have been able to achieve lately. They got to NC State's Mike Glennon six times and knocked down Akron QBs three times in the first half of that blowout. Considering that Miami has shown more propensity to close down its Old Navy stores than establish a running game, chasing Zac Dysert will mean chasing the RedHawks fans back to their sorority houses early.

2. Double-digit, first-half lead.
UC has made a habit of putting teams away early this year. Consider they have led 114-7 at halftime of their three wins this year. UC knows how to crush any concept of an upset. Doing so against a RedHawks team without a win will assure a second half of Munchie Legaux handing off to Jameel Poteat.

3. Run for 175.
The Bearcats are at their best when they establish the rush. The Redhawks are allowed 4.3 yards per rush (83rd nationally) and been susceptible to big gainers. Know of anybody for UC who owns a propensity to break big runs? If all goes well, Pead may take the second half of this game off. Rushing for 175 yards under Jones has been the demarcation of success to this point. They are 6-0 when doing so and 1-9 when not passing that mark.

4. All aboard the Turnover Margin Express. UC is tied for the national lead in turnover margin and has been as opportunistic as any Cincinnati unit in history to this point. Dysert has already thrown four picks this year. The opportunity for more will be available, a plus-3 turnover margin will all but assure 4-1.

Enjoy Oxford and the traffic jam on 27 everybody. We'll see you next week.

Less equals more up front

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62604_NC_State_Cincinnati_Football.jpgThe development of depth in the rotation of defensive linemen has meant more production on fewer snaps for everyone up front.

CINCINNATI - Dan Giordano shakes his head even thinking about last year. The starting defensive end estimates the number of snaps he played per game around 80. Pinning down an exact number evades him, perhaps because the memories are a bit of a blur.

"Last year, dude, that was crazy," he said.

Somewhere between the oppressive heat in Fresno, Calif., and five inches of snow at Nippert Stadium against Pittsburgh, Giordano, Derek Wolfe and John Hughes experienced somewhere north of 3,000 physical, one-on-one battles of strength and agility.

GiordanoMugshot.jpegWhether Oklahoma's lightning-fast spread or Pitt's grinding ground pound, the defensive line rarely changed.

In an area where wins and losses are earned and lost on a weekly basis, the difference can only be a matter of inches in leverage. Or one play used to catch wind.

How many of those contributed to a defense lingering at the bottom of the Big East in most every defensive category in 2010? Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. Measuring pad level and effort are too intangible to place a number on.

But ask any one of those players or any one of the coaches evaluating them and they'll tell you - the effect was very real.

"In the offseason we realized last year we had guys play too much," defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. "The advantage we have is this year we thought there were more people ready to play."

Thus far in 2011, the difference has been immeasurable. Where Wolfe was playing sometimes 90 snaps in a game, estimates have him averaging around 40. The same number applies to Giordano and Hughes. Walter Stewart, the new addition on the end, doesn't rush much more than that, either.

Stripling calls DT Jordan Stepp, Hughes and Wolfe "the three amigos" as Stepp essentially developed into a third starter in the rotation at defensive tackle. DE Brandon Mills has become a budding pass-rush specialist off the edge and junior DE Monte Taylor owns half a sack.

UC never gave an inch in the trenches against N.C. State, at the end of the day the Wolfpack had negative yards rushing and QB Mike Glennon went down six times.

"We are noticing the effort and leverage," Stripling said. "Obviously, every player in America when he gets tired he gets high, so they are able to play lower and harder at the end of the game versus the last two years."

Less equals more. The numbers bare that out for Wolfe. All of last season he managed to capture the quarterback three times, but owns four sacks already this year. That's tied for third in the country and leads the Big East.

He earned that position, but an assist goes to his teammates.

"I can't tell you, there is nothing better than feeling fresh," Wolfe said. "Being able to take first and second off and come in on third down, that is a real payoff."

Butch Jones and Stripling run the rotation partially by feel and partially by a set idea of how many snaps they want each player to endure. On the bigger plays of the game, the starting unit of Wolfe, Giordano, Stewart and Hughes will be on the field, depending on the situation.

The development of depth up front allows the Bearcats to create mismatches in certain down and distance or play a hot hand.

"We have different packages for different personnel," Giordano said. "I try to go in the first plays when we expect run because I am a bigger body. All of us have different features."

All of those features were neutralized against Tennessee. UC only touched QB Tyler Bray three times in 41 attempts and allowed a 100-yard rusher. No matter how fresh any linemen was, they couldn't reach the quarterback. Yet, over the past two weeks, UC has collected 11 sacks and allowed less than two yards per rush.

The competition took a step down. True. Yet, Stripling saw the group play better. He saw a maturation following the game. He saw a wake-up call.

"Right now, we still have a chip on our shoulder after going in there and getting embarrassed," Giordano said. "I want to say we were more hungry. It's a challenge, that is when there is better competition. That gave us a taste of, well, you better get going. I think we needed that and that was a turning point in our season."

The turning point in continuing the same effort and level of play throughout the final two-thirds of the year may have came in the offseason, though. To this point, the deeper rotation has paid dividends in performance, but once the calendar flips to November those reps will mean even more.

"The physicality will continue to increase," Jones said. "It makes a big difference. It is a cumulative effect throughout the course of a season."

A season Giordano knows hasn't been anywhere near as crazy.

"You are not out there with heavy legs," he said. "I feel great when I am out there, actually."

The six degrees of Treadwell

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This just struck me as I mentally prepared for the latest version of the Victory Bell game between UC and Miami. Current Redhawks coach Don Treadwell has more connections to both sides of this game than most.

It starts in 1994, the first of my 14 years on the radio crew.  Don Treadwell was a 34-year-old wide receivers coach on Rick Minter's staff.  I'll remember that UC/Miami game forever because it was my first one and because of the lousy way it ended, a 17-17 tie.

After back-to-back losses at Indiana and at Nippert to Syracuse, the 0-2 Bearcats looked like they had secured a dramatic win as the legendary Jon Bacon connected on his only UC field goal--a 58-yarder--to put UC up 17-14.

Miami got the ball back on the kickoff with seven seconds left.  Somehow, through the lack of dexterity of their late timer, Elden Wyckoff, the Redhawks were able to roll wide right, then throw clear across the field complete to a receiver who caught it and ran out of bounds.

That conveniently left :01 on the clock and Miami's Chad Seitz kicked a field goal to spoil the party for the Bearcats.

Treadwell was on the UC side that day. The previous year, he was a Miami assistant and before that he played for the (then Redskins) in the early 80s.
don treadwell.jpg
(Courtesy Miami University--dig the hair)

Where do you want to start? Treadwell's coaching web is a tangled one.

Between 1986 and 1991, Treadwell was an assistant at Youngstown State under Jim Tressel.
Many don't know that former UC athletic director Rick Taylor was in favor of hiring "Sweater Vest" here until then-President Dr. Joe Steger interceded on behalf of Rick Minter.  Theoretically, Treadwell could have worked for the Bearcats prior to Minter.

As it worked out, he lasted one year and then returned on Mark Dantonio's staff. Both were with the Penguins on Tressel's staff.

Treadwell also worked at NC State, who just got their rear ends handed to them by the Bearcats. NC State's offensive coordinator is Dana Bible.  Bible and Treadwell were both on Rick Minter's first UC staff.

Working with Treadwell in that first year at UC was John Harbaugh.  Harbaugh was tight ends and special teams coach here before making a name for himself with the Eagles and then getting the Ravens job.  Brad Jackson was a redshirt freshman defensive back on that 1994 team, who eventually wound up playing for the Ravens.  The Ravens also feature former UC standout Haruki Nakamura who was a Bearcat during Treadwell's second stint at UC.

Also on staff in '94 with Treadwell was strength coach Mickey Marotti.  Marotti eventually left for Notre Dame which hired Brian Kelly away from UC.  But, before Kelly left, Marotti had already left for Florida to work with Urban Meyer.  Urban Meyer is a former UC defensive back who throttled his old team--minus Kelly--at the Orange Bowl.

Back to Treadwell's second stint at UC.  While he served as the offensive coordinator (yawn), Pat Narduzzi was the Bearcat defensive coordinator.  Like Treadwell, Narduzzi had previously been a Miami coach.  In 2006, when Mark Dantonio left for Michigan State, Narduzzi was named UC's interim coach.  Had he been hired over Brian Kelly, this game could've been Narduzzi vs. Treadwell. 

Instead, Brian Kelly was hired from Central Michigan, Narduzzi and Treadwell went to Michigan State and current UC coach Butch Jones was promoted at Central Michigan.

When Jones took the UC job, Central Michigan hired Dan Enos from Mark Dantonio's staff at Michigan State. Enos was also quarterback coach here, where he coached Gino Guidugli for one season.

Guidugli is on Central Michigan's staff as an offensive assistant. He played for both Dantonio and Rick Minter, who hired Don Treadwell.

Well, in college football circles, this could go on and on. So, here's a few thoughts on the game.

  1. UC can't be too cocky over the NC State win, because Miami does recruit some talented players and a win over UC would be the pinnacle of their season.  Beyond beating UC, there's not much to pull for in Oxford until the hockey team skates into Goggin Arena.
  2. The worse feeling in the world is watching the opponent come over and steal your Victory Bell if you have it and lose it.  For the sake of keeping the trophy case at the Lindner Center full, the Bearcats best be prepared to play.
  3. Zac Dysert can throw the ball some.  Both Tennessee and NC State threw for major yards on UC's secondary. The Bearcats still need to tighten the coverage up back there.
  4. If you're going to sit in traffic on Route 27, you might as well get a win out of it.  There's really not much to do in between Oxford and Mount Rumpke. Any route that includes some place called "Millville" is routinely dull as dirt.

Hope for some sunshine and enjoy the scenery in Oxford, some of it is downright pretty this time of year.

The leaves ain't bad either....

Bearcats Breakfast 9.28.11

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I know most of you are in football mode right now and focusing on the rivalry with the RedHawks, but if you want to get your rivalry blood pumping early, there are few things better than cheering against Xavier for a few hours to fill a Wednesday night.

UC hosts XU in men's soccer at Gettler Stadium tonight at 7 p.m.

The Bearcats are battling injuries right now, but haven't lost at home to the Muskies in 28 years. Should be well worth popping in for.

Don't say I never gave you anything.

Let's eat....

--- Yesterday afternoon
I posted this notebook from the Tuesday lunch with a bunch of quality stuff from Isaiah Pead. Bill Koch posted this story with more of the good stuff from Isaiah. He was very resolute about the N.C. State win being a turning point and pointed out the specific difference the team feels toward Jones this year compared to last.

Seeing what's been preached play out in a 44-14 ownership of the Wolfpack will bring those feelings to the surface, I suppose.

--- This review was written regarding the Nippert Stadium experience. Without doubt, it's one of the most unique venues in the country. There are few places like it.

--- No doubt UC is catching Miami at the right time. They are coming off a third consecutive loss to start the season. They fell at home to Bowling Green on Saturday.

Last week Miami QB Zac Dysert was sacked six times and they've had a punt blocked in each of the last two games.

Remarkably, Miami has failed to convert a PAT in each of their three games. The offensive line started two freshmen because of injuries last week and experienced more movement than the BCS conferences.

Offensive line trouble is the last thing Miami needs considering how much they hope to throw it with Dysert. It's become a necessity because the running game has been non-existent. They are currently ranked 118th in the country in rushing offense.

Still, Jones insists UC is far from looking past the RedHawks.

"When you are 4-8, every game should be a motivating factor," he said. "Our team needs to stay focused on the task at hand. We are not good enough to look down the road. We still have a lot of holes in our program but you can overcome that by having great chemistry, by playing with great physical and mental toughness and executing."

--- Andrea Adelson posted a video blog -- or vlog for those chiming in from the nerdery -- about UC's offensive line improvement.

--- Eric Crawford of the Louisville Courier-Journal proposed a plan for Big East survival. I envision the university presidents all in the self-check out line at Kroger right now, all of them buying canned goods and water.

--- Randomness...

--- Let's hope the fans who vote on the Iowa-Nebraska trophy options aren't a bunch of giggling 13-year-olds.

--- Hard not to think about this day one year ago. The Reds clinched the division in the most incredible night Great American Ball Park has ever seen. We really felt great then. Now? Not so much.

--- A list of the 25 best sports movies.

--- Last night was about as
disappointed in a 30 for 30 documentary I have been. Catching Hell on the Steve Bartman debacle took an awful turn. For some reason, the director thought he should selfishly interject his own personal feelings about how what happened to the Cubs was just like what he felt when the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs So he hijacked about 25-30 minutes of the documentary talking about Buckner and the '86 Sox. Unreal.

All the Bartman stuff was great, but if you have it on DVR, keep fast forwarding til you aren't seeing Boston on your screen anymore.

--- Oh no! What a shocking turn of events!

--- Here's some
Mumford and Sons. Winter Winds. Happy Wednesday.

Beating Miami Has A Nice Ring To It

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It's the oldest non-conference rivalry in college football and the winner gets to keep the Victory Bell until the two schools meet again, but for Bearcat linebacker JK Schaffer, the 116th meeting between Cincinnati and Miami is personal.

 

Schaffer hit.jpg 

 

"I think about this game all year and it really, really, means a lot to me," Schaffer told me.  "When I was going through the recruiting process, I wanted to go to Cincinnati and was hoping to get an offer from UC, but I was also trying to get offers from other places.  Miami narrowed it down to me and one other linebacker and then said, 'Sorry, but we can't offer you a scholarship.  We're going to take the other kid.'  Them not wanting me has really driven me."

 

Schaffer's fellow seniors didn't have to be snubbed by the RedHawks to share his desire to beat Miami on Saturday.  The Bearcats have won the last five meetings between the two schools, meaning UC's senior class has never spent a day on campus without the Victory Bell in their midst. 

 

Victory Bell.jpg 

 

"You don't want to be the senior class that lets the Victory Bell go," said wide receiver OJ Woodard.  "I had never been a part of such a big rivalry.  When I was a freshman, our seniors had so much passion that it started to grow in me.  Haruki Nakamura came across the middle and hit this guy from Miami.  He just picked him up and slammed him to the ground.  I understood then that we could never let the Bell go."

 

Woodard is from New Jersey and knew nothing about the rivalry before arriving at UC.  But the veterans quickly make sure that the newcomers know what the game means.

 

"We've been talking about it every day," said Schaffer.  "I think it's our most important rivalry.  They're 45 minutes up the road and it's one of the oldest rivalries in the country."

 

And the rivalry should guarantee that the Bearcats do not take the RedHawks lightly - despite their 0-3 start.

 

"We can't overlook anybody," said Woodward.  "We have to respect them or we're going to get beat." 

 

"I definitely don't plan on letting go of that Bell," said Schaffer.  "I want to make sure that my senior year is stamped on the Cincinnati side.

 

* * * * * 

 

I hope you'll join Coach Jones, Jim Kelly and me at the Original Montgomery Inn for the Butch Jones Show on Wednesday night from 8 to 9 on 700 WLW.

 

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

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

 

And I'm on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

 

Speaking of Sam, enjoy this week's photo from a recent trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. 

 

Sam at zoo.jpg

Tuesday Lunch: The Need for Pead

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Pead NC State.jpgCarving a niche on to the good side of the scribes isn't difficult. Either bring us free food, offer a unique perspective or bring the funny. From that point forward we'll always be happy to see you.

Isaiah Pead always delivers two out of three and I've never seen him holding baked goods.

Such was the case today at the media luncheon, when Pead entertained us for about 13 minutes talking about the momentum for this team, his NFL equivalents, wearing Jim Brown's number in Cleveland, not having Internet or cable and his fantastic old-school, high fade haircut.

First off, it should be noted Pead has established himself as one of the premier backs in all of college football and the numbers back that up. In fact, if you assume he will play full games the rest of the year and take the two complete games he's played to this point (Tennessee and NC State) as the standard, here's a glance at what his numbers would be:

Current: 54 attempts, 424 yards, 7.85 average.
Vs BCS foes: 41-322, 7.85
Projected final 8 games: 164-1,288
Projected season total: 218-1,712 yards

For a point of reference, last year LaMichael James (Oregon) led college football with 1,731 yards. Mikel LeShoure (Illinois) was second with 1,706.

That many yards would place him in the top six nationally in total yards any of the past four years. Of the 21 running backs to finish in the top six in yards each of the past four years who were eligible for the NFL Draft, 18 were selected. Pretty good company, too. 

Here's the list:

2007
Kevin Smith (drafted by Lions), Matt Forte (Bears), Ray Rice (Ravens), Darren McFadden (Raiders), Jonathan Stewart (Panthers), Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers).

2008
Donald Brown (Colts), Shonn Greene (Jets), MiQuale Lewis (undrafted), Javon Ringer (Titans), Jahvid Best (Lions), Kendall Hunter (49ers)

2009

Toby Gerhart (Vikings), Ryan Mathews (Chargers), Dion Lewis (Eagles), Mark Ingram (Saints), Ryan Williams (Cardinals), Donald Buckram (undrafted free agent with Browns)

2010
LaMichael James (Oregon), Mikel LeShoure (Lions), Denard Robinson (Michigan), Jordan Todman (Chargers), Bobby Rainey (Western Kentucky), Vai Taua (undrafted, Seahawks).

So, I was asking Pead a little bit about who he watches in the NFL and sees himself as. He had this to say:

"I really would like to go in and make my own name and have people say, I really play kind of like Isaiah Pead," he said. "I've been told that I might resemble a Marshall Faulk, back in the day. And I didn't know him at the time, I had to look him up, but Gale Sayers. I didn't know who he was."

After realizing how old we are, us old folks in the media notified Pead that Sayers was pretty good. One of the best of all-time, in fact. Pead said his high school athletic director told him that and after that he did some research on Sayers.

He does know who Jim Brown is, however. Most of that, he admitted, comes from Brown playing in Cleveland (Pead's from Columbus) and when he went to a combine camp prior to his senior year in high school at Browns Stadium.

"
They passed out shirts with numbers on them and I actually got 32," he said. "They told me I had to show out that day."

Still, Pead comes in at 5-11, 195 pounds, but looks around the NFL at a few backs fitting his profile and already knows he can succeed.

"
I am trying to get bigger and all that, but I definitely look at Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, even WR Percy Harvin," Pead said. "They all pretty much have my same exact size down to a T, 5-11, 195. I really paid attention to Jamaal Charles this past season because he is my size and a very elusive person, speed, and I liked him as a player when he was at Texas."

For the record: Jamaal Charles -- 5-11, 199; Chris Johnson 5-11, 191; Percy Harvin 5-11, 184. 


"The smaller guys have been having success, they have been coming in, changing the speed a little bit, the tempo," Pead said. "You still have your big bruiser backs, it's a nice 1-2 combination. To go to the NFL and be one of those quick, swifty guys that comes in third down, second down maybe, and just kind of change the mindset of defense and defensive coaches, I'm up for it."

Though, it's a wonder how Pead knows so much about NFL running backs considering he has cut himself off from the world. He said he doesn't have the Internet or cable at his house.

"I'm trying to cut back on the bills a little bit," he said.


Cutting back on the rumor mill is a nice touch to avoid getting caught up too much in any NFL Draft talk.

"Projections are great," he said. "To hear yourself and how people talk about you is a good feeling. But just as fast as they are talking about you it could be taken. You have to be focused and humble and really focus on the next task."


VictoryBell.jpg

--- Some other notes from today's meeting with the media -- the Victory Bell was in the house.
 

UC has held the Bell for five consecutive years now. Nobody in the history of the series has ever won six times in a row.

By the way, this is the 116th meeting.

Not only has UC dominated in the win column, but the games haven't been close. The closest game during the span was a 24-10 Cats win in 2006. The average final score has been 39.6-11.2 (198-56).

Still, Zach Collaros said there is no looking pact the RedHawks or viewing this as a dead rivalry.

"We don't like Miami, they don't like us," Collaros said. "I don't think it gets lost. An immature team or a team with no leadership would look past this game."

If one aspect of this team has been made abundantly clear by nearly all players and coaches I've talked to is that there is no lack of leadership. So, to expect any kind of complacency coming off a big win while facing a MAC team would be ill-conceived. Going 4-8 is still too fresh of a memory. In fact, Collaros all but scoffed at the possibility.

"If you get complacent then you are just not a competitor considering the way we played last year and how our season was," he said. "There should be no complacency on this team."

For the record, UC has won eight consecutive games against MAC schools (of course none were against my strong Ohio Bobcats).

That said, Butch Jones reiterated Collaros' contention on complacency.

"When you are 4-8, every game should be a motivating factor," he said.

--- Jones called Thursday's game against NC State "the most complete game we've played."

Difficult to deny that.

One of the biggest lessons it taught the team was how good they can be when the prepare meticulously and are completely ready to play. Jones thought before the game this team was as ready as it could be. The results proved that.

"It showed me when we do the thigns we stress we can be a pretty good football team," he said.

--- Notes from the notes: UC leads the Big East in a number of categories. Here's the list:
Scoring offense (49.5), rushing offense (239.2), interceptions (8), punting (47.6), net punting (44.7), sacks against (0.8), third down conversions (52.1 %), turnover margin (+14/3.5) and red zone offense (95.7 %). Derek Wolfe leads the Big East with four sacks.

--- For those of you
wondering about new Miami coach Don Treadwell -- and I know you were -- he is a former UC assistant and spent the last four seasons as offensive coordinator for Mark Dantonio at Michigan State.

--- I'm working on a story on the success of the defensive line rotation for later this week, so keep an eye out for that. And of course, daily Breakfast.

Until then, a final word from Isaiah Pead.

Pead is old-school in about every way, including his strong, high-fade haircut. (Here's a look at it after the game Thursday) He says that baby will be growing vertically all season. By my estimation, we'll be making Kid-N-Play references by West Virginia week.

