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November 2011 Archives

Cheikh Mate: Mbodj draws essential confidence from win

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Junior College transfer Cheikh Mbodj enjoys his breakout game in a critical 56-47 bounce back victory against the Miami RedHawks.

By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI - If Cheikh Mbodj ever needed a confidence builder, his performance in last night's win over Miami University should do the trick.

And it couldn't have come at a more opportune time for his new team.

The 6-foot-10 junior from Grayson County College scored both a season, team and career-high 12 points.

Though, it wasn't just the fact he led the team in scoring, but the manner in which he did so. With Miami pulling to within two points in the final minutes and the shot clock ticking down to zero, Mbodj found himself holding the ball inside the 3-point arc on the wing.

Mbodj.jpg

Everybody in the building was thinking the same thing as Miami coach Charlie Coles.

"The kid gets it, I say, OK, shoot it," Coles said.

Mbodj did. He drained it.

The following trip down the floor Mbodj found himself in a similar spot, only standing behind the 3-point line. With no hesitation, he buried his first career 3-pointer and the Miami RedHawks at the same time.

For the first time in his now three-game UC career, the predictable chant could be heard from the 6,457 in attendance at Fifth Third Arena.

"Mboooooooooooooooodj!"

For a player expected to make the biggest impact of all UC's newcomers this season, Tuesday night was essential in his development. Mbodj missed the first three games with a high-ankle sprain and searched to find his niche. Like many of the new players, he desperately wanted to make an impact.

"I was happy Cheikh Mbodj finally showed you guys what he shows me in practice," Mick Cronin said. "It's great for Cheikh, he wants to do so well. He's just been a nervous wreck."

If that's how Mbodj plays when nervous, his performance with confidence must be quite a show.

"It means a lot because it shows that I'm here for the team and I'm trying to be a part of our success," said Mbodj. "I just got to keep listening to Yancy (Gates) and coach and my teammates."

Early on, however, it didn't seem like it would be such a positive night for Mbodj. Cronin yanked him from the game in the first half for not contributing on the boards.

"I was all over him early, he wasn't rebounding the basketball," Cronin said. "I took him out and went off on him about rebounding and he got three offensive rebounds and look what happens."

Mobdj scored eight points in the second half including the dagger 3. Although, that wasn't the first time the big man had ever drained a shot from behind the arc.

"You don't get to just shoot shots if you don't make them in practice," Gates said. "So, yeah, he makes them all the time in practice."

Having someone with Mbodj's size and ability to make perimeter shots could be a dangerous weapon. According to Cronin, it's simply a matter of knowing when to take them.

"A wide open jump shot from a good shooting big man is a bad shot early in the clock because you've got no chance to rebound it, probably," said Cronin. "But late in the clock it's a good shot because you have a guy wide open that's a good shooter. So, you see a lot of teams go to that late in the clock where they'll pick and pump it to the guy who can make the shot."

Can Mbodj be the Bearcats' go-to guy late in the shot clock?

His teammates believe so. It would definitely give them another scoring option.

"This is going to make our team better," Gates said. "To have another guy that you can go to on the block when he has a mismatch and know that you can trust him to make it, score through the foul even and step up to the free-throw line and make his shots, that's just giving our team another dimension on offense."

The junior still fights his ankle injury, but says he's close to 100 percent. Cronin believes it could follow him all season. He doesn't see the same lift displayed while recruiting him.

Mbodj's performance against Miami is evidence of two things: even fighting through an ankle injury, he can score and help his team win games.

And now he owns the confidence to continue doing both.

The first ever Inside the Bearcats Podcast

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This post represents a new age of the Bearcats Blog -- this is the first of what hopefully will be many podcasts on the blog.

And for the first go-round, I spoke with the voice of the Bearcats, Dan Hoard, about a wide range of topics. I will only warn you that it may be difficult to tell who is the pro at talk radio and who is the amateur.

Plus, it only took 15 minutes into the podcast's career for the first technical malfunction! So, for those of you in the most pathetic betting pool in history that had the over of nine minutes, thank you for your confidence and I hope it was lucrative.

Needless to say, there were some bugs to be worked out among the program, but luckily when you have Mr. Hoard on the other end, the conversation is worth listening to.

As for the topics, here's a rundown of what happened so you can move forward to whatever it is your want to hear. Though, I will say, if you skip any of it I won't be mad, just disappointed.

Minutes 0-2:
General rambling, setting up what the heck this thing is and the current scenario of the UC season.

2-4: Dan Hoard joins and we discuss the possibly disease-causing decisions made following the 2008 Orange Bowl clincher at Nippert.

4-6: Handling Thursday's game as a coach/player.

6-9:30: This year's senior class...the best in UC history?

9:30-13:45: NFL potential of JK Schaffer and why he's been so important to the development of this program.

13:45-19:
Butch Jones coaching rumors and the positive effect of Whit Babcock.

19-25:30: We rank our favorite Isaiah Pead moments and make obscure references to old Olympic high jumpers and pole vaulters.

25:30-close: Discussion about the special features that will be available when we re-release the entire first season of the podcast once it becomes an international sensation five years down the road.

Again, can't thank Dan enough for joining me on the podcast. Look for another edition discussing Bowl games and the Crosstown Shootout next week.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Cancun Recap: Q & A with star guard Bjonee Reaves

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The Bearcats went 2-0 in Cancun over the Thanksgiving holiday, defeating South Dakota State and Chattanooga. I was able to give senior guard Bjonee Reaves a call and talk to her about the team's first road trip of the young season.

Q: What was the best thing about Cancun? (Basketball related)

BR: "I think it was getting two wins. We went out there to get two wins and that's what we did. Just accomplishing that goal was very big for us and I think it really boosted our confidence. The fact that that second game we did it together; the second game we won by working together and holding each other accountable. We grinded it out."

Q: What was the best thing about Cancun? (Non-basketball related)

BR:
"I would say the sun. The resort was the most beautiful place I've ever been to. We went jet-skiing, swimming, we went to the beach;  it was just an unexplainable experience, especially to spend it with my teammates. It was the perfect way to end my last year here."

Q: What do you think about this team now? 

BR: "I think we're on the right track. We still have so much work to do and we are nowhere near being a BIG EAST championship team. If we keep building and keep progressing every day, then I think we really could be a top team in this conference. If not this year, then for years to come. I feel like Cincinnati is going to be a team that people talk about as long as we keep working hard like we've been doing. All those things that make a good basketball team, I think we have all those pieces, now we just have to put it all in place."

Q: How did you step up as a leader while in Cancun?

BR: "I didn't really do too well defensively in the second game. When I did get in foul trouble I was able to let my team know that even though I wasn't out there I was going to make it seem like I was. Just giving them lots of encouragement from the bench, letting them know that I'm still there with them even though I'm not out on the court. If I was in a situation where one of my best players went out with foul trouble then that's like a downfall. I was just making sure that they knew that we needed to keep pushing forward."

Q: What was the most memorable moment from your time in Cancun?

BR: "I'd say the most memorable moment was when we went jet-skiing. It was so much fun, especially because most of us have never been jet-skiing before. The fact that we all did it together out in the ocean, under the sun. That's the one thing I'm really going to take away from the Cancun trip."

Q: Has the team morale improved since the preseason?

BR:
"I think we have improved tremendously. Especially for the new people, preseason was a time to just get your feet wet. Even for us it took us time to get used to not having some people from last year, as well as adding Day, and having Chanel who is healthy now. I think as each game progresses we're getting better and better at knowing our strengths and weaknesses. I think we are going to get a lot better."

Q: Was there a difference playing in Mexico than playing in the United States?

BR:
"There is a big difference. I think the difference is going through customs and doing things like that. Our trip was elongated because you have to go through customs and you have to go through all these security checkpoints and things like that. Traveling internationally is a lot more time consuming and it was our first road trip and it just happened to be in Mexico. I think we responded very well as a team."

Q: How did the Freshmen respond on their first road trip?

BR:
"I think they responded well and responded to the best of their abilities and that's all that we ask out of them. I think they've accepted what coach Elliott and the rest of the staff are trying to do here. I think Mexico was no different that playing at home, they were still buying in to what we are doing defensively, offensively, if they weren't in the game they were cheering. It's just a completely different team."

Q: Did it seem weird playing on Thanksgiving?

BR:
"No, not at all. It felt like a normal game day and we weren't even focused too much on Thanksgiving. I know some of us, including me, sat with our family that day and that was it. We had a game to play that day and we were focused. I think it showed that day because of how big of win we got."

Q: Who was the tougher opponent? South Dakota State or Chattanooga?

BR:
"It was definitely Chattanooga. The fact that they were able to watch us and see what we did against South Dakota State, they really were prepared for everything we had and everything we threw at them. They really gave us a run for our money. I think we needed that game as a program because now we know that we're not going to be able to come out and jump on teams and they're just going to roll over. Chattanooga just kept pushing and kept pushing, which is going to be like the rest of our games from here on out. I think it was a really good test for us and it brought us down a little bit. Now we have to go back to practice. Hopefully on Thursday we will see how much better we've gotten, which is our goal. We want to keep progressing and getting better everyday. We're not so much worried about what other teams or other schools are doing, we're focused on Cincinnati basketball and we're going to play Cincinnati basketball no matter what."    

 


 

Tuesday Lunch: Special Place Edition

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Butch Jones almost made it through his Tuesday press conference (watch full presser here) without answering any questions about rumors circulating of other schools expressing interest in him. UCLA, North Carolina and Illinois have been among those where his name popped up.

Jones slapped the podium and joked he thought he'd get out of here without being asked about it. Not so. Not with a fan base that has been under the watchful eye of three coaches in the last five years.

Don't think Jones was uninterested in broaching the topic, though. Quite the opposite. He came with his answer locked and loaded.

"I will always be up front and honest with you," he said. "There will be no beating around the bush. I think it's very flattering. I think it shows the progress people see around the country we have made in a very short period of time. I think it's a reaction to the efforts of so many people in this football program. It's our players. It's our coaching staff, it's our administration.

"I've said it and I'll continue to say it. I love being here, I think we have a great direction in where we are going."

The first reaction of UC fans will be predictable. We've heard these words before, they'll say. And they'd be right. And at this point in time, nobody knows anything about what will happen this offseason or in any offseason in the future.

All that is known for now is Jones will be involved in speculation because of the job he's done with this year's team. It comes with the territory. All he can do is be honest about how he feels about UC and prepare his team to win Saturday and in the bowl game. 

The rest will bounce around the interwebs and nobody can control it.   

"You know, it's that time of year," he said. "Rumors come and go. All it takes is one person to throw a name out there and Twitter it and it's across the country. That's why I don't get caught up in that stuff. I've continued to say praise and blame it's all the same. Our focus is on UConn and our football team. You can read everything, but I've said it: This is a very special place."

--- A few other interesting quotes from Jones during the press conference. He continued his ongoing push to sell tickets for Saturday's game. Nippert is not sold out yet. It's been 71 days since the Cats played there, they will be honoring 21 seniors and playing for at least a share of the Big East title. 

Plus, it's Fan Appreciation Day and tickets are only $20. 

"This is a football program, a football team that everybody in this community should be extremely proud of," Jones said. "Say, hey, this is our hometown football team. That's why coming out and supporting our team is critical. It's critical for our football program. It's critical for the bowl selection process." 

--- Not shockingly, Jones confirmed there will be a utilization of two quarterbacks during Saturday's game against UConn. The unknown element will be removed against Paul Pasqualoni, but there will be no reigning in the philosophy that worked so well against Syracuse. 

"You'll see both individuals play on Saturday," Jones said. "It's all about being in a rhythm on offense and picking your spots and playing to the strengths of each individual. I was pleased to see Jordan Luallen really step up, now he has to learn how to pick his feet up and finish runs."

--- Ah, yes, the dreaded turf monster. 

One of my favorite parts of the day today was catching up with Luallen and asking him about his faceplant inches from the goal line.

Jordan is a pretty outgoing, funny guy. I found that out interviewing during training camp and he brought some of the better one-liners from the football team this year. In the same light, he's taken the trip heard 'round Clifton in stride. 

It ended up on ESPN Sportsnation's Two Jeers, but Luallen wasn't embarrassed at all. The opposite, actually.

"I can take a negative approach at that, but I think it is pretty cool," Luallen said. "I mean, at least people are seeing it."

Yes, they are seeing it. The bottom line is it was a funny footnote to a difference-making performance from the Georgia Tech transfer.

"It was a nice run, wish I would have finished it off the right way. Felt like I helped the team gain a little momentum when I was in there, so it was nice."

Luallen certainly sparked the offense that sat stagnant against Rutgers. He sees that as a big part of his role Saturday.  

"Just kind of adding that extra dimension for the team, bring that spark and some excitement," he said. "I just really love being out on the field. I just want to bring the team some extra excitement."

The problem early Saturday for Luallen was he brought a little bit too much excitment.

"When I got out there, I guess I was a little too excited," he said."My heart was thumping pretty fast. (Alex) Hoffman and Randy (Martinez) had to tell me to calm down. It was just nice to be able to get out there. That first play I was a little shocked I gained about 15 on it. Then, the one that I fell on, I was, obviously, very shocked." 

--- Sunday will be a special day for the 21 seniors (I'll have more on them later this week), but for a few who grew up in Cincinnati and played for the Bearcats, it takes on a little extra. Chief among those is JK Schaffer. The guy has been a symbol of football in Cincinnati for the past 6-8 years dating back to his time as a standout at LaSalle.

This will be his last game in this city. When asked to reflect on his career you could hear the emotion start to flow through his voice a little bit. I think everyone remembers their final days at college and pretty much none of us did anything near as memorable or special as what Schaffer and the Bearcats have done and still hope to do.

He summed up the feelings on his career well.   

"I am happy," he said. "I am not satisfied yet, but I am happy. I am proud of it. To play for my hometown and my city is special to me and I wouldn't give it up for the world."

To play for his city and hometown with a shot at the Orange Bowl, however, would create the dream final chapter. For that, he'll need USF to pull the upset on WVU on Thursday night. Schaffer admitted, he will be watching.

"It will be tough to watch," he said. "I might have to send B.J. Daniels a text and tell him I need him."

--- Isaiah Pead said Butch Jones told the team he might not even watch the game on Thursday night and started to convince Pead that he shouldn't watch it either. The goal is to keep all focus on Saturday's game against UConn.

"It's absolutely zero distractions," Jones said. "The only game that matters is Saturday. We can only control what we can control, that is sharing a title saying we are Big East conference champions."  

Pead didn't waste much time to flash his standard smile and finish his thoughts, "I'll probably take a peek, though."

--- Much, much more coming from Isaiah. I sat down and watched the top 10 Pead moments that I collected and it was great to hear his perspective on some of his most memorable UC runs.

I made him pick a top three and I will only say that there are some suprises in there.

Thanks to all of you who did your homework and sent in your favorite Pead moments. I'll be sure to include a few in the final blog post this week. If you still want to tell me your favorite few Pead plays at UC, just send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr).  

--- Quote of the day: Butch Jones, joking when asked about how he's approaching his team about Thursday's game between WVU and USF:

"There's a game Thursday?"

Bearcats Breakfast 11.29.11

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Brief Breakfast prior to the Tuesday luncheon. As always, following me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) to keep up with any news that comes out of the interviews as UC approaches UConn and the game for at least a share of the Big East title.

Also, great news here at the blog. The Inside the Bearcats Podcast will be launching this week. That's right, I will be taking about 30 minutes each week bringing in a different guest to talk about whatever topics circulating around UC. And, of course, mustaches. And buffets. And Seinfeld.

Also, I'll have interviews from players, coaches and more to hear the quotes from the inside. You can even listen live and call in or just play it archived and posted right here on the blog.

This week, I'll be talking with Dan Hoard as we discuss UC football, rank the best Isaiah Pead moments and whatever else the conversation turns to (Hoard posted this blog today about Pead returning punts). Should hopefully be entertaining and a unique spot to find informed people discussing the program you are so passionate about.

Hopefully you enjoy it. If so, spread the word. I think it will be one of the few venues to hear UC discussed as the only topic of the day in this type of setting. Sure, you get conversations before, during and after games and the weekly coaches shows, but this type of laid back, conversational venue rarely revolves around UC -- or facial hair -- in this city. Here it will.

Let's eat...

--- I was completely remiss in not mentioning the play of former UC star and one-time mustachioed American Connor Barwin yesterday. The Texans OLB notched four sacks in Houston's win at Jacksonville on Sunday to set a new franchise record. He now owns 8.5 sacks on the season, 6.5 coming in the last three weeks.

Oh, by the way, his Texans have won five in a row on the back of a Top-5 defense. Oh, also by the way, they will be coming to Paul Brown Stadium a week from Sunday.

Needless to say, plenty of good seats still available.

Barwin was on the Scott Van Pelt Show yesterday and will grace Jim Rome (12-3, 1360 AM) this afternoon. He'll be on SportsCenter at 3:40. He's a favorite around here because he's such a great interview and person, couldn't be happier to see his bounceback from last year's injury.

--- Butch Jones has been pushing
hard on Twitter to create a sell out for the final game of the season at Nippert. I've said it before, for all this group of seniors have done for this program and names like Pead, Wolfe, Schaffer, Collaros and Woods bidding adieu, it would be a shame if it wasn't a packed house. Plus, you can get tickets for just $20. (Just enter THANKS as the code to get $52.50 tix for more than half off)

And remember, it's a blackout. So play Johnny Cash all morning and head to the game.

--- Andrea Adelson writes how the conference turned on a broken ankle this season.

--- More from AA as the
Liberty Bowl in Memphis has come into play as a possible landing spot for UC.

--- It's taken two players
to replace Collaros, from Bill Koch.

