One year later, the response changes

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The Bearcats had seen the situation presented at halftime many times before, but under Butch Jones, they'd never seen this response.

CINCINNATI -- Zach Collaros chased Mike Evans 63 yards down the far sideline. He came nowhere near catching the Louisville linebacker. As Evans crossed into the south end zone of Paul Brown Stadium, the air fell out of the Bearcats fan base.  

This reeked of 2010.

Only, in 2010, those deflating plays caused the Bearcats to curl up and go away quietly.  

The second half response reeked of 2011.

A team who spent an offseason preaching character and response to adversity dug itself an opportunity to illustrate the progress in front of 40,271 fans begging for the conversation to change.  By the time a 25-16 defense of the Keg of Nails came to a close, the mantra of character and mental toughness proved to be more than rhetoric.

No, this wasn't 2010. From inside the locker room out to the field, this felt different.

"It really did," senior JK Schaffer said. "Last year guys probably would have been hanging their heads and chattering back and forth a bit, (saying) 'Why did he do that?' We didn't flinch."

In fact, they did the exact opposite. Facing what would have been a momentum-killing, devastating open to the Big East season in front of the third-largest home crowd in UC history, the Bearcats left the big picture thoughts in the same place as its 2010 attitude: The rearview mirror.

"That's a character win, through and through," Butch Jones said. "That defines what we are. That was a win that occurred in January, February and March with team chemistry and toughness."  

More precisely, it occurred last September, October and November, as well.


In the 2010 opener at Fresno State, UC blew a 14-0 lead and allowed two touchdowns in the final 2:23 before halftime. The response? They didn't score again and faded to a 28-14 loss.

At N.C. State, UC allowed a 72-yard drive in the final two minutes to see the Wolfpack pull out to a two-touchdown lead. The Bearcats let up two quick scores out of the locker room and didn't post points until six minutes left, trailing by 23. 

Hosting Syracuse, UC let the Orange pick up a fumble in the end zone during a disastrous second quarter, but only trailed 17-7. They were outscored 14-0 in the second half of a demoralizing 31-7 defeat.

Oh, and then there was West Virginia.

As Zach Collaros drove the Bearcats down the field attempting to flop momentum in a game slipping away, an unfortunate bounce allowed a Mountaineers interception to move the ball the other way. UC then disappeared into a 37-10 loss on the way to 4-8.

Indeed, this team, this coach, these fans, had seen this exact scenario before.

Under Butch Jones, they had never seen this response.

"We said it when we started this journey in January that our team would be defined by how we handle adversity and how we persevere," Jones said. "Good teams find ways to win games when they don't play their best."

Without doubt, the Bearcats didn't play their best. A game that opened with three possessions, one first down, three fumbles and a blocked punt only depreciated from there. A missed assignment allowed a 58-yard gain, missed tackles kept drives alive. If not for a stingy red zone defense forcing three field goals, the game could have spiraled out of control.

Evans interception put an ugly decoration on a rotten 30 minutes. 

"There was no panic," Collaros said. "No panic at all. We couldn't really get into a rhythm out there. We have great leadership on this team. Especially from the senior class. We just came in here, looked each other in the eye and said we are going to get this done and we ended up doing it."

Did they ever.

Cincinnati's defense held Louisville to 110 y ards in 36 plays after halftime. Instead of opening up a frenzied passing attack, UC pounded 17 rushes to 11 passes after the break.

With 12:19 remaining in the fourth quarter and Isaiah Pead leaping to the latest explosive highlight of his career -- this a 50-yarder up the middle, with a ankle-breaker for folks at ESPN -- the first half was forgotten and Louisville was the team testing its character. The ensuing blur of penalties, crowd noise and wrath of Derek Wolfe (11 tackles, 3 TFL and a sack), ensured they were already done.  

The Bearcats response was calculated yet emotional; precise yet powerful; improbable yet expected.

Most importantly, the latest sign that the results of 2010 look more and more like a exception rather than the rule. 

"I will tell you what, when we got in the locker room, you would have thought we were winning, because heads were up," Wolfe said. "Nobody's heads were down. We knew we were going to win this game."

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