"I think it looks all right," he said. "As long as the season lasts. I am going to try to keep it blocked, if it starts to turn into a fro I am going to have to trim him up a little bit better."

A Class Act, indeed.

Feed Pead

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Isaiah Pead is the truth, the silent truth. While you don't hear many people on the national level raise the bar when his name and/or highlights are mentioned he is legit. His career numbers are impressive but in the what have you done for me lately category he's just as worthy. In four games this year Pead is averaging 7.9 yards a carry or 80% of first down yardage with one run. He is decisive, has great feet and like a porsche can shift on the fly. The benefits of a great running game include much better play action results, a rested defense and keeping the clock running to name a few. With Isaiah you get that and more.

One thing I know is the NFL scouts know who he is and, what he can do. With the success other running backs from the Big East like Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy, his numbers are worthy of Sundays. Pead is also averaging 106 yards a game with 5 touchdowns so his yards per carry stats are not based on 2 or 3 carries a game as some stats reflect for others. 

If you enjoy watching a pure running back go to a UC game and watch Isaiah Pead live and and up close. He won't disappoint you and if they keep feeding him the ball, he won't disappoint UC football either. Feed Pead; until he belches, burps or graduates. That last interruption will come soon enough. But until then I think Isaiah Pead is hungry....

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

Bearcats Breakfast 9.27.11

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Today is the weekly brief Breakfast before the media luncheon. Followed by the weekly reminder to look out for more on the blog this afternoon. And a weekly reminder to follow me on Twitter for updates. (@pauldehnerjr)

And the weekly awkward segue from self-promotion to news.

Let's eat...

--- There are no times
available for the Louisville game yet, for those of you wondering. We should hear that sometime next week. Don't worry, as soon as it's available you can find it on the blog.

--- Saturday's game against Miami will not be on local TV, it will only be on ESPN3.com.

--- Butch Jones talked about
the importance of the Miami rivalry Monday on his teleconference. A few years back Brian Kelly suggested UC was beyond the Battle for the Victory Bell. It made for great headlines, but Jones much more believes in the traditions of the university.

Bill Koch talked about it in today's Enquirer.

--- I'm a little late on noticing, but CoachButchJones.com has a load of great behind-the-scenes videos from last Thursday against NC State. Locker room footage and other goodies from the night. Including much dramatic musical accompaniment courtesy AC/DC.

--- This bowl prediction might draw the interest of the UC fan base: UC vs ND at Yankee Stadium.

--- Rick Pitino is unafraid
to voice his opinions about this whole realignment deal. He did so on his blog again this week.

If you listen to rumors you have probably convinced yourself the Edmonton Eskimos will be joining the ACC by now, but for what it is worth the latest rumors are about Louisville possibly being offered by the Big 12. Also, WVU to the SEC coming via Wednesday press conference. This is as likely to change as the weather, but it is the current narrative across the rumor mill.

All I will say on that is, UC sees itself paired with Louisville. If the Cards were to make a jump, the Bearcats would be tempted to follow.

--- Randomness....

--- Syracuse is taking heat for booking Tone Loc for their Midnight Madness celebration. People are claiming they are out of touch and not hip. I think it's awesome. Funky Cold Medina is one of the coolest songs of all time. Of course, I am 30 years old and incredibly uncool.

--- Apparently Jason Alexander now has hair. This is as traumatizing as finding out Blues Traveler's John Popper was skinny. Being bald, much like Popper being obese, was, you know, his thing.

Of course, linking to this scene is inevitable.

Do you see the irony in this thing, George. YOU'RE BALD!

--- Reason No. 7,934,821 why the NFL is the strongest model in all of sports. This picture.

--- From the "Headlines you didn't need to tell me" department.

--- The top five signs
of College Gameday contained a few goodies. Must involving burnt couches.

--- Hey look! It's more video of UC beating up on Miami with bells ringing in the background. This time from 2008.



Bearcats Breakfast 9.26.11

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The Big Weekend for the Big East turned out to be a big flop. That is, after UC took its turn.

The conference had three big opportunities at home to establish itself again as a power conference, but much like last year, the non-conference schedule got the best of the them. Winning two of the three games between NC State@UC, ND@Pitt and LSU@WVU would have signified a weekend that would have turned some heads. Instead, Brian Kelly again made Panthers fans squirm and the SEC proved, yet again, that it is the NFL's version of Triple-A baseball.

Individually for UC, you can argue these results were positive. If you want to look at the conference right now, South Florida looks like the current frontrunner with UC and West Virginia leading a pack of unknowns following behind. That's how I see it and Andrea Adelson at the Big East Blog agrees.

As everyone experiencing the euphoria from Thursday night knows all too well, much can change in a week.

We'll take some time looking at Miami this week, but the Big East conference schedule kicks off most everywhere else. South Florida can see all the goodwill and joy about their non-conference exploits dimished if they can't come out of Pitt on Thursday night with a win. If the Panthers pull off the win, we will officially be off, running and wide open in the conference -- much as we thought we might be when the season began.

Let's eat...

--- JK Schaffer was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after his game against N.C. State. Deserved. He finished with nine tackles, an interception and half a tackle for loss.

While doing a radio segment with Andy Furman prior to the game Thursday, he asked about JK Schaffer and it was the easiest question I had to answer all week. He's Mr. Consistency. You know what you will get from JK, in a big game he's going to probalby lead you in tackles with 8-12, be around the ball all day and give you a few big plays in the process.

That's exactly what he did Thursday. He wins the defensive player of the week award, but it could be more of a lifetime achievement. Schaffer does this consistently. Unfortunately, due to some of the struggles of the UC defense it many times goes without merit.

Take a look at Schaffer's stats against BCS opponents the last two years.

Team            Tackles-Int-Sacks

2010
NC State            16-0-0
Oklahoma           13-1-0
Louisville              7-0-0
USF                    4-0-0
Syracuse             9-0-1
WVU                  16-0-0
Rutgers                7-0-2
UConn                 9-0-0
Pitt                     10-0-0
2011
Tennessee           12-0-0
NC State              9-1-0

That's 10 of 11 games with at least seven tackles and 5 of 11 with double digit tackles. He's contributed a big play, whether interception or sack, in 4 of 11.

This list doesn't include the Austin Peay and Akron game, both of which he had an interception. That's right, he's picked off a pass in three of the first four games this year. That leaves him tied for 7th in the country in interceptions per game at 0.75. Along with Southern Miss' Korey Williams, they are the only linebackers in the top 15.

--- Pat O'Donnell was
named Special Teams Player of the Week. Apparently, all you have to do is average 59.7 yards per punt to pull that off.

O'Donnell is now averaging 47.6 yards per punt. For the record, if he could hold that average it would be good for the 18th best single season all-time....in the NFL.

One of those punts Thursday was the running, rugby-style kick that got some good roll. It got me thinking -- where did this things come from? Why do teams use that?

Where else to go then to Kevin Huber, who had some insight to it.

"I think it originally started with teams that had punters that were more of an athlete that could...give them a run option. You can roll out and (run) if it is open. I know when Coach Kelly's staff came in coach Elston, special teams coach, kind of explained to me that their punter was an athlete who was pretty fast, but it wasn't really formed like your typical punter, he wasn't great at that, but gave the option if it was open just to go.

"I am not a huge fan of it."

Did they ever ask him to do it?

"Yeah, we did one time. It got blocked. And I told them we weren't going to do it again."

--- Using this stuff from Huber reminds me, I haven't been able to post my interview with Armon Binns yet through all the N.C. State game rehash.

Binns, who signed to the Bengals practice squad last week, on a fun twist of fate actually ended up with jersey No. 85. He was one of about six receivers the Bengals brought in after WR Jordan Shipley went down with an ACL injury. Marvin Lewis said they expressed interest in bringing both Binns and Vidal Hazelton in when the lockout broke, but both thought they had better opportunities elsewhere.

Here are a few nuggets from Armon.

On his experience being cut by Jacksonville:

"I learned a whole lot I didn't know coming out of college. You are fresh, you are wet behind the ears, you learn a lot about the game and what is expected of you at this level."

Being back in Cincinnati:

"It is incredible. It is so good to be back here in a familiar environment around people I know, be around fans and people who know me and embrace me, it's just good to have a new opportunity to attack, to get better every day and do my best to try to be a contributor on this team. They were one of the teams that contacted me during the free agent period. For whatever reason I didn't decide to come here.

I was talking to my mom a few days ago, not knowing how crazy it would be to be back here. To see the UC games, be in a familiar environment, to have it happen is a great experience."


--- Isaiah Pead yards per carry
watch: He is averaging 7.85 yards on his 54 carries. That number is good for 5th in the country (minimum 40 carries).

Here's the list:

Henry Josey, Mizzou        43-12.40
LaMichael James, Oregon 65-9.43
Eddie Lacy, Alabama        41-8.90
Waymon James, TCU       40-8.60
Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati     54-7.85

The next closest in the Big East is Darrell Scott of USF with 53-6.57.

For those of you asking about his NFL Draft prospects, that situation is always fluid, but most projections I have seen list him somewhere in the middle rounds. NFLDraftScout has him as the No. 2 overall RB prospect (only includes seniors) and a third-round selection.

He certainly didn't do anything to hurt himself in front of eight NFL scouts and a national TV audience Thursday.

Here is a cutup of every Pead touch from Thursday night. This illustrates what a great job the coaching staff did sticking with the running game and allowing Pead to break out. (H/t Down the Drive)

--- Great deal on Groupon
for UC tickets through Tuesday. Check the details here, but $25 you get one ticket to either UC v Louisville or WVU at Paul Brown, two tickets to any UC non-con home game and four tickets to any women's hoops game.

--- Butch Jones followed up
with Bill Koch this weekend and admitted UC needed that game on Thursday. Not news to any fan, but is news that Jones said so. We'll see how much momentum this win creates, but it sure made a difference for NC State who used it to launch them to 9-4 last year.

--- Saw this on a couple of message boards, so figure I would briefly address it -- though I think this is a little early to be broaching the topic.

When would UC potentially be ranked in the Top 25?

If the Bearcats were to beat Miami and Louisville they might start receiving a few votes at 5-1, if they were then to go to Florida and beat an undefeated USF team, that would likely put them on the brink of breaking through.

Depending on how convincingly UC were to -- in theory -- beat Miami and Louisville, would likely determine if they were ranked prior to Pittsburgh or after a potential win against the Panthers.

To reiterate, I am in no way saying any of this will happen, but only speaking to the question raised of how many consecutive wins it would take to break into the Top 25. There you go. I'd prefer not visit this again until it actually happens.

--- Randomness...

--- Tell me Jeff Demps
doesn't look just like Forrest Gump on this run.

--- Alabama hosting LSU
on Nov. 5 will be the game of the season. Wow, are those two impressive. In my mind, that game determines the national champion.

---  This is really the only way to look at childhood these days. Great photo from College Gameday set.

--- If police are chasing you, apparently you can call the police and request they stop. How very polite.

--- Since it is Miami week, here are highlights of the last time the Cats visited Oxford, it comes complete with bell-ringing sound effects, Dan Hoard and a Pearl Jam soundtrack. Seriously, what more could you want?



The Aftermath: Basking Edition

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Thursday night, I was doing a little extra work on some N.C. State stuff (more on that later), so I missed Butch Jones' postgame presser, but as I came up to catch the tail end of it, I was locked outside.

Fortunately, the five players requested to speak to the media were hanging out waiting to go in as well. So I started talking with Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros, who were still wired from the 44-14 win. We were joking a little bit about the running ability of ZC -- which was illustrated last night as he ran nine times for 52 yards and two touchdowns.

PeadVsNCState.jpg"Zach's got the wheels," Pead said. "That's the general. He will do it all."

The conversation shifted a bit to the dynamics of the zone-read running game utilized between the two of them.

Collaros was talking about what he looks for and why the two of them have so much success with it.

"It's all how they are playing their defense," Collaros said. "NC State did a lot of moving, slanting the D-line. So my read became the end of the line of scrimmage guy which would be a Will linebacker or Mike. Our offense did a good job of knowing our zone blitzes and stuff. All you got to do is give him a crease and a cutback lane."

Collaros, while not a burner like Pead (who is?), is extremely effective as a ball-carrier. His vision and shiftiness are apparent. And have been apparent since the first play of the emergence of his career at USF. 


Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian showed more dedication in utilizing Pead/Collaros as a 1-2 punch than we've seen. There's no denying the effectiveness.

Take this into consideration. UC rushed for 240 yards on Thursday.

It has rushed for 175 yards or more only six times since Jones' arrival. Want to know the common theme between all six of those?

Those represent six of Jones' seven wins.

You could rationalize that because a team will tend the run the ball more when leading, that's where the connection lies. Sure, you would be right. But try this next stat on for size when judging the significance of the running game.

Last year, UC averaged better than five yards per rush on four different occasions. Those would be four victories against Indiana St., Miami, Louisville and Rutgers. When they failed to rush for more than five a lug they were 0-8.

The theory took a small hit when the Cats lost to Tennessee despite averaging 6.8 yards a rush (only 26 carries). They also beat Akron with only 3.64 yards per carry (Much of that diminished with numerous second-half runs with second team stuffed as the clock ran out).

Stilll, without doubt, UC's  best performances and nearly all of their wins came when the running game was effective. It's the clear common thread.

Thus, where the chemistry between ZC and Pead comes into play. Particularly Thursday night you saw it in the progress made in much-maligned short-yardage situations that doomed the Cats in Knoxville.

As part of the short-yardage package adjustments UC sent three players in motion and let Zach and Isaiah pick which way the ball would go.

It worked well, not only during short-yardage but during the course of the game. Pead's 27 carries for 167 yards help validate that.

UC was three for three on third-and-short situations (one other opportunity never occurred due to a false start on Andre Cureton).

Third-and-1: ZC rush, 3 yards, TD drive
Third-and-1: ZC roll out, complete pass Travis Kelce, 6 yards, TD drive
Third-and-2: Converted, but personal foul Randy Martinez

Both played off the defense reacting to the prowess and respect for Pead as a ball-carrier.

Of course, Pead claims he can be much more than that.

"I got the arm, too," Pead joked, looking over at his quarterback, "but I let him do that."



--- Two other elements of the running game stuck out in retrospect. The offensive line had yet another fantastic day. Sure, NC State was decimated on the defensive line. They already were without two starters when another, star DT Brian Slay, injured his foot. Tom O'Brien said they were playing a walk-on and freshman on the line.

All that said, the Cats allowed only one sack despite 34 passes and 21 blitzes called by the Wolfpack. Oh yeah, and 240 yards gained on the ground. By the tail end of the second half it was apparent UC was physically dominating on most every snap up front.

The UC lineman saw it, too. 

"The line they did their thing today," Pead said. "They outphysicaled them. They performed and they were calling them out. They said keep running the ball, keep running the ball, coach. We may have a pass play drawn up and then we'd say, 'No, we want to keep running.' We want to take their will away. I feel that is what they did. They let me do the things I was able to do."

Can't say enough how much I love the concept of the line looking at a pass play and calling out for another run. It says something about the confidence this collection of guys have in each other. I wrote about it last week, but its more apparent now than ever, they have transformed from perceived weakness to strength of this team.

The other aspect of the running game is the ability to now salt games away pounding the rock. In the Brian Kelly era, UC would put teams away with its quick-strike offense, but continually allow the other team's offense on the field. That's not the case now.

By the time the Bearcats took a 34-14 lead with 2:57 left in the third quarter, UC ran 24 offensive plays. Fourteen of those were runs and that includes three pass attempts from inside the 5-yard line where the Cats were set on attempting to throw a TD from a goal-to-go situation. Take those out and you have 66 percent of the plays on the ground.

More importantly, they soaked up 11:30 of the final 16:13 with the ball in their hands and Wolfpack offense on the sideline.

"It's definitely a different philosophy," Collaros said. "Coach Jones said all the time we want to be a physical team first, offensively, defensively and special teams and we want to be able to run the ball. We won a lot of games in the past, but to win consistently you have to have a running game. We are fortunate enough to have a back like Isaiah and back coming off the bench like George (Winn), whose doing well."

Here's some more from Isaiah last night.

 


--- Pat O'Donnell booted the second-longest punt in UC history last night. His 76-yard bomb was no product of favorable bounces. This rocket flew a good 60 or so in the air. Not only was it 76 yards, but buried N.C. State at its own 3-yard line.

Who was one of the first people to greet him when coming off the field? Former Bearcats punting star and current Bengal Kevin Huber.

"I probably shouldn't have," said Huber, who jokingly took credit for teaching O'Donnell how to do it. Huber said he worked O'Donnell during the summer when he was down there.

The craziest stat is that O'Donnell's kick was the second-longest in school history, but Huber doesn't own the record. That belongs to Mike Connell, who hit a 78-yarder in 1976.

Regardless, O'Donnell's punt was a game-changer.

"That was a big play," Jones said. "Even though we gave up the PI to give them the first down, still the field position was critical. I thought that was a big part of the game with Pat's (O'Donnell) punt."

--- Tony Miliano had been struggling, particularly with long field goals. He already had two blocked this year. Instead, he hit a career-long 48-yarder with room to spare. It was just that kind of night.

--- On Twitter I jokingly kept calling the Bearcats the Turnover Margin Express. The turnaround this team has made from one year to the next in the category is amazing.

Last year, they finished at minus-15, 119th in the country.

They gained a total of 14 takeaways in 12 games last season. They now have 16 through the first four. Their turnover margin of 3.5 per game is second nationally to Rutgers (4.0).

Last month, I wrote about the greatest turnover margin turnarounds in recent BCS football. The only program that compares to what UC had done was Baylor who flipped from 119th to 4th in the country.

It seemed every bounce went against the Bearcats last year, but this season its been the opposite.

Here's Drew Frey, who had the first interception of the night, summing up the game.

Only one win? Yes and no

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Thursday night's victory was resounding and impressive. It was only worth one win. But it sure felt like more than that.


CINCINNATI -- At the end of the season, Thursday night's 44-14 drubbing will count for little more than one victory. It won't deliver any of the Bearcats' goals. It won't bring them any closer to a Big East championship. It won't place them into a high-profile bowl game. In fact, as far as games providing a tangible impact on the success of the season, it probably won't rank in the top three.

It was only one win.

But it sure did feel like more, didn't it?

For a program which spent too much time over the last 13 months being kicked around and enduring teachable moments on very public stages, Thursday offered a reprieve. It offered a physical reality of all the words and rhetoric about progress and building a culture. And it did so emphatically.

The words of Butch Jones came to life. His signature swooped through every run, pass and kick. The Bearcats played with passion, physicality and pride. The blueprint was laid for the type of football Jones preached about since arriving Day One. 

Thursday was a night Jones can point to and proclaim: This is Cincinnati football. This is my philosophy. And it works. Even in 3D.

"I think it was just great for the program," Zach Collaros said. "I think it's great for the city. And have people come out and notice us that we are winning games and that we are going to continue to win games."

Collaros stopped shy of calling it a turning point victory. As the season unfolds and UC football becomes a topic around Christmas parties, perhaps people will point to this Thursday and say it turned the tide. Perhaps they'll claim it was the moment they knew Cincinnati would be just fine.

At least temporarily, it certainly changes the conversation.

"I think that this was definitely a statement game that we are the real thing," DL Derek Wolfe said. "That we are not going to go to sleep on anybody. Just because we lost to Tennessee, doesn't mean anything. OK, we beat Akron, people want to say, well, (the Zips) are not that good. I am sure people will say the same thing about NC State. They are not that good. You can just keep saying that. At the end of the season when we are..."

Unlike all evening during a game the Bearcats registered six sacks, Wolfe stopped his momentum before reaching the point of impact.

"...Well, we are going to be just fine - we'll be just fine," Wolfe said. "I am not going to go out and say anything crazy, but we will be just fine."

In one of the offseason promos, an exclusive video of Butch Jones before a game catches him motivating his team with this phrase: "They are going to feel our program, tonight!"

All of America did.

They felt a team run the ball as well, if not better than it passed it out of the spread. They felt a team wear down an opponent tired of chasing the back of No. 23 all night.

"We wanted to take their will away," Isaiah Pead said. "I think we did that."


They left an N.C. State team questioning itself while standing in the shadows of a scoreboard beaming 44-14.

"It is an embarrassing loss," N.C. State senior LB Audi Cole said. "It is not what we are out here for. Good game for them, but we didn't perform. And we haven't performed yet if you ask me. We better figure something out."

Cole admitted to viewing this one as a win prior to the season. He looked shell-shocked after the game. He sounded disbelieving. Overall, he was...He was...Can somebody help with the perfect word here?

"After last year," Wolfe said, "we want to demoralize our opponents."

Yep, demoralized. That's the one. A term reminiscent of what could be called
the recent yesteryear of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

"We showed Flashes of (2009)," Pead said. "But it's 2011. We are on to bigger and better things now."

Before Thursday night, few would have believed that last sentence. Much like many words spoken by UC players and coaches, they own credibility now. All because of one win. But it sure does feel like more than that.

Pead And Bearcats Make Their Case

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Hey NC State:  See what you missed?

 

Pead NC State.jpg 

(Photo courtesy of Associated Press)

 

Last year when the Wolfpack beat Cincinnati 30-19, NC State did not have to deal with Bearcat running back Isaiah Pead who sat out with a knee injury.

 

"I had to sit on the sideline and it was tough for me," said Pead.  "Going into this one, my teammates kept reminding me, 'This is your game.  We're going to live off you.'  I took that and tried to put the team on my back.  When the game was just about to start, Coach Coombs came up to me and said, 'They haven't even seen you yet.'  I was like, 'You know what?  They haven't.'  I was ready to play.

 

It showed.

 

The senior from Columbus carried 27 times for 167 yards and a touchdown, and also caught a 25-year TD pass in the Bearcats 44-14 win.  For the season, Isaiah is averaging 106 yards per game, and 7.9 yard per carry.