--- Speaking of bounceback, UC takes on Miami tonight at Fifth Third. You know what that means, the return of fun time with Charlie Coles. There is no better postgame interview than Coles in college basketball. I firmly stand behind that statement. Becoming the RedHawks beat writer would be worth it for Charlie access alone.

Of course, his most famous recent gem came after John Wall hit a game-winner against Miami two years ago and a reporter asked him how the game got away from him.

Last year following the UC game, he broke out a classic final two minutes (video courtesy BearcatLair, jump to nine-minute mark) including pointing to one of his SID assistants and saying, "Does this guy work for us? I thought he did. Because I didn't recognize him at first when he said 'OK, let's wrap it up.' We ain't wrapping it up until I wrap it up. I am running this."

Anyway, I will have the full Charlie transcript and hopefully some video up for you tonight.

--- Much in the same respect you were warned about Marshall, better believe beating Miami will be no walk in the park. Ask Xavier. They will force a grind-it-out game and UC will need to find ways to convert in the halfcourt offense. Coles' teams play a tough brand of basketball.

While fans may want to see a blowout from UC to show they are recovering from Friday's loss, anything ending in a victory will be a quality win tonight.

--- Some interesting comments regarding projections of the season from Yancy Gates during yesterday's media availability. To be honest, I don't really know what to make of this. I asked Gates something similar following the loss to Presbyterian and he said he didn't assume UC would cruise through these games. I don't know if this is a strong connection with reality or a guy who didn't possess enough confidence in his team. Anyway, you read and decipher for yourself.

--- Octavius Ellis injured his hand and will miss 4-6 weeks, according to our guy Chad Brendel at BearcatLair. That opens the possibility of gaining a medical redshirt for OE. He's played in less than 20 percent of the games, which leaves him eligible.

Cronin said the reason he didn't redshirt Ellis in the first place was because he would get so much better competing every day in practice he could help by the end of the season. This would definitely challenge that line of logic. Stay tuned.

--- The Crosstown Shootout lurks a
week from Saturday. And Xavier looks more than ready.

--- Randomness...

--- Sad to hear the Southgate House
is closing its doors after New Year's Eve. Loved that venue for music and post-Reds game merriment.

--- Gift ideas for your favorite nerdy friend.

--- Over the years, many people have told me to take my newspaper story and shove it in my mouth, among other places. Apparently, now eating it might not be quite as unhealthy.

--- The interwebs can be a scary place, be careful.

--- The NBA should learn after this 66-game season that they needed a shorter season all along. Regular season games will mean a bit more which should make for a few watchable contests. Still, free agency starting Dec. 3 will be the most interesting thing to happen in the NBA until March. Chris Paul to the Knicks, please.

--- C'mon Akron. I would say you're better than that, but judging by finishing as the worst team in the country by the BCS standings, it's clear you're not.

--- Get the Dub made a triumphant return Saturday. Plus, Butch Jones goes with the Wipe Me Down dance move. I really can't get enough of this development.


Got Hoops?

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I read the well written article by my colleague Tom Groeschen asking the fair question about the absence of fans at the Shoe and I think of this often. I have an opinion and I'm sure you do to so lets have at it and see what comes of it.

I have often said the entertainment dollar in Cincinnati is a hard one to attract when you look at the cost, team, parking and competition; not only between opponents but like minded entities in this case the Reds, Bengals, Xavier and yes High School sports and more. As a member of the Greater Cincinnati Sports Corporation we find it hard to compete with other markets who have robust budgets and venues but we still try thanks to the steadfast efforts of Leslie Spencer the Executive Director and a solid board. One thing I have learned being on this committee and engaging with some committed Cincinnatians is that you can't stop trying and you have to find your niche and exploit it.

What is UC basketballs niche? I have my theories and I have other elements I think lend itself to raising the basketball profile not only locally but regionally. We have so much storied success here and arguably the best college basketball player to ever play the game along with many other tangible assets. The key is leveraging them for the program and its success in the stands. I believe it is a right now thing because with the uncertainty of the Big East, the opponents could get less than attractive even in the conference going forward which doesn't translate into sales. Take away Syracuse and Pitt who are leaving and you lose perrennial top ranked teams that have an attraction to the non-season ticket holder through proximity or alumni affiliation. So who do you replace them with? Hyphenated schools or Kentucky and North Carolina? The problem with the latter is that in many cases they won't play the better teams on the road for fear of upsets and that leaves the ones that people say they don't want to see. So scheduling isn't as easy as calling John Calipari at Kentucky and saying lets do a 2 game home and home; or Roy Williams at North Carolina likewise. With their respective conference schedules, the RPI ratings are rock solid so the benefit to them is less of a need.

So who then? Do you try and schedule teams who land the top blue chippers that don't go to the bigger schools? With their one/two and done style hopefully you can get them on the calendar. Do you offer some unique incentive to lure bigger teams here (what I don't know but that would be an NCAA issue)? Or do you promote your product knowing you can control that more than anything else? I will take the latter for $500. In saying that as Tom noted don't compare apples and oranges, i.e. Xavier. Basketball is their sport; men and women's and they do a great job of marketing the X with their ad campaigns. I would say it starts there in the marketing world with research, feedback, strategic plan, brand assessment and ultimately the deployment of a unique but highly effective campaign that endears people to the program, the coach and the players. 

I also know there are people still mad at Bob Huggins leaving but gone also is Nancy Zimpher; that Kennedy didn't get the job but his off the court cab fiasco fell into another programs hands fortunately, and finally a team that had no name players and little success still leaves a bad taste in peoples mouth. Never mind Mick Cronin finally got UC back in the tournament, but they even won a game many said they weren't going to in beating Missouri. So how do you get people to move on and embrace the positives even after the upset to Presbyterian and a tough loss to an athletic Marshall team?

Treat these kids like your kids, its really that simple. They came to UC to fulfill a dream like your kids play to fulfill theirs. You try to attend all your kids games and make the effort to accomplish that regardless of what you may miss in the process. I am not saying they should be your child's equal but as a University of Cincinnati alumni and yes even a Cincinnatian you really could make this a difficult place to play again for visiting teams and a great place to play if you wear the C Paw. As a recruit you might feel like there IS something special about wearing the uniform. But for right now they see the banners, the trophies and the Big O, Oscar Robertson; but they don't see the fans. To an impressionable kid, that is the missing piece. So if you want big name players and a program to root for in the stands, you have to commit just like you want the player too. He has a choice of schools to attend and yes, you have a choice too. But if you're a UC alum do you really?

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

The Return of Isaiah Pead

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It was 3-0 Syracuse in the second quarter when the Orange dropped back to punt from their own 40 yard line.  I'll admit to being surprised when I saw Isaiah Pead on the other end of the field waiting to return it.  After all, the senior from Columbus had not return a punt since...


"Eastmoor Academy -- my senior year of high school," Pead told me after the game.  "It's something that I've been asking for since I've been here.  I guess they finally decided to pull the trigger."


It was more like lighting a fuse.


Pead Syracuse.jpg

 

Pead caught Jonathan Fisher's 50-yard punt at the 10 yard line and broke several tackles on a 34-yard return.  It helped set up a game-tying field goal that sparked the Bearcats in their 30-13 win at the Carrier Dome.


"He's been in my ear all season and our players have great confidence in him," said head coach Butch Jones.  "When he went back there it really energized our team and I thought it switched the momentum."


It was one of 28 "touches" in the game for Isaiah as he rushed 17 times for 80 yards, caught 9 passes for 112 yards, and returned 2 punts for 54 yards.  That's 246 badly-needed yards when the Bearcats were playing without injured quarterback Zach Collaros.   


"That's what you play the game for," said Pead.  "I just did what I could to help the team.  Our captain is down right now and the team has to lift his spirits.  It starts with me.  I'm a senior running back and I think I did what I could today."


The decision to allow Pead to return punts was made early in the week.


"After the disappointing loss at Rutgers, Coach Jones came into the team meeting and said, 'Pead -- you're going to be returning punts this week,' Isaiah told me.  "I embraced it.  I started watching more film and started taking care of my body more.  The players were up for it -- they like blocking for me."


In case you're wondering why Pead hasn't returned punts before at UC, consider the first skill required in performing the job. 


"Catching a punt with 10 guys running down at you full speed is not a very easy skill to perform," said Coach Jones.  "He's really worked hard at that skill.   I'll tell you what, the progress that he's made from last year to this year in the skill of catching punts is a tribute to his work ethic.  He's been practicing all year and waiting for this opportunity."


And while Pead relished the opportunity, he downplayed his role in the victory.


"Coach told me at the beginning of the week that it was on me," said Pead.  "I said, 'It's not on me.  I'm going to play my role like I always do -- just a little bit more.'  I think it all worked out great.  The offensive line did good, the receivers were great blocking on the edge, and it was a great team victory."


"We fed #23 and he played a great game," said Coach Jones.


This week, Isaiah will be one of 21 Bearcats honored on Senior Day at Nippert Stadium.  The 25th-ranked Bearcats host UConn at noon for a share of the Big East championship.  If USF beats West Virginia on Thursday night, the Bearcats will play in a BCS bowl game for the third time in four years if they beat the Huskies.


"It's going to be a great challenge," said Coach Jones.  "I can't tell you how excited our kids are to get back and play in Nippert Stadium.  We're going to need the 12th man on Saturday because they are extremely physical.  We're playing in a Big East championship game and we need everyone -- there's absolutely no reason why Nippert shouldn't be sold out."


Come early.  Be loud.  And wear black.  


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.


Ranking Isaiah Pead's Top Moments

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The career of Isaiah Pead spanned four years of games at Nippert Stadium. Over that time he's accumulated 3,071 rushing yards on 494 carries. He became the first UC player in 25 seasons to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

He scored 26 rushing touchdowns, good for third in the UC record books.

PeadVsNCState.jpgHe recorded ten 100-yard rushing games.

Pead spun, sprinted and slid. He stopped, started and shook. He broke tackles and ankles, records and spirits. He took away wills and breaths.

His memorable plays changed the dynamic of every game. Though, his most memorable didn't even count.

No matter what the outcome, in seemingly every game he entered he left you walking away happy to say you saw it live.

As his final chance to dazzle the Nippert crowd comes Saturday, it only seemed logical to attempt to rank the top moments of Isaiah Pead's career. Upon compiling the list, I hoped to find enough on YouTube to allow for a decent sample size. Then I kept finding more. Some that I forgot about and some I could never forget.

I'll break them down into rankings from Pead, myself and the fans with commentary from Pead on all of them.

Sitting down to watch Pead watch his runs was one of the more enjoyable experiences of this season. Almost as enjoyable as watching the guy run. Almost.

Without further ado:

Pead's No. 1: The run that never was

Oklahoma, 2010

ISAIAH PEAD: "Has to be No.1, it's only right. The best run that never happened. It was just determination and took it back to the fundamentals. Day 1 when you are taught football you play to the whistle. And the whistle wasn't blown and just kept playing. The determination of running a guy over, stiff-arming another guy, trying to stay in bounds on the last one, even though it didn't count, I still look at it as a good memory."

No. 23 describing the play: "This one, was pretty much a keep-playing play. I got swung and it could still be argued to this day that the wrist was down. I don't think anything in my body touched the ground. I got up and the defender looked at me, I looked at him, and I just kind of protected myself run him over then the guy from behind me I had to get him off me.

"I didn't even know they were replaying that part. I thought they were replaying the out of bounds toward the end of the play. I was confused."

Reader Cory Huffman:
"It's my No. 2. After review they said his elbow touched...but the way the crowd reacted at PBS when he kept going...neat."

Voice of the Bearcats Dan Hoard: "He goes about 78 yards for what we thought at the time was the greatest run in the history of football."




Pead's No. 2: The Ankle-Breakaway

Louisville, 2011

ISAIAH PEAD: "I would go either Tennessee or Louisville, but because we won the Louisville one, I will have to go with that because of everything that was going on and I was bottled up the whole game. To finally just get it open, that was good....not to mention the pink socks and the gloves."

No. 23 describing the play: "I think it was more of get the monkey off your back because they had me contained. To breakaway and break (the safety), just to sprint for the finish and game-saving touchdown. Right here, you can just see all the emotion just coming out because it was a tough day until then.

On the conclusion: I look to the guy to the left, I had seen the guy to the right and just kind of timed the jump. It was perfect, people thought I was looking at the Jumbotron, but I just timed it.




Pead's No. 3: Straight Speed

Miami, 2010

ISAIAH PEAD: "Goinig 80 yards untouched. Just because I seen the cut and just took off. I seen the backside corner with a great angle and I just kept running and ended up outrunning his angle. Touchdown. Probably the fastest I had run on the field in a while."

No. 23 describing the play: "I had 10 carries and almost 200 yards in the first quarter or so. I didn't play in the second quarter, they took me out. It was definitely just a straightaway run."

(Play at :46 seconds)





The Fan's No. 1: The Stop And Go

Rutgers, 2009

ISAIAH PEAD: "This game was my first touchdown of my career. That touchdown itself was the second one. I was a young guy looking for the score."

No. 23 on the nasty move: "I seen him coming, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't know if I wanted to cut back, run past him or what. So I kind of just stopped. It's kind of blurry right now. I stopped, he fell and it worked out good."

Do people talk to you about that one?:
"Nah, that one's pretty much in the archives now."

Reader J.R. Snape:
"My favorite Isaiah Pead moment? Two years ago in the opener at Rutgers. IP is in full stride going towards the end zone, along the sideline, and he comes to a complete stop-then-go in order to make the defender miss him. I never remember seeing a UC runner do that before. It was amazing."

Reader Byron Martin:
"I think the biggest Pead play for me has to be the long, sideline screen pass during our 2009 Labor Day game at Rutgers. The stop move he put on, sending the RU safety out of bounds was unreal and it was a huge part of a beatdown that set the tone for our perfect season."

(Play at 2:10 mark)



Paul Dehner Jr. No. 1: Fourth-and-1

UConn, 2009

ISAIAH PEAD: "Oooh, I was watching that the other day. If I can remember on this play, because that was Kelly's years, that play was drawn to go outside, get as far outside as you can, make something happen. That is usually not a fourth-and-1 call, but he called it. You know, I got to make a guy miss. I wasn't going to cut it up, but he doesn't know that."

No. 23 on the story behind the story: "This is the game that Jacob Ramsey broke his foot, so I had to take the carries, they had just pulled Jake out because Jake was in on this play and they were just about to snap the ball and said, no, Pead, get in. I didn't even know the call. Zach told me the call and I was like, 'Oh, fourth-and-1, me? OK. You know, I just had to make a play. And it was a great block by Mardy (Gilyard) on the outside."

My analysis:
"Taking into account the enormity of that situation on fourth-and-1, with the way both teams were moving the ball at will up and down the field, UC had to have this for the win. They left Pead one-on-one on a the sweep. The move he put on the defender should be illegal in seven states including Puerto Rico. Watch closely, the guy goes straight to his knees. He buckles like a newborn calf and resorts to a crawl. One of the subtle moves that makes Pead so good in one of the biggest spots of his young career, attempting to preserve a perfect regular season."


Reader Alex Spidare:
"In regards to big play at a crucial time in a crucial game, you gotta go with Pead's 4th down touchdown rush in the waning moments on the UCONN game in 2009. Typical play by Pead. Anyone in that stadium would have been happy with 1 or 2 yards for the first down. Simply take a couple knees and win the game. Not Pead. He was determined to score. I was in the second row of the student section that night and had a good view of the play. It was huge and helped solidify a 12-0 campaign that year. I'm glad the entire country saw that play on ABC."



Paul Dehner Jr. No. 2: Air Pead

Rutgers, 2010

ISAIAH PEAD: "This was a similar play as to that UConn one, catch the edge. I couldn't tell you (what I was thinking). It was just adrenaline and I could have maybe lowered the shoulder but it got knocked out of bounds, I thought, no, I want to go up top."

My analysis: "For a guy who will always be remembered for his 'Wow' moments and incredible athleticism, this was one of the great combinations of both. Pead takes off from the 4-yard line. The freakin' 4. He lands at what would be three yards inside the end zone shifting into a Fonsbury Flop midway through with the state of mind to extend the ball back over the pylon. Just an athlete at his finest on so many levels."


(Play at :45 seconds)



Honorable Mention: The Leap

UConn, 2010

ISAIAH PEAD: "I thought it was going to the house. The guy who actually tackled me, he had pushed Armon Binns all the way out to the sideline and ran back in to make a tackle. So, I thought in the beginning that he came off the sideline. I was yelling at the ref, like, Yo, ref, what's going on?"


"It's got to be instinct, if you go in thinking you are going to hurdle somebody you are going to hurdle the wrong one and get slammed.

Ever hurdled and it backfired?: "Yeah, this year against South Florida, we were going in for the end zone it was one-on-one, a hurdle usually comes when they are too low. He looked like he was going to shoot low and he kind of jumped and caught me right in the, uh, private area. That wasn't too good."

(Play at :27 seconds)



Honorable Mention: Welcome to 2011

Austin Peay, First play of the 2011 season

ISAIAH PEAD: "It set a tone for me and for the team that we are coming to play football this year. It was the first play of the year, fresh out of camp, it was  big boost for all of us. It isn't talked about much, but the play before that was the kick return (Ralph David) Abernathy had to set up field position.

Do you think about taking the first play to the house?:
"As crazy as it sounds, yeah. We've got so much adrenaline going I just want to score. When it happened, I was like, wow, it happened. Then doing it again at Tennessee the next week, it started becoming a repetitive thing."




Honorable Mention: Still Going

West Virginia, 2011

ISAIAH PEAD: "Yeah, I felt like I was going to go out of bounds. That's why I had to cut it back. The guy was kind of walling off (Austen) Bujnoch, trying to get him to hit me out of bounds and I just said, well, forget it I am going to go inside of him."

When bottled up, thinking about just taking six or seven yards?: "I am thinking house. It's funny, I think every play should go for a touchdown. He had the arm on me and I break the tackle. The backer comes and I kind of had my arm in-between me and him, so it was just kind of pushing him off and make a play after that. Don't go out of bounds, that is what you are coached."

On his finishing dive: "Coach says we are not allowed to jump, but..."



Honorable Mention: The Slide

Louisville, 2009

ISAIAH PEAD: "I just had to roll with the punches.I fell, but I had to make it look good."


(Play at 3:15)



Honorable Mention: Statement Run

Tennessee, 2011

ISAIAH PEAD: "That was a good hit, he just didn't wrap. It's a footrace. The team was excited. That really ignited us.

"Going back watching that film, the game was so close, yet so far. The score made it look so far, but just the small details we were messing up."



Bearcats Breakfast 11.28.11

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I hope everybody enjoyed their Thanksgiving weekend. Hopefully nobody was pepper-sprayed, roughed up, punched, tased, trampled, robbed or shot at any point -- and that's just those that went to Wal-Mart.

The Bearcats basketball team probably feels like all those happened to them following the overtime loss to Marshall on Friday. But, with plenty to get to, I won't start there.

Let's talk football and, in case you haven't heard this enough over the past few days, let's eat...

--- Oh, Pitt, why couldn't you just hang on to that lead? If only the Panthers would have hung on after going up 14-0 on West Virginia, Saturday's game against UConn at The Nipp would have been for a spot in a BCS bowl. It may still be, but the Cats need help.

West Virginia plays at South Florida on Thursday night. If WVU loses, then UC will only need to beat the Huskies to earn the conference's BCS shot. If the Mountaineers win, either they or Louisville will earn the title, depending on UC's result. (More on my problems with that in a minute)

At the very least, UC will be playing Saturday for a share of the Big East title. Going 9-3 with a share of the Big East title for a team picked 5th in the conference and some thought might not even make a bowl game is nothing to scoff at.

--- So, if UC, WVU and Louisville
were in a three-way tie, the first tie-breaker would be wins against those teams. Each school would be 1-1. Then it goes to BCS ranking. There, West Virginia (23) is currently ahead of UC (30) by seven spots and Louisville (41) by 18.

To which point, you have to say that college football, once again, takes the championships into the subjective eyes of voters and away from the teams on the field.

Before you say it, yes, I understand that WVU beat UC and if you are comparing the two, there is no need to go any further. But that is not what is being compared in a three-way tiebreaker. What is being compared is which of the three teams talked about had the best season.

Why is WVU seven spots ahead of UC in the BCS standings? Preseason expectations and schedule. Because the Mountaineers opened the year with so much hype and were picked to win the conference, the coaches poll and Harris votes were much higher for WVU all season. They are ranked 20th in the coaches poll and 21 in the Harris poll. Yet, among the computers, the Mountaineers can be found all the way back at No. 29.

 What is another big part of that voting? The fact UC doesn't have its quarterback going forward.

You can jump back to the Kenyon Martin NCAA tournament when UC, despite sitting at No. 1 most of the year, landed a No. 2 seed in the tournament because they seeded based on expectations instead of merit. You can't tell me people weren't voting UC lower because they knew ZC was out for the year.

So, that plays a role in deciding your champion -- only this is supposed to be a title based on on-the-field accomplishments.

The other argument stems from West Virginia's so-called tougher schedule. Counting the Big East slate as equal, let's take a look at the wins each team accumulated and I'll even toss in the beloved BCS ranking as a reference point.

UC                          
Austin Peay  FCS   
Akron           118
NC State        56
Miami           102
AVERAGE      92

WVU
Marshall          62
Norfolk State   FBS
Maryland         98
Bowling Green 91
AVERAGE      84

The difference could only be considered minimal and basically stems from who played the worse MAC opponent. West Virginia received plenty of BCS love for just playing LSU. Yet, they lost. They got beat. But just the fact that they played was enough to sway at least a few spots -- if not more -- in the final formula.

At the end of the day, West Virginia beat UC at Paul Brown Stadium and the discussion between the two can end there. The Cats have nobody to blame for not controlling their own BCS destiny but themselves.

Yet, if you are truly looking at this as a three-way tiebreaker, the method of declaring the BCS representative leaves a little too much interpretation and bias than should be desired. And it's probably the reason UC needs West Virginia to lose Thursday.

--- It could be worse,
the tiebreaker could be decided by a computer picking a random number like what happened in the Connecticut HS playoffs.

--- Enough complaining. The Bearcats need USF to win. They lost 34-24 to Louisville on Friday and have lost six of seven. Players are bickering in the locker room. They've come close, though, which doesn't need to be told to the UC fans after their dramatic escape from Tampa.

BJ Daniels was a game-time decision against Louisville, but didn't play. There's a chance he could play against WVU, which would provide a big lift.

In the Big East, you always bet on chaos. A Bulls win would be the perfect storm for UC.

--- Speaking of chaos, how about UConn throttling Rutgers? This league never ceases to amaze me. After needing their help, now UC needs to find a way to beat the Huskies who just posted 40 points on a defense the Bearcats couldn't muster but a field goal against.

Consider this: UConn hadn't scored more than 28 points in any conference game, yet against the league's top defense utilizing a two-QB system racked up 40 points in three quarters.

You think you know, but you have no idea.

--- As for the Bearcats,
the creativity of the offensive gameplan shined against Syracuse. Utilizing Isaiah Pead at receiver more, changing the launching  point of passes and bringing in Jordan Luallen for a change of pace provided the vaccine for what ailed UC at Rutgers.

Bill Koch wrote about Luallen delivering UC's needed spark.

--- Really, any gameplan that revolves around finding multiple ways to get Isaiah Pead the ball usually ends well.

He went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in a game where he did most of his damage in other ways.

Pead finished with 28 touches for 246 yards. That's 17 for 80 on the ground, 9 receptions for 112 yards and two punt returns for 58 yards.

--- More on Pead: Jerry Jones initial drugstore list for the NFL Draft projected Pead being selected in the third round.

--- HOMEWORK FOR YOU: In honor of senior week and the final game at Nippert for the senior running back, I'm going to be asking you for your favorite Isaiah Pead moments. Whether it be run, catch, return or touchdown that wasn't. Let me know what you thought were his greatest couple plays as a Bearcat. Why do you remember it so well? What made is special for you?

I'll talk to Pead about his favorites and have all the results for you later this week.


Email me at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or Twitter @pauldehnerjr


--- A total of 21 seniors will be honored prior to Saturday's game against UConn (noon, ESPN). The ceremony will start at 11:35 a.m.

--- UC's turnaround has Butch Jones
being mentioned in the coaching carousel rumor mill. I'm positive we'll hear more about this in the coming days/weeks. I'll leave it with what has been reported. Here's the story from Bill Koch.

Because of the history around here, people start biting their nails at the mere mention of other schools being interested. This should be viewed as a good thing. Would you rather have a coach nobody was interested in?

--- Jones wants to see Nippert sold out Saturday. Those seniors who are on the verge of delivering three Big East titles in four years deserve it.

--- The current bowl predictions by Andrea Adelson have the Bearcats falling all the way back to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 7.

--- Rather than dive head first into the shallow end discussing UC basketball right now, I'll only reel off some of the early-season losses from around the country to this point and you can judge whether it should be panic time yet.

UNLV 90, No. 1 UNC 80
UCF 68, No. 4 UConn 63
Harvard 46, No. 20 Florida State 41
Georgetown 91, No. 8 Memphis 88
San Diego State 61, No. 23 Arizona 57

(By the way, my Ohio Bobcats went on a 17-2 run at Louisville and nearly pulled off the upset of the Cards before falling 59-54)

Those are just in the past five days.

Nobody is claiming UC's loss to Marshall to be a positive development, but this is happening everywhere. Step off the ledge.

That said, UC needs some toughness and needs it yesterday. Mick Cronin has been begging for it in nearly every postgame press conference this season. Adjusting to the loss of so many dirty work, role players takes time. The Bearcats need it to take less time with a pesky Charlie Coles bunch coming Tuesday plus UGA and XU on the horizon.

Here was Cronin on what kind of toughness is needed from Friday's postgame:

"Physical and mental. You have to be mentally tough enough to do the right thing at the right time. And not give up an and-one, when Yancy's got a guy pinned behind the basket, lose your man, and then give him an and-one. You can't do that. You have to be mentally tough enough to stand (in a) stance, see the ball and get a defensive stop. We aren't tough enough. We are struggling to get five guys on the floor who can defend as a unit and rebound the basketball. We only had nine turnovers tonight."

--- Another big congratulations and good luck to the UC volleyball team. They didn't grab the home pod for their regional, but will be playing in Tallahassee, Fla., Dec. 2-3 against Samford, then a possible second round matchup against the Albany/Florida State winner would earn the Cats first Sweet 16 appearance under Reed Sunahara.

Randomness...

--- Somewhere Vlade Divac sitting at a table of professional soccer players stood up simultaneously, shed a single tear and started a slow clap. Well played, Jerome Simpson.

--- When you got to go, you got to go.

--- A Flight of the Conchords movie might actually be made after all. Please, let this happen.

"Can I please have a look at the lyrics?"

--- Everybody knows the
best part about Waffle House is the environment. Go for the hash browns, stay for the drama. Though, I prefer my WH drama minus the robbery, The New York Times knows what I'm talking about.

Sidenote of this story: So awesome that there is a Waffle House museum. I now have my next vacation planned.

--- Stanford's Andrew Zimmerman is the early leader for college basketball's best beard. He's got an Unfrozen Caveman Basketball Player vibe to him.

--- UC fans will get their
last home view of some great players Saturday. Here was one of the best moments from JK Schaffer.

 

Watch out where the Huskies go

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I don't think "yellow snow" is in the forecast, but obviously the Bearcats best watch out where the Huskies go Dec. 3 at Nippert Stadium.

Yes, the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium.

A noon kick-off is still not conducive to the total atmosphere (night games at "The Nipp" are ideal) but it's a lot better fan experience than the spaceship we've tried to fill downtown for a couple of key conference games.

Nippert isn't ideal, but it's ours.

Used correctly, it can be very effective and intimidating. It's exactly the venue needed for a key game like this one against Connecticut.

Of course, the Big East may or may not be up for grabs by gametime (depending on the South Florida/West Virginia game) but if you survey most diehard UC fans, you'll find the fans like intimate horseshoe compared to the nosebleed NFL seats surrounded by corporate wine and cheese suites.

REAL fans sit outside and see their breath and live and die on every down.  Those that have sweaters tied around their necks eating food on toothpicks and glancing at TVs in a "gladhand" box are merely there to be seen or heard.

UC needs fans that the players can hear.

If this were RIverbend, the Bearcats need the loud and faithful in the lawn.  They appreciate those who cough up the coin for the select "Willy Wonka Golden Ticket" premium seats, but they respond to full student sections within an arm's length of the field and supportive patrons that enjoy the economical entertainment of Bearcat football AT NIPPERT.

A win and they're 9-3.  Even at 8-4, it's a huge step from last season.

Are they a BCS bowl team?

Honestly, without Zach Collaros, that's a stretch.

But, as long as you have a chance you should put your best foot forward and play all the cards in your deck.

Beating Syracuse on the road 30-13 is impressive.  Heck, any Big East road win is impressive.

Now, there's the Huskies who dismantled Rutgers, the team who dismantled UC Nov. 19 in Munchie Legaux's debut.

Connecticut also pounded the Bearcats 38-17 last year, beat them 40-16 in the Orange Bowl year and gave them all they could handle in the Sugar Bowl year as UC escaped, 47-45.
If you want to throw basketball in the mix, the Huskies beat UC twice in the final two months of the season last winter, the second ending the Bearcats' run in the second round of the NCAA.

So, there's plenty of reasons to hunker down on the Huskies.

Defensively, the Bearcats have played better the last two times out and this is another team that has high scoring potential.

Connecticut has a throwing quarterback and a running quarterback, similar to UC's strategy.
Hopefully, what UC has seen in practice all year will pay off here.

Saturday's game is also the final game at Nippert for a number of seniors.  They all have had significant contributions in one way or another, but if I had to pick out a handful that Bearcat fans will remember I'd go with (numerically) DJ Woods, Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead, JK Schaffer and Derek Wolfe.

Those five could've played on any Bearcat team of any era and stood out.

May they go out strong and then even stronger in whatever bowl game lies ahead.

As for the bowl, wherever and however, what say we win this time?

South Beach and Bourbon Street are nice, but all drinks are sour after a loss. Not many schools can end a season with a win, but it seems like an eternity since Ben Mauk lit up Southern Miss in the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham in 2007.

In the Orange Bowl, I felt good when Tony Pike hit Mardy Gilyard for a touchdown early, but that was unfortunately that against Virginia Tech.

The Sugar Bowl left a lot to be desired on a lot of levels.

After a rough November, I'm looking forward to a strong game against Connecticut and full-bore, focused effort to win a bowl game.

By the way, the title of this column is from an  old Frank Zappa song.  Turns out, Frank played at the University of Cincinnati's Armory Fieldhouse Sept. 30,1978.  I was a year away from starting college at that point.  If you were there, perhaps you heard this:

Finan fights obstacles on, off the course

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Finan.jpg

Eric Finan capped off his UC cross country career as a Big East champion and finished 25th at the national championship race this week as an All-American. His road to the top was filled with bumps and vans. 

By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI -- Eric Finan will never forget his first year at UC.

Whenever he looks in the mirror, the cross country runner sees scars that are a constant reminder of what was one of the most unfortunate years a freshman could have.

However, the marks on his face aren't just a negative reminder. They also serve as a symbol of the ability to overcome whatever obstacles may be in the way.

After suffering a stress fracture before the start of the season, Finan was forced to cross train on a bike in order to stay in shape. One afternoon he planned to swim laps in his friend's pool after training on his bike.

He wouldn't make it into their driveway.

"It's a blind turn because of these big bushes they have at the end of their driveway," Finan said. "And as I turned the corner they were backing out with their van and so I turned the corner and there they were and we collided."

Although, they didn't just collide. Finan's head shattered the van's rear window.  

"My whole face just kind of opened up which is why I have these scars on my face now," Finan said, pointing to noticeable scars on his chin. "And it was really pretty unfortunate because all this is happening, I'm thinking, 'Man, I'm a failure. I got a stress fracture, I can't run. Now I got to cross train, I can't even cross train now because I just busted my face and now I'm in the hospital.'"

After the accident and after finally being cleared to run again, Finan's woes continued. He suffered two more stress fractures before the end of the year and was unable run again until late that summer.

"At that point I didn't run a single step for 20 weeks," said Finan.

Having to overcome so many obstacles would make anyone question whether or not it's worth it to continue running.

Finan sure did.

"There were days when I was just like, 'You know what, God, if this is your plan I can be done with this. I can go do something else,'" said Finan.

Finan didn't walk away. He turned the other direction and ran. And ran. And ran. The senior's final cross country race came at the NCAA Championship on Monday. He finished 25th overall which is the highest any UC runner placed since Ron Stapleton finished 23rd in 1972.

He was named an All-American one year after finishing 60th in the same race.

Although he didn't win, his performance, if anything, is an example of the kind of progress Finan has made throughout his career.

Finan looks back and sums his career up with one word: Perseverance.

Finan2.jpeg

"We encounter issues in our lives," said Finan. "But we have the opportunity to respond to that and respond in two ways -- either favorably or unfavorably. So really I think it's a story of the human ability to overcome challenges."

Coach Bill Schnier knows that is a rare trait.

"Except for Eric's freshman year, it's been nothing but up," Schnier said. "Now, there might be little blips but nothing that would really amount to anything. So I think that is really something that sets Eric apart is that somehow he's found a way to be steadily improving, that's extremely rare in any sport with any athlete."

But it should be no surprise to anyone that his improvement was constantly headed in the positive direction. Finan's running schedule makes any workout fanatic's three-mile daily run look like a walk in the park.

"In the morning I'll get up and do a five-mile run and then in the afternoons I'll do anywhere from 10 to 13 or so," Finan said. "And then three days a week in the mornings I'm doing a strength routine. So the average week ends up being, during base training phase, about 110 miles per week plus all of the strengthening stuff with weights and all that."

After looking back at everything he's been through Finan knows he couldn't have done it without the support of his family.

"Honestly, I can't speak enough in honor of their support," Finan said of his parents. "They've gone to every Big East cross country meet the last four years when I was not very good to now being a Big East champion. So they've always been there and they've always been incredibly supportive."

Although Finan's carrer at UC will soon be behind him, he doesn't plan to stop running. This is an Olympic year and Finan hopes to make his presence known at the trials in June

And if making the Olympic team seems like and unbelievable challenge, it should. Only the best of the best athletes compete there.

But you don't have to remind Finan that it's possible to overcome the odds. All he has to do is look in the mirror.

Things that keep me up at night

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So, when I can break away from the regular gig covering high school sports and 
get to a UC press conference or practice, I do.

For those that don't know my history, I went to school here and spent a great
deal of time covering the Bearcats in my radio career before it became really
cool to cover the Bearcats.

I enjoy being around the University and miss the opportunity to be around more.
 
My objective in coming to the Butch Jones Tuesday gathering (catered by City
BBQ) was to hopefully run into Zach Collaros and get his opinions on
quarterbacking.

Unfortunately, Zach wasn't around.

I did hear Coach Jones speak and I can surmise from his comments that:
a) Munchie Legaux has the job to lose
b) Jordan Luallen will get a look
c) Brendon Kay might get a look
and, d) the UC goal is to gain four yards on first down.
 