 

"I could have carried 47, 57, 67 times," Pead said with a laugh.  "In a game, I don't even realize how many carries or catches that I have.  I just love having fun with my teammates and getting the crowd into it."

 

"Our players love blocking for him," said head coach Butch Jones.  "Our team really believes in him and respects him because of all the work that he's put into it."

 

The Bearcats dominated the game up front on both sides of the ball, rushing 46 times for 240 yards on offense, while sacking NC State quarterbacks six times.

 

"Coach Jones kept pushing that we had to come out and be physical," said Pead.  "Last year, they brought it to us and it was an ugly score.  That sat in the back of his mind and he said that out of all of our games, he was looking forward to this one."

 

"This was a game that we've been preparing for for a full year," Coach Jones said.  "I thought it was a great team win."

 

It was the Bearcats most impressive victory under Butch Jones, and one that provided a much-needed boost for the Big East Conference. 

 

"It was a statement that we can play football in the Big East and in Cincinnati," Pead told me.  "We don't always get the respect that we deserve and sometimes we don't prove ourselves the way that we should.  But tonight on national TV, the world got to see what we can do.  And it's only going to get better from here."

 

"I believe there are only 24 programs in America that have the opportunity to play on Thursday night in prime time we were one of them," said Jones.  "So it was a 4-hour commercial for our great city, university, and football program."

 

It was billed as a blackout...and turned out to be a blowout.

 

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

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

 

And I'm on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

 

 

 

 

Some N.C. State background

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I had an email correspondence with Mike Potter, who covers the Wolfpack for CBSsports.com. You can read all his outlook from the NC State perspective here. You can follow the NC State RapidReports Twitter feed here.

He already posted these five keys to tonight's game for NC State and here are some of his comments about what the Wolfpack bring to the table.

On the quarterback:

The lead story since the beginning of practice, of course, has been the departure of Russell Wilson to Wisconsin and his replacement, Mike Glennon. Glennon was a highly-touted high school recruit whose brother was QB at Virginia Tech. Glennon and Wilson have vastly different styles. Wilson is the run-and-throw guy, while Glennon is a 6-6 drop-back passer with an extremely strong arm. He has done pretty well and been able to complete a few bombs, and has steadily improved as the season has progressed.

On the defense:

The defense was supposed to be the strength of the team, but has been a weak spot at least partially due to injuries to better players in the front seven. DE Jeff Rieskamp (shoulder) who is from Cincinnati, has missed the last two games and may have a 30 percent chance to be ready. DT J.R. Sweezy, the defensive co-captain, is still out for at least this game (broken left foot), and OLB Terrell Manning who was a vocal guy is out three weeks after Monday knee surgery. The secondary is solid, but can State create a pass rush?

On the offense:

Wilson wasn't the only loss on offense, as State had to replace a lot of guys at skilled positions. The down-line guys are steady, and the proven returnees are TE George Bryan - who is the team's best player but has gotten extreme attention from pass defenses - and FB Taylor Gentry who blocks and catches passes but has NEVER had a carry from scrimmage. O'Brien has promised him one this year, but we all know it will be at home.

On injury situations:

Top RB Mustafa Greene was injured in the spring (foot surgery) and won't likely be back until the next game at earliest. Curtis Underwood, who was going to transfer to North Alabama before Greene was hurt and O'Brien talked him into coming back after Greene's injury, and James Washington split time at halfback. They'll also catch plenty of passes.

On the wideouts:

State lost its top two WRs from last season (graduation). Six guys rotate through the positions. T.J. Graham is the return wizard whose catching ability was suspect in the past, but he has gotten better at that with a couple of big receiving TDs and is extremely dangerous on returns. Junior transfer athlete Tobais Palmer is the other big-play speedster and even makes tackles on the kick teams.

On the special teams:

One other note is that State is the only FBS team in the country using true freshmen at placekicker (Niklas Sade), punter (Wil Baumann) and long snapper (Scott Thompson). They would have gotten about a B-minus for the opening game against Liberty, but have been aces all around since.

Collaros waiting to launch

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The video-game numbers associated with Zach Collaros' career haven't surfaced yet in 2011, but that's not a concern for the Bearcats.

CINCINNATI -- Maybe Zach Collaros is a victim of his own success. Maybe he's a victim of limited playing time. Maybe he's a victim of one of the most explosive running backs in college football.

Just don't paint him concerned with his lack of eye-opening numbers in the passing game.

Collaros will likely surpass 5,000 career passing yards tonight. Accomplishing the feat in approximately 19 starts sets a high bar of expectations. Yet, in three games the senior quarterback only threw for 521 yards with six touchdowns.

In fact, of UC's 21 touchdowns this season he's only accounted for seven (33 percent). Last season, UC scored 41 touchdowns in games Collaros played. He accounted for 30 (71 percent).

The Zach Collaros Show hasn't quite premiered yet.

Is UC waiting for the breakout game from its star quarterback?

"Somebody else was just askied me that question and the only answer I could tell them was, 'Yes?'" OL Alex Hoffman said.

Hoffman phrased his answer as a question only because, yes, the gaudy numbers of Collaros' career haven't shown up yet, but he doesn't view the decrease as an issue. The starters only played the first halves of two games then one contest in the heart of SEC country.

Plus, when Isaiah Pead is averaging 9.5 yards per rush, it's been difficult to justify any other option.

How good can this offense be? Well, nobody entirely knows yet. They only know if there's one player they're concerned about, it sure as heck isn't Collaros.

"Zach is just being Zach," WR DJ Woods said. "When he scrambles he scrambles, but he is still looking downfield for an open receiver. He is trying to fit the ball in wherever he can. I see Zach as doing Zach, the same guy I have seen since freshman year."

By the admission of both Collaros and his head coach, Collaros hasn't been exactly the same as his freshman year.

Collaros' offseason initiative was to figure out ways to cut down on the 14 interceptions he threw in 2010. Making smarter decisions, not forcing passes and understanding when to throw the ball away held his focus.

The concern lies in wondering if a more calculated approach filled with checkdowns and safer reads would suppress the explosive nature always associated with the Bearcats offense.

UC compiled but four passes of more than 25 yards through the first three weeks. And that includes two blowouts against overmatched teams. Collaros completed 20 passes of 25-plus yards last season in his 11 games.

For Jones, one number trumps all of those: Zero interceptions.

"I don't want interceptions," said Jones, whose team incredibly moved from 119th in the country in turnover margin last season to tied for first this year. "I want him to make the right choices. Our game is based off a vertical throw game and he's made all the right decisions, that's part of the maturation process. They're double covered? Get the ball in the check down and let's get eight or nine yards. Let's not force things, let things come to us. So far, this year he's done a great job of taking what the defense gives you."

Sure, the overall numbers would insist Collaros hasn't been as aggressive in the passing game, however, his 7.6 yards per attempt sits at the exact same number as last season when he led the Big East in passing.

"Tennessee was really our only game where we had to throw the ball a lot and we really didn't throw the ball that much in that game," said Collaros, who was 21 of 34 for 230 yards against the Vols. "We still have it. It is something we can do, but if we can run the ball it's Football 101; we want to be able to run the football. If we can do that with whoever is back there we are going to do that and let that set up the pass for us."

Collaros believes the numbers will come and this offense can be better than last year's. With the rapid development of the offensive line to this point and explosive running of Pead, his argument would be hard to dispute.

Posting passing numbers will only be a matter of opportunity. A significant one presents itself tonight. N.C. State utilizes an aggressive, blitzing package on defense. It leads the ACC in sacks with 11.

"They are really going to get after it," Collaros said. "That also leaves big holes in the secondary so hopefully we can expose those."

Bearcats Breakfast 9.21.11

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Big East officials met last night and appear to be keeping the band together. The Pac-12 said it will halt expansion and stay at 12.

Peace and sanity, temporarily, returns to the college athletics landscape. We will see for how long, though. Apparently, according this ultimate insider update of the situation from Pete Thamel at the New York Times, the BE is looking for established major programs to fill the void left by Syracuse and Pitt.

Here was my post from yesterday afternoon with comments from Bob Arkeilpane and Butch Jones on the situation.

With the Big 12 negotiating a way to keep their conference together in its current form, that could mean selecting from any of the independent schools (Navy and Air Force were brought up as previous targets prior to the Pitt/Syr move) or a number of smaller institutions. UCF and East Carolina (who submitted an application) are among those.

That is the situation for now. Here's Dr. Saturday attempting to explain. The way developments have unfolded, I expect it all to be different by tomorrow.

Let's eat...

--- Armon Binns returns!
Congrats to Armon, who was added to the Bengals practice squad Tuesday. Binns was cut by Jacksonville in the preseason. The injury to Jordan Shipley forced Marvin Lewis to bring Andrew Hawkins (yes, younger brother of Artrell) on to the 53-man roster. Binns takes his spot on the PS.

I'll catch up with Armon today and hopefully have some quotes for you from him tomorrow or on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) this afternoon.

--- Mick Cronin spoke about the chaos for the first time to Bill Koch and shed confident light on the subject. He doesn't sound concerned in the least.

--- Big week for the Big East. The non-conference season hasn't been as disastrous as last year's to this point, but not a major rebound either. The conference is 4-6 against other AQs with South Florida's win over Notre Dame the highlight.

It can be viewed as a strong non-con, however, if the Big East can capitalize on home-field advantage this week. UC hosts N.C. State, Pitt hosts Notre Dame and West Virginia hosts LSU.

If the BE can win two of the three, certainly the image of the league would receive a boost as it starts to enter conference play. (For whatever that's even worth anymore)

Andrea Adelson at ESPN posted a video blog on the topic.

College Gameday will be in Morgantown. I am guessing they won't be taking the extra set with the casual couch setup for fear of burning.

--- Thursday will be the return to Cincinnati for Tom O'Brien. The St. X grad always recruited Cincinnati heavily -- at BC and now NC State. He has three players from the area on the current team.

The News-Observer talks about it in the second note.

--- Thursday will be the rare UC home game against a non-con AQ opponent. It's only the third time it has happened since joining the Big East. In 2007, UC hosted Oregon State and won 34-3. Last year, they hosted Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium and lost 31-29.

--- This game will also be a showcase for one of the great venues in college football. It may not be JerryWorld in Dallas or the NFL facility of Paul Brown Stadium, but few places exist in college football with the history, allure and aesthetics of a premier night game at The Nipp.

I asked DJ Woods and Alex Hoffman what their favorite Nippert moments were yesterday.

Here was Hoffman with an excerpt many UC fans have similar memories of:

"My favorite one I can remember in general was when we won the Orange Bowl game. I was looking around, like Holy Moly, this is chaotic, this is awesome. When the student section rushed the stadium, I am just standing in the stadium looking around like, 'Wow.'"

Woods with a great visual of what it is like to be a freshman playing college football: 

"Probably my first game. Just because I came from high school, first college game, just to be out there on the field -- that's probably my favorite moment. I have no clue (who we played). But it was the scariest moment of my life. I am out there at punt return trying to catch a ball and remember my contacts fogged up and my mouth got dry and I am shaking on the field, but as soon as I caught the ball I ran as fast as I can."

Hoff went on to talk more about what makes Nippert special. Everyone has their reasons, but if you haven't played for the team it's hard to imagine how strong the connection must be to the place.

"The atmosphere, I love it," he said. "It is on campus, the students, it's just awesome. I have played here for five years now. Just the feel of it is like home. It doesn't matter if it sells out, I just love playing there."


--- Some randomness...

--- Attention tech nerds! iPhone 5 media event is set for Oct. 4. Everyone huddle around the iPads.

--- Shadiness on an online poker site? Say it ain't so. Next thing you know you'll be telling me these Giants players weren't really injured.

--- Bridesmaids comes out on DVD today. Didn't see it yet, but heard it was funny. Any of you go to see the Pearl Jam doc last night? Word is it will be out on DVD in October.

--- Soccer ball unexpectedly
hits kid in the head. Someone alert Dave Coulier.

--- Still cracking up over the Giants player spiking the ball off the intern's face. His complete lack of concern really ties the joke together.

--- One more day. Will you be there?




Conference CA$H

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I was prepared to let this conference prostitution ring run its course without commenting until I heard Syracuse, a charter member of the Big East, was jumping ship to the ACC. In the words of that great scholar Popeye (okay he was a cartoon character but so are some of the conference leaders) "That's all I can stands cause I can't stands no more!"

What's wrong with a conference that has the best basketball in the country, typically netting 8 or more teams in the NCAA March Madness party? A conference that has an automatic BCS bid for the winner in football, which means you could end up playing for a national championship? And a conference with plenty of media exposure which translates into healthy TV revenue deals? I must be missing something because the ACC is not head and shoulders above the Big East even with Duke and North Carolina basketball.

This conference merging, jumping and Baltimore Colt in the night defecting has got to stop! So here is my suggestion: let's have one big conference and call it what it is, the CA$H Conference because that's all that matters. To all of you I've debated with over the years about the athletes right to leave early and go pro do you now see why I side with the players? Where in all of this is the student athlete gaining a higher education or better support? Nowhere; but the presidents and conference talking heads are sure having one heck of a time. When isn't the Big 12 enough? The Big East not big or the Big Ten a nine? It's a joke to me to hear University presidents tout education for athletes and the need for them to stay in school when all the while the athletes are learning the most valuable lesson of all: money talks and the rest waits on the Mega Bus. What is evolving is a super power and everyone else good luck getting on TV.

So the next time a player leaves early I hope he references his university and says after watching the school reposition itself for more exposure and profit, I decided to follow suit and turn pro; I think it's in the best interest of everyone involved including my alma mater. 

One thing is clear a super conference is inevitable. The Big 12 thought they had one but they don't. The Big Ten, even adding Penn State, thought they had one but no way. The ACC and Pac 10 were satisfied with their piece of the pie but somewhere, someone decided big wasn't enough. As the new TV commercial touts in presenting their Bigger than most big screens TV, it's Magnormous! and that's what everyone is after. What they're not after is making sure kids graduate, get quality support after they play and rest on those laurels; because it's hard to negotiate TV deals with those poker chips.

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

Tuesday Lunch: Anarchy Edition

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Welcome to this week in college football:



As much as we wish the topic on Tuesday would be the upcoming national TV matchup with NC State, the ugly, greed-filled cloud of conference realignment dominated the discussion at the media luncheon.

Everyone spent the day speculating, but as interim AD Bob Arkeilpane so perfectly put it, the situation seems to be changing now by the minute instead of by the hour.

In fact, Arkeilpane has many great musings on the topic of realignment to offer. Here is a transcript of everything he said this afternoon. Of course, let's just hope by the time you read this a fresh news cycle of moves haven't made these comments obsolete.

Arkeilpane on the current state of UC amid the speculation:


"I obviously can't go into specifics, I can assure everybody the University of Cincinnati has been actively engaged in this process. While everything seems to be happening so quickly now there has been some signs this is on the horizon, so it is not catching people completely off guard."

On this being all about money:

"Unfortunately, it appears money is the primary driver. Its disappointing. As athletic administrators we often talk about student athlete welfare and what is best of the students, yet when we actually take action a lot of time it is predicated on dollars."

On the possibility of the 16-team superconferences coming to fruition:

"I think you are going to see a collection of bigger conferences. Where it came from there are going to be four 16-team conferences, I don't know. In some cases that doesn't make sense. We have people out there manufacturing stories and the public buys into it and it seems to take on a life of its own. If you are going to have a 16-team conference when you start looking at television contracts, getting 1/16th of the pie better be more than getting 1/14th of the pie otherwise it doesn't make sense to go to 16."

On where he sees UC in a few years:

"We think the Big East is the best collection of schools we can be with. I know our president has placed his allegiance to the Big East. We would like to remain with that grouping of schools if we possibly can but we're also ready to look at other options if we have to."

On if he's bothered about the Wall Street Journal piece placing UC among six schools at risk of being left out:

"It bothers me only from the perspective it gets people riled up and they start believing everything they read. I certainly believe, as the president believes, that in any realignment UC is going to be part of a major football college landscape. That is how we are carrying it right now."

--- Loved what Arkeilpane said about the hypocritical nature of the current situation. He's absolutely right. So often we here talk about the betterment of student-athletes are fed that on a regular basis. Yet, when the opportunity comes to act in the best interest of the student-athletes they are discarded in favor of a money grab.

That's fine, but don't sell me the student-athlete garbage again.

--- Butch Jones talked about the realignment situation as well. After the game Saturday he mostly ran with the company line that he was focused on the Akron game and winning football games. He took a little more of an opinionated approach to the topic Tuesday. He went so far as to say he believes it won't affect recruiting and the Bearcats will come out better following this fiasco then they were coming in.

"I think there is a bright future ahead," Jones said. "I know there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes right now that I can't comment on, but I will just say this: I know we have an unbelievable product. You look at our academic reputations, look at the success, look at where we are located, look at our facilities. I know our administration has been very proactive in a good position, I think we'll see that. We are a very attractive place."

--- Beyond the wild, wild west of realignment, there was some discussion of a football game on Thursday. Jones spoke about the NC State special teams being a concern for this weekend. Returner TJ Graham already has two kickoff returns of more than 40 yards this season. With some of the problems the Cats have had on kickoff returns this year, it will be a major matchup to watch in the hidden yardage category.

--- Jones also compared Russell Wilson, who carved UC up to the tune of 333 yards and three touchdowns in the 30-19 defeat of the Cats last, and new QB Mike Glennon. They are much different styles. Glennon is more of a stationary pocket passer compared to the elusive Wilson.

"Glennon is a dropback passer and he is extremely smooth. He's athletic, he can scramble now and make plays, but you are looking at a 6-foot-6 kid who can see over the rush, very poised in the pocket and throws with great rhythm and he has a great sense of the rhythm and timing of their throw game."


NC State also struggled to run the ball this season. They are 86th in the country in rushing but struggled to protect the passer.

Hmmmm, sound familiar? This sounds just like the makeup of the Tennessee offense. Granted, the Wolfpack won't be waltzing Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter out there, but the makeup is very much the same.

Is that good or bad? Probably not great, but we'll see how much the defense learned from the mistakes made in Knoxville. Once again, pressuring the quarterback will be the undeniable key to a big non-conference win.

--- I am doing a story on Zach Collaros and his steady approach to the position this season. In the process, however, I was talking to his roommate Alex Hoffman who told me about ZC being one of the most competitive people he's ever come across.

"His new thing is on his phone, Words With Friends," Hoffman said. "I used to be (into it), but I don't play with him anymore. He's too competitive. I am not saying I'm not competitive, I'm just not very good with words. He'd talk a little bit of crap."

As for who he takes out his competitive wordplay with now, he says he and JK Schaffer have some serious battles. Who beats him, though?

"My grandmother in Boca Raton," Collaros said. "But she cheats."

Haha. It's really hard not to like the guy. More from him in traditional story form later this week. 

Bearcats Breakfast 9.20.11

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Welcome to Tuesday's brief Breakfast before heading off to the media luncheon. Remember, I will have a post this afternoon with quotes, reactions and observations from today's media session.

And, of course, in two days UC will be at home and the only football game on national television. So, there's that.

Let's eat...

--- The New York Times, who broke the Cuse/Pitt story in case anybody is claiming otherwise (looking at you WWL), pens this story about schools that could be left out in the cold with this realignment. It lists UC, USF, Louisville, Iowa State, Baylor and TCU as possible schools without power conference affiliation.

It included this quote from President Greg Williams:

"Optimistic the University of Cincinnati will not only remain relevant in the major college football landscape but will also be a strong and committed partner to whatever grouping of schools with which we align."

He went on to say UC is not "sitting on the sidelines."

Good news to hear, but with all the uncertainty out there right now, it's difficult to know how much any of those thoughts/philosophies will matter.

--- More talk about the Big East-Big 12 merger possibilities.

--- Oh yeah, Pitt and Syracuse, you want us to let you out of the deal early after you completely sabotaged the entire conference? I don't think so.

--- NC State is a little banged up on defense as they come to town. Their primary injury is to LB Terrell Manning who already registered five sacks and 14 tackles in three games.

--- The Bearcats talked about the NC State game being the first indication UC they could have serious work in front of them last year. Bill Koch with the story.

--- Jason Williams has 10 facts you didn't know about Zach Collaros. My favorite is that ZC is the only UC football player majoring in organizational leadership. The guy will be on Jones' staff within a year of him deciding not to play football anymore.

You see ZC on the headset during the second half Saturday? He looks more like a coach than the actual coaches. And that's not a rip on the coaches.

--- Off to chat with
coach Jones and some players. Remember to follow on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) and check back with the blog this afternoon.

Today the Pearl Jam 20 documentary is playing across the country on night only. The closest theaters to here are in Columbus and Indy. Wish I could go.

I would be remiss if I didn't link to the trailer. See you in a bit.
 

Bearcats Breakfast 9.19.11

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Some days I stare at the blinking cursor on the blank Breakfast page and wonder what I'm going to say. Then there are days like today where I wonder where to start. There is a lot to go over from one of the more eventful weekends we've seen here in a while.

Let's eat...

--- UC 49, Akron 0. Halftime. That's all you really need to know about this one. UC showed no mercy in disposing of the Zips and capitalized on Akron's mistakes.

For the record, no Big East team has had three defensive scores in a game since Miami in 2000.

Also for the record, UC now leads the country in turnover margin at +12. Think about that. The team that finished last season 119th out of 120 and giving up more than a turnover per game is averaging +4 per contest. Remarkable turnaround.

Granted, we'll see how it holds up as the competition level increases, but the offseason of focusing on holding onto the ball appears to have paid off.

UC is one of nine teams nationally with only one turnover.

Protecting the football has been stressed by the coaching staff since their arrival, but nothing quite drills a point home like an offseason of realizing turnovers probably cost you 2-3 wins.

"It's a great sign," Butch Jones said. "It's been a point of emphasis -- even last year it was a point of emphasis. We are just doing a much better job."