Reading between the lines, that sounds like Munchie's still the guy with a
somewhat conservative game plan.

Whatever it is, agree or disagree, I hope it works.
First and foremost, I have made no secret that I pull for the Bearcats.
Theoretically, I'm not supposed to say that.

Honestly, it goes against everything my parents taught me.

I'm one that doesn't think my occupation in the media precludes me from feeling
good for a team I'm covering. I did it with UC. I do it for a lot of the high
schools I cover.

Truth is, you sometimes become a fan of something by exposure.

My graduation from UC and my previous job that had me physically on the sideline
at one point or another for every Bearcat football game from 1994-2007 has given
me a perspective that not many are privy to.

I will not apologize for being a fan.

If you listen to ESPN radio (which I do on Sirius/XM to avoid local clutter I'm
all too familiar with) Mike Goldberg is as blatant a New York Jets homer as
there is.

If you catch Scott Van Pelt in the afternoon, he often integrates coverage of
Maryland and the Baltimore Ravens in his show. He's fooling no one.

None of us should have to feel guilty about a passion.
 
That said, if you think I'm a straight Kool-Aid drinker, think again.

Part of my job covering Bearcat football on the radio was to be truthful to
those I was talking to. There was no shortage of folks wanting to call me a
"homer", but they apparently didn't listen much.

I often questioned play calls, quarterback choices, and strategy. In Hawaii in
2002, while having bottles and drinks thrown at me while interviewing Rick
Minter (the infamous, "This is a disgrace!" quote) I questioned the ridiculous
amount of hanger-ons on the sidelines. I even confronted the AD Herman Frazier
after the game when I was told that specific group of referees had done numerous
Hawaii games.
 
More potshots were taken, but in the end, I was proven right.
Hawaii had several more brawls with teams from the contiguous 48 and now I'm
hearing of point-shaving allegations there.
hawaii_i.jpg
(Aloha from ESPN)
At UC, I questioned playing games on weeknights when it affected attendance and
the product wasn't ready (38-0 to West Virginia when the lights went out).

To this day, I question taking home conference games to Paul Brown Stadium,
particularly, HOMECOMING. (You guys have been down this path before.)
 
I don't like the red pants, not big on the red tops and I think every bad karma
white helmet from the Sugar Bowl should be shot through the ROTC cannon.

Do you think I'm alone?

I'm not saying I'm the ultimate opinion, but I always tried to talk to the guy
sitting high in the Herschede-Shank pavilion at Nippert (and the fans like
Nippert) as if I were sitting next to him during the game.
The compliments I have received over the years and since my departure have
usually been, "I liked the way you told it like it was."

Now...circling back to my intention to interview Zach Collaros...I wanted his
opinion of the quarterbacks.

The reason being, in my numerous interviews with Ben Mauk, a quarterback that I
admire both on and off the field, I asked him who should take his place if he
were injured.

He didn't reply with Dustin Grutza, who showed guts and heart and was Mark
Dantonio's chosen quarterback. He didn't say Tony Pike, who became a five-year
overnight sensation thanks to a gunslinging offense. He didn't say Chazz
Anderson who led a fairly restricted life here.

He said, "Zach Collaros!"

I asked him why.

"He reminds me of me," he said.

Good enough. It turned out pretty accurate and prophetic too when Collaros took
over for the injured Tony Pike.

If you look at those numbers, Zach was never better and many of you questioned
putting Tony back in.

Whether or not Collaros would now tell me his selection or be diplomatic remains
to be seen.

But, I would be curious to know.

My quick opinion (which matters little in the film/tape room):
Munchie Legaux will be good, but he was thrown into a tough situation early and
not given the package to succeed. If you recruited him to be multi-purpose,
let's go with it. Don't send him into battle with a butter knife.
If you watched the UC/Rutgers telecast with former Florida State and pro
quarterback Danny Kanell, you know I wasn't in the minority with those thoughts.
 
Jordan Luallen is interesting. If you're going more conservative run game, why
not "Tebow it" or play Army/Air Force ball? The funny thing is he appears to be
exactly what Travis Kelce was at quarterback before he became a tight end.

Brendon Kay is the wildcard.

He is Munchie's height plus 30 pounds. He led his high school team in Michigan
to a state title by throwing and running. He came to UC in the same class that
brought you Isaiah Pead, JK Schaffer, Derek Wolfe, Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills,
Walter Stewart, Travis Kelce and DJ Woods.

In the long run, that's not a bad class of dudes.

I don't know if Mary Kay has a better chance of playing before Brendon Kay or
not, but he has a resume similar to that of Tony Pike's--he's lurking about just
waiting for a test drive.

Sometimes all you need are the keys.

Stay tuned....

Now, a family song for Thanksgiving:


Bearcats Breakfast 11.23.11

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Quick Breakfast this morning. While most of you have the day off and will be plotting your routes of survival for Black Friday and attempting to grab the last 22-pound turkey from Kroger, I actually have enough work to do to kill a 22-pound turkey.

Let's eat...

--- Marshall won again last night.
They will be 4-0 as they come to Cincinnati. For anybody who doesn't think this will be a serious test they need to open their eyes. Marshall won 22 games last year and returns one of the most potent backcourt combinations in college hoops -- DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts.

This game will be no joke. A victory would be a quality win. Don't believe me? Think I'm just some local homer? Take these people's word for it:

Andy Katz places them among 10 programs on the rise.

Jay Bilas said this about The Herd:

"If anyone can unseat Memphis this year, I think it will be Marshall. Tommy Herrion is doing a really nice job with that program, and he has an all-conference player in DeAndre Kane, a scoring point guard in Damier Pitts and a really good freshman prospect in Justin Coleman. Pitts led the team in scoring and assists last season, and has the chance to be the best point guard in the league this season. If the Herd cut down the nets in C-USA, it will be in large part because of Pitts' leadership at the point."


As for common opponents, they've handled them just the same as UC.

Opp                       MU        UC
Alabama St.          67-49     65-40
Jacksonville St.     58-44     73-59
Northwestern St.    83-61    71-43

Friday will be a big test for Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick defensively. Attempting to contain Kane and Pitts will be the toughest challenge of the non-conference season outside of the Xavier game.

UC will need to do work on the inside. The Herd lack UC's size, especially with 6-10 Cheikh Mbodj now playing. Marshall relies on team rebounding and only Robert Goff (6-9, 240) and Dennis Tinnon (6-8, 225) can match up physically with UC's front line.

The Herd have struggled from behind the arc, only knocking down 23 percent, but obviously, their backcourt can fill it up.

--- Anybody else not paying attention, this schedule isn't the cakewalk everybody talks about for the next four games. Following Marshall, UC hosts Miami. Playing Charlie Coles is never easy and just ask Xavier how that will go. Then, UC travels to Georgia. The Bulldogs just beat Notre Dame last night, 61-57. Granted, ND is down, but that is still a nice win against a Big East team.

Oh, and then the Crosstown Shootout. You may have heard some buzz about that one.

UC's non-conference tournament resume will be defined by the next four games.

--- Boy, is the attendance talk annoying.
Can we be done with this? Come to the games if you want. Don't come if you don't want. This team is fun to watch and people don't, it's their prerogative. The crowds during Big East play last season  were phenomenal. They will be again this year. For now, let it go.

These problems exist at so many places. Bob Huggins talked about it the other day during this interview. (H/t Lance McAlister, scroll to 5-minute mark)

--- While I'm talking attendance, UC is offering a Black Friday sale for tickets to the Senior Day game against UConn and select basketball games, including a number of Big East contests.

I'm pretty sure I would pay $20 just to stand up, cheer and honor JK Schaffer, Isaiah Pead, Zach Collaros, Derek Wolfe and so many others, but that's just me. I'm fairly biased. And I don't have to pay.

--- Speaking of Schaffer, the guy is putting together another incredible season. He has 89 tackles, including 11 for a loss. He's on the verge of compiling his third consecutive 100-tackle season. That would make him the fifth UC player of record such a feat.

The other four were Hassan Champion, Phillip Curry, Brad Jackson and Karl Woods.

He'd be just the fourth player in Big East history to accomplish the mark. Dan Morgan of Miami, H.B. Blades of Pitt and Gerald Hayes of Pitt, were the others.

Plus, he's a quality guy and great interview, which keeps us scribes happy. Like any humble star, he deflected credit for his stellar season.

"Just my experience and the guys around me are doing a great job," he said. "My defensive line takes care of me so they open up plenty of space for me to go and make plays and have a lot of freedom to run around and get after the ball carrier. The d-line has definitely helped me and that's why my numbers are all right this year."

Like the majority of the leadership on this team, this season has never been about numbers or individual performances. It's been about winning. At the center of all that is Schaffer. The dude is a rock.

"I really honestly haven't even thought about (my personal accomplishments) yet," he said. "I had a couple people tell me you are playing well this season but I am so focused on let's beat Syracuse, beat UConn and get this thing rolling. That is definitely at the top of my list."

--- While we are at it, Derek Wolfe is ranked 9th in the country among defensive lineman with his 14.5 TFL. Outstanding for a defensive tackle.

--- In case you missed it,
I wrote about Munchie Legaux and the entire quarterback situation yesterday afternoon.

--- Bill Koch wrote a story on the Bearcats saying they are just fine despite two consecutive losses.

--- Andrea Adelson called this a must-win for both teams. She also picked the Bearcats to do so.

--- Randomness...

--- That's a big fish.

--- Adam Morrison playing with much more confidence in Serbia, likely because his crustache is more widely accepted.

--- Tweet of the day comes from Jdubs88: "Urban Meyer denies taking Ohio State job, names Braxton Miller starter heading into spring practice."

--- Clemson lost to Coastal Carolina. It happens, people.

--- Was kind of hoping Darnell Wilks or Biggie McClain would play a role in this Harlem Globetrotters trick shot video. They weren't, but it was still pretty impressive. (55-second mark for the shot)

--- Apparently, Jerry Seinfeld
was on Regis and Kelly this morning talking about Festivus. Tis the season.

I'll get the pole out of the crawl space.


Tuesday Lunch: Mind of Munchie Edition

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At the beginning of the season, a common theme heard says the biggest improvement comes between Game 1 and Game 2 for any team.

As UC approaches Game 11, the same axiom applies. With Munchie Legaux at quarterback, the team needed to hit the rest button. During his first start, the Bearcats learned better what will and won't work in a gameplan suited toward the sophomore QB.

The Bearcats need that improvement and they need it now. At least, if they have any hopes of at least sharing the Big East title.
MunchieFlip.JPG
The team's three-point effort and offensive woes certainly didn't all track back to No. 4 at quarterback, but nobody can deny finding a spark begins with him. With valuable game experience tucked away, he enters Saturday's game against Syracuse taking more ownership over the direction of the offense.

"I have to be a better leader, Legaux said. "I have to take control. I can't be laid back, you are the quarterback, you have to get things going. They rely on you to get the offense going, it is going to be a big week of practice I am ready to take on the challenge."

Legaux's teammates haven't lost faith in him. Despite going 12 of 31 for 158 yards, a united front formed directly behind their quarterback. Granted, they have no other option, but they believe the gap between stagnant and explosive wasn't that wide.

Jones pointed out the team holds a goal to gain at least four yards on first down to allow for run/pass options on second and third down. They only accomplished the goal 2 out of 17 times Saturday.

The receivers dropped five passes. Three of those came on first-and-10.

Isaiah Pead missed a cut outside that Jones believes would have gone for a 72-yard touchdown. On other plays, he was too concerned with hitting the home run, and bounced a run that would have gained 5-10 yards up the middle.

"
There was just little things we couldn't get right, missing blocks, missing key assignments here and there," OL Randy Martinez said. "He did what he could, but we put him in bad situations which can't happen. Anytime you have 28 rushing yards from one of the best backs in the nation that is not a great game for him. We can't put on the burden on Munchie."

Legaux put much of the burden on himself.
Passes were repeatedly batted down. He pointed out he needed to raise his release point and stop letting his elbow drop. The fumble came from not holding a firm, two-handed grip on the ball.

Regardless of specifics, the key to whether the Bearcats accomplish their goals or not will lie in how Legaux reacts to Saturday's failure. A 20-year-old sophomore suddenly feeling the pressure of a season on the brink of falling short of its goal can be fragile.

His demeanor and ability to move forward will be closely monitored this week. Jones says he opened up a competition at quarterback with Legaux, Jordan Luallen and Brandon Kay, but it would be difficult to imagine anybody but Legaux heading out there against the Orange. They've come this far with Munchie, to quote a poker term, they are pot committed at this point. They're all in with No. 4.

The next four days are about moving forward and preparing to improve.

"
He was very disappointed," Jones said. "He has high expectations for our football team our offense and for himself. Just like I expected he was in here on Sunday, not only met with (offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian) individually but with myself and went through it. Kind of getting the thought process."

These long film sessions could probably be renamed Inside the Quarterback's Studio with all the question and answer exchanged. Legaux needs information about what he's doing right and wrong, and he needs it yesterday.

"He is kind of sipping through a fire hose right now," Jones said. "We are trying to get as much into him. You can prepare in practice and get the same amount of reps, but the game speed repetitions..."

Jones jumped off to point out Legaux was facing the top-ranked defense in the Big East. The Orange aren't a Rutgers level. In fact, overall they rank at the bottom of the conference in yards allowed per game. If you tighten the sample to only conference play, they sit at the middle of the pack.

The Orange will allow opportunities and everybody inside the Carrier Dome on Saturday will know what to expect.
 
"How do you attack a young quarterback?" Jones said. "You come after him. (Legaux) understands that and we will try to simulate that as much as we can in practice this week."

 
In the final few desperation drives, Legaux handled the pressure better. He rolled out effectively and threw well on the run. In the second half he was 10 of 23 for 151 yards. The dark day in New Jersey wasn't without bright spots.

"I felt confidence because receivers were catching it," Legaux said. "Just trusting it, that was the main thing, just trusting the receivers. Timing and rhythm. That was the main thing going on at the beginning of the game we couldn't get in a rhythm. At the end I felt I had a little confidence."

The Morning After: UC 71, Northwestern State 43

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Everyone take a step back off the ledge. That includes you, Mick.

After two days of a program and its base tossing out all the goodwill and positivity unearthed over the past year, UC returned to the court Monday with a renewed sense of purpose and played its most complete game of the season.

I detailed as much as well as Cronin's incredibly unhealthy past 48 hours in my postgame column, here.

For those who scoff at beating the latest directional school, you may want to think twice with the Demons. They are picked to win the Southland Conference and boast some of the best defenders in mid-major basketball. I'm not picking them to beat Duke, only saying this was a quality mid-major opponent.

Now, they could have used somebody who can score consistently, but much of that goes as credit to UC's defense.

Regardless, this was a much-needed response in a game that meant more than anybody imagined it would when the schedule was released.

"I don't think it takes a genius to see that is the best we have played all year," Cronin said. "I think that's the best team we have played all year. They remind me of my Murray State teams. They are very athletic."

--- This was the best game UC played all year because they did uncomfortable things they haven't done this season. At the top of the list was attack the basket, create contact and get to the free throw line.

Cronin has been preaching this since he arrived at Cincinnati, but his team settled for far too many jump shots, fadeaway post moves and out of control layups.

They needed to take the ball to the rim, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Here are their free throw totals through the first four games:

Alabama State  14-20
Jacksonville St.  11-14
Presbyterian      4-10
NWLS    16-28

Look at those numbers and it's no coincidence they also managed their highest point total of the season. This team looks completely different when everybody attacks basket. It took an ugly offensive half for them to realize it Monday. UC shot 12 free throws in the first half, but all came from Dion Dixon and Justin Jackson.

In the second half, six other players joined the parade to the stripe.

"Once we settled down and adjusted to their denying and pressure defense we were able to get the ball into the paint and get to the free throw line changed the game," Cronin said.

--- Another big difference between
Monday and the rest of the season was the performance of the bench.

Take a look at the bench contributions over the first four games:

Alabama State  9
Jacksonville St. 6
Presbyterian     0
NWLS   16

At the top of that list was the continued emergence of freshman Ge'Lawn Guyn.

He enjoyed his best game at UC Monday playing 19 minutes going for 10 points on 3 of 4 shooting with an assist. He came in at the beginning of the second half and seemingly never left, playing 16 of the 20 minutes after the break. That included tenuous stretches where UC saw the lead shrink to the dreaded number of 14 with about 11 minutes left -- eerily similar to the Presbyterian game.

As UC responded with a 16-2 run, Guyn packed the punch with a 3-pointer and aggressive on-the-ball defense. He gives more than just another body, young player who can drain the 3 and create turnovers.

He gives Cronin versatility.

"He can play either spot because he can make shots and he's tough enough to guard a bigger guy," Cronin said. "(Wright's) experience is at chasing guys off screens, so you can rest (Wright) and let Ge'Lawn pressure the ball."


Finding a guy who can easily give a breather to both Dion and Cash will be a big luxury as the season progresses. And, considering the injury history of Wright and his knees, Guyn provides an important safety net.

--- The bench also received a
lift Monday from the UC debut of JuCo transfer Cheikh Mbodj (ankle). Needless to say for anybody who watched the game, he is a definitive presence in the middle.

At 6-10, 245, he's difficult to miss. And he plays as solid of defense as you could ask for out of a big man in his first game. He only scored two points (2 of 4 FTs) with one rebound and one block, but Cronin saw him affect the game in other ways.

"He changes our team, I can tell you that," Cronin said. "He anchors your defense. He really knows how to play. When Bob Brannen played here, we used to watch film, you'd say he guarded four guys on that play. Covered him and got back to his man, covered him got back to his man. Cheikh is that kind of guy.
He's huge part of our team as he gets healthy. That is what winning is all about."