--- Here are game highlights with behind-the-scenes footage from Coach Butch Jones site.

 

--- I wrote a story about the defense and how Saturday was about moving forward, forgetting Tennessee and changing the story a bit. Beating the Zippy out of Akron won't make people believe the 2011 Bearcats are the 85 Bears, but the opportunistic effort goes a long way to restoring some broken confidence.

Also, the return of postgame video. I hope to bring this to you from most every game I cover this year. I talked with Derek Wolfe (posted atop Saturday column) and had a few minutes with Cam Cheatham as well.

     

--- Thought Wolfe made a good point about one of the problems at Tennessee and what the team needed to correct going forward. 

"Tennessee, they came out with a completely different gameplan than we thought we were going to see. I don't think we did a very good job of handling that. That's something we worked on this week. You got to be able to handle it, if they are not running what you think they should be running, excuse my language but, tough (hooey)."

Wolfe went on to talk about learning from the Vols game in terms of his need to work on his defense of the play-action pass. It worked out with Wolfe's biggest plays coming against play action.

--- Quick turnaround this week. UC jumped straight into game prep on Sunday for the Thursday night game against NC State.

State beat up on South Alabama, who was 2-0 entering the contest, 35-13 on Saturday.

Mike Glennon continues to make Wolfpack fans forget about Russell Wilson as he went 17 of 20 and threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. 

On the season, Glennon has eight TDs to one interception and 745 yards in three games. 

You could just see the excitement in the players I talked to after the game Saturday, this will be a fun experience. Jones put it best on getting up for Thursday:

"If you can't (get up for it), you better check your pulse," he said. "Thursday night, ESPN, primetime, Nippert Stadium. It doesn't get any better than that."

Nope, if you are a UC fan, it really doesn't.

I always love the Thursday night game because you own the stage. Nobody else is playing, nothing else is going on. You are the sole focus. Thursday will be a great public relations evening for UC and the city.

--- More gold nuggets from Wolfe, this time on his excitement about playing NC State:

"It's been in the back of my head since the game ended last year. They talked a lot of trash and said a lot of things. We are just going to come out here and get the job done."

--- Scott Springer calls the NC State game the most pivotal in the Butch Jones era. Discuss. 

--- It's a Blackout. So wear black. And be one of the first 10k fans at The Nipp and receive this bad ass poster

--- Since nobody wants to talk about the Akron game or even Thursday's ESPN3D game against NC State, let's jump headfirst into the big news of the weekend.

Anybody who reads this blog regularly knows I have been talking about this for months. Though, I can't say I specifically saw Pitt and Syracuse being the ones to deliver the death blow (When someone tries to blow you up, not because of who you are but because of different reasons altogether!).

Let's start with what happens next. All you need to know about West Virginia is their president Oliver Luck offered a 62-word response to the conference realignment rumors and didn't mention the Big East once. Not one time. They are gone.

SEC? Probably. But definitely gone. 

UConn wants to follow Pitt and Syracuse. 

Rutgers is flaunting itself to possible suitors.

We've officially reached every-man-for-himself mode. This is the point where the Titanic starts to flip vertically and the women and children first mantra slides away with the deck chairs. 

Anarchy.

The moves are rooted in greed and hypocrisy. How you ask? Read Dana O'Neil's latest genius, as she writes the definitive piece on the ugly destruction of the Big East.

--- Dennis Dodd at CBSsports.com had this great piece on the dirty backstabbing of college athletics right now.

--- Gene Wojciechowski calls this Darwinian times: Survival of the Fittest.

--- As for UC, President Greg Williams is pledging the Bearcats commitment to the Big East. Here are his comments to Bill Koch on Saturday.

--- The next big chip to fall will be the decision of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Once they make their move (moving to the Pac-[xx] appears likely) we will see pieces fall around them. Those moves are expected to be set in motion today and be finalized within the next two weeks. Here is the down-low on all you need to know there

--- The Bearcats are very closely tied in with Louisville. Very similar situations. Thought Rick Pitino's candid blog discussing the urgency of the moment was interesting.

--- Where does all this leave UC? That's a good question. Many schools are asking the same question about themselves. The bottom line is in the 16-team superconference model, few spots exist. And I'm still unconvinced the Big Ten ever buys into that model.

Speculation insists the leftovers of the Big 12 and Big East would form a fifth conference. At that point, they can only hope to stay a part of the national championship AQ football model. Though, nobody seems to be discussing how the postseason will be affected right now.

Yet, if there is one thing we should have learned it's you never know what to expect next and you aren't surprised by anything. Stay tuned. 

--- Some randomness....

--- Blog favs Modern Family, Friday Night Lights and The Daily Show all won Emmys last night. FNL should have had more, starting with Connie Britton for best supporting actress, but I am ridiculously biased. Here's the complete list.

--- I have a problem with Francisco Cordero jacking Mo Rivera's Enter Sandman. He probably should read this guide to closer's entrance music

--- Can we please stop talking about Floyd Mayweather. Everything the guys says or does means nothing until he stops ducking Manny Pacquiao

--- After the events of this weekend and recently around college sports, only one song seems fitting. Plus, I can mention that blog favorite Phish played a show a few weeks ago where each of the 26 songs started with the letter S. You know how deep your catalog has to go for that?

Anyway, one of them was a cover of the Beastie Boys' Sabotage. 



Dances with Wolves

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I feel confident in using "Dances with Wolves" as my title this week as I actually met Kevin Costner once.

I was covering an old-timer's game in St. Petersburg's Al Lang Stadium in the when Costner and Tom Selleck were both there.  Selleck had his "Mr. Baseball" movie out and Costner had just put out his latest western.
Dances-With-Wolves-On-Broadway-500x375.jpg
(Courtesy "Dances with Wolves"/ popcrunch.com)

Since my wife had just seen the movie, and I had just caught a foul ball, I decided to ask him to sign it.  I had just did a radio interview with Selleck, so I thought Costner was fair game.

Initially, he hesitated.  However, I noticed a shapely female come up with the same request and Costner obliged.  He also noticed (me noticing him) and decided to make amends.

"Sir, I'll sign that for you now," he said.

Since I admittedly enjoy some of his movies and was looking for spousal approval, I flipped him the ball.

Now, I'm guessing you're not reading this for my various "brushes with greatness".  Some of you may think I'm just a veteran Bearcat who wanders the Lindner Center talking to himself.
But, I've always got a story and an opinion when it comes to UC, so here goes this week's attempt to stir the Bearcat pot a bit.

This could be the most pivotal game of the Butch Jones era!


A year ago, with a team many thought would be better, the Bearcats lost another prime TV opportunity against North Carolina State 30-19.  If you recall, this wasn't long after the opening disappointment at Oregon State (also on TV).

Last year's game wasn't as close as the score. It was 20-7 at halftime and UC scored late to make it look better in the morning paper (or hand-held device).

The good thing is, Russell Wilson is gone. The NC State quarterback has taken advantage of that odd rule that allows him to move on without a year of sitting out since he's got his degree.

The man that tormented Bearcats through the air and on the ground last year, is Wisconsin's starter this season. (Wish those things would work out UC's way for once.)

That said, the Wolfpack can score. They've put 43, 27 and 35 points on the board in three games.  Their one loss was to Wake Forest.

UC should win this and needs to win this for a lot of reasons:

  •  The routs against Austin Peay and Akron were expected. This is not exactly a "gimme".
  •  Fans need assurance that mistakes made in the soft-coverage defense against Tennessee have been corrected.
  •  Again, it's a national TV shot.  You don't want to soil the nest too many times when opportunity knocks.
  •  Tom O'Brien, the NC State coach, is from Cincinnati. At Boston College, and with the Wolfpack, he recruits this area.  NC State wins, and he has more "ammo" to use in the recruiting wars.
  • The students are trickling back into town with classes starting soon. They need a reason to come out and make a difference. As we've seen, when given the product, they do make a difference.

Personally, I look forward to seeing UC's starters play the bulk of the game and more of the playbook.  Give the offense credit, without revealing much, they pretty much took Austin Peay and Akron to the woodshed.

They also moved the ball well against Tennessee, until the Vols were able to shift momentum and change the strategy.

If UC wants to make a statement, locally and nationally, this is a game where the Bearcats need to send the Wolfpack home with their tails between their legs whimpering.

If the defense can affect the game the way they did against the Zips, this could be an exciting night. And, there 's always something a little special about a fine night performance in "The Nipp", isn't there?


Besides, with the Big East and ACC talk going on, don't you think those loyal to the Big East wouldn't like to see UC lay the smackdown on an ACC opponent?

I'm not sure UC can keep up their 60 point average this season at home, but half of that should equate to a Bearcat win.




Three Big Points on the Road!

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Hey Everyone!

 After a successful weekend in Charleston, SC last week, the Bearcats continued rolling with a big win yesterday in our Big East conference opener versus DePaul! We finished the Charleston Cup with a 4-0 win versus Coastal Carolina to win the tournament! It was a complete team effort on Sunday and all 20 players who traveled got to play in the game. We had 4 players (Emily Hebbeler, Mackenzie Grause, Jazmine Rhodes, and Kristina Utley) on the all-tournament team and left Charleston with 6 crucial points on the road.

 We trained hard this week and continued our success in our game first Big East game of the year versus DePaul. After a slow start and a lot of back and forth, we won 1-0 in double-overtime! We have now gone to overtime 4 times this season, winning twice and tying twice! Despite being outshot and not playing our best, we worked hard and never gave up. It was a GREAT result on the road and a great way to start off Big East play!

 Today we had a light practice and helped out at the Pink Ribbon Girls Wiffleball tournament. Pink Ribbon Girls is an organization that supports breast cancer and our team is more than willing to help in any way possible as breast cancer is something that has affected almost everyone on our team in one way or another. It was amazing to see how many people showed up for such a great cause! We sold raffle tickets and applied pink ribbon tattoos on all the little kids.

  Tomorrow we face another great test in Big East play as we play the defending national champions Notre Dame. The game is a double-header  "White Out" with the mens team and will start at 3:30! It is going to be a good game and we have already pre-sold 500 tickets! It's going to be a great atmosphere to play in so if your in town, come check out the Bearcats as we look to start conference play off 2-0!

Go Bearcats---RAWWWWWWR!

KP #14 

Redemption Song

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The Bearcats six takeaways and three defensive touchdowns was as much an effort to repair a fractured reputation as take down Akron.

CINCINNATI - The Bearcats defense spent the past seven days enduring insults and criticism. Writers, broadcasters, even its own fans didn't miss an opportunity to take shots.

Few minced words.

A quick Google search provides the basics: Porous. Frustrating. Horrible.

And that's without diving into the message board cesspool.

In case the defense didn't use the keywords "Bearcats+defense" this week, Butch Jones allowed the Cliff's Notes version.

"Coach Jones makes sure we know," Derek Wolfe said. "He makes sure we know right before practice. I don't know that anything that bad was said --- I knew there was going to be some things. But he made sure we knew."

A week of being battered publicly can build up frustration. Or at least that appeared the case inside Nippert Stadium as the defense spent Saturday taking it out on the Akron Zips, 59-14.

Make no mistake, this was as much a message to Akron as anyone who used a Thesaurus to find synonyms for disappointing.

"I knew it was a redemption game," CB Camerron Cheatham said. "It wasn't a secret what happened to our defense last week. We knew that we had to repair our reputation."

110903vFtbll_Akron011.jpg

The reputation might not be completely healed, but a tourniquet and band-aid were successfully applied.

UC not only earned its first defensive touchdown since December 2008, but went ahead and made up for lost time with three of them.

It was the first time a Big East team had three defensive touchdowns since Miami in 2000.

In all, the nation's second-best turnover margin entering the day increased by five.

The first Akron possession was a sight for sore Bearcats eyes as Wolfe applied a pass rush fans begged to see last week in Tennessee to force a fumble Maalik Bomar returned 54 yards for a touchdown.

So, the redemption from Knoxville began.

"That was nice," Wolfe said, with wide eyes and an exhale. "It was nice to get in there a couple times. I played limited snaps, but I have been itching to get back on the field after the Tennessee game."

Dominique Battle jumped a route for a pick-6 soon after. Cheatham decided not to wait another three years to repeat the feat and tiptoed the sidelines for a 53-yard interception return of his own as the score skyrocketed to an absurd 49-0 at the break.

Coaches and players credited a renewed emphasis on attacking the ball in the air and, of course, the motivation of changing the conversation.

"I am not going to say that stuff goes in one ear and out the other," Bomar said. "That stuff hurts when you hear it, I feel like that did motivate me to a certain extent. But I just went out there and played today."

The motivation and resolve told a important storyline for Jones.

"We don't play well as a football team it all affects all of us," he said. "This is our livelihood and our players are very prideful. To see them bounce back was great to see."

As far as what it means? Probably not much more than 2-1 for now.

The Zips won't be making any highlight shows anytime soon. In fact, Austin Peay has probably already contacted them about a Homecoming game in 2012.

Nobody will care about three defensive scores or seven points allowed if N.C. State rains yards and points Thursday night. Still, for a defense used as the punchline of every joke this side of the Ohio River this week, it was nice to enjoy a few laughs of their own.

"I thought we played smart, physical defensively," Wolfe said. 'It was good just to get our confidence back where it needs to be with a big game Thursday."

Due to the ease of the victory and this game being little more than a blip on the ticker nationally, the Bearcats theme for Akron week reads quite the same as N.C. State week.

"We know what N.C. State did last year and that's another redemption game," Cheatham said. "So we got to get back to work and in the film room."

Bearcats Breakfast 9.16.11

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I'm almost as excited about Saturday's game against Akron for the chance to see UC play in The Nipp against as I am for the weather expected for the game.

Temps are expected to be around 70 by kickoff and dip down to the 50s Saturday night. That, my friends, is the epitome of football weather. Pack a jacket, maybe even bring a blanket and settle in.

To be fair, I won't be doing any of those things -- instead taking elevator to the press box and ideal room temperature conditions -- but maybe for one night I'll be jealous of the folks in the stands.

Of course, that jealousy evaporates at the season finale in December when you can't feel your toes and are being bombarded by snowballs tossed by the Bearcat.

Let's eat...

--- The Bearcats are heavy favorites to win tomorrow. Considering Akron's recent track record, this will be a game where victory doesn't define the game being considered a success. Too many improvements need to be made before NC State comes to town Thursday.

So, here's my weekly list of four points, this time in the four statistical numbers UC needs to reach to consider this game a success.

1. Continue the turnover streak. Only UC, West Virginia, San Diego State, Wisconsin and Texas A&M haven't committed a turnover yet this year. And the Bearcats are currently second in the country in turnover margin. Considering they were 119th in the land last year, to call that anything less than an incredible 180 would be an understatement. UC doesn't necessarily need to continue this streak to prove they have a renewed sense of ball security, but the longer they go without turning it over the longer they avoid possibly allowing a flood of turnovers to start.

Plus, the streak it so darn impressive I just want to see it go on a few more weeks.

2. Sack. The. Quarterback.
UC didn't reach Tyler Bray in Tennessee and it doomed them. Three hits on 40 QB passes won't cut it with this group. If they don't find a way to consistently pressure the passer this is going to be a long season. Let's face it, Mike Mickens isn't walking through that door. Well, actually, he is, but not in shoulder pads.

Akron is 120 out of 120 FBS teams in sacks allowed with 12. And it's not close. The next closest allowed nine. UC needs the pass rush to get healthy and do it in a hurry. I would say four sacks would be a desired number for this one with anything less than two being a disappointment. I'll even toss in the need for more than half to come from defensive linemen. Those guys are supposed to be the strength of this defense and Saturday is the perfect time to establish that.

3. Win by 28.
If UC plans to be a team that contends for a Big East title, Akron is a team they should beat by four touchdowns. Considering how anxious the Cats should be to wash the nasty taste of Knoxville out of their mouths, jumping out to that lead in a hurry shouldn't be an issue. I'm not saying winning by any margin wouldn't be the desired goal, but if we are judging if UC played well or not, I'd say they are about four touchdowns better than Akron. Set that as the measuring stick.

4. Rack up 300 passing yards for Zach Collaros. ZC has played well to this point, but a breakout game for the passing offense feels like the one aspect of this offense we expected to see that we haven't yet. Sure, he's thrown six touchdowns without an interception, but this is a day to break out some gaudy numbers and spread the ball around to the young receivers.

Maybe 300 will be unnecessary -- especially if Isaiah Pead continues his 11.5 ypc clip -- but you sure would love to see ZC go off before the big game against NC State. Remember, NC State is 112th in the country in pass defense.

--- LB Greg Blair has been cleared to play. Blair was mentioned by JK Schaffer and LBs/co-DC Jon Jancek as one of the top candidates at the third LB spot in camp. Eligibility issues regarding his JuCo transcript arose, but those are all good now. He could play as early as the Miami game. Any assistance whether at the starting level or providing depth is a welcome sight for this defense right now.

--- Tim Adams writes about the strong start from D.J. Woods. He has really become the rock of this young group of wideouts. The workmanlike way he approached the game in Tennessee, calling out how overblown us media types were making it -- was a sign of a guy not overwhelmed by any situation. He's always ready to go play football and never let the game be too big for him. Love that.

--- Zach Collaros' first game experience at QB came in a tight victory at Akron four years ago. Here's the recollection from Bill Koch.

--- Andrea Adelson on UC's sense of urgency.

--- As a reminder, Saturday's game will be on ESPN3.com and 102.7 WEBN.

--- Here's more than four minutes of video in the studio with Jason Kelce. He continues to play well as the Eagles' starting center.

--- Some love for Sean Kilpatrick from the SI basketball writers.

--- Found this 2008 team
intro video and thought it would be a nice touch as I sign off for the final time before gameday at The Nipp.







Women's Soccer Young, Talented

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Welcome back to campus, everyone! Whether you're moving in this weekend in Clifton or an alum returning for Saturday's football game, we're glad to see you back. And with all the other things going on this weekend, including Oktoberfest downtown, I suggest you take a little time to stick around campus Sunday afternoon and watch a little soccer.

It's a big weekend for the women's soccer team, going on the road Friday for the first BIG EAST game of the season against DePaul, then coming home to play #8 ranked Notre Dame Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

And here's why this is special: Two of the team's players already have won BIG EAST weekly awards. First, freshman goalkeeper Kristina Utley was Goalkeeper of the Week late August, then another freshman, Mackenzie Grause, was just named Rookie of the Week. The team is just coming off a 2-0-0 College of Charleston Tournament.

Not bad for two Bearcats, and especially not bad for two freshmen. Yes, this team is young. Five freshmen routinely start. It's an exciting style of play. This team, early in the season, plays a fearless brand of soccer. It's a lot of fun to watch, and fans are coming, whether it's the record crowd to see UC and Xavier, or local youth teams watching the Wisconsin matchup.

So stick around after the football game and before you hit Oktoberfest and watch the UC-ND matchup Sunday afternoon. I think you'll enjoy the product Michelle Salmon has put together and I bet it won't be your last visit to Gettler Stadium this season.

Bearcats offensive line proving itself

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A unit thought to be a major question mark of this year's Bearcats, the offensive line has proven to be a strength through two games.

CINCINNATI - When analyzing the Bearcats offense this offseason, the star power was hard to ignore.

Isaiah Pead. Zach Collaros. DJ Woods.

With three of the premier senior playmakers in the Big East returning, UC's offense should have been the unanimous selection for the most prolific in the conference. It wasn't. Most conversations about UC's attack started with, "Yeah, but..."

What about the offensive line?

Peadlineman.jpg

UC gave up 33 sacks last year, a number that placed them 7th in the Big East and 96th in the country. 

Now, take away the current starting center of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jason Kelce, and remove two other starters as well. Leave behind three players with a combined three starts between them. Move another to a new position.

Would the offensive line allow the playmakers the opportunity to do what they do best? The question was legitimate.

Through two games this season, plenty of concerns arose on the Bearcats roster. Offensive line is not among them.

Have they been perfect? No. There are very few perfect plays in the world of leveraging 300 pounds of mass. But make no mistake, this new composition of offensive line has been quite good.

Pead leads the nation in yards per carry (11.5) and Collaros has only been sacked twice in two games. The two sacks tie West Virginia for best in the conference. Sure, the sample size is small, but don't forget, through four games last year UC had given up 18 sacks for minus-144 yards.

RT Alex Hoffman, RG Randy Martinez, C Evan Davis, RG Austen Bujnoch and RT Sean Hooey aren't the biggest offensive line. None of the three interior lineman tip the scales at more than 290. They aren't the fastest offensive line. None of them were four-star recruits or expect to hear their name called at the NFL Draft like Kelce.

Yet, together, they have handled a significant transition with relative ease.

"We just all have an understanding," said Pead, who admitted he sees himself as part of the line and holds a friendship with the group. "We all know we don't have the most talented group - I'm speaking lineman and running back - we are not the most talented in the nation, but we are going to make it work with what we got. That's just the mentality we have."

The mentality is rooted in accountability. The linemen consider themselves close friends. Tuesday trips to Quaker, Steak & Lube for all-you-can-eat buffet, Wednesday dinners at Bar Louie's dollar burger night and Thursday servings of all-you-can-eat wings at Hooters make for bonding only offensive linemen can truly appreciate or explain.

"We get fat together," Bujnoch said.

While joking about knowing every buffet in town, the results of their relationships produce a very real and tangible chemistry.

"We work well together," Davis said. "This starting five, we hang out a lot, we watch film a lot together. That helps out a lot. We know what each other is thinking."

Against Tennessee, they were doing plenty of it. The Vols threw myriad of looks at the Bearcats line, but the group held off the vaunted SEC speed and power as well as could be expected.

"We ran the ball effectively," Butch Jones said. "We pass protected extremely well. They didn't get very many hits on Zach."

As was the case in the offseason, Jones' comments came with a, "Yeah, but..."

Two missed fourth-and-short conversions at midfield left an ugly welt on an otherwise beautiful performance.

"They hurt bad because it was a small mistake, but it was at a big situation," Pead said. "That's how that game was, one small step this way or take two yards this way and it hit us big in the mouth."

The relentless search for perfection drives this group. Well, that and unlimited wings. But in the midst of the drive for perfection, they believe they can provide the long line of doubters who questioned them with definitive answers.

So far, so good. 

"I liked people doubting us because that gives you more motivation to keep going," Bujnoch said. "I definitely think that we are proving to people that we are good this year."

Of course, in the life of an offensive lineman, even the good isn't always great.

"That's a good feeling when you get off your block and you look up and you see the back of Pead's jersey going down the field," Davis said. "But then you got to run 80 yards, so..."

Zip it!

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I begin this piece a bit out of sorts and a bit jealous.

I'm supposed to play the journalist's angle, but as a UC fan and grad, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't disappointed with the effort in Tennessee in game No. 2.

If you read this last week (and God bless you) you know that I may have overextended myself saying UC should've gone into Knoxville and just had a business-like performance over Tennessee.

 In some ways, I was correct.

If you're a Tennessee fan and you weren't concerned when Isaiah Pead rambled 65 yards on the first play, you're lying.  Ditto for the second touchdown that came relatively easy.

However, I'm guessing the Vol fans were feeling better once they saw that UC's defensive backs were playing UT's receivers as far back as Sevierville.  In many ways, I thought I was seeing Peyton Manning at quarterback, or the next Carl Pickens at receiver.

I'm also jealous that the Tennessee fan base thinks so much of their football team, that they find my little ol' blogpost and blow it up.  In all of my writings here, I've never had as many comments about one article.

In one way, I was flattered, in another, I was tired of reading Volunteer fans ripping me all weekend. Had they read anything I wrote, they would've seen my closeness and appreciation of the Tennessee program.

Some people just read what they want to read and see what they want to see.

What I'd like to see is UC fans catch the same fervor the Volunteer fans have. Sure, it's easy to laugh at, but (statistically speaking) the two products haven't been all that dissimilar.

The difference is in the passion and I commend the Orange folks for what they have.  In Knoxville, the fans come in by the wagon load. Here, it depends on when the bandwagon starts.

I know that doesn't speak for all, but deep down, you know I'm right.  We're a bandwagon town.

Everyone wants to have an Opening Day party, but they don't want to follow the Reds in August if they're not in first. 

We throw Super Bowl parties when many can't name three players on either team.  Derby parties have a lot to drink, but little in terms of handicapping knowledge.

Each summer, we buy a new Hawaiian shirt for Buffett at Riverbend, but are lost beyond "Margaritaville" , "Fins" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise".  Oh well, it's a party.

At Nippert, the party was on when Brian Kelly lit the scoreboard up and UC racked up wins, but it's dissipated some since.

Sure, the Akron Zips don't give you chills like Michigan and Notre Dame, but Nippert Stadium gives you a nice Saturday respite and several opportunities for a cold beverage you couldn't get at "The Big House" or in South Bend.

What's the harm?

Will any of you ride an Akron web columnist like the Volunteers rode me last week?

Will you utilize UC's new tailgating options and throw some money in the local economy? Or, will you just look from afar in your lawn chair watching youth soccer, peeling orange slices and waiting to do that gosh awful "human bridge" thing for Biff and Muffy?

(OK, going a little "Matt Foley" on you--I'll slow down.)

Chris_Farley.jpg
(Courtesy SNL/mattfoley.com)

Here's the Cliff's (Scott's) notes for this week.

1) Isaiah Pead will get the first carry. Akron will know it and still won't be able to stop it.
2) Zach Collaros needs to run more.  I think they've put the brakes on.  Time to freelance No. 12.
3) Anthony McClung will catch a TD.  Because of D.J. Woods and Kenbrell Thompkins, McClung benefits. Kind of like a good college fantasy play.
4) Travis Kelce? Wildcat? Anyone?
5) Akron WILL throw the ball against UC. Why wouldn't you based on the tape?
6) Kickoffs must reach the endzone.  This is big boy football. If not, let Milligan kick because he'll make a play somehow.
7) UC's a huge favorite. Anything less than 50 points is mildly disappointing.
8) If UC goes for it at 4th and 1, everyone will hold their breath and hope they use the other 99 percent of the field.
9) Sadly, Kirk Herbstreit won't pick us on Gameday. This week, there won't be a mention.
10) Don't EVER "Fear the 'Roo"!

Now that I've got all that out of my system, enjoy these reflections of UC quarterback Zach Collaros on his first game against Akron and his next game with the Zips.


Bearcats Breakfast 9.14.11

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Preparation for the coming of Zippy continues today for the Bearcats football team. I will say, from what I saw yesterday out at the facility it was a pretty intense practice. There was a lot of emotion out there. Now, there usually is a lot of emotion at a Butch Jones practice, but this was absolutely more than I had seen in a while. Some angry, some frustrated, some pleading, some excited, but all amped up to extremes.

Not sure what any of that means for this week and whether or not that's a good thing for Akron week, but obviously the situation has had an effect on the players.

Let's eat...

--- People wanted to
talk about the defense? Shocking.

Bill Koch with this piece on if it can be saved.

Dan Hoard relaying words from JK Schaffer: Don't give up on us.

I posted a blog yesterday with Jones' perspective on the D.

Andrew Force revisiting the DB concerns ($$$).

The News-Record takes its shot at the defense.

One of the toughest elements of the defensive struggles against Tennessee was the fact no personnel changes are going to happen to bring in new blood to not make the mental mistakes coaches said littered the contest.

"We don't have the luxury where if he doesn't make the play, bring the next guy in," Jones said. "We don't have that luxury in our program right now. We have to do a better job of coaching the fundamentals."


The good news? There are plenty more opportunities to correct the mistakes made in Knoxville. That begins Saturday against Akron, who eases the team back into the schedule.The Zips are 118th in the country (out of 120) in total offense. They average 179.5 yards per game and 3.3 yards per play.

---  If you want to
watch Jones speak at Tuesday's luncheon, here is the full video.

--- The tough Week 2 for the Big East pushed it back to 7th in CBSsports.com's conference power rankings. The BE is one spot behind the Mountain West.

--- Things could be worse, UC fans. You could have just lost to Florida International. At home.

Charlie Strong doesn't know if his Louisville team can beat Kentucky right now. Well, neither do I. But it's one thing to believe it, it's another to say it.

--- Meanwhile, the skies have opened and its raining Wannstaches and puppies all over Pittsburgh as they try to figure out what the heck is going on with their team.

--- Here's the latest on conference expansion, which draws closer and closer to the extinction of the Big 12 and consequent free-for-all. When Texas to the ACC pops up as a legitimate news story, you know it's all about to hit the fan. Buckle up.

Florida State is trying to be proactive and has formed a realignment committee so they are ready to make the right move once the dominoes fall in their direction.

--- Some randomness...

--- In case you haven't seen Juan Francisco launch a ball onto Mehring Way, here you go.

--- #TatFail

--- Imposter Sports Fans are everywhere. Be aware of them.

--- For all of the car geeks out there: here is the greatest drag race ever with 11 of the world's most powerful street cars on one track.

--- With all the talk about UC returning to the practice field trying to right the wrongs of the Tennessee game, all I could think of was Men at Work. Plus, this video makes everything better.

Schaffer To Fans: "Don't Give Up On Us"

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At 7:52 on Saturday night, approximately one hour after the Bearcats disappointing performance at Tennessee, linebacker JK Schaffer sent out the following tweet to his 812 followers:

 

@Schaff37 JK Schaffer

Don't give up on us

 

On Tuesday, I asked the senior linebacker if he is concerned about people writing-off the Bearcats just two weeks into the season.

 

"Fans were pretty excited about that game, and some people might fall off a bit after seeing us lose to Tennessee," said Schaffer.  "But that was my point.  Don't give up on us because we're going to get things corrected and be a good football team."

 

Tennessee catch.jpg 

 

You're entitled to be skeptical after seeing Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray go 34-for-41 for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Bearcats.  Using the NFL formula, that's a quarterback rating of 140.3

 

But after watching Tom Brady pass for 511 yards against Miami on Monday Night Football, and reading that a record 14 NFL quarterbacks passed for more than 300 yards on opening weekend, it is obvious that defending the pass at all levels - high school, college, and pro - is becoming increasingly difficult.

 

"With the new spread, high-tempo offenses, it's harder than back when they were running 21 personnel (2 backs, 2 receivers, 1 tight end), I-formation all game," said safety Wesley Richardson.  "There are a lot of things that go into it, between pass rush, linebackers in coverage, and obviously the defensive backs.  But when we give up 400-plus yards passing, we take that on our shoulders, so it was definitely a wake-up call.  We need to get in gear and get this corrected right now, and that's what we intend to do."

 

"Tennessee is definitely a good football team," said Schaffer.  "They have a good quarterback, NFL-type wide receivers, and an NFL-type offensive line, but when you look back at the game, we made a lot of mistakes.  That's what makes me sick.  We know that if we don't make those mistakes, we're in the ballgame."

 

So while Schaffer is asking you not to give up on the Bearcats, it's clear that the Bearcats have not given up on themselves.

 

"It didn't dent us and we're not going to let it affect us for the rest of the year," said Richardson.  "We're not going to let Tennessee beat us more than once.  We're past Tennessee, we're upbeat, and we're ready for Akron."

 

"We have to forget about it, but learn from it at the same time," said Schaffer.  "How we played on Saturday is not who we are.  We're not going to play any more games like that."

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

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

 

And I've joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

 

Speaking of young Sam, here's a recent photo.

 

Sam in glove.jpg

 

 

Tuesday Lunch: Defending the defense

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The agenda of the Tuesday UC media luncheon should have read something like this:

1:30 p.m.-2 p.m.: Mongolian Beef buffet

2 p.m.- 2:30 p.m.: Defend the defense

There were no secrets about what the popular topic of discussion would be at Butch Jones' press conference. People want answers regarding the defense's struggles at Tennessee and they want them now.

All fair.

Jones didn't duck the disappointment or pretend the problems were no big deal. He was concerned about the mental errors, but not losing faith. He opened by declaring a new sense of urgency has arrived in the wake of Knoxville.

"We took a step back a little bit fundamentally," Jones said. "I still think it is very young in the season. Everyone around here wants to hit the big red button that says panic. There is no panic here. It is continuing to develop. We have to get some things cleared up. I thought the lack of maturity to overcome and persevere on a lot of things (was disappointing)."

The defense failures weren't just about coaching or execution or missed tackles or missed assignments. It was a combination of a lot of things, according to Jones.

Without doubt, the film room the last few days have been filed somewhere under "Teachable Moments." Jones sees the ability for those to pay off on significant improvements as the season goes along.

He pointed out the secondary certainly has its issues, but every aspect of the unit was a disappointment. He mentioned in 40 pass attempts the Bearcats only managed three QB hits.

Despite the doom and gloom hovering over Nippert Stadium from outsiders, Jones sees the silver lining.

"The first three or four games are about developing your team," he said. "You came in and watch film and communicate and ask what are you thinking? Why are you making these mistakes? We turned a guy, just scot-free in man coverage by a player always there consistently. Our kids are very prideful. They know why the mistakes occurred and they can tell you why they made the mistakes and that is part of becoming better. Now we just have to take it to the field."

Perhaps a bigger question for a unit that spent last year at the bottom of most Big East defensive categories is the psychological impact of Saturday's performance as the team goes forward. Will this make them start to question what they're being told? Do they believe they are better? Will a lack of confidence seep into the helmet?

"Football is so much mental," Jones said. "Confidence plays a big part in it. Also, we sat in the room with our entire defense and went through the entire game film position by position, so they understand the inner-workings of all 11. Not just the d-line and linebackers...They look at it and gain confidence because a lot of the errors sometimes weren't physical errors, they were mental errors. You got to point out your mistakes and you have to come back to work."

--- UC comes back to work without S Malcolm Murray. The JuCo transfer tore his ACL last Wednesday and will miss the remainder of the season. He was a reserve safety and pushes sophomore Arryn Chenault up into a more prominent position behind Drew Frey.

--- Jones said the kickoff position is open after Tony Miliano struggled with hang time and placement. Punter Pat O'Donnell will be competing with Miliano for the kickoff duties.

Through two games UC ranks 76th nationally with a 63.3 yard average per kick. Of 17 kickoffs only two have gone for touchbacks (11.7 percent) and one out of bounds.

The kickoff concerns are even more obvious because of what UC lost. K Jake Rogers booted 27 percent of kickoffs into the end zone last season. That was good for 17th in the country.

--- Jones was complementary of WR Kenbrell Thompkins. He had four receptions for 58 yards at Rocky Top.

"I thought Kenbrell took some huge strides. I thought he played with much greater effort. He blocked extremely well."

--- As always, loved chatting with Isaiah Pead. I'm working him into a story I'm writing on the offensive line. (Who can tell you where every all-you-can-eat buffet of significance is located by each day of the week. You will spot them tonight at Quaker Steak & Lube).

The pressure is starting to build for his first carry of the Akron game. With a first-carry touchdown in each of the first two games for a combined 105 yards, the anticipation only builds with each passing game.

"Any long run is a special moment, because you live for those as a home-run hitter. It was another one of those where in the locker room the lineman said, 'You want to score on the first play again?' (Alex) Hoffman asked me, I said if you want to, I am down for it."

But can he duplicate it?

"Three for three would be great," Pead said. "I guess it is starting to become routine. Put a little bit of pressure on the first play, but hey, I am up for the pressure all the time."

As I mentioned in yesterday's Breakfast, Pead leads the nation in yards per carry at 11.5 (minimum 15 carries). That number almost certainly has to come down over time, but to put it into perspective: The top yards per carry over the past five years for a player averaging at least 10 carries per game was Felix Jones averaging 8.74 for Arkansas in 2006.

Starting to think about Pead comparisons a bit, what about former Cal RB Jahvid Best? The current Lions RB averaged 8.14 yards per carry in 2008 (194 carries in 12 games) for one of the best home-run hitter seasons for a running back in recent memory. Both Pead (5-11, 198) and Best (5-10, 199) come with similar speed and build. Plus, you look at Pead's numbers in the biggest games and that should eliminate any concern over inflating numbers against poor competition.

Between Oklahoma and Tennessee last year - without doubt UC's top two opponents faced over that span - he rushed 35 times for 324 yards. That's a 9.26 ypc clip.

"He's one of the best backs in the country," Jones said. "He's as focused of a player as we have."

A Tale Of Two Tens'

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OK we're all back to reality after dreams of an undefeated season right? With the drubbing of Austin Peay many probably thought we were going to shock the world in Knoxville. We probably did with some questionable decisions, according to us arm chair and recliner coaches. But I leave that to the film room, coaches and qualified pundits who played the game as to whether there was justification in the moment.

But what we now have in two games versus two teams from Tennessee is two teams; one who played up to their capabilities against Austin Peay and another one who played up to their potential long enough for us to know they are a serious contender if they can make plays for all four quarters and decrease giving up big plays. While the score would indicate blow out, it didn't start out that way because UC matched the Volunteers in all three phases of the game early on. And with Tennessee playing at home, despite having a young team, you saw the effects of speed and power in the SEC; and a little weather fatigue. 

UC is on the right track and Isaiah Pead showed he can run against any team in the country, again. Zach Colloras made throws that even the broadcast booth praised repeatedly and the defense woke Tennessee up, albeit, to its detriment. But the point was made in that UC can play big time football if they play for 60 minutes. They're not good enough yet that they can play SEC type schools for 37 or 43 minutes and win. I think the coaches and players will admit that. The reality is games like these show you what you have to do to play at a high level for 60 minutes and now the challenge is before them.

With Akron up next that should be their only focus; secondarily it should be to play hard, smart and turnover free for the whole game. That type of effort will get them ready for the Big East and any other team that has talent in abundance. The reality is you can only put 11 of those high end players on the field at one time and the Bearcats can too. UC just has to sustain their level of play for 60 minutes and the Big East team from Cincinnati will get some big wins and a big bowl bid.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 9.13.11

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Standard abbreviated Tuesday morning Breakfast with the media luncheon post coming this afternoon.

Let's eat...

--- Andrea Adelson is writing about how the Big East is struggling on the offensive line across the board. I'd contend that's not the case at Cincinnati.

For all the concerns over a line with three new starters, the Cats haven't been bad through two games up front (sans two fourth-and-1 plays).

In fact, in the two categories Adelson looks at, UC ranks 11th nationally in rushing offense and 31st in sacks allowed. Granted, the numbers are slightly skewed because of small sample size and playing Austin Peay, but they certainly weren't the only team playing a cupcake in one of the first two weeks.

Against UT the Cats gave up two sacks, one other TFL and four QB hurries. Zero sacks would be better, but all in all, the protection from the line wasn't the problem (though, the accusation by Tennessee DL Derrick Hood that they knew run or pass prior to the play by looking at the tackle wasn't good).

Toss in Isaiah Pead leading the country in yards per carry (min 15 carries) and you have an encouraging start for a unit tabbed as a question mark coming in.

--- Tommy G had
this feature on seniors Randy Martinez and Evan Davis from Bearcats Football Weekly last week if you want to look more at them.

--- RB Isaiah Pead made
the Big East Honor Roll for his 155-yard performance against Tennessee.

--- Butch Jones spoke on the Big East coaches teleconference yesterday. Not much was said other than Jones saying he would go for it again in both fourth down situations if presented. I would link to the audio for you, but every other coach in the conference has a link up on the BigEast.org page except for Jones'. Here's the page in case BE folks get it going later.

--- I really wasn't kidding about this brief blog thing. Sorry, just remember to check back this afternoon.

We'll call this a Kramer blog. Quick hello and out the door.
.

Bearcats Breakfast 9.12.11

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If it's specific game rehash of Saturday's loss to Tennessee you are looking for, you won't find it here. If you would like to hear again all about what happened you can read about it all over the place and you probably have by now.

Here are three pieces from Bill Koch at the Enquirer. Notebook. Sidebar on defense. And here's the Cats talking about moving forward.

JK Schaffer talked about this team's response being a defining moment of the season. You love his attitude and leadership. The only question is if attitude and leadership will be enough. We shall see over the next 10 days as UC hosts Akron on Saturday and quick turnaround against NC State a week from Thursday.

Zippy.jpg As for the Zips --- you never take a team for granted. But if you ever were given the opportunity to take one for granted, you'd probably start with them.

Akron has been outscored 83-3 in its first two games. They lost 42-0 at Ohio State and dismantled 41-3 at home against Temple.

Akron has been able to pass the ball successfully at times but been a disaster in the running game. They average 1.4 yards per carry. They are also just 5 of 27 on third-down conversions.

This is coming off of a 1-11 season that featured eight double-digit losses.

I know it's tough to tell by the joy illustrated in this picture, but Zippy has fallen on tough times.

He's undeniably drowned his sorrows in many two-liters of Pepsi.

Let's eat....

--- I will take a minute to revisit the four goals for the game set forth on Friday and see how UC fared. But then no rehash.

1. Hold UT to less than three yards per carry. Not achieved. Tennessee averaged 3.6  yards per rush. The Bearcats did a decent job of slowing the Vols running game and making them one-dimensional. The only problem was the proficiency of that other dimension. Tauren Poole carried 21 times for 101 yards and was able to help salt the game away late.

2. Record more than three sacks. Not achieved. Pressuring Tyler Bray was going to help mask any inequities in the secondary. As any Bearcats fan is all to aware, this didn't happen. The Cats had one hit on the QB and zero sacks. The attempt was to reach Bray with four down lineman, but it never happened. It allowed Bray to carve up the secondary to a Vols record 81 percent completion clip.

3. No more than one turnover. Check. UC did a nice job of not turning the ball over. Zach Collaros didn't throw a pick and despite the team putting it on the ground twice, the Cats recovered both fumbles. UC even forced two Tennessee fumbles to flip field position. Unfortunately, the two fourth-and-1 stops at midfield essentially served as turnovers probably played a larger role than either of the two UC takeaways.

4. Isaiah Pead accumulates more than 150 yards. Check. Pead looked like the best player on the field. His 65-yard run was one of those moments few fans will forget. He finished with 14 carries for 155 yards at an 11.1 ypc average. He also caught two passes for 15 yards. If the game had been closer Pead could have had more touches and it would have been a different story.

--- By the way, Pead now averaging 11.5 yards per carry. That is tops in the nation among players with more than 12 carries.

--- Schaffer referenced the 2008 game at Oklahoma being a defining moment to their Big East championship run. UC went down 52-26 in Norman that year and responded to win 10 of their next 11 and take the Big East title.

In fact, if you look back at the past four Big East champions -- outside of the 2009 perfect regular season anomaly -- each eventual BE champion suffered a testing early-season defeat. in the case of UConn last year, they took two early games on the chin. 

2010: UConn   L 30-10 @Michigan; L 30-16 @ Temple
2009: UC        Perfect
2008: UC        L 52-26 @Oklahoma
2007: WVU     L 21-13 vs USF (BE opener)

--- While keeping an eye on future opponents, NC State lost to Wake Forest, 34-27, on Saturday. Remember, that's the same Wake team that had Cuse beat in the the Dome the first week of the season. If not for an injury to their starting QB, they probably would be 2-0.

That loss is no knock on the Wolfpack, who will be good competition for UC, especially taking into consideration new QB Mike Glennon was 24 of 41 for 315 yards and three TDs against Wake. It will be another stiff test for the Cats pass defense.

--- UC finds itself in like company as a Big East team looking to regroup after a rough weekend for the conference.

Outside of South Florida, who discarded of Ball State by 30, no team is feeling all that great about themselves today.