He'll gradually work his way back, he played 11 minutes Monday. Cronin said he put Mbodj on a pitch count of 12 minutes and mainly wanted to get him running up and down the floor for some conditioning with his sprained ankle healed up.

Yancy Gates, who collected his second double-double of the year with 18 points, 11 rebounds, noticed the difference with Mbodj in the fold.

"
That took nine minutes off my play tonight," Gates said. "I was able to come out for longer stretches and come back in fresher. That is a big body. Instead of having just me and Kelvin (Gaines), that is a third big body so Coach Cronin can do different things with that; play us together, sub us in. That is going to be real big as he gets into the flow and gets back healthy. For his first night out, he did real good. He didn't try to force anything. He just came in and tried to find his role and fit in."

--- UC committed 19 turnovers, including five more from Cashmere Wright, who now has 17 turnovers to 11 assists on the season.

Cronin pointed out that is what NW State does. They forced 22 turnovers against Marshall. Tough, denying defense is their calling card and will win them plenty of games in the Southland Conference.

That said, the offense still needs plenty of fine-tuning. There were a number of what Cronin called "head-scratching passes" trying to force the ball inside. For Wright, it comes down to not worrying about the turnovers. He himself can admit, this has become a mental issue.

"I'm thinking too much," Wright said.  "I'm trying not to turn the ball over, but it is causing me to turn the ball over (more). If I get back to what Coach Cronin was saying, if you turn the ball over, then 'oh well,' just play. Just play aggressive and do your thing. Don't worry about turning the ball over. Don't worry about your stats, just keep playing."


Actually, for those who forget, his stats took time to come around early last season as well. He had more turnovers than assists in two of the first four games in his sophomore campaign. This season has been worse as he's now gone four games in a row with more turnovers than assists, but it's far too early to start using words like "regressed."

--- The annual attack on the non-conference schedule came from a story Doc put together for today's Enquirer. For all the information you could possibly want about the non-conference scheduling philosophy, you can revert to my preseason conversation with Mick Cronin.

Monday's monologue on it was more of the same. The only new nugget was the UC looks like it will be in a Thanksgiving tournament in Las Vegas next year that will involve UNLV, Oregon and one other team.

I'll say it one more time, this team needs one more big non-conference game to fill its preparation for the Big East. TV rights, politics and a still-growing program nullified that. Let's move on.

--- Party Rock Anthem season count: 14

---  I would be remiss without delivering a huge shout out to Elise on the Bearcats sports information staff for baking fresh cookies and distributing them to the heathen media. They were delicious. And I may or may not have eaten five of them.

--- Stat of the night: In the first half, Northwestern State missed 19 shots and only grabbed two offensive rebounds for a 10 percent offensive rebounding percentage.

--- Quote of the night: If fans like talking about the non-conference schedule, they LOVE talking about attendance. A total of 4,505 showed up Monday. That's on par with the numbers seen all season. And also on par with those posted last year at this time.

Still, following a loss, everyone expected a small crowd and it was most definitely late arriving. As the conversation swung to that topic, Sean Kilpatrick provided this gem:

"We know certain games on certain nights there is not going to be a crazy crowd. It's not going to be what we expect it to be, especially after a night that just happened. We came out for first warmups and we was like, yo, nobody is coming."

Moving past embarrassment

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A rejuvenated effort in a 71-43 victory against Northwest Louisiana from an embarrassed UC basketball team provided the Bearcats best game of the young season and essential rebound from the loss to Presbyterian.

CINCINNATI - When asked how the last 48 hours have been, Sean Kilpatrick temporarily struggled to find the words.

Of course, he didn't need to speak. His face said it all.

Kilpatrick shook his head on repeat and placed his hand on his forehead. The screaming and yelling that has been echoing throughout Fifth Third Arena the past two days could almost be heard banging around Kilpatrick's head.

"Coach, he let us have it," he said. "Then again, he told us it is not our fault it is his fault. That is tough coming from a coach. He's coaching, but we are doing all the work. We are playing. The last couple days is crazy, though. It was kind of embarrassing, to be honest with you."

Mick Cronin wishes embarrassment was his only problem. The days since Presbyterian hung a 56-54 loss on the Bearcats, his emotions pierced unhealthy levels

"I have slept four hours in two days," he said. "I couldn't eat. I've taken more stomach pills, in four days they might have to pump my stomach. I haven't left my house. I'm embarrassed to stop and get coffee."

Since Presbyterian's Khalid Mutakabbir drained a 3-pointer from the wing to bury Cincinnati's early-season Top 25 ranking, Cronin restored the basic fundamentals of his program. To avoid further embarrassment, he instituted changes promised Saturday night.

His veterans were playing through mistakes. No more. Players who can't pass to the open man will sit and watch. Those loafing for even a half of second will take a seat. The bench will once again be used as a motivational weapon.

"I wrote out rules to our program: No. 1 winning is extremely hard at this level no matter who you play," Cronin said. "You better be ready to play with your heart and you better hustle or you do not get to play. I didn't' think I had to address this with my older players."

Clearly, somewhere between the rankings and press clippings, the mode of transportation used ascending to the top went missing. That was evident for the 10 days prior to the loss against the Blue Hose when even Cashmere Wright admitted he saw a letdown coming.

"I didn't think it would be that game," Wright said. "You can tell in practice we were getting too full of ourselves and we weren't practicing as hard as we did when we first started."

That was not the case the last two days. Partially because of the red-hot rage splattered across the inside of Fifth Third Arena from their embarrassed head coach. And partially because the lesson that comes from watching a team ranked 204 in the RPI last year celebrate on the C-paw is difficult to erase.

The relentless defense that suffocated Northwest Louisiana during the 71-43 victory proved Saturday wasn't far from the mind.

"I don't think it takes a genius to see that is the best we have played all year," Cronin said.

In the second half, the situation looked eerily similar. Two days after watching a 15-point lead with 10 minutes remaining spiral into the biggest upset loss in Mick Cronin's tenure, there the Bearcats were again. This time, they led by 14 with 11:44 left.

The reaction was as decisively different as the final score. UC ripped off a 16-2 run.

Sean Kilpatrick hustled his way for a steal and outlet pass. Justin Jackson stepped into the lane for a charge. Five possessions concluded with UC attacking the basket and moving to the free throw line. Ge'Lawn Guyn provided a rare bench contribution two days after the starting five scored all 54 points.

Hustle, charges, free throws, bench points: all new concepts to anybody who witnessed the previous three halves of UC basketball.

"Our defense was constant all night and our attitude was great all night," Cronin said.

The key will be sustaining the attitude going forward. That begins with the most underrated test of the season in a Marshall team that will be among the best in Conference-USA.

Four days and a holiday stand between now and Friday. For Cronin, it allows a much needed breather from 48 hours from hell. The ship that hit the iceberg has temporarily contained the flooding and returned to course. But, as anybody who felt the invincibility sucked out of the season Saturday night can attest, a lot can change in 40 minutes.

For now, by rejuvenating the effort and attitude expected within the program, crisis management enjoyed a successful first step.

"It is not about money and prestige, man," Cronin said. "You got to have pride. We have worked very hard to build that here. Some things are unacceptable, now. The loss the other night is unacceptable. Yesterday and today they were fun to coach. And for a while there we weren't. For about 10 days we were not fun to coach. This happens to everybody now. They start thinking you are just going to win. You are not just going to win."

Celebrate Cincinnati

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In the season of celebration, it's time to celebrate some of the successes this past week in Clifton.

First, big shoutout and congratulations to Coach Reed Sunahara and the volleyball team on its first BIG EAST title, taking out Notre Dame 3-0 in the finals. The Bearcats were led in the match by tournament Most Outstanding Player Missy Harpenau from Cincinnati's Mother of Mercy High School. The win means the Bearcats get an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament-they'll find out who they play next weekend.

UC has managed to mine several players from the volleyball talent in this area. I had the chance to interview Coach Sunahara on WVXU's "The Front Row" a few weeks ago and he talked about not just the success of his own team, but the successful high school programs in the area. Here's the link to the interview: http://198.234.121.108/cincinnatiedition/102211_FrontRow.mp3 

On the basketball side, senior guard Bjonee Reaves was selected to the season's first BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll for her performance against Dayton and Evansville. It is the first time Reaves has been named to the league's honor roll.

 Reaves has averaged 16.0 ppg and 5.0 apg in a 3-0 start for the Bearcats. She scored one-third of the team's offense with a career-high 25 points against Dayton on November 16 then continued her success against Evansville two days later, leading three double-digit scorers with 18 points after shooting 7-of-8 from the field. In her last two games, she's had 11 assists and two turnovers.

While the volleyball team will find out this weekend where it will be for the tournament, the basketball team heads to Cancun for the Thanksgiving holiday for a tournament there. Follow them all on www.gobearcats.com as their seasons get exciting!

 

P&R Nightmare

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What a tough time to be a University of Cincinnati sports fan this past weekend. First UC football loses convincingly to Rutgers putting their Big East title hopes on fountain square's ice rink; and with excitement running high going into a year fresh off their first NCAA tournament appearance under Mick Cronin, the basketball team loses a guaranteed win to Presbyterian at home.

I honestly don't know which one hurts their sports program more. While I think many would say the basketball loss hurts more I think you could have a point but, West Virginia lost at home to Northern Kentucky and Pitt lost to Long Beach State. All three games were written down as wins as soon as they were scheduled. But these days kids aren't in awe of program names or players like they use to be. They realize lots of players and programs are only good on paper but more even on the court than many would care to admit simply because the AAU circuit allows these guys to face each other for years eliminating the mystique.

In football I honestly thought the Bearcats would play Rutgers tougher than they did and that Munchie Legaux would play better but that didn't happen either. As a result a season that started out full of optimism and got stronger with each win is potentially going to vanish into thin air. Yes we all realize losing Zach Collaros was the X factor but I guess I just expected more from the defense since Collaros never played on that side of the ball.

This is one of those weekend that will chase fair weather fans right out of the ball park and/or arena because they look at this as the apocalypse of UC sports but in reality it was just one bad weekend of sports; one I'd like to soon forget. 

UC basketball has chance at redemption against Northwestern State and they should be made to pay dearly. As Mick said in his post game show, this team was setting themselves up for a bad loss and he tried his best to avoid it. In the end it could be the best thing to happen to this team going into the real part of their schedule. As far as UC football is concerned Coach Jones will find out who wants to mail it in as a sign of frustration and who wants to rise above the tide and hold tight to the belief that any chance is a real chance. I would love to have been in Coach Cronin's practice after the loss and peek into Coach Jones' practice this week. I assure you it won't be pleasant for players on either side but it's a necessary evil to rid themselves of lackluster performances.

What a great opportunity for UC players to make a statement about pride in their sport and their respective programs. The fans deserve better and the university deserves better. But more important than that, the players owe each other an apology for not respecting their craft.

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


Bearcats Breakfast 11.21.11

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Let's start with the good news. We would be remiss not to open with the UC women's volleyball team winning their first Big East championship on Sunday with a straight sets victory over Notre Dame.

Believe it or not, this was the first BE tournament championship for any UC team.

Missy Harpenau led UC and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. She totaled 39 kills and 35 digs in the tournament.

Big congrats to them and the NCAA selection show will be Sunday where they should have a pretty good seed entering the tournament.

Let's eat....

--- OK, on to the not so good.
I hate to start my week off on the soapbox, but I have to do so.

Watching the reaction to Saturday's double-downer made me sick to my stomach. Granted, I'm judging by the snap tweets I received and saw circulating during the day as the frustration of the losses to Rutgers and Presbyterian began to soak in, but the amount of big-picture judgments made on the two coaches based on one game was appalling.

I'm hearing from people questioning Butch Jones' coaching ability and all the work that has been done in the season to this point. I'm hearing people calling Mick Cronin a terrible coach. These are almost certainly the same people praising both endlessly no less than 10 days ago.

The knee-jerk reaction of sports fans makes no sense. Yes, the losses hurt. Neither wanted to lose nor did they expect to. But to claim these games proved some sort of fatal flaw or defining factor in either coach is ludicrous. Is the bandwagon that small that one setback forces so many to jump off?

Likely, some of the Cronin-bashers will always be there. Whether it was flipping around the academic and off-court conduct of the team, recruiting some of the top talent in the country to a dismantled program, leading them out of the bottom half of the Big East and into the NCAA tournament or the team's first Top 25 preseason ranking since taking over -- some people won't care to hear the facts.

They won't want to hear that losses like the one UC hoops suffered Saturday happen annually. Heck, this year alone Long Beach State beat Pitt, Seattle Pacific topped Arizona and NKU/Kent State both beat our beloved Bob Huggins and West Virginia.

Last year Florida lost to Jacksonville at home. The Gators went on to a No. 2 seed and advance to a Regional Final loss to Butler.

Cleveland State beat Syracuse in 2009. That was one year after LeMoyne College topped the Cuse in an exhibition.

Fire Jim Boeheim!

In 2004, North Carolina lost to lowly Santa Clara at home. They went on to win the national championship.

Roy Williams, Bruce Weber, Billy Donovan, Jamie Dixon. Yep, they're all garbage.

Teams experience growing pains in November. It's part of the process. Everyone is figuring out their strengths and weaknesses. A loss to Presbyterian doesn't mean Cronin suddenly lost touch with the program. C'mon, people, we're better than that, aren't we?

The same goes for Jones. Nobody is placing blame here on the injury to Zach Collaros deciding the outcome of Saturday's game against Rutgers, but does UC struggling to move the ball with one week to fix losing the unanimous captain and heart of the team against the league's best defense make Jones a bad coach?

Does it wash away the rebound from 4-8 to 7-1? Does it take away the constructed chemistry and resilience that sparked come-from-behind victories in three consecutive conference wins?

Apparently, to some fans it does. The opportunity to go 9-3 and share the Big East title still exists. If I'd have told you that at the beginning of the year, what would you have said then?

Seasons and coaches need to be viewed in retrospect and big picture. The game of throwing coaches under the bus is a favorite reaction across college sports. One all too sad and familiar.

I challenge this base to be better than that. I thought they were.

(Takes deep breath, steps down off soapbox, tugs suit and brushes shoulders, exits quietly)

--- Without doubt, the most surprising element of Saturday's game against Rutgers was the disparity in the trenches. This was a game UC entered as the second-ranked team in the country stopping the run with Rutgers 118th in running the football.

I remember stating I would be shocked if Rutgers compiled more than 40 yards on the ground. The Knights running effectively was so far out of the realm of consideration, I didn't even include it in Friday's Four Stats For Victory.

Yet, there was Juwan Jamison running for 200 yards?

And there was Isaiah Pead and the UC running game, going against a team that allowed a 100-yard rusher to all five previous conference foes, only gaining 28 yards on 14 carries?

As much as people would love to point the finger at Munchie Legaux -- and this team will rightfully call it a team loss where everyone failed to do enough -- it's hard to get past what occurred in the running game. The one advantage the Cats had was up front. They had to dominate it. The opposite happened, forcing Legaux into positions he wasn't comfortable in and UC wasn't comfortable putting him in.

Give credit to the Scarlet Knights and don't put this all at Legaux's feet.

--- Here's where we stand in the Big East title picture. There is currently a five-way tie at the top of the conference. Yes, more than half of the teams in the league right now can claim first place.

UC can win the BCS bid by the following occuring:

1) Win out. Pitt beats West Virginia. UConn upsets Rutgers.

2) Complete chaos.

The way the Big East has gone this year, the second seems more likely than anything. There are multiple scenarios where UC can win the title, but focusing on those two games will be the easiest way to put it right now.

While Syracuse has lost three in a row, finding a way to beat the Orange should be at the top of the priority chart right now.

--- What we
learned in the Big East, from Andrea Adelson. Includes discussion of missing ZC.

--- CBSsports.com talks Big East Winners and Losers from Week 12.

--- On to basketball, I posted
Mick Cronin's postgame comments in my blog Saturday. It felt like a day where letting Cronin's words speak for themselves was the only way to properly tell the story. Nothing I could construct would illustrate the core message better than his venting of postgame frustration.

If you want to get a feel for how it went, here is the video.

He wasn't alone in his frustration. Yancy Gates and Sean Kilpatrick both entered the postgame press conference and voiced a similar message. Likely, they were just repeating what Cronin said in the locker room, but you have to believe the message hit home now.

SK said this about teams coming back on them.

"That's mostly like our problem," he said. "Especially with whole fact when we do get up we stop playing hard. It shouldn't be like that. With a team like that shouldn't come back like that with open 3s the way they did."

Here is the video of Yancy and SK.

Kilpatrick admitted the mistake he made not pulling his rebound back out to get fouled in the final seconds. The overwhelming theme, however, was small mental errors like that one or the missed free throw by Gates aren't the issue here. This was a big-picture problem Cronin will be addressing with his team.

"Even if we would have won, we are not a very good basketball team," Cronin said.

--- Cronin insinuated changes would be made going forward and he specifically talked about more playing time for Kelvin Gaines, who does hustle and play hard defensively.

Tonight's game against Northwestern State will be much more interesting to watch all of a sudden.

The game will be on FSO and ESPN3.com at 7 p.m. Of course, you can always follow along for observations and (occasionally) witty commentary on Twitter. (@pauldehnerjr)

--- The scene with Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert after the game was my highlight of the weekend. Sure, his team beat UC. But taking that out of it, watching him be forced to tears discussing senior Khalid Mutakhabbir, who buried the game-winning 3-pointer, was special to witness.

Joe Kay does a nice job of capturing it with his AP story.