--- Louisville (1-1) lost to Florida International at home, 24-17.
--- Rutgers actually played well, but still lost at North Carolina, 24-22.
--- Pittsburgh barely hung on to beat CAA power Maine, 35-29. 
--- WVU trailed Norfolk St. at home 12-10 at half before piling it on for a 55-12 win.
--- Syracuse needed a late TD to fend off Rhode Island, 21-14.
--- UConn blew a late seven-point lead for a 24-21 loss at Vandy.

Say what you will about the way UC played on Saturday, this conference is still as wide open as we all believed it would be before the season started.

The coaches are in the business of focusing on one game at a time. I am not. Akron and Miami are on the horizon. Two games UC will be heavily favored in. If they can beat NC State at home in a wild Thursday night national TV atmosphere, they enter BE play at 4-1. How would you have felt about that prior to the season?

Some randomness...

--- Why other countries point and laugh at America: Obese man suing White Castle for not making the booths bigger.

--- Tony Stewart turned on the media (1:50 mark) after a race this week and called them out for being unoriginal. Tough to watch if you've ever been on this side of the recorder. However, having seen the same questions answered by the same guy over and over again, you know it's only a matter of time until this was said.

This is the latest example of why I love the post-race interviews in NASCAR. Nobody is more blunt or quick to throw competitors under the bus than these drivers. Always great TV.

--- The Swedish authorities are having problems with drunken moose. Aren't we all.

--- Big congratulations to Jeremy Martin, from UC's sports information department on the birth of his second child, William Emerson Martin. Between him and new father Tommy G, UC may need to account for a significant coffee spike in this quarter's budget.

And this is for you, Jeremy. Since you will undeniable feed a heavy dose of Steelers to young William.

Great Overtime Win!

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Hey Everyone!

  Tonight the Bearcats finally won an overtime game! We beat the College of Charleston 3-2 in double overtime in the opening game of the College of Charleston tournament. It was a full team effort with Jaz scoring the game winner in the 102nd minute with the assist coming from Grause. We went down in the first half and fought back to tie the game and go ahead one, only to have Charleston score with 10 minutes left. We never let that stop us and dominated the overtime periods, not allowing Charleston to have a shot on goal. Hebs did such a great job tonight holding off players and laying balls back into our midfield so it was no surprise when we cleared a ball from the back that Hebs held off her defenders and played a ball to Grause who was making a great slashing run. Grause's original shot was deflected by the keeper right to an oncoming Jaz who took one touch and shot the ball. GOAL! We all went nuts! We had a dog pile on the field and Jaz lead us off to cool down with the Cincinnati O-cheer! It was great  to finally win in overtime after three tries! 

   We finished our night off with some dinner from Sticky Fingers BBQ and some partner ice baths! Poor Mollie had to keep time for EK and I and listen to us complain about the cold water! Tomorrow we have a light recovery practice after breakfast before heading to lunch in downtown Charleston. We are all really excited to walk around downtown Charleston but we were promised to make it back in time for the UC-Tennessee football game at 3:30!! Hopefully the football team can bring home a big win from a strong SEC school! We finish up our Charleston trip with a game at noon on Sunday versus Coastal Carolina. Were looking for another win to give us some momentum before we head into Big East play next week! 

Go Bearcats---RAWWWWWWWR!!!
KP #14

Bearcats Breakfast 9.9.11

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Hopefully some of you are reading this from the road on your trip down to Knoxville. Should be a strong contingent of Bearcats fans down there from what I've seen and heard.

If you are looking for some information on where to go and what to do on gameday, here is a link to what they say on the UT athletics page. It's got the campus parking map and all that other jazz. All I can say is this won't be Kentucky Speedway, but preparing like it could be will save you major headaches Saturday afternoon.

Last week, I gave you the goals to make the opening game against Austin Peay a success. UC hit three of four and for the only one missed came on a garbage time TD against the third string.

The goals that would make this a success aren't as complicated this week. Win. Find a way to do so. Playing well and keeping it close may be a nice consolation, but this team has moved past that. This is a game that is winnable and the one step the program needs to take is finding a way to win in hostile environments. Here's the chance. Find a way.

But, simplicity doesn't lend itself to the blogging world. We must make everything more complex. So, let's dive into the four goals UC must accomplish if they are going to beat UT.

1. Hold UT to less than three yards per rush.
UC needs to exploit the Vols weakness. Without doubt, for more than a year now Tennessee has struggled mightily to run the football. It puts enormous pressure on their sophomore QB Tyler Bray.

Take a look at the Vols numbers in wins and losses last year in the run game:
 
Wins Rushes  Yds    Yds/Car Att/Gm Yds/Gm
6        190        826     4.35      31.7     137.8
Losses
7        218        594     2.72      31.1     84.9

Tennessee will attempt to run the ball and stick to the gameplan whether it is working or not, evidenced by the same number of attempts in wins and losses despite the dramatic drop in yards per carry. Of course, their run struggles continued last week when they averaged 2.78 yards per rush against FCS Montana. Spending the day stuffing Tauren Poole will force third-and-long situations where the young QB could make costly turnover mistakes.

2. Record more than three sacks.
UC's pass rush must get to Tyler Bray. Believe it or not, Montana came away with three sacks last week. If UC is stuffing the run and every time Bray drops back he's harassed by Derek Wolfe, Walter Stewart and company, any advantages on the perimeter are all but wiped out.

Opponents averaged 3.15 sacks per game last year against the Vols and had 15 more sacks than Tennessee during the season (41-26).

If reaching Bray means bringing blitzes from the outside, which was successful against Austin Peay, than so be it. Making Bray think fast and avoid finding rhythm with his tall, athletic receivers will be a must.

3. No more than one turnover. Allowing for a mistake or lucky bounce, UC must take care of the football. Being sloppy with ball security (Butch Jones said despite being turnover-free against AP, the team wasn't always securing the ball correctly), and forcing throws into traffic doomed UC last year. It can't be afraid to play conservative at times. Utilize the punting weapon it owns in Pat O'Donnell.

Far too often last week Collaros ran away from traffic and made wild throws in attempts to make plays. Many worked out. That won't happen against the SEC speed and instincts in orange.

You don't need me to show you splits of turnover margin in wins vs losses to know the importance of it, but I will anyway.

Tennessee in wins: +10
Tennessee in losses: -6
Cincinnati in wins: -3
Cincinnati in losses: -12

On top of being a reminder of just how poor UC was in this category last year, it's a reminder of what wins and loses games. Not wild scrambling gains of 12 yards. No, it's knowing when to throw it away. ZC says he's worked on that decision-making this offseason. Jones sees a difference in him. We shall see.

4. Isaiah Pead accumulates more than 150 yards. Pead is the most explosive weapon the Bearcats own. What he did against Oklahoma last year almost single-handedly kept UC in the game. He averages 6.6 yards per rush. This is his senior year. He thrives on the big stage. This has the feel of a statement game for @Ipead.

If UC can establish a running game with him it opens everything else. He can be the grinder which keeps the Tennessee offense off the field. Drives like the 14-play, 95 yard jaunt against AP would be the perfect pill to drop the Vols. Find open field for Pead, whether it be through screens or straight runs, he needs to be the most involved Bearcat.

I will return to the Win/Loss splits of 2010. In games the Bearcats won last year Pead touched the ball an average of 21 times per. In losses? 12.

If the Cats can capture three of these four categories they will be right there and it will come down to one or two plays. If they capture all four, they will win. Mark it down.

Let's eat...

--- Love all the SEC arrogance emanating from Knoxville, but the bottom line is Tennessee has not been very good since Phil Fulmer was fired. As Bill Koch points out in his preview, UT is 19-20 since the start of 2008 and haven't been in the Top 25 in three years.

--- Andrea Adelson with a
video blog post about the UC-Tennessee game.

(Sidenote: How about the fan base cuts out the hate mail to AA? I have seen an angry, bitter, spiteful email in her mailblog each of the last two weeks. Is this what this fan base is all about? Think what you will about her coverage, but spitting vitriol toward a reporter is ugly and unnecessary)

--- Down the Drive held a Q&A with RockyTopTalk about the Vols. Be an informed fan on Saturday.

--- VolQuest says
Tennessee was awful at nearly every aspect of running the football last week.

--- In case you missed it,
yesterday I posted a column on whether or not a win would erase 4-8. Here it is.

--- If UC can't pressure Bray, it could be a long day in the secondary. Kerry Coombs knows this and spoke with Bill about it. He talks about the practice of facing the UC offense every day. "I'd like to tell you win out here every day, but we don't because they are very good."

I've been there the days when they don't win. I wouldn't say Coombs takes it lying down...or quietly. Of course, he doesn't take it quietly when they win, either.

--- DJ Woods talked about this in my column yesterday, but Bill had it up in his blog so I want to toss up the link. Woods has been open about the fact he thinks people are making too big of a deal of this game. He's treating it as just another contest. His calm attitude can only help entering a less than calm situation.

Here is more of what DJ told me that I left out of yesterday's piece.

"It's not about pressure. I like pressure. If it is fourth and five, I want the ball. If it is the last second of the game, I want the ball. The other receivers feel the same way. It is just fun, people are making out football to be this big, huge thing, you know, at the same time, we just got to have fun. It is supposed to be fun, go out there and make plays and score touchdowns, that's just what we do.

"You should be excited to have an opportunity to play senior year. I am focused, I am zoned in, I know what I got to do and I am going to have fun down there."

---  Some randomness...

--- Rolling Stone has an excerpt from the new Pearl Jam book.

--- Who does Neil Diamond get to play HIS wedding? Talk about a tough gig.

--- This is why you
need to be careful who you chose to be in a relationship with. Moral of the Story: Don't date the Dutch.

--- Underrated 90s tunes week concludes with a classic that also stands as hopeful wishing for this weekend in Knoxville. Happy Traveling this weekend, everybody, and enjoy Rocky Top.
 

UC's role at Rocky Top

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Enjoy the scenery, but it's nothing more than game No. 2

 

There's a lot of folks worked up over this upcoming UC and Tennessee tilt and that's a good thing for the Bearcats.

 

Provident Travel sold out a bus trip and many are making the four-hour (depending on how many fireworks you buy in Jellico) drive to Knoxville to watch UC face an SEC opponent.

 

My wife's even fired up--particularly at me, because I was a day late in trying to secure her a spot on the previously mentioned bus.  She did most of her undergrad work at Tennessee, then finished up at UC.

 

She's now a Bearcat and is looking forward to watching them take down a team that used to pack 100,000 plus at Neyland Stadium.

 

When we were in college, she came up for a UC game against Rutgers in the early 80s.  I mentioned to her the crowd of 15,000 or so wasn't bad.

 

Having taken in several games at Rocky Top U., she looked at me like I had three eyes.

 

Attendance-wise, UC's not on the same scale of Tennessee yet, but things are evening out in terms of football.

 

As for the crowd, it's the only thing to do that day in the entire state and it is the state school.  Knoxville has no pro sports, so a Volunteer home game is a big deal. No other school in the state has that same following. The rest struggle to maintain fans.

 

Where UC can compete is on the field.  That's exactly why I think this game is no big deal.

 

The facts

 

UC got clobbered in 1992 by the Vols 40-0.


Prior to that, the two schools hadn't met since 1942 when Tennessee
blistered the Bearcats 34-12.

 

I wasn't on the radio crew when Tim Murphy coached, but covered them close enough to know him pretty well.

 

Back then, the picture of UC merely playing at Neyland Stadium was displayed proudly in his office and was used as a recruiting tool.

 

Johnny Majors was still Tennessee's coach, with future SEC coaches Phil Fulmer and David Cutcliffe as assistants.  Heath Shuler was the Tennessee quarterback before going on to a mediocre NFL career and then politics.

 

40-0!

 

UC then had no conference or bowl ties. "Hanging" with a quality opponent was considered good (UC had begun the season with a 24-20 loss to Penn State at Nippert).

 

A year later, a representative from the Poulan Weedwacker Independence Bowl would come to look at Murphy's team that finished 8-3 and left unimpressed when about "15 and change" showed up for a game against Memphis.

 

That's how far UC's come.  In the recent BCS race, the Bearcats have been and the Vols have faltered.

 

Back in the day, Tennessee's archrival was Alabama.  They didn't much like Georgia either.

 

Tennessee-Fans-2001-SEC-Championship.jpg

(Courtesy of www.frumpzilla.com)

Now, UT's hired Dave Hart from Alabama as their AD and their coach is the son of the legendary Vince Dooley from Georgia.  At least one of the UGA's must be rolling in his grave!

 

Enough embellishing, what about the game?

 

I don't think for a moment that UC will put up 72 on Tennessee or that Tennessee will smoke the Bearcats 40-zip again.

 

Regardless of recent changes, the Vols still attract top notch talent and their atmosphere will be the best UC will see all year.

 

However, the Vols are still young and the coach still doesn't have the track record that the folks around the Smokies are used to. (He is to be commended though for lasting longer than noted scoundrel Lane Kiffin.)

 

Tennessee struggled to 6-7 last season (yes, they sadly played a bowl game with a .500 record).  If not for winning all of their November games, they wouldn't have even got that far.  Let the record show, the November schedule of Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky wasn't exactly "murderer's row" by SEC standards.

 

My oldest son is getting a Master's degree at UAB and works with their football team. The Blazers were sub .500 in 2010 also, but took the Volunteers to double overtime before falling 32-29 last season.


In the loss, they outgained Tennessee on the ground and through the air.

 

I watched several of UAB's games and saw them in practice recently.  I also watched several of Tennessee's games.

 

Based on what I see (which won't get me on ESPN Gameday anytime soon because I'm not a pretty boy or girl and won't wear a stinky mascot head) UC's talent, at the very least, is on par with Tennessee's.

 

Personally, they're better than UAB and Tennessee.

 

So, as big of a win as it sounds, UC should approach this game with the attitude that Tennessee should be in awe of them, and not vice versa. (Much like South Florida should look at Notre Dame in the rear view mirror.)

 

Kenbrell Thompkins should have a fun day.  This is the team that sidelined his college career by a year because they wouldn't release him from his scholarship.

 

Lane Kiffin was able to bolt in the dark of night, but Thompkins was held
contractually hostage by the unfair policies of college athletics.

 

I look forward to Zach Collaros and KT hooking up in the creamsicle checkerboard endzone. 

 

I look forward to Isaiah Pead chewing up yards while Vol fans are searching
frantically for that flask of Jack Daniel's they snuck in.

 

I look for a routine win, a small dosage of hillbilly music in between, and all eyes forward on bigger and better games.

 

Silence the banjos!

Can a win erase 4-8?

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butchjones3.jpg

What would a win at Tennessee mean to the perception of 2010? It depends on who you ask.

CINCINNATI - Butch Jones doesn't often pause before snapping off answers. He knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.

Only, for a few moments, as this question held in the air, Jones held an extended pause and unearthed a smirk while contemplating the answer.

Could a win at Tennessee erase the memory of 4-8?

"That's a good question," Jones said.

It's one the Bearcats will happily find out the answer to should they escape Knoxville victorious.

Suppressing the stench of a season which squashed momentum of a program that rose from rubble to back-to-back BCS bowl games would seem to take more than a squirt of Orange-scented Febreeze. Yet, in the what-have-you-done-for-me-tomorrow world of college football, perception can change that easily. In a matter of three-and-a-half hours, the conversation alters from, "UC: The program that has fallen off since Brian Kelly left" to, "UC: An elite Big East program that took a brief transition year dip."  

The difference is clearer than orange and black.

Few opportunities exist to make such a profound and over-reaching statement. Few times when toiling in the disrespected Big East can you hold the nation's attention. Even fewer times can you do so with a talented, experienced senior quarterback. For a program looking to eject the sour taste from 2010, there is no easier method than a win in SEC country.

"I don't think any win can erase," Jones said. "It's a new season; 4-8 did not meet our expectations. But, I think we learned a lot from it. It helped build a foundation."

Flipping that foundation into a victory at Tennessee makes the frustration of 2010 more palatable.

"It's instant credibility," Jones said.

So, the answer to the initial question lies in who is being asked. Outside the walls of the UC locker room, the answer is probably yes. A win would change the conversation. Pundits and, more importantly, recruits would view UC differently. The Bearcats would again be sitting at the popular lunch table in the recruiting cafeteria.

Inside the walls of UC, though?

"I think as a team we have already erased 4-8," Drew Frey said. "That was the 2010 season. This is 2011. We have already let that go."

The Bearcats don't have time for the big picture. Not right now. Contemplating the overlying program ramifications of a win against Tennessee obstructs the view of Tennessee's 4-3 fire zone blitz.

Jones preaches every snap, every practice, every game grabbing the team's focus.

For some players, that's where the disconnect lies. A 4-8 record feels like decades ago to them. They don't view themselves in that light anymore because of so many nights spent working in the dark shadows.

"(Winning) would be a big thing, at the same time the fans don't see what we actually do," WR DJ Woods said. "They just see wins and losses, they don't know what we do behind closed doors. They don't know how close we are as a family."

Woods went on to say he's not disrespecting the UC fans, but only commenting that the Bearcats inside the program have already moved on. The concept of erasing a season in their head was Step 1. Beating Tennessee is somewhere around Step 248.

Perhaps the media types circling Nippert and Neyland Stadiums this week make too much of the big-picture story here. Perhaps the only profound effect this conversation has is moving the sports talk show needle.

"It is a big deal, at the same time you can't look at it like the media," Woods said. "They take one little thing and want to make a huge story out of it. For us, this is just a game for us. We focus on what we want to do and our focus is Tennessee."

A deeper goal within the journey to erase 4-8 is returning to winning big games on big stages. On big stages in Fresno, Raleigh and Morgantown last season, UC didn't put forth the desired representation of the program.

To do so Saturday would be the ultimate separation from last year. While the Bearcats players have moved on in their heads, doing so in the win column would make it all but official. 

"We are forgetting about last season but it is still in the back of your mind sometimes because we are embarrassed about it," Zach Collaros said. "It would be huge for the team and the program. It would be a big burst."

No, these players can't completely forget 4-8. But what remains of it definitely drives the game plan to sweep it further under the rug.

"I don't think anything erases 4-8," Derek Wolfe said. "We just have to work every day to redeem ourselves. That's the way I am taking it, one little step at a time. We are all confident. We are all ready to play. We are ready to go win. We are not going down there to settle for anything less than a win."

And whatever else comes with it.

Bearcats Breakfast 9.7.11

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Ever walked into an environment where everybody disliked you. Or at least, if they didn't dislike you, they didn't particularly care for you to succeed.

Maybe an in-law function right after you made a bad, public mistake or got laid off. Maybe as a salesman walking into a shop when your contracted mechanic jacked up the transmission trying to fix an oil leak. Or maybe that's every day when you go to work.

The feeling changes your mood. It changes how your body works. It changes your confidence.

Now, put 105k in-laws in that room. (Sorry, if some of you just passed out from fear)

Welcome to Neyland Stadium.

This will almost certainly be the largest crowd UC has played in front of in its recent history. Oklahoma in 2007 will be the next closest. You can blast Rocky Top from the speakers at The Nipp all you want, these kids will not respond the same when they walk through the checkered end zone. That may be good. That may be bad.

You have an idea which players will respond well, but not a great one.

"You never really know them until they are in those types of situations," Butch Jones said.

I went around and asked some of the players yesterday what the most intimidating atmosphere they have ever played in was and how it affected them. Most of them claimed the Oklahoma game, a 52-26 defeat in Norman. Though, there were some others.

Here are some responses:

DJ Woods:

"Probably at Oklahoma. That was the biggest stadium I played at. Tennessee's might be a little bit bigger. Again, I don't think about intimidating places. A football field is a football field."

JK Schaffer:

"That ride up the hill into Morgantown when they are on both sides of you just flicking you off and throwing stuff at the bus, I wouldn't' say intimidating. I laugh at it, I think it's awesome, I love it. Also, Oklahoma, my freshman year, just three hours of 'Boomer! Sooner!'

"It gives me some energy; it doesn't make me lock up or anything. I enjoy playing in those environments."

Drew Frey:

"Personally the most intimidating atmosphere I have ever played at was at Oklahoma. It was pretty intense and exciting. Personally, I love playing in those environments. I kind of tune out the noise. When you are playing in big games you either step up your game or get run over. I feel like as a team we are excited to step up to the challenge and be mentally and physically prepared for the game."

Derek Wolfe:

"Most intimidating atmosphere was my freshman year at Oklahoma. I was 18 years old. It was my first time ever flying. I jumped offsides...on like the second or third play. It was so loud and they were doing the 'Sooner Boomer' and it was just like, whoa. That was fun, though. It was a great experience.

Another hostile environment was Fresno and I answered well. I like being called out. I just go out and play better. They were calling me a big hillbilly and talking about my tattoo saying it was my baby picture on my arm. It was pretty funny.

WVU is really hostile. I got a full beer can thrown at me my freshman year in overtime. There was full beer cans flying out of the stands, coach (Brian) Kelly was screaming at us to keep our helmet on."

Avoiding an early deficit because the team is awestruck will probably be the biggest challenge. Once the game gets going, it's all about football.

Let's eat...

--- I talked about the Tennessee spin a little bit yesterday and a UT columnist decided to rip on UC and refer to them as "still C-USA."

It's funny, because I would probably refer to Tennessee as "barely SEC." When was the last time they won the SEC Championship? 1998.

How many BCS bowl games have the Bearcats played in since the last time the Vols even won the East Division in 2007? That would be two.

Having covered SEC football before, I know all about the SEC arrogance and it is part of why the rest of the country holds so much disdain for some of the programs. But there is nothing worse than the combination of ignorance and arrogance. The inability of a school like UT to look in the mirror and see its own faults, only assuming superiority by affiliation. And that is what we have with this piece attacking UC's credentials. 

--- Here's a look inside the mind/sidelines of the what Tennessee fans are happy/upset about from the Montana game. They are all about to flip their Rocky Tops over the lack of a running game.

--- I thought Doc hit the nail on the head with his column today on the importance of the Tennessee game. At the end of the day, this is a fan base game.