Kids at these small schools are beaten to a pulp by a run of top teams early in the season. And if UC played them 100 times, they'd probably win 99. To see the emotion come flowing out and the endless hours of thankless work paid off for one special moment, I was honored just to be in the room to see it.

--- Yet to see the new Top 25 rankings, they'll be out later today, but UC will almost certainly drop out. Gary Parrish had them out of his Top 25 and one.

--- Randomness...

--- What a great day for
celebrations in the NFL yesterday. First, you had Maurice Jones-Drew going all LeBron in Cleveland. Then you had Tony Scheffler breaking out the Flashmob commercial dance.

--- CBS did a piece on the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Still going strong.

--- I might consider watching CSI now. Probably not, but I'll think about it.

--- Beats by Dre or Bose?

--- In case you hadn't heard yet, Lee Corso with the quote of the weekend (Link contains bad language). Corso apologized soon after.

--- Football coaches could only hope to recruit players with the kind of effort and determination it took this girl to rush the field while on crutches.

--- Things got weird at the conclusion of the American Music Awards last night. As if LMFAO doing Party Rock Anthem wasn't disheartening enough, David Hasselhoff showed up on stage in some sort of European Speedo with a smiley face on it. He thrusted to unnecessary levels.

As a friend said to me at the time: There are some things you just can't unsee.

I'm sad for our country.



Presbyterian 56, UC 54: Humbling experience

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There are many different directions you could poke and prod with postgame reaction. Then, when Mick Cronin enters and says everything that needs to be said or heard about the state of the 2011-12 Bearcats basketball team, you let him go. So, us media types did.

Rather than try to twist and turn his words, I figured I'd just let him speak for himself and the disappointment surrounding a team at a surprising early crossroads following a 56-54 loss to Presbyterian.

Mick Cronin:

(On leading up to the game)

This never should have happened. We just quit playing defense. We are not tough enough yet. I knew this was coming, but obviously I failed to get my point across the last two days with my team.

As hard as we tried to practice and as upset as I was in practice the last two days about our performance against Jacksonville State, We are just not tough enough to win yet. This team has to win ugly right now. Period.

(On the loss because of effort)

This was coming. I told my team this was coming. Not in that nice of a tone. Even if we would have won we are not a very good basketball team.

(On moving forward)

We have to make some changes. Right now we are not good enough to win games. A lot of false hope about who we are. So, maybe this will be good for us. To be honest, I'm just worried about finding a way to win Monday night right now. We are not a very good basketball team right now.

(On giving up a 15-point lead)

The stuff that was going on out there in the last 10 minutes defensively is beyond my comprehension.

(On state of team)

We are not blowing anybody out. Even when we are up 15, we are just trying ot get the win. We don't have seniors coming off the bench to drop the hammer. That is not realistic now. That is not who we are. Been falling on deaf ears, though, very obviously. So, we'll see. We will see what we are made of at the end of the day.

(On what he called "laziness" on defense down the stretch)

We are in desperate need of some toughness. Everybody wants to talk about offense. You can't control guys standing there wide open missing shots. Going 4 for 10 from the foul line. You can control your defensive effort. That you can control.

They had 14 fast break points to our two. Pretty telling stat. Considering they only had three steals we only had nine turnovers. How they getting fast break points? Guys are worrying about missed shots, not getting back. Worrying about things that they can't control. Young guys do that. That is the mark of a young team. Veterans don't do that. That is foolish. They think the game is over, instead of playing with humility and respect for your opponents for 40 minutes and getting your butt back on defense. 

(On practice prior to Monday's game)

It's not going to be very pretty, because I got nails to pound. One way or the other we are going to not give up those kind of points. We may not score a basket, but that is not going to happen. I don't know who is going to play Monday night, but that will not happen.

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Evansville

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The Cincinnati Bearcats won their third consecutive game at Fifth Third Arena tonight and did so in convincing fashion, beating Evansville 64 to 34. Led by senior guard Bjonee Reaves, the Bearcats shot it well early before beginning to cool off as the second half got going. Still, it was an impressive performance from a team that is having no problem executing its offense in the early going this season. There were a lot of great performances tonight, but tonight's game balls are awarded to Reaves, Kayla Cook, and Tiffany Turner for their efforts and production.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Bjonee Reaves, 9 -- Reaves was exciting and clutch once again for the Bearcats as she was able to amount 18 points in 23 minutes. On three occasions Reaves was able to finish off possessions with tough shots to beat the shot clock buzzer. Two of those shots were deep, three point baskets. Reaves went four-for-five from three-point range tonight. She was seven of eight from every where else on the floor as well. In addition, Reaves was able to showcase her passing abilities, leading the team with 4 assists. It was a solid and proficient outing for Reaves. These types of games should be expected out of the senior guard and will be needed in order to continue the success the Bearcats are experiencing.

"Bjonee plays with a lot of confidence," Head Coach Jamelle Elliott said. "Even when she's missing shots she thinks that she is going to make the next one. No matter what's going on in the game, she has confidence in her abilities. I'm just happy because she puts so much effort into her leadership, her emotions, and what she gives to our team everyday in practice."

"She's the first one to call the huddle when we need one in practice," Elliott said. "She believes in her self, I believe in her, the team believes in her, and the last few games she's really came out and set the tone for what it is we're trying to do to win basketball games." 

2. Kayla Cook, 8 -- What can I say about Kayla Cook? Well, the girl can flat out shoot the rock, for starters. Cook continued to show her streaky ability to shoot the ball tonight. She went four-for-five from three-point land and added a lay-up to give her 14 total points on the night. In Elliott's eyes, Cook is really becoming a combo-guard who can not only shoot from deep, but a player who can also put the ball on the floor and take it to the hole. Cook led all five starters in minutes played tonight, with 29, and is showing why she should be on opponents' scouting reports. This is Cook's first game ball this season and with steady performances like this game-in-and-game-out, she will always be on my game ball radar.

"Last year they kept saying that I'm going to be a good shooter," Cook said. "When I came back that was all I wanted to do. I wanted to continue working on my shot and I'm hoping later in the season to develop a jump shot instead of just being a spot-up three-point shooter."

"She has a lot more confidence in her ball handling ability this year than she had last year and it shows," Elliott said. "Most of the time when you are a spot-up shooter that's all that you can do. She can spot-up shoot it and she can take the ball to the basket. She goes 110 percent every play, so she's been somebody I know I can count on."

3. Tiffany Turner, 7 -- Turner, who was an honorable mention of my last game ball post, gains her first game ball this season in the team's win over Evansville. Turner who is nursing a sore knee was able to establish her dominance inside tonight amounting nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Turner was also able to add six points to her game-totals tonight and is a steady contributor so far for the Bearcats this season. It seems that every time Turner matches up with her opponent she is being labeled as "smaller". Her work ethic and intensity seems to make up for the size disparity every time, as Turner has shown a lot of improvement since last season. With the team counting on her for an inside presence until Jeanise Randolph returns from a back injury, Turner will have numerous chances to earn game ball honors.

"This year I've felt like I've just needed to prove something," Turner said. "I have a lot of strength now. I feel like I can battle against them even though they are undersized."

Honorable Mention: Dayeesha Hollins, 7 -- 10 points, two assists, two rebounds 

Four Stats For Victory

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Cincinnati at Rutgers, noon, ESPNU

1. Five plays of 30-plus yards.
Rutgers doesn't allow many double-digit play touchdown drives. Success against the Knights comes in chunks -- big ones. Check out yesterday's Breakfast for the statistical breakdown.

Either Isaiah Pead or Munchie Legaux must bust long runs. Pead will almost certainly provide one or two. He always does. He owns a run of at least 33 yards in six of nine games this year and Rutgers allowed a 100-yard rusher in every conference game. The stage is set for him.

Munchie needs to add at least one long run like the one he produced against West Virginia. Then, when Rutgers stacks the box or brings the house with eight and nine defenders, forcing Munchie to beat them, he needs to do so up top. He can't miss the wide open receiver sprinting beyond the safeties. Not Saturday. He just can't afford to.

2. Two turnovers or less from Munchie. We expect there to be a turnover or two because of inexperience. To think Legaux could go without a mistake against the blitzes and pressure Rutgers will be bringing would be unrealistic. It will happen. Hopefully, it doesn't hurt too much and UC can come away unscathed or only allowing three. Keeping it to just one or two turnover mistakes will be key. None of the nerves-induced airmailed ducks into the secondary or last second tosses that could be ruled fumbles like we saw last week.

Legaux can make mistakes, just don't make more than two of them.

You could make the same argument whether it was Legaux in there or Zach Collaros. UC's Turnover Margin Express derailed as conference play progressed. The team that led the nation with a plus-14 turnover margin through four games has won the turnover battle but one time in the last five.

Here's the season tally:

Opponent  Take/Give/Margin
Austin Peay  5/0/5
Tennessee    2/0/2
Akron           6/1/5
NC State      3/1/2
Miami          2/4/-2
Louisville      1/1/0
So. Florida   4/3/1
Pittsburgh    2/2/0
WVU           1/2/-1 
TOTALS    26/14/12

As much as we laud UC's opportunistic defense, they are even in turnover margin in conference play which puts them in the middle of the pack, ranked fourth in the Big East.

3. Four or more sacks. This number is a constant in the 4S4V. It's the key to Cincinnati's defense. They must terrorize the QB. Never has that been more important than during this two-week stretch. They did a great job of not allowing Geno Smith to get comfortable last week and only allowed one explosive play -- the 58-yard TD pass -- and 17 points.

Anybody who watched Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu torch UC's secondary during the wild 69-38 game last year at Nippert knows what Rutgers is capable of. Both have the UC corners significantly outsized.

Mohamed Sanu (6-2, 215) vs. Cam Cheatham (5-9, 190)
Mark Harrison (6-3, 230) vs. Deven Drane (5-11, 180)

Rutgers loves Sanu on the short/intermediate routes because the Big East's record-holder for receptions in as season is so quick and doesn't drop anything. Harrison can be the deep threat and if UC can't disrupt Dodd's rhythm and force him to make bad decisions -- the type of decisions that got him benched earlier this year -- Rutgers boasts the weapons to throw all over UC.

4. No missed FGs.
With a backup QB against the top defense in the Big East, scoring opportunities can't be squandered. If not for two missed/blocked field goals against WVU, UC would have come away with the victory. Consider every UC conference game has been decided by single digits and three of the four by three points and it's clear how imperative it will be for redshirt freshman Tony Miliano, long snapper Tom DeTemple and holder Pat O'Donnell to bounce back from the tough Saturday at PBS.

Legauxbearcats.com

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So, if he's ever in Heisman contention, I just provided you with your marketing website.

You're welcome.

It wouldn't be the first idea taken from me without recognition/compensation, nor will it be the last.

Just like the seemingly devastating injury to Zach Collaros isn't the first in UC athletics or the last.

History proves otherwise and Dan Hoard, Bill Koch and others have documented the past incidents pretty thoroughly in the past week.

What happened to Collaros against Louisville is why you often see five or six guys in different colored jerseys at spring and preseason practices. A team only needs one quarterback on the field, but several are vital to the operation.

As far removed as a guy can look, he's always a tear or break away from moving up the football flinging food chain.

In recent memory, you can look no further than Tony Pike, who greyshirted, redshirted and then seemingly was relegated to clipboard duty for life.

In his junior year, he was nearly told to "go on about his life's work" as Brian Kelly wasn't impressed with his work ethic.

Then, he went from the guy that smuggled Skittles into his quarterback pouch at practice, to a viable replacement, to THE guy in a span of less than two years.

Opportunity often brings maturation.

Others off the top of my head that have stepped up (some of these may be dated as some of you were in preschool when I was walking the sidelines):
  • 1) Eric Vibberts stepping in for an ineffective and injured Todd Preston.
  • 2) Chad Plummer running crazy when Vibberts faltered.
  • 3) Part-time basketball player Brent Petrus going deep when Plummer and Vibberts struggled.
  • 4) Deontey Kenner showing he was more than a holder in the Humanitarian Bowl.
  • 5) Adam Hoover in relief of an injured Deontey Kenner.
  • 6) Gino Guidugli stepping in with the best freshman debut ever when Adam Hoover was injured at Army in the second game of the season.
  • 7) George Murray nearly coming back to beat East Carolina (before he went to wide receiver) as Guidugli was injured.
  • 8) Guidugli stepping up for himself by recovering from a broken hand in less than a month to be MVP of the Fort Worth Bowl.
  • 9) The legendary replacement of Dustin Grutza with Nick Davila to beat No. 7 Rutgers in 2006.
  • 10) Grutza in relief of Ben Mauk in several games in 2007.
  • 11) Mauk, like Guidugli in 2004, overcoming considerable pain and doubt to be MVP of the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham.
  • 12) Tony Pike, in relief of Dustin Grutza after the broken leg at Oklahoma 2008.
  • 13) Zach Collaros sealing the win in Akron in 2008 after Pike's injury.
  • 14) Chazz Anderson starting against Rutgers in 2008 over Collaros.
  • 15) Dustin Grutza, back miraculously quick to come in for a reinjured Tony Pike at Hawaii.
  • 16) Zach Collaros again in for Pike with the memorable 75-yard run against USF in 2009 and his string of impressive statistical games.

Which brings us back to Munchie Legaux, who now is in the limelight.

While his passing at times left much to be desired, it didn't look like he had the full playbook at his disposal.  When he ran, I think you saw another dimension.  The last Bearcat quarterback, outside of Pike, with long strides like that was Chad Plummer who often turned five-yard losses into 20-yard gains in the mid 90s.

Once he was beyond the opening jitters, I think Legaux showed a lot of Cajun (fill in your favorite slang term for intestinal fortitude) by leading the Bearcats back and nearly pulling the game off.

Personally, once he hit Adrien Robinson at the 20 for a first down, I wish he had been given an opportunity to go to the endzone.

Sadly, that's another meeting/decision where my input wasn't asked. 

Still, Legaux showed me a lot in the West Virginia loss as I was kind of in the corner of Georgia Tech transfer Jordan Luallen.  For that matter, Luallen still can help on short downs and I think Brendon Kay has more to offer than just miming plays in.

But, Munchie's the guy and that's good.  At worst, you get a glimpse at next year's quarterback and you have a marketable entity for your next batch of bookstore jerseys.

At best, the Creole 'Cat jazzes things up and you've got a nice story to take to another BCS bowl game.

Your next story then would be the quarterback controversy as I wouldn't be shocked to see Collaros available and willing to play come bowl time.

Never a dull moment behind center....

Now, to relive one of the finer games in Bearcat history (where Jim Kelly did his Meg Ryan impression on radio after Ryan Manalac's game-saving interception) here you go:


Bearcats Breakfast 11.17.11

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More Munchie, please.

That's the feeling I get this week. People can't get enough Legaux. The story is certainly intriguing. (Again, if you haven't read Joe Kay's story on the QB named Munchie, check it here). Hard to imagine what must be circulating through the brain of a sophomore making his first start at quarterback with a Big East title berth, essentially, on the line.

He says the biggest game he ever played in was a playoff football game his senior year at Edna Karr HS in Louisiana. Not exactly 52,000 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.

"It's a lot of pressure," Legaux said. "Those are big shoes to fill."

His feet could make the difference. The 4.6 40-yard-dash time grew his appeal to colleges and strong arm didn't hurt, either. But he adds a different dimension in the run game. Collaros always seemed to find a way to gain the big yard. Legaux always can be capable of finding the big 40 yards.

"He's an exciting runner," said OL Randy Martinez, aka RandEazy, aka Ragu, aka Mr. McSaucy. "One of the things we can do now is they have to account for him on every running play and every passing play. He's very dynamic."

He's even more dynamic behind an offensive line that flipped from weakness to strength this season. They are second in the league in sacks allowed per game. Only the elusive BJ Daniels and South Florida are better. Couple that with the top yards per carry average per game at 4.56 and you have a unit capable of dominating up front.

In Martinez's eyes, with Munchie under center behind them, they put the onus on themselves to do just that.

"
Anytime you lose Zach Collaros it's always hard," Martinez said. "Us as an offensive line have been playing very well this year and we take pride in ourselves that we can protect Munchie and open a lot of lanes for Pead. These next two weeks we are going to put the team on our back."

Martinez and the line hope to help out Munchie. For Saturday that means allowing him time to throw against a team that will be bringing blitzes from every corner of New Jersey.

"One thing we can't do is let a defense like Rutgers get to him because they like to pressure the quarterback a lot," Martinez said. "They send a lot of blitzes, they are very fast. They don't have a lot of key name guys, but they play very well together and they are very aggressive, so the number one thing we have to do is keep him clean and worry about his job and not worry about getting touched."

If the offensive line can hold their ground against blitzes and heavy pressures, Legaux owns the breakaway ability to make them pay for more than just the season-high 17-yard gain of Collaros on the ground. He can take it to the house.  He proved that last Saturday.

"He actually provided the spark (against WVU)," Butch Jones said. "He provided the big plays and kind of got us into a rhythm offensively, so our players have a lot of confidence. The thing with Rutgers is we know they are going to bring it from everywhere. They are going to bring double edge pressure, they are going to bring it up the middle, and they are going to play press man coverage. You know they are extremely aggressive; they play an aggressive style of attacking defense so we understand that but also that lends itself the big plays."

Let's eat...

--- While we are on the topic of big plays, Take this into consideration: no team in the Big East has allowed more plays of 20+ yards than Rutgers. Only UConn has allowed more plays of 30+ yards.
 

The Scarlet Knights are tied with UConn with 46 plays of 20 or more yards. For comparison, UC sits second in the league with only 34 allowed.

Seven of those 46 plays went for more than 50 yards. 

Think about that for a second, a defense ranked at the top of the Big East in total yards allowed, and leads the league in passing yards allowed is giving up more big plays than anybody. Hard to believe.

Rutgers will stop you the majority of the time, but you can beat them by popping a long one when you have the opportunity.

Who better for that than Isaiah Pead and Munchie Legaux? 

--- Even deeper into those numbers, here is a list of every offensive TD scored against Rutgers this year. Take a glimpse at how many have been explosive plays. 

WVU -- 80-yd run

UNC -- 66-yd pass

UNC -- 60-yd run

NAVY -- 54-yd run

WVU -- 52-yd run

OU -- 31-yd pass

USF -- 23-yd pass

WVU -- 20-yd pass

WVU -- 19-yd pass

LOU -- 18-yd pass

OU -- 10-yd pass

OU -- 10-yd pass

UNC -- 6-yd run

USF -- 4-yd run

SU -- 3-yd run

Pitt -- 3-yd run

WVU -- 2-yd run

ARMY -- 2-yd run

WVU -- 1-yd run

LOU -- 1-yd run

--- That's right, 25 percent have been from more than 50 yards out! Half of the touchdowns scored against them have been from at least 18 yards out.

Also, notice the teams at the top of that list. West Virginia and UNC both took advantage of big-play opportunities to win the game. Only Louisville has been able to beat Rutgers in a slugfest this year.

Chicks dig the longball and Saturday is the time for it.

--- While I'm at it, I'll refresh some stats for you on Mr. Pead. He now has 100-yard games in five of the seven games where he's played both halves.

He owns a run of at least 33 yards in six of UC's nine games this year. Home run hitter? This is the equivalent of Jose Bautista coming to Great American Ball Park. 

--- Pead has 934 rushing yards on the season. Good chance he goes over 1,000 for the second consecutive season on Saturday. He finished last season with 1,029 yards.

The mark means something to him, but he's always been more of a team than stat guy.

"Obviously, it means a lot because we need that," Pead said. "You want to get that thousand, you want to get 1,200, you want that 1,500. That thousand helped us win all these games. People say how many you going to get this week. I say however many they give me. I never really put a mark or anything. I just never really been a big fan of that."

--- Tom Luicci of NJ.com jumps into the topic of Rutgers struggling rush defense facing Isaiah Pead. As I mentioned in a Breakfast earlier this week, the Scarlet Knights have allowed a 100-yard rusher to every single conference foe this season.

--- Khaseem Greene, Rutgers leading tackler, might be familiar to UC fans. (Story on his importance from the NJ Daily Record) Not only does he lead the Big East in tackles (105) and will be the key for the Knights in stopping UC's run attack Saturday, he's the guy who slid past Pead during his famous stop-start touchdown against Rutgers in 2009. 

In case you forgot, or just want to watch again, scroll ahead to the 2:10 mark.



--- Andrea Adelson talks about
why this week in the Big East is most important to UC. I don't do many guarantees or predictions here, but I'll say it now: If UC beats Rutgers they win the Big East. Mark it down.

--- Whenever a story about UC has a big picture of Kenyon Martin with his leg in a cast at the top, my stomach instinctively eats itself. Bill Koch on UC's history of critical injuries. Proceed with caution.

--- Derek Wolfe is listed as a sleeper among NFL d-line prospects in the draft, but make no mistake, scouts are noticing his dominant performance this season.

I'm reminded of another UC defensive line prospect in the league, Mike Wright. They are similar builds, Wright at 6-4, 295 and Wolfe at 6-5, 300. Both warriors on the inside with a knack for finding the ball. Wright carved himself out a nice NFL career in New England with 80 games and 21 starts. He's currently on IR.

Of course, considering recent history, Wolfe will probably end up in Philadelphia alongside Trent Cole going up against Jason Kelce and Brent Celek every day.

--- I just can't see a
way Rutgers runs for more than 40 yards. I'd put my word on them ending up in the negatives on the ground by the time it's all said and done.

--- By the way, UC now leading
the country in Tackles for Loss per game at 8.7. They are third in the nation in sacks at 3.4 per.

--- Mick Cronin opened his postgame press conference on Tuesday after a sloppy, frustrating game against Jacksonville State by saying, "never undervalue winning." So true. Ask Pitt about that after being handled at home by Long Beach State.

--- Randomness...

--- Ricky Gervais will host the Golden Globes again this year. If you remember, last year he was controversially pulled midway through after crushing the celebs in attendance during his monologue and intros.

I'll be watching and waiting for Twitter to explode.

--- South Park has been renewed through its 20th season. Admittedly, I haven't kept up through the years but they still are the pulse of comedic pop culture. I did watch this 60 Minutes piece on them from a few months back, which was a great view inside their show and play Book of Mormon.

Plus, they love to kill Kenny. Here are his top 15 deaths.

--- Nothing screams Christmas season like the first angry neighbor smashing ornamental lights story.

--- Matt Leinart has supporters. I'm sure he's never been to that place. Not his style.

--- Because I've been listening to Phish while putting this Breakfast together, I'll let you experience it the same way. A few people bought a ticket for this show.



Game Balls & Player Ratings: Dayton

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The Bearcats are winners for the second time this season as they knocked off the Atlantic 10 favorite, Dayton Flyers, 75 to 64 at Fifth Third Arena in front of 645. The University of Cincinnati had four players score in double figures for the second consecutive game and were able to limit their turnovers by 10 tonight. Tonight's game balls are awarded to Bjonee Reaves, Chanel Chisholm, and Dayeesha Hollins for their efforts and production.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Bjonee Reaves, 9 -- Reaves was absolutely stunning down the stretch tonight. The senior point guard scored a career-high 25 points on 21 shots. Her production did not stop there, Reaves was also able to add seven assists and five rebounds to the stat sheet. She scored 14 of her 25 points in the second half; helping propel the Bearcats past a Dayton comeback-scare. Reaves went five-for-six from the free throw stripe helping seal the game for UC. It was a staggering performance tonight for Reaves and she is a game ball winner for the first time this season.

"I was just finding my shots within the offense," Reaves said. "The fact that I was getting my teammates open and passing them the ball allowed me to get open shots myself. It was a collective effort tonight and I just feel like tonight was proof that on any given night anyone on our team can score. We are very versatile."

2. Chanel Chisholm, 7 --  Chisholm got off to another hot start for the Bearcats tonight shooting 70% from the field in the first half. She led all scorers at halftime with 14 points and finished the game with 15 points. She was also the leading re-bounder in the game amounting eight rebounds in 38 minutes tonight from a guard playing the forward position. She drove to the basket well and made sure not to let a taller Dayton team get second chance points by cleaning up on the boards. Thought to get her second career double-double in the second half, Chisholm was slowed down in the second half, but her first half output was pertinent to the team's success tonight and earned her another game ball for the 2011-12 season.

"You have to remember that Chanel is actually a guard. She played guard for us last year," Head Coach Jamelle Elliott said. "I moved her inside this year because I thought she would be a little more productive inside."

3. Dayeesha Hollins, 7.5 -- There were plenty "Dayeesha Hollins!" moments in tonight's game as the red shirt sophomore was able to escape pressure, get to the basket, and set her teammates up with easy shots frequently. Hollins did a phenomenal job handling the ball tonight for the Bearcats and led the team and the game with seven assists. She scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half as the Bearcats avoided a Dayton surge to move to 2-0. Hollins was very productive from the floor shooting 75% on eight shots. The only downside to her game tonight was her 1-for-5 shooting from the free throw line. The athletic ability she possesses seems like a women's version of Derrick Rose and her efforts earned her another game ball for the 2011-12 season.

"Because Dayeesha is so quick with the ball and she's a great ball handler she was able dribble out of the trap," Elliott said. "I'm happy we have Dayeesha, she is a player that is extremely quick with the ball, she's poised, she's under control, and she's normally doesn't turn the ball over. I have to have her out on the floor."

Honorable Mention: Tiffany Turner, 7 -- 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks

"Tiffany did a great job," Elliott said. "Tiffany is playing on all heart right now. She has a bum knee."

 

Cronin pushing for more from veteran trio

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Following a sloppy second half, Mick Cronin pushed for more from veterans Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright.

CINCINNATI - When the wheels begin coming off for one of Mick Cronin's teams, the reaction usually snaps off easier than a Darnell Burton jump shot.

Hit the bench.

Sometimes one player. Other times two. Many times all five.

That didn't happen Tuesday night. In a game against Jacksonville State, who went 5-25 last year and only returned four players from that team, where UC led by 27 points early in the second half, Cronin left his starters on the floor.

Cashmere Wright played 19 of 20 minutes in the second half. Yancy Gates 18 of 20. Dion Dixon never exited.

No, this wasn't reward. This was punishment.

"This is real simple guys, we get up 27 and guys shut it down," Cronin said. "Let's go home. I decided not to let some guys go home and get some conditioning."

This run against the directional schools and city-states are supposed to be about gaining big leads then providing valuable minutes for freshmen. Not on this night. Not at this point. Not when a team commits 20 turnovers, including five apiece from the starting guards.

Not when Cronin believes his three veteran players don't care enough about being the best players they can be.

"Once they saw we were going to win that's enough for them," Cronin said. "I don't want that to be the case. I want those guys to try to be great players."

For Cronin, this goes beyond the final 10 minutes during a forgettable November Tuesday. This goes into practices, which the coach wasn't happy with this week. This goes into preparation which he thought was lacking.

The theme of handling individual prosperity, whether in a game or overall in a season, showed up Tuesday night.

In a strategically calm fashion, Cronin began the process of nipping that problem in the bud. 

"In my opinion that is going to be the ultimate test for our team," Cronin said. "To be a really, really good team I got to turn Yancy, Dion and Cash, I got to get them to be every day players, every night guys. Where those guys, all the time they just want to dominate. No matter who they are playing, no matter what the score is, those guys are playing as good as they can play and they are intense at all times."

Wright and Dixon followed Cronin's attitude. Moments after soaking in a stat sheet where Wright totaled 23 points and Dixon 20, the initial reaction on the first number noticed didn't require hesitation.

"Five turnovers," Wright said, opening the postgame press conference.

Dixon immediately followed.

"Me too," he said, specifically of his four in the second half. "That's what I am looking at right now."

They are looking at a game that appeared to be an early-season laugher when Gates dribbled behind his back then drained a 3-poitner at the halftime buzzer for a 44-21 advantage. After going 6:08 without a bucket and literally sweating through the final 10 minutes, nobody was laughing.

"I think we did horrible, personally," Wright said. "We really got to watch the film, figure out what we were doing wrong and correct it. We can't keep playing like that and continue to win."

Wright now racked up nine turnovers to go against seven assists through the first two games. Far off his near 2:1 assist to turnover ratio from last season.

Cronin wouldn't attribute the sloppiness to aggression or fatigue or even his knees.

"He would tell you and I would tell you lack of intensity," Cronin said. "I have a simple message to him: There are guys on the All-Big East team that he is just as good or better than if he is healthy. He has to go to school, get his degree and live, eat, breath and sleep basketball if you are going to be a great player at this level."

The coach hasn't seen living, eating or breathing. He didn't in the second half Tuesday night. So, he let Wright and company run until they were at least breathing heavy.

Cronin didn't yell, scream or pound the table. As far as could be surmised, the paint wasn't peeled off the locker room walls.  

"I have been trying to save some of my intensity," he said. "It's a long year. Obviously, I haven't done a good enough job. Comes a point you have got to let guys grow up a little bit. They got to take ownership in what they are doing."


Bearcats Breakfast 11.16.11

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Great day of news gathering at the media luncheon on Tuesday. The storylines and stakes are on the rise as the season took a wild turn this weekend.

There is Benton "Munchie" Legaux and his toothless nickname. Joe Kay of the AP churned out a strong tome on him. Read it here.

There is, of course, the sad story of Zach Collaros and a regular season curtailed far too soon. I wrote about that yesterday.

All I keep thinking about with the ZC injury -- and it makes me feel worse and worse -- is all the times after every loss last season Collaros stood up and took the blame. Each one crushed him. He never turned down an interview. He never backed away from covering up for what were many other people's mistakes.

He suffered through all of that last year to guide this team back to the point it is at now. Then to have the shining moment he worked so hard for stolen from him still makes me sick to my stomach. Yes, he's in great spirits. And yes, he's going to do everything he can to help this team. But there is only so much he can do. Seeing him on crutches yesterday returned that punch to the gut feeling of seeing the cart driven on to the field Saturday.

He's was a great football player here, but a much better person. He'll be successful in whatever he does in life, but of everyone, he deserved most the feeling of leading this team to a Big East title. He would have cherished it more than anyone.

Sad story. But hopefully Munchie and company can deliver a happy ending.

Let's eat....

--- While we're on storylines
, of course, there is the matter of Rutgers, the top opponent left on a three-game stretch to a Big East championship. A team playing with confidence and finding a way to win games -- sounds familiar.

--- While standing in the hallway outside the press conference room waiting for a few players to stroll by, the elevator slides open to find Isaiah Pead, a camera, boom mic and producer. Pead was giving one of the Campus Tour's for ESPNU.

Needless to say to anybody who has spoken with the enigmatic senior running back, he was perfect for guided tour of the UC football facilities.

"They said to just have fun," he said. "Make it kind of like MTV Cribs. I have seen that show a couple times."

Pead smiled like a guy who watches the Cribs Season 2 DVD Outtakes once a week.

Of course, he couldn't let us media types get away without having a little fun. He stole my recorder from me and flipped the interview script around to the other side. With the cameras rolling, you have to play along. I'll only say I was about as entertaining and engaging as a hat rack. If I make the show, ESPNU should probably draft a statement that they've reached a new low.

Word from UC's crack SID staff was the piece will air sometime next week. So keep an eye out of that.

Pead wasn't done delivering the goods, though.

Once the Cribs cameras went away, he went on to talk about how he was the person to host Munchie Legaux on his campus visit almost two years ago. It went so well Legaux decommitted from Colorado and signed with UC.

According to Pead, he's the best recruiter the Bearcats have. Step aside Kerry Coombs.

"Me, not to toot my own horn, but I have a good record of pulling recruits," he said. "I am 5-1."

His resume includes Legaux, Maalik Bomar, Jameel Poteat, Kenbrell Thompkins, Romel Dismuke (now at Buffalo). The lone miss? Andre Givens, of Pittsburgh.

"He was actually already committed to Pitt," Pead said. "I don't think that should count."

It does. Still, 5-1 is pretty strong. With Zach Collaros as coach and Isaiah Pead as head recruiter, this program might have its future staff in place.

---  Great to see that
Scott Van Pelt not only was talking about Munchie Legaux on his ESPN radio show Tuesday, he changed his Twitter avatar to a picture of UC's new quarterback.

It will only take a few wins to make him a household name, only because the name is so memorable.

--- Yesterday during the
press conference Jones addressed a question about being aggressive on the final drive instead of settling for a field goal. He pointed out UC did in fact take shots into the end zone before attempting the 31-yarder.

For those of you complaining about a lack of aggression, that wasn't necessarily the case.

"
Actually, two plays prior to the field goal attempt, we had a play for the end zone," Jones said. "It was a wheel route to Isaiah and he was wide open. We didn't execute the play. We took a crack in the end zone and we felt had a great play called on the third down play, and we had a fundamental breakdown. When you look at the film, every play is designed to score, we just didn't execute it. That's the thing is that the game is played by human beings and not robots. We can get out and draw the plays to be successful but we have to execute them.  We had some great play calls. We just didn't execute them."

--- Three injury updates
came from Jones. Linebackers Maalik Bomar and Nick Temple should be back while TE Travis Kelce is questionable for Saturday's game at Rutgers.

--- Dan Hoard writes
about the role of the backup quarterback being a familiar storyline for the Bearcats. This is the sixth consecutive season the backup started at least one game.

In games where the backup was forced to play because the starter was out of the game, he calculates UC's record as 11-1.

You're up, Munchie.

--- Reports surfaced yesterday that BYU is seriously considering joining the Big East in an East/West format. I think I'll pass out if I have to jump into conference expansion again. So, we'll leave it at that for now.

--- If you were looking for the theme from last night's basketball victory over Jacksonville State, you can read my postgame column here. That was pretty much all that was talked about. There was little optimism, there was little joking. Among other things, that's why I didn't bother with The Morning After. The column sums it up.

Oh, and Yancy Gates dribbled down the court, slipped the ball behind his back and buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer. My favorite part, all the while, Dion Dixon, who was on fire from 3-point range all half, yelled for the ball behind him.

Yancy had no intention of passing that ball. It was showtime and he knew it.

Randomness...

--- I am in a better place now over the midseason killing of Community. I think I've reached the level of acceptance. Here's a blog explaining what the show did wrong.

--- I think the story probably took its first wrong turn at, "so, I decided to domesticate a hippo..."

--- Before you complain about only beating Jacksonville State by 14, think about the fact UCLA lost to Middle Tennessee State...in Los Angeles.

--- Sports signs
should be held to a creative accountability. Just because you can make Hotto rhyme with Votto doesn't mean you should display it for 42,000 to see.

Here are the top 25 sports signs of the 2011.



Previewing the opponent: Dayton Flyers

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The women's basketball team will have a tougher test tomorrow night when they face the University of Dayton at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third Arena. The Flyers not only garnered votes in the pre-season AP poll, but also were tabbed in a first place tie with Temple as the Atlantic 10's pre-season favorite.

Three players on this Flyer team earned pre-season A-10 nomination. Dayton returns seven seniors, an unbelievably striking number for a team that finished last season with 21-12 overall and earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Key contributors that may pose problems for the Bearcats include, senior Justine Raterman, senior Casey Nance, and senior  Patrice Lalor.

Raterman who is a starting forward for Head Coach Jim Jabir and the Flyers was named to the Los Angeles Athletic Club Women's Preseason Top 30 list for the John R. Wooden Award. She poses size and skill and is a player that will play in the paint as well as behind the arc.
  