A win or loss will only minimally affect UC's chances of making a BCS Bowl, only due to momentum and confidence. The team could play UT close and end up 4-1 entering Big East play and feel great about itself.

They can sweep the Big East and Jones will have a secure future in Clifton. 

They can win at Tennessee and fall apart in the Big East and questions will remain about the program.

But a win in Knoxville will re-ignite the fan base. It will remind UC fans (at least those with short-term memory loss) how much fun college football can be. It will pack Nippert again.

"A couple years ago we had that," Zach Collaros said of a stadium sold out every game. "We are trying to get it back to that way. When Nippert is packed, it rocks."

I've been accused before of using the phrase "signature win" too often. Coaches have told me the phrase is overrated. When you are pandering to high school kids, however, I refuse to believe a signature win like one at Tennessee doesn't mean as much to a teenager as holding the hottest girl in school on your arm at prom.

The first signature win for Jones would go a long way to building a throng of believers in his system in Clifton. Fair or unfair, no opponent on the schedule this year offers the same pizzazz as a trip into SEC country.

--- FWIW, Pat Forde thinks Jones and company will pull off the upset. (No. 19)

--- Bill Koch with a great story on former LaSalle standout Ben Martin, who plays for Tennessee and is recovering from two knee surgeries. 

--- In case you missed it, yesterday afternoon I posted some news, notes and conversations from the day spent down at UC. I thought Wolfe gave some interesting analysis of the evolution of the defense this year, in particular the lack of finger-pointing or screaming at each other during adverse situations.

--- A story on Tennessee nickel DB Eric Gordon and the important role he will play against UC's spread. 

--- Hey, look over here! Basketball starts in about two months. Here's a Q and A with Mick Cronin. 

--- Some randomness....

--- How about those strong Moeller Crusaders. Eric Surkamp with a win for San Diego and Andrew Brackman called up by the Yankees. 

--- Texas is changing their speed limits to 75 and getting rid of all nighttime speed limits. I'm just glad they finally understand and embrace how fast everyone wants to get the heck out of Texas. 

--- Lots of love showing up for the Lions these days. I'm on board. I like Detroit to make the playoffs as well. 

--- Top 10 best rock movies. This is Spinal Tap comes in at No. 4 and not No. 1. That alone dings the credibility of this list. 

--- Underrated 90s tunes week continues and this one goes out to Dan Hoard, who told me this was one of this favorite rock songs. I'd have to concur, quality. And considering this whole week was initiated by the Temple of the Dog reunion, only seems fitting. 

Austin Peay To Tennessee

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The University of Cincinnati did exactly what they were supposed to do in beating Austin Peay 72-10. They unleashed their potent offensive weaponry and made a statement worthy of an opening game on their schedule. 

Now they head south on 75 to play in the reality of the SEC and Neyland Stadium, home of the Tennessee Volunteers and their 102,455 fans. To put that in perspective, you can literally put 3 NIppert Stadium crowds together in their stadium for one game. That means the noise level will be challenging for Zach Collaros and the offensive line this week; and I mean challenging. But isn't that why they come to a school like UC? Not only to play in a BCS conference but to play major competition. So we'll see who embraces the stage with the confidence and preparedness of a champion, and who becomes the deer in the headlights in part because they're not ready to play. 

One thing that always happens in road games of this magnitude are turnovers. They usually hurt the road team more than the home team. If the Bearcats can keep the turnovers to a minimum, or even better, not at all and the coaches put together a good game plan they most certainly can win. UC has plenty of experience on this team and Peyton Manning won't be suiting up for the Vols. 

The excitement will be evident; the media will be present; and the Volunteer football team will try to intimidate the Big East representative before the game begins. This weekend will be revealing for the UC coaching staff as they'll know when the clock runs out who is worthy of wearing the C-Paw and earning their confidence and trust for the remainder of the season.

I won't be surprised if UC wins, I think they have the capacity and talent to achieve. I am still waiting to get one key question answered and that's how they'll handle adversity compared to last year. Lets hope I don't get the answer this week because they will have put the game away down the stretch. But if I do get an answer I hope it's worthy of a champions response where everything is left on the field in battle. It's the only answer that will suffice; if every one can look each other in the eye and know they all gave the same effort in support of their teammates and UC. 

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

Tuesday lunch (9.6.11): Rocky Top ear ringing

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After two hours of hearing Rocky Top blared so loud they can actually hear it in Knoxville, my eardrums are going into a rehab program.

The Bearcats were blasting the catchy little tune during an intense practice session Tuesday. Plenty of yelling, screaming, running and working going on out there. The intensity level has clearly jumped a few notches at Nippert.

"It's not just the noise, it's all the distractions," Drew Frey said. "It's how do you communicate without being able to hear your teammates. I think that is going to help carry us through Saturday."

Players I talked to aren't quite sick of it yet. Myself, on the other hand....

I think this about describes what I would rather do.

--- Butch Jones talked about what a win at Tennessee would mean for the program. He said it would bring "instant credibility." No doubt about that. Much needed credibility from my angle. The stench of 4-8 is tough to wash off. A win at UT would be the equivalent of a dip in a life-size bottle of Febreeze. Mmmmm, lemon fresh. 

I'll delve deeper into that topic with a post later this week. For now, here is some of what Jones had to say on the topic.

"It's instant credibility when you play a team like Tennessee with their great tradition. We can't get ahead of ourselves. I'm looking forward to it because I think it is a great measuring stick. Not many people have won on the road at that stadium."

For the record, UT is 10-5 at Neyland Stadium the last two years. They have also won five consecutive regular season games.

--- I did talk a little bit more with Frey and Derek Wolfe about Saturday's game. Sure, you can't judge much by playing a team as slow and inexperienced as Austin Peay. But fast or slow, veteran or freshman, if the Bearcats committed a missed assignment, coaches would notice. Anybody who watched the team's defense last year can attest that fans notice, as well.

Frey said the number of missed assignments from Saturday's opener was down from last year. There were still areas the team needed to correct, but improved mental recognition was clearly a beneficiary of the offseason work and continuity.

"Coaches do a really good job reviewing the film and specifically tracking each person on the defense's missed assignments," Frey said. "They were down, which is not surprising because we have been putting the extra time in in camp to minimize. This game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. If you can master the mental part of it you got a step ahead."


--- Perhaps the most interesting analysis I heard from anyone all day came from Wolfe, who had a strip-sack and played about 20 snaps. He pointed out the composure the defense displayed. It's easy to keep composed when beating a team 72-10, I suppose, but Wolfe pointed out the reaction when the team allowed Peay to drive into their own territory on the opening possession.

For him, it was very different from last season.

"Normally, last year, I will tell you what, when stuff like that would happen we kind of lost our minds," Wolfe said. "We would be yelling at each other trying to figure out what is going on. (This time), there wasn't a word said, it was just, 'All right, c'mon, next play, let's go.'"

Wolfe continued talking about why he believes this defense is more composed and more capable to deal with adversity. Some of which we know will occur on Saturday in Knoxville. It all starts with the curveballs, sudden changes and unforeseen punishments being doled out the last five weeks at practice.

"
My hat is off to Coach Jones because I thought it was crap what we were doing out here sometimes, him throwing all the stuff at us," Wolfe said."Whenever it happens now it is like nothing is going on because he trains us every day."

When Wolfe is rolling, you let him go. So, I did. Here is some more of what he said about the composure difference between this season and last year defensively:

"We would come to the sidelines and people were screaming at each other," he said. "Now, it is more positive. We come to the sidelines and just get it corrected.

Wolfe personally feels a different responsibility to stay calm.

"Yeah, coaches will pull you aside and tell you to be the nice guy. Be the guy (players) can come to. Sometimes I tend to be kind of hard ass about things. I will be like, get your ass going, or yell, but that's why I can never be a head coach. I don't know if I can be a position coach, when people back talk, it's like, just shut up."

Yes, that's right folks, a kinder, gentler Derek Wolfe. At least outside the lines, anyway.

--- For the record: Since UC joined the Big East in 2005, the conference is 10-8 against the SEC. Here are the records: UConn 2-0; Pitt 1-0; WVU 4-2; USF 1-1; Louisville 2-4; Cincinnati 0-1.

--- Jones talked about "SEC speed." He didn't necessarily think they were faster at all levels than UC or any other non-SEC school for that matter. Rather, it was a matter of depth of speed.

"It is a concern," he said. "It's why we make our practices so demanding. Probably more depth from a speed standpoint when you look at the SEC. Where it's really challenging is on special teams."

As if the special teams element wasn't already an issue after last week. UC allowed 196 KO return yards on 10 kicks. There were also a litany of missed tackles. Jones said it's hard to simulate the game speed of the kickoffs from both a return and covering perspective. They try, but there is nothing like gameday.

UT returned three kickoffs last week. Each of them went for at least 27 yards. Channing Fugate even took one 44 yards. Avoiding a special teams letdown will be a major concern to keep 105,000 from really getting into the game and springing momentum for the Vols. 

--- As for hard news, TE Travis Kelce will play this week after missing the game against Austin Peay. Jones wouldn't commit that Kelce would start, only saying it depended on how he practiced this week.

The good news is the Bearcats appear to be healthy and came away from the Peay game relatively unscathed. 

Bearcats Breakfast 9.6.11

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Brief Tuesday morning Breakfast before I head out to practice and the Tennessee week media lunch. I'll have plenty of news and notes this afternoon.

Let's eat...

--- Kenbrell Thompkins story will
be well-documented this week. If you know his history, you understand why. He originally committed to Tennessee out of El Camino JC. When Lane Kiffin left, so did Thompkins. He ended up at UC.

Bill Koch told the story today in The Enquirer. Mike McKnight in Sports Illustrated wrote about the relationship between Thompkins, UT QB Matt Simms and Kiffin in this piece last August.

Read those, know Thompkins' story. While its the biggest storyline this week, you won't hear much more about it here because I'm not going to shove it down your throat.

--- Butch Jones blog with some pregame footage from Saturday at The Grid and UC behind the scenes prior to kickoff. (Caution: If you believe the Black Eyed Peas are Satan's secret autotuned missionaries, hit mute button now)




--- Reading the spin of Tennessee newspapers toward the Vols is a fun sport. Take this sentence for example attempting to justify Tennessee's defensive effort that allowed 338 yards of offense to FCS Montana:

The Vols faced an up-tempo spread offense in their season-opening win against Montana and allowed 184 yards aside from an 80-yard touchdown pass and an 82-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive against UT's second team.

Yep, outside of that complete malfunction of giving up an 80-yard bomb and our 2nd-team SEC defense not being able to stop a bunch of Montana guys without FBS scholarships, we only gave up 184 yards in three quarters.

And outside of the time I decided to break up with Brooklyn Decker and stop returning the calls of Chrissy Teigen, I've always made sound dating decisions.

(Hint: In case you are blind and can't see my sketch face on the blog and someone is reading this to you, there is no way that last example could ever be true)

Anyway, Derek Dooley is concerned about UC's offense.

--- The pressure defensively will fall
on the DBs this week. The Vols only ran for 83 yards through the first three quarters and relied on sophomore QB Tyler Bray (17 of 24 for 293 yards). Sophomore WRs Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter both went for over 100 yards.

It brings up one of the defining questions of the season: How much better is the Bearcats passing defense? We're about to find out.

--- Keep an eye on what's
happening right now with Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Oklahoma said it will make a decision on its athletics conference future within three weeks. If they choose to bolt the unstable Big 12 for the Pac 12, the Big East may make its move to stay alive. Pete Thamel of the New York Times reports the BE has reached out to Kansas, Kansas State and Mizzou. The could be a major breath of life for conference's chances of avoiding disruption should the college football walls start collapsing around them.

Some randomness...

--- How bad do a team's uniforms for them to be trending on Twitter? This bad.

--- Having lived in Key West
and witnessed the crack Key West police force saunter around town on their bikes taking money under the table from bars and allowing complete anarchy to occur every Saturday night, I can't say I'm surprised that a cop tasered himself.

--- Reason No. 8,332 why I am never going to the Philippines: 21-foot, 2,370-pound crocodile. (It's right after Reason No. 8,331: More Manny Pacquiao  smartphone commercials)

--- I wonder if the Orioles will ever not be a joke?

--- After enjoying the Temple of the Dog reunion from this weekend, I am going for some other underplayed hits of the 90s. Of the same ilk I place early Stone Temple Pilots. I was a huge fan of their Unplugged on MTV. Big Empty can be slightly indiscernible at times, but really brings to life some of the great creativity of STP. 


Bearcats Breakfast 9.5.11

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Austin Peay wasn't very good at football. You won't hear a different debate from me. We didn't learn that UC can beat Tennessee or win the Big East because of their 72-10 romp over the Governors. We did learn that they are ready to find out if they can, though. And that's pretty exciting.

I wrote more about that concept after the game Saturday night. Here it is.

There is no way to call Saturday night anything but a success. There were a few areas that needed to be cleaned up, kickoff coverage and tackling chief among them. But for the most part, the team was crisp. ZC wasn't perfect, but he made some nice throws while leading TD drives.

Last week, I stated four goals UC needed to accomplish to make the night a success. Here's how they turned out:

1. Five scores in the first half? Check.
They actually had six and scored touchdowns on six of seven drives. That includes back-to-back drives that went for double-digit plays (14 and 10). My guess is you will see more and more of these long, calculated drives as the season goes along.

2. No sacks allowed? Check.
Zach scrambled a few times and managed to make plays, but was never sacked. The offensive line did a nice job keeping the pressure off. On a few throws (especially TD to Kenbrell Thompkins), he had a country mile to step up in the pocket and pass.

3. No TDs allowed? Nope. Peay managed to push one in against UC's third/fourth string defense late in the game. But 41-0 halftime score with Peay only sniffing the Bearcats end of the field once was a quality effort.

4. Plus-3 turnover margin? Check.
UC ended up plus-5. Most importantly, they didn't commit a turnover themselves. And outside of a few passes Peay could have snagged, there weren't any close calls. UC recovered three fumbles and had two interceptions. JK Schaffer dropped two more picks on top of the one he corralled. Schaffer couldn't believe he dropped those two after the game and pledged to put a Juggs machine in his living room. If he does, I'll go to his roommates for their unhappy comments.

Let's eat...

--- Miss the game? Shame on you. But here are the highlights. The intro video (Fantastic). And the kickoff video (Also fantastic).

Don't say I never did anything for you.

Actually, go ahead and say I never did anything for you. Those last two videos are courtesy of Tommy G, who not only called a great game on FoxSportsOhio on Saturday, but did so after becoming a father earlier that morning with the birth of his son, Sawyer.

Big congrats to Tommy G and his wife Marissa.

--- All the reviews I've heard from the UC fans are that The Grid tailgating area was a huge success. They said there was plenty of space for grilling and cornhole all the other tailgating activities. There were dollar drafts and centrally located restrooms. Sounds like the team walking through the tailgate area was an exciting experience, as well.

Can't wait to stop by on my way in and check it out in a few weeks.

--- I talked with Munchie Legaux
a little bit after the game. In his first college game at quarterback, he did relatively well. He was 2 of 3 passing for 40 yards, while running five times for 36. He showed the different dimension he brings and had a nice handle on the offense.

The reality is, Legaux is one snap away from possibly having to lead this offense in front 100k+ at Tennessee. It's a challenge he takes seriously.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "At the same time, you got to be ready. You are one snap away. You got to prepare yourself like you are the starter just in case. If that goes down, you have to be there. You don't want the offense to slow down because the two-quarterback is in there. It's a big thing."

By my unscientific estimation, his 5-yard TD run was the first touchdown by a guy named Munchie in the history of college football. A truly historic evening.

The moment was so overwhelming, Legaux forgot what happens next.

"I didn't even know what to do after," he said. "I just stood up there and gave the ball to the ref."


Well played.

--- Also spoke with Ralph David Abernathy IV. This was the first time I'd had the pleasure of speaking with him since the freshman arrived. Really nice kid. And apparently well-suited to return kicks.

RDAIV took the opening kickoff of the season 60 yards.

You know how many games it took last year for a return longer than 40? 10.

You know how many games it took last year for a return longer than 50? Never happened.

One kickoff into the season, and both of those were broken. Not a bad start at all. But it wasn't a mind-blowing number for him.

"It's not to me because all through camp all the work we put in on kick return and all special teams as big importance. I wasn't surprised at all. I mean, it was what we were planning on doing anyway."

They should go ahead and plan on doing that next week against Tennessee as well.

Hard to imagine what must be going through the head of a freshman about to be the first one to touch the ball for the Bearcats' new season. Turns out, RDAIV wasn't thinking about much.

"My mind was clear," he said. "I was sitting there just focusing on the ball. I wasn't thinking anything. I was just thinking when I caught the ball just run like hell."

--- Give some credit to Tony Miliano. In what could have been a disastrous night when he missed the first PAT of his career, he came back to knock nine in a row through the uprights. He also nailed a 39-yard field goal.

The ability to forget about the first kick shows he can forget about a mistake and move forward. That's half the battle at the kicker position.

--- For the record, Isaiah Pead called that the first play of the season would be a touchdown. You really have to love his confidence.

"I told the team that," Pead said. "During the week the coach showed us the first 10 plays we would run. The first one I said, 'We are scoring on that play, so you might as well start gameplanning for after.'"

--- How about some game coverage. Joe Kay had the AP's gamer here. Bill Koch's game story here. Some game notes. And a quick preview of Tennessee.

Tennessee beat Montana 42-16 on Saturday in Knoxville. Montana was 7-4 last season, but never played an opponent from a BCS conference.

Meanwhile, the Vols hardly resembled an SEC powerhouse. They fumbled six times (remarkably didn't lose one) and had two picks nullified by penalties.

--- An inability to run the ball doomed UT last year and it appears to have rolled over as they only managed about three yards per carry against FCS Montana.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press explores the concern over rushing the football.

--- Every year, Tennessee plays a non-SEC, BCS conference opponent. UC fills that spot this year. Yet, over the last four years where the program has taken a relative downturn, they have not been victorious once.

Here are the results:

2007 @California          L 45-31 
2008 @UCLA               L 27-24 OT
2009 vsUCLA               L 19-15
2010 vs No. 7 Oregon   L 48-13

Also, keep in mind, Tennessee needed overtime to beat UAB at home last year. In 2009, my Bobcats of OU only trailed by one possession in the fourth quarter in an eventual 34-23 defeat.

Of course, Oregon went on to play for the national title, but the 48-13 whooping is among the worst in Vols history. That 2009 UCLA team wasn't exactly a world-beater, they went 3-6 in Pac-10 play and finished 7-6 on the year.

The intimidation of playing at Neyland Stadium is a thing of the past. Too many teams recently have gone in there and experienced success.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

--- Tennessee also has
its rivalry game with Florida the week after UC. Could they be looking past the Cats? Maybe a little bit.

Just know UC has its focus solely on Knoxville. This game is circled as a chance to erase all the negativity and bad taste of 2010. It has the potential to catapult the program back to the elite Big East level it was at prior to last year.

"It's what you play for," Pead said. "You play for the fans screaming at you the players talking the trash. Then you walk out the stadium and its silent because we have done walked out with a win. It is something you dream about. I may not be able to get to sleep the night before, I am going to be so excited. This is a great opportunity; we are ready to embrace it. We know how close we were with Oklahoma last year, we are ready to bring that same fire.

--- Saw some people on the message boards worrying about the referee crew for Saturday's game. Yes, it is an SEC crew. Let's hope we don't have to revisit this conversation again.

--- Austin Peay game photo gallery via BearcatLair.

--- Say what you will about the aesthetic appeal of some Big East wins, but the conference went 8-0 this week.

That includes victories against a Top 25 team, the ACC and CUSA. The next few weeks will mean much more, but a nice start.

--- Brutal weekend for UC players in the pros. Cutdown day meant bad news for a number of former Cats.

Armon Binns (Jacksonville), Brandon Underwood (Green Bay), Trevor Canfield (Jets), DeAngelo Smith (Browns) and Ricardo Mathews (Colts) were all let go.

Mardy Gilyard was also cut by St. Louis. Yet, Rex Ryan and the Jets decided to pick him up Sunday. While I am was a little surprised the Rams cut Mardy simply because of how extensively they had been using him on kick and punt returns this preseason, NY will be a nice fit for him.

Hopefully a change of scenery changes his luck.

--- As for good news, TE Ben Guidugli made the Rams as an undrafted free agent. Congrats to Ben who always saw himself as a pro even when people started to doubt him last season.

Hopefully his position holds and the Rams don't try to pick somebody else up to take his place. Here was some Rams analysis on both Gilyard and Guidugli from insideSTL.com.

--- Butch Jones will speak on the weekly teleconference at 12:10 p.m. today. If anything interesting comes out of it you can find it on my Twitter feed (@pauldehnerjr) and then the media luncheon will be tomorrow and I'll have plenty from there on the blog and Twitter.

On to some randomness...

--- My extreme jealousy hit a tipping point when I saw this happened at the Pearl Jam 20th anniversary weekend concerts in Alpine Valley, Wisc.

Chris Cornell showed up and sang Hunger Strike with the crew. Must have been an awesome moment if you were there.

Handling business worth talking about

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People will knock Cincinnati's 72-10 victory by questioning the opponent. Those criticisms will be fair, but there is something to be said for the Bearcats handling their business.

CINCINNATI - Austin Peay won't be winning many beauty contests this season. They won't be winning many football games, either.

Beating the Governors 72-10 won't cause much conversation across college football. Well, except for, "Austin Peay has a football program?"

Realistically, UC should have beat the Governors by 62 points on Saturday night. Zach Collaros should have been wearing a headset instead of a helmet in the second half. Isaiah Pead should have been telling jokes on the sideline after only seven carries. The UC ROTC should have topped out their push-up count after the last few touchdowns at 25.  

You can argue what happened Saturday night should have. The vast talent differential stretching longer than the distance from Clarksville, Tenn. to Cincinnati insists as much. 

All those facts don't diminish the encouragement gained from the fact that they did. Anybody who watched UC scrap to a 12-7 lead with Indiana State for a half last year can attest.

Sure, beating Austin Peay handily is what the Bearcats should have done, but following a year when UC didn't do what it should have done, 72-10 represents a refreshing plot twist.

"We handled our business," Butch Jones said, not once but twice. "That's the biggest thing we talked about. We had great focus and preparation throughout the week. It showed tonight."

UC racked up the third-most points in program history and most since Warren G. Harding was in office. The most post-Prohibition points won't make the difference when the Bearcats cross the orange checkered end zone at Neyland Stadium next week. But Saturday night's result certainly didn't do anything to diminish the team's confidence.

UC couldn't earn the ability to beat Tennessee with this Saturday's performance, but they could've lost it. Not handling their business could have carried over to next week. There's no reason to worry about that fate now.

Instead, Pead looked like a player prepared for one of the great seasons by a running back in program history. It only took one cutback and 40-yard run on the first offensive play of the game to make that obvious.

Ralph David Abernarthy IV looked like a valuable special teams weapon on kick returns. UC waited until the 10th game of the 2010 season to return a kickoff longer than 40 yards and never ran one longer than 50. Abernathy did so on the first play on 2011.

Collaros looked like, well, like the defending first team All-Big East quarterback in tossing four touchdowns to three different receivers. He wasn't perfect, but far from rusty.

The business-like focus and chip on the shoulder preached throughout the offseason showed up in the form of results at the first opportunity. It all comes as part of handling business. Bringing suit and tie to the stadium is all part of the refreshed attitude in this group.  

"We had this toughness about us that is you scratch us we won't bleed," Pead said. "That's what you got to carry on for the rest of the season. It could be Austin Peay, but it will be there against Tennessee next week, too."

The Volunteers will resemble Austin Peay in the same way Nippert Stadium resembles Neyland Stadium. Peay has now lost 142-13 in two games against BCS teams the last two years.

Still, results are results.

UC didn't beat itself. It committed only three penalties and none of the personal four variety. A team that spent last season working its way down to 119th in the country in turnover margin never gave the ball away.

It created three turnovers. Linebacker JK Schaffer, who had one interception and dropped two more, knows what he will take from tonight into Tennessee.

"I learned that I need to catch the ball," he said. "I am probably going to get a Juggs machine for my apartment."

Tackling and special teams coverage (Peay took 10 kickoffs back for a 196 yards) were concerns, but holding the Governors to 2 of 10 on third-down conversions provided results on a point of emphasis.

Yes, you can argue all of things should have happened, but the fact they did showed the Bearcats are on the right track.

The train could derail once it reaches Knoxville, but it hasn't yet. And there's reason to believe it might not at all.

"It gives you confidence," Jones said.

What we learned Saturday can only be considered encouraging. What we learn next Saturday will be considered substantial.

"When we go to Tennessee," Schaffer said, "and there's 110,000 that hate you, it is a little different story."

Drane takes unexpected path to the top

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Sophomore Deven Drane became Exhibit A in the youth of the Bearcats secondary last year. On Saturday, he sits atop the UC depth chart at defensive back as Exhibit A for the benefits of the early exposure.

CINCINNATI - Deven Drane thought the Bearcats game against Rutgers last season would be an enjoyable experience.

His mother and brother were coming to Nippert Stadium to see him in a college football uniform for the first time. For the then-freshman from Plantation, Fla., it felt like a special night.

"I thought they would see me standing out on the sideline," Drane said.

Sure, Butch Jones told Drane to be ready. He told Drane he would play against the Scarlet Knights. 

"To be honest, I was like, 'OK, I'll be ready,'" Drane said. "But it wasn't in my mind that you are going in and you are playing the rest of the game."

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The 18-year-old played in front of about 200 people for his high school games in South Florida - as a receiver. Only eight months prior, he had only an offer he had no intentions of accepting from Bowling Green as his collegiate football options. Only months prior he expected to be a greyshirt and wait until spring to enroll at UC to add an extra year of eligibility.

Yet, as the first half began in the highest-scoring game in Big East football history - an eventual 69-38 offensive bonanza victory for UC - Drane waltzed out as the starting cornerback to open the second half.

What a proud moment it was for the son of former Buffalo Bills defensive back Dwight Drane.

Then Rutgers WR Mark Harrison ran right past him.

One play, 15 seconds, 52 yards, touchdown.

"I thought they were just going to run the ball and we were going to ease into the game again," Drane said. "Next thing you know, I am backpedaling, I see a receiver going by me and I hear 'Ball!' I turn back and see the ball and him. I just said, 'Really? The first play of the half?'"

He can laugh about it now. Drane became Exhibit A in the youth of the Bearcats secondary and unexpected early exposure to college football. One year later, he sits atop the UC depth chart at defensive back as Exhibit A for the benefits of said exposure.

Drane competed with a flock of young corners and directly fought Dominique Battle for playing time this preseason. Even though defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs expects to rotate eight players through the defensive backfield, Drane will open the season Saturday against Austin Peay as the starter at corner.

Drane wouldn't be in his current position without watching the jersey number of Harrison sprint into the end zone for one of his 10 receptions for 240 yards that night. Nor would he be in this position without his only official start of the season a week later in Connecticut.

This trial by fire sparked a rapid rise.

"You put him on an island on coverage in a big stadium on a big field, I can't think of anything harder -- other than being a freshman quarterback -- than being a freshman corner," Coombs said. "He has really matured; he really understands what we are trying to do."

For now, the Bearcats are trying to erase the failures of 2010 and prove the adversity endured came with a valuable payoff.

"Maybe he wasn't quite ready last year - but it was what it was," Jones said. "We're asking a lot of him, not just for our defense, but on special teams as well. He's an individual who has a very large role in our program and he's going to see the volume of the different amount of roles he can handle and how he can progress."

Drane put on almost 10 pounds of muscle to be more physical at the point of attack. He knew his technique needed work. An offseason for the coachable sophomore resulted in significant improvement.

"He's a technician," Coombs said.

And now, he's a technician with experience to draw from.

"The biggest thing I learned was in high school you come from being the man to coming to college, everybody is the man," Drane said. "You are not the best player on the field now. You have to adjust. You have to get your technique down pat because ability just can't get you through."

Drane called his Rutgers experience "overwhelming." Jones doesn't need to worry about his starting corner being overwhelmed Saturday. The first play of the second half against the Scarlet Knights assured that.

"It's all good," Drane said, smilling. "I learned from it."

The Bearcats are counting on that fact.

Not letting the Governors intervene

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I used to write a rather formal game preview here that included when the game was, the name of the field, the time of kickoff and where you can find it on TV.

Due to regular employment and the fact that most of you are intelligent enough to find Nippert Stadium without the help of GPS, I'm going to toss that aside.

(UC and Austin Peay kick off at 7 p.m. at "The Nipp" and it's more fun to be there in person. That's all I'm giving you.)

I will give you a few random thoughts, which I tend to have from time to time.

I remember the last time the two played, I think Robert Tate had kick return for a score.  For those that don't remember Robert Tate, he was probably the best return guy the Bearcats have had on kickoffs.  If you want to talk punts, you go back to Tinker Keck.

If you don't know who Robert Tate or Tinker Keck are, you're probably not reading much of me anyway because you think I'm too old.

I'll give you this, I'll put my knowledge gained from 14 years on the radio crew up with anyone's regarding UC football personnel and minutia from the early 90s on.

(That's just my little disclaimer for anyone that thinks UC football began when Brian Kelly marched onto the field.)

What to watch for:


Will UC open up their big bag of tricks on offense? Or, will they hold back a little knowing they have to travel to Knoxville to take on another Tennessee school of note in a week?

Realistically, with Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead, the Bearcats shouldn't have to go too deep in the playbook.  However, receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Anthony McClung need to rack up some DI college receptions and get their feet wet. 

Don't worry about D.J. Woods, he'll get his (and because he'll get his, Thompkins and McClung will get theirs).  If they focus on Woods, KT and McClung will have a big night and vice-versa.


Missing links?

I'm kind of interested to see who steps up at tight end.  I think UC, at least initially, will miss Ben Guidugli.  Adrien Robinson has an NFL body, but hasn't quite put it all together yet and Coach Jones wanted to see more out of Blake Annen at one point in training camp.

Also, two "stud" running backs were recruited, Jameel Poteat and Akise Teague.   The staff is high on them and they're realistically the backs of the future.  How much will they get in, if at all?  Currently, George Winn is listed as the No. 2 back behind Pead.

In addition, Pead has bulked up and improved his pass blocking.  Will he get his 1,000 yards or will one of the youngsters get in the mix?

Beyond Collaros?

Munchie Legaux won the No. 2 quarterback spot, although Coach Jones says Jordan Louallen will play some too.  I wouldn't have guessed Legaux at No. 2 in the spring when Louallen looked very effective running the team and running the ball. 

However. watching at Higher Ground, the stronger arm belongs to Legaux.

Where does Brendon Kay fit in with all this?  With Collaros wrapping up his career, this season could determine who runs next season.

Defensive concerns?

There shouldn't be as many as last year.  Too many players return and some that were injured return.  I'm interested to see how transfer Ben Pooler does.  (By the way, with his helmet off, he's a dead ringer for Dhani Jones.)

The secondary is clearly stronger and I think the LBs (Maalik Bomar, JK Schaffer, Pooler and throw Dwight Jackson and Solomon Tentman in there) are downright nasty.

If you look up front on the defensive line, you see a lot of the names you heard last year, Walter Stewart, Brandon Mills, Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, Dan Giordano, Rob Trigg, Jordan Stepp. I think overall, the UC defense will be fun to watch and far more successful.

Who's kicking?


Elder's Tony Miliano won the job and probably is going to have to go through some of the same growing pains we watched Jake Rogers have.  He's young and he's going to be here awhile, so strap on your seatbelt and be patient. Elder kids tend to deliver.

Pat O'Donnell's still the punter and he's fine.  I kind of wish he wasn't the holder (I like the possibility of a fake) but I'm typically not contacted on personnel matters.

Early returns?

DJ Woods will handle punts and possibly Isaiah Pead. I like the idea of Pead, because he might have more open space for his moves.  As for Woods, I've been predicting a punt TD since his freshman year, so I again see him "taking one to the house".

On the kick returns, it's Ralph David Abernathy IV, all 5-7 and 160 pounds of him.  He's a true freshman, but as long as he can secure the ball, he'll give teams fits.  You can't tackle what you don't see.

Don't look ahead!

What I hope to see is an all-out blistering of the Governors.  I think holding back things for week two is dangerous and you should play them all with the same intensity.

Austin Peay will run the ball, which will give Jim Kelly a clever line during his "Kelly's Keys" segment on radio: "Watch when Peay runs!"

(You didn't think I'd do a whole preview without a sophomoric reference, did you?)

I think UC's defense is up for anything. I think they're hungry to whack someone else and I predict a score similar to the last time these two met in 1993 when I had more hair (42-10 ).

Going into the following game, I think UC has every opportunity in the world to beat a Tennessee team that was far from dominating last year. .

I'd write more, but then I'd be guilty of looking ahead.  If I don't want the players to do it, I shouldn't either.

Enjoy the night against Austin Peay and drive safely down to Knoxville. If you take the side trip to Dollywood, say hello to Ms. Parton for me.



 

Game Day!

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Hey Everyone!

  After a good showing on the road in Chicago last weekend the Bearcats came out with another strong week of practice. We ended our road trip 1-0-1, beating Northwestern 2-1 on Friday night and tying Loyola-Chicago 0-0 on Sunday afternoon. Coming away with no losses on the road was exciting, but not as exciting as the game Friday night in which Michelle got her 100th win as a head coach! After the game, we found out it was her 100th win and Hebs gave her a little gatorade shower to celebrate! 100 wins is certainly an accomplishment and is an attribute to how great of a coach Michelle is! She is such an amazing coach and we were honored to help her reach 100 wins!

  We came out Tuesday morning for practice and the competition was great. We did a 6v6 tournament with 4 teams to determine our fitness at the end. We played 2 minute, 3 minute, and 4 minute games versus each of the other 3 teams. Wednesday we worked on our attack and painting out how we can be successful this weekend! We ended with a little scrimmage and some shooting. Thursday we did our usual day-before game routine and ended with our favorite game, Blondes vs Brunettes. We had a strong week of practice so I hope we continue that this weekend as we take on Western Carolina and Wisconsin.

  We play Western Carolina tonight (Friday) at 7pm on Gettler and Wisconsin at noon on Sunday. Please note the Wisconsin game time has been moved an hour earlier from the original 1pm start time and will now be kicking off at 12pm! If your in the area make sure to come check out your Bearcats in action!!

Go Bearcats---RAWWWWWWR!
KP #14

Bearcats Breakfast 9.2.11

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One day. Just one more day. (Few things are as fun as watching Isaiah Pead highlights)

Watching college football last night sure won't help the next day and a half go by any faster. Winning in the non-conference will be imperative for the Big East to recapture credibility lost during last year's disappointing national slate.

So far, so good. Sort of. Yes, the Big East did go 3-0. However, upon closer look it wasn't exactly the confidence-inducing openers either Louisville or Syracuse hoped for. Andrea Adelson looked at the pro/con dichotomy of all three games.

The Cards beat Murray State, 21-9, but floundered after a quick 21-0 start. Syracuse, likely due to the inherent pressure in knowing Tom Gelehrter and Dan Hoard were locked in on their 15-point, second-half deficit, turned on a remarkable comeback and OT touchdown to sneak past Wake Forest.

For now, a win is a win for the Big East, especially when the truly important games will come in the next few weeks: UC@Tennessee, ND@Pittsburgh, Rutgers@UNC, Cuse@USC, USF@ND and LSU@WVU.

Splitting those six would go a long way to reminding everyone the Big East owns the second-best non-con record since 2006.

Still, for now, hard to argue with 3-0. However, none of you care about those teams right now. You care about Saturday, 7 p.m. at The Nipp and, more precisely, 2 p.m. at The Grid.

So, let's eat...

--- Austin Peay went
2-9 last season and made a trip to Wisconsin where the No. 11 Badgers toasted the Governors, 70-3. They looked like a team that had never played in a hostile BCS environment before. That's because they were.

In fact, coupled with a game two weeks prior against Middle Tennessee State, it was their first games against ANY FBS school since 2002 against Troy.

Of course, you can find out all this information at LetsGoPeay.com, the school's official athletics web site. You have to love the way they embrace the juvenile nature of the school name. You don't often see a self-deprecating marketing campaign. Well played, Govs.

Peay will show up with two tight ends, two backs and try to shove senior RB Ryan White down UC's throat. White is fifth in AP history in rushing yards (2,450). It will be a nice test for UC defensive line which is supposed to be the anchor of the unit.

--- Since (as UC faithful hope) the score shouldn't be much in doubt, barometers of success will come from other statistics. This is one of those games where just winning won't please the fan base. Here's a look at four goals fans should hope to see UC accomplish Saturday.

1. No touchdowns allowed.
JK Schaffer added he'd like to see a shutout and less than 50 rushing yards for the Govs and that's a nice goal, but even the most impressive blowouts allow field goals. If this young defense (particularly the starting unit) can keep Peay out of the end zone, it will show a step forward Butch Jones hoped to see from the group returning all 11 starters.

They did so last year against Miami (45-3) and in 2009 against SE Missouri (70-3).

2. Five first-half scores. Sure, UC beat Indiana State last year 40-7 and had little problem with the inferior foe, but people remembered the 12-7 halftime score. Giving a smaller program a reason to believe can be the ultimate demise of a game like this. UC needs to jump out early and often and show precision offensively from the opening kickoff. Five first-half scores would show a group finding itself and prepared to head to Knoxville.

3. Plus-3 turnover margin.
The mantra all offseason has been on protecting the football and creating turnovers. UC didn't do anywhere near enough last season, finishing 119th in the country. Creating three turnovers and not giving Austin Peay any would suggest the preaching paid off.

4. No sacks. How will this revamped offensive line look? Last year's opener exposed offensive line concerns when Fresno State tossed down Zach Collaros eight times in the 28-14 defeat. Peay won't exactly bring SEC speed off the edge, but shutting down the Govs pass rush will be a starting point.

If UC checks off all four of these statistical measures, Saturday's game will be a clear success. Heck, if they check out three of four it will be a success. From my angle, though, these are the four areas to search for the most telling statistical victories.

--- Athlon Sports went
with the anonymous source route to get coaches' opinions of Big East competitors. It includes plenty of bulletin board material for the Cats. One coach pointed out the knack of Brian Kelly wasn't the offense he ran, but picking the perfect time to run certain plays. Another cited the team lost its swagger.

It's nice to see coaches speak honestly, but it's remarkable how little some of these coaches actually know about their conference competitors. They are so focused on their own programs, they rarely understand the situations elsewhere. Not to mention, almost half the league's coaches are in their first season.

--- Bill Koch on Walter Stewart and his permanent residence at defensive end.

--- Friend of the blog and Twitter maven Scott from BearcatsBlog (@BearcatsBlog) gives his look inside the 2011 Bearcats, including award-winning photography from what appears to be a 1994 Polaroid Instant JoyCam.

--- More coming later today with a feature on sophomore CB Deven Drane.

--- Some randomness...

--- I used to decide whether or not I wanted to live somewhere based on proximity to Waffle House. Little did I know the Waffle House scale was so popular even the folks at FEMA make use of its consistency and credibility to judge the damage of hurricanes. No word from FEMA administrator Craig Fugate as to if he would dare order a T-bone along the way.

--- Uh, yep, that's
a shark in the water. I think I'm going to go ahead and eat fish tacos instead of going to the beach next time I'm in San Diego.

--- Parks and Recreation season premiere trailer now posted.

--- 25 college football reporters to follow on Twitter.

--- Pump-up song week concludes with the ultimate song in the category. As far as I am concerned, the undeniable, undisputed champion.

Take it away, Mr. Collins.



Bearcats Breakfast 9.1.11

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Two days. (Still love watching that play, even though its from two years ago)

Actual games start tonight. Saturday night at The Nipp, UC football will return. Finally. We can stop speculating about speculation. As I've said before, I'm intrigued to see this team play and find out how much they have improved, particularly on defense where Tommy G put together this preview.

You think you know but you have no idea. (Hopefully that's not copyright infringement)

As an outsider, I'd think the goal would be for Saturday to look a lot like last year's Miami game. Quick fireworks early, then investigate your depth for the second half. Kerry Coombs said they plan on rotating eight guys through the secondary. That's a significant amount of important information to have when the team travels to Knoxville.

Go ahead and place zero turnovers and zero personal fouls as specific goals for Saturday as well. Bill Koch wrote about the specific goal cutting down the Big East-high 29 turnovers.

Those are some quick goals, but I will run down more game preview goals tomorrow.

For now, let's eat...

--- I want to start
with basketball. The Bearcats and the Big East released their schedule on Wednesday. The big news is UC will host Syracuse on Big Monday on Jan. 23.

There is no bigger regular season stage in college basketball than Big Monday. Only eight games are played on that night and the fact 5/3 Arena will be hosting one speaks volumes to how far the program has come in five years.

Mick Cronin said yesterday 'Cuse will be his preseason No. 1 and that will likely be consistent across most media outlets. Should be an electric atmosphere.

As for the breakdown of the schedule, it looks brutal every year. Most people are discussing the wild eight-game stretch of NCAA tournament games to open the slate. While, yes, those games are imposing, I don't see it as crazy as others do.

@Pitt -- OK, this is a legitimately terrible way to open conference play. Brutal atmosphere.
Notre Dame -- ND always finds a way to be good, but they will be very young and lost the majority of their scoring/experience, including Ben Hansbrough and Carleton Scott.
St. John's -- The roster was gutted. They are talented, but will be starting three or four frosh.
@Georgetown -- They are in a bit of a reload and will be young as well, having lost Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Plus, UC knows they can win there.
Villanova -- Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will be gone. They will be young as well.
@UConn -- Yeah, this one will be a tall order
@WVU -- This is the sandwich of three games in three days. Ugh.
Syracuse -- Big Monday. Big problem.

The closest thing to science in the Big East every year is teams struggling on the road early in the numbers are pretty staggering. It tends to even out as the year goes along and young teams figure out how to win in hostile environments, but for the first three weeks or so, the percentages are significant.

Take that into consideration with three reloading, young teams coming into 5/3 early in the conference season and it takes a bit of the edge off the first month.

For my money, the @UConn, @WVU, Syracuse Big Monday three-game stretch in six days will be the most arduous any team in the country will experience this year. But the full eight-game open isn't as daunting as initial reaction would insist. And, it doesn't much matter what order you put the Big East schedule in, it's never going to look pretty.

--- Here's Mick talking about the schedule yesterday. He was at a Coaches vs. Cancer promotional stop along with Chris Mack, Charlie Coles and Archie Miller. (H/t Bearcat Lair)

Those coaches are putting together a great way to raise money for cancer research. Here's Mick talking about what the fundraising means to him.

--- Mike DeCourcy talks about Mick and the possibility that winning the Big East title isn't all its cracked up to be. DeCourcy points out that a team from further down the standings has advanced farther in the Big Dance each of the last four seasons.

--- Apparently there is a reward of steak for creating turnovers, per Andrew Force.

--- JK Schaffer is Mr. Reliable on defense. Koch has the story. Nobody brings more consistent production. With a crew of players without a college snap behind him, nobody will be relied on more this season than JK. Of course, he wouldn't have it any other way.

--- Randomness...

--- The latest news
in wizard beards.

--- Peyton Hillis thinks he's Chuck Norris. I'm all for this.

--- For pump-up song week, this one might not be on everybody's else list, but it will always be on fine. When that guitar first hits, I am ready to conquer the world. Or the nearest Chick-fil-a.