Nance is an imposing center standing at 6-foot-5 and is also one of the captains for this senior ridden squad. She is second all-time in blocks for Dayton and was a pre-season All-Defensive team selection at the Atlantic 10's media day in Newport News, Va.

Lalor is Dayton's starting point guard and is also a captain for the Flyers. She has shown the ability to score in bunches, which will give Head Coach Jamelle Elliott and the Bearcats a tough match-up come tomorrow night.

Dayton lost their season opener to the University of Toledo after starting the game out slow and surrendering 10 straight points. This result proves that the Flyers may be vulnerable on the road, but they will also be trying to avenge their loss to the Rockets against a fellow Ohio program in Cincinnati. 

Here We Go Again

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Let's see if any of this sounds familiar.

 

It's late in the season.  The UC football team loses its starting quarterback to injury and has to turn to an inexperienced backup before a key game with major bowl implications.  Sure enough, the second-stringer not only comes through in that game, but in the weeks to come.

 

You know who I'm talking about right?

 

No, not Zach Collaros...or Tony Pike...or Dustin Grutza...or Chazz Anderson.

 

Does the name Nick Davila ring a bell?

 

Davila.jpg 

If any fan base in college football should realize that losing your starting quarterback doesn't necessarily spell doom, it is Cincinnati Bearcat fans.

 

This is the sixth consecutive year that Cincinnati's starter will miss at least one start due to injury.

 

Here's how the team has done:

 

2006:  Dustin Grutza is unable to start the next-to-last game of the regular season and Davila throws for 277 yards as the Bearcats stun previously unbeaten and 7th-ranked Rutgers 30-11.  The following week, Davila comes off the bench to lead Cincinnati to two scoring drives in the last 4:00 as the Bearcats beat UConn 26-23.  New head coach Brian Kelly then picks Davila to start the International Bowl and he leads the 'Cats to a 27-24 win.

 

2007:  Ben Mauk misses two starts due to shoulder woes and Grutza leads the Bearcats to wins over Miami and Marshall.

 

2008:  Grutza breaks his leg in week two at Oklahoma, and Tony Pike is the starter in wins over Miami and Akron before breaking his arm against the Zips (with Zach Collaros coming off the bench to lead the team to a game-winning field goal).  Chazz Anderson then gets the call and leads the 'Cats to wins over Marshall and Rutgers before Pike returns to start the final eight games of the season.  When Tony was knocked woozy in a pair of late-season games, Grutza answers the bell on a gimpy leg to rally UC to second half comebacks at Louisville and Hawaii.

 

2009:  Pike is being mentioned as a Heisman candidate before breaking his forearm at USF.  No big deal.  Collaros rushes for a career-high 132 yards to led the 'Cats to a win in that game, before starting in victories over Louisville, Syracuse, UConn, and West Virginia.

 

2010:  Collaros misses the Syracuse game with a knee injury, and Anderson struggles in a 31-7 loss to Syracuse.

 

By my count, over the last five years when forced to start a backup quarterback (I am not including Davila in the International Bowl, or Pike in the second half of 2008 because Grutza available in both cases), the UC Bearcats are 11-1.

 

Now Benton "Munchie" Legaux will try to add his name to the list.

 

The 20-year-old from New Orleans passed for 144 yards and rushed for 77 after Collaros broke his ankle last Saturday vs. West Virginia.  In the second half, Legaux (pronounced leh-GO) led Cincinnati to a pair of touchdown drives to turn a 10-point deficit into a 21-17 lead in the 4th quarter.  Then after WVU pulled back in front 24-21, Munchie started a drive at his own 30-yard line with 1:09 remaining, and calmly drove the 'Cats to the Mountaineers' 14-yard line before West Virginia blocked a game-tying field goal attempt.   

 

"He actually provided the spark," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He provided the big plays and got us into a rhythm offensively.  The way we practice, our number two quarterback gets the same amount of reps as our number one quarterback.  So he's had the repetitions and as we know, repetition is the mother of all learning.  So he's had that - now it's a matter of being able to do it at game speed."

 

He faces a serious challenge this week since Rutgers lead the Big East in scoring defense (18.2), total defense (322 yards), and interceptions (16).

 

"The big thing for Munchie is to be able to practice this week at game speed and make quick decisions with the football," said Coach Jones.  "As the backup quarterback you're always one snap away, but sometimes, you're sitting there and it's very difficult to prepare during the week because every week you're preparing but your time doesn't come.  Now all of the sudden you're forced into it and I thought he did a great job (against WVU).  That just builds that confidence that our team has in Munchie."

 

On Saturday, it will be exactly five years and one day since Davila came off the bench to lead the Bearcats past the Scarlet Knights.  Can Legaux do the same?

 

As investment advisors always point out, past performance does not necessarily predict future results.

 

But it's nice to know it can be done isn't it? 

 

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.

 

Collaros' ankle broken, spirit strong

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Zach Collaros 1.jpgCINCINNATI -- Zach Collaros hobbled on crutches out of the elevator and through the hallway outside the media luncheon on Tuesday. A day after his surgery went well, it was no surprise to see the ailing quarterback on the premises.

A fractured ankle may keep him out the rest of the regular season, but he isn't going anywhere.

"Ready to help the team however I can," Collaros said. "Help get Munchie (Legaux) ready to go this week and beat Rutgers. Just study film with him. I have a lot of game experience. "

Collaros offers the experience of pulling off the same task Legaux faces. Only two years ago, Collaros took over for Tony Pike and led UC to four key victories in their drive to a Big East title, perfect regular season and berth in the Sugar Bowl.

We have all week to look at the three-game trial of UC's most famous Bayou import, instead, today feels like an obligation to look back at one of the best quarterback careers in this school's history.

Collaros started 24 games and leaves as UC's all-time leader in completion percentage (62.7). For his career, he finished 473 of 754 for 6,198 yards and 50 TDs.

He's only the second QB to throw for more than 5,000 yards and 50 TDs (Gino Guidugli).

On the UC career list, he ranks second in career touchdown passes (50), fourth in career passing yards (6,198) and pass completions (473) and fifth in career passing attempts (743).

Unfortunately, he'll be best known for his run of four games in 2009 that kept UC's championship hopes alive. Those were about to become a career footnote to the final month of his career. That is, until the second quarter on Saturday.

ZachCollaros2.jpg"Just the first thought was this might be my last play ever," Collaros said of his immediate reaction on the Paul Brown Stadium turf. "Which is kind of a scary, weird feeling. Just a lot of emotions going through your mind."

There was no doubt in that moment his ankle suffered serious damage.

"I knew something was really wrong," he said. "I knew it was broken."

Collaros' crutches echo in the hallways, leaving a different sound to his standard path. The senior's voice and leadership didn't change one bit.

His ankle's broken. His spirit strong as ever.

Visits from teammates and countless calls and tweets from friends, family and college football peers went a long way to replacing the disappointment left from Saturday's injury.

"
All the guys came over to see me yesterday in my apartment, kind of surprised me," he said. "I had a lot of phone calls. I really appreciate that. It helps you get through times like this."

The door remains open for Collaros to play one more game. A game in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 would be the only possible chance. The ankle typically heals in six weeks. That would put him right up against the timeline. Whether he could put pressure on it and be effective would another question altogether. Crazy things can happen, so it's not being ruled out, but Collaros clearly understood the reality of the situation.

Playing in the game would be a big deal to him, but slogging around for old time's sake doesn't fit the team attitude he spent his whole life preaching.

"Whatever is going to help the team," Collaros said. "If Munchie is playing well then Munchie is playing well. I want us to be successful in whatever we do. Right now, we have to take care of this next game and the game after that and the game after that. You can't look too far down the road. I guess I can, but I am just going to do whatever I can to help Munchie and the rest of the team to win the next three games."

Collaros was the strongest lynchpin between the past and present of the UC football program when Butch Jones arrived. He owned the respect of the locker room and leadership to install the belief Jones could lead UC back to where Brian Kelly left it.

After every agonizing loss last season, Collaros stood up and accepted blame. He talked about learning from mistakes and never distributed blame elsewhere. Amid a college football landscape so often devoid of integrity, he swims in it. 


Without him, UC wouldn't be near this point of accomplishment in the Jones era. Nobody can deny what he meant to the head coach.

"Meant everything," Jones said. "I have always said it, the head coach and the quarterback have to have a different relationship than anyone else in the program. It's the point we kind of hit it off right away in our philosophy and how we were going to play and our standard was exactly the same. I could look at him and he could look at me and we knew what each other was thinking."

Without words, they are thinking the same thoughts now: Get Munchie ready.

That process began Saturday. Collaros came out of the training room and onto the sidelines during the second half focused on calming him down despite receiving the most devastating move of his own college career.

"It speaks volumes," Jones said. "Zach is one of the greatest team players I have ever been around. He's totally unselfish. It's all about the team, it's all about this football program it's all about winning. He cares about his teammates. I think that was exhibited on the sidelines. He's going to help Munchie and the rest of our players as well."

Legaux felt the words paying off already.

"He helped me a lot," Legaux said, allowing patience and trust in the offensive line as the two areas Collaros assisted most. "
He's going to be in the film room with me all week. We are going to watch film together. He is going to show me some things, make sure I see the same things he was seeing as if he was out there."

Collaros, who never hid his desire to become a coach, earns his opportunity to do so earlier than expected.

No matter the situation, Collaros always stepped up in whatever role needed. That won't change for the next month. That should surprise nobody. 



Bearcats Breakfast 11.15.11

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This Saturday beings a second season. A three-game season with a new leader and new objective.

With Munchie Legaux at the helm, find a way to win three games.

None will be bigger than Saturday at noon against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have found success, especially at home, where they are 6-1. The lone loss came against West Virginia, 41-31.

They haven't all been pretty. In fact, very few have. Outside of the 34-10 trouncing of Pittsburgh on Oct. 8, Rutgers has needed overtime twice, lost twice, beat Navy by one and required a fourth-quarter surge to hold off lowly Army last week.

They've shuffled quarterbacks with sophomore Chas Dodd back after being benched for four games in favor of freshman Gary Nova.

Yet, through all that ugly, they find themselves in a position to still capture a Big East title. The only way to do so will be by beating UC on Saturday. They win they're in the hunt. They lose and they are eliminated.

Without doubt, Rutgers will be ready. They know what is at stake.

Legaux and the Bearcats better be.

Let's eat...

--- Let's take a look at some BE title scenarios.

1) UC wins their final three games @Rutgers, @Syracuse and home finale vs. UConn and they punch their ticket to a BCS bowl game, more than likely the Orange Bowl.

2) UC loses to Rutgers. They would then need to win the final two games and have both West Virginia lose one of their final two games (Pitt, @USF) and Rutgers lose @UConn in the final game of their season.

Never bet against chaos in the Big East, but a Rutgers loss against struggling UConn with a Big East title shot on the line would seem highly unlikely.

3) UC beats Rutgers, loses to either Syracuse or UConn. The Cats would then need WVU to lose one of their final two games, though an outside chance exists if there were a tie with multiple teams at 5-2, the Cats could win in a three- or four-way tiebreaker scenario, much like the one that sent UConn to the Fiesta Bowl last season.

4) Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria. Rick Bozich explains.

--- Point being, a win
against Rutgers and the path to the Miami clears dramatically. Plus, the first game with the new quarterback will be the most difficult.

--- As for the new era under Munchie Legaux, I still remember National Signing Day two years ago when he jumped from Colorado to UC. I wrote this story about the UC boon for CNati.com.

Little did we know then just how valuable that signing day swing would be.

With a week to cater the offense to Legaux's strengths, UC will enter the Rutgers game much more prepared for his style than against WVU. In fact, Butch Jones said something interesting on yesterday's conference call.

"We will open it up," he said. "That may seem hard to imagine. We may open it up because he can throw the football, but also he can run the football."

--- For the record because
I have seen this discussed on multiple message boards, his name is pronounced LAY-go.

And because I haven't seen this discussed on multiple message boards, but you probably mess it up anyway, my last name is pronounced DAY-ner. I feel your pain, Munchie.

--- The good news: Running the football will be the name of the game against Rutgers. Granted, they have the top overall defense because they are so tough against the pass, as Bill Koch points out today, but if they have a weakness it's against the run.

In conference play, Rutgers ranks dead last against the run. And it's not close.

They are giving up an average of 176 yards per game on the ground. The next closest is West Virginia at 144.

Try these numbers on for size:

Game         Att   Yds  Y/R

@Syracuse   32  126   3.9
Pittsburgh     35  140   4.0
@Louisville   34  187   5.5
WVU            37  210   5.7

USF             52   221  4.3
TOTAL        190  884  4.7

Check out their two losses to West Virginia and Louisville. Those both came in games where Rutgers couldn't stop the bleeding in the running game and allowed the average yards against to creep over 5 per.

Consider this: Rutgers has allowed a 100-yard rusher in EVERY SINGLE CONFERENCE GAME.

Bailey, Syracuse  24-124
Graham, Pitt 24-159
Wright, Louisville 11-108
Alston, WVU 14-110
Scott, USF 19-100

You reading this Isaiah Pead?

With Legaux's breakaway ability in the run game as well, it could be a record-setting day for the UC running game. Or at least they hope.

Rutgers is well aware of what UC could do in the run game, according to Dave Hutchinson of the Star-Ledger.

--- While we are on running the football. Saturday will be the biggest mismatch in the running game in college football this season.

UC enters ranked No. 2 in the country against the run (Alabama is first) overall and No. 3 in yards/carry (Alabama, FSU) at 2.4 per.

Rutgers enters the game 119th out of 120 in yards per carry on offense at 2.4 per.

--- Zach Collaros' surgery went well, according to Butch Jones.

"They were very encouraged with what they saw," Jones said.

Collaros' story is one of the saddest I've witnessed in my time covering sports. You root for a guy like Zach, who overcame so many odds to reach the position he was in and was about accomplish what he hoped to be his shining moment.

Yet, he won't be going anywhere. He'll be starting his coaching career a little earlier than anticipated with Munchie. Just wish the best for him and really hope he can find his way back for a potential bowl game.

Hopefully, ZC will be around at the media luncheon this afternoon and I'll have more from him later today.

---  All you need to know
about tonight's game against Jacksonville State.

The game is at 7 p.m. on FSO. Tommy G and Terry Nelson presiding.

Jacksonville went 5-25 last year and finished 279th in country by KenPom.

They only return four of the 13 players from that team...not sure if that's good or bad. Probably good for them.

They lost 58-44 to Marshall in their last game.

They are the Gamecocks.

They were picked to finish 10th in the 11-team Ohio Valley Conference. Yikes.

So, should be a real nail-biter.

--- Some randomness...

--- I'm starting a new movement: #DeOccupyNBC. Time to vacate the network for...ever. They decided to cut Community midseason. This not only is the funniest show on their network, but probably the best on TV right now and NBC -- who still shoves Whitney down your throat on Thursday nights -- is killing it.

Rumors are the show could still return at a later date, but this is still a travesty.

Yes, the station that features such gems as The Sing off, The Voice, The Biggest Loser 12 (seriously, 12? Aren't we running out of well-spoken fat people? Plus Anna K. is leaving?). This is why NBC is dead last in everything.

Sorry. I'm just not handling this news very well.

I urge all of you to boycott all NBC shows, which shouldn't be difficult. Change starts now.

--- Being from Germany saved this man $2.61 million. Still not worth being surrounded by Hasselhoff worship.

--- Can we please stop fake killing people on the Internet.

--- You see Marshawn Lynch embarrass Ray Lewis this weekend? Wow.

--- Just a bit outside.

--- Gabby Giffords is an inspiration to everyone.

--- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 played a role in the Big East title race. It's true.

--- You mean Bad Girls Club had an adverse effect on the development of children? I refuse to believe this.

--- There are some things in life that can only be helped by the Notorious BIG. Mo Binkies, Mo Problems.



Lets Gaux!

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The Munchie Legaux era has begun unceremoniously, effective immediately. After Zach Collaros went down with a fractured ankle, Legaux the sophomore quarterback was thrust into the spotlight and ask to perform a comeback win against Big East rival West Virginia. He did his part scoring and getting the team in position to tie the game and force overtime. While the outcome didn't go the way UC had hoped there was enough evidence to convince some that Munchie can help the Bearcats win the Big East title and a BCS berth. 

I believe this in part because coach Butch Jones understands you don't dwell on the past or the negative, but you embrace the positive and the future. I can assure you Coach Jones feels as bad for Zach as anyone but he also has a responsibility to prepare those who are capable of playing to get ready for Rutgers who could care less about the 'Cats and their loss. They, as well as any football team, have suffered their share of losses going down the stretch and that's why teams recruit more than one superb player at one position; depth is key to success. When a Collaros goes down, there is a Legaux on standby and the beat goes on...

So while we celebrate the success and contributions of Collaros, we lament his loss. But there is still Isaiah Pead, J.K. Schaffer, and Bearcats en masse to take on the Scarlet Knights and the rest of the Big East. Add Munchie to the mix and you have a chance to win the same way you did prior to his ascension. You may recall there was Tony Pike with Collaros in the wings and its the natural order in football and any sport. Ask any coach and they'll tell you, we want to put ourselves in a position to win and we want to put the best players on the field to accomplish that. With Zach done, UC still has the Munchies for wins and we'll see if their appetite can be satisfied with Legaux in charge.

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

Q & A with starting guard Kayla Cook

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I was able to catch sophomore guard Kayla Cook after her workout and chat with her for a little while. Below are some of the talking points we discussed.

Q: Why number 10?

KC: "I was number 30 in high school and number 12 in AAU. I'm an even number person, so coming in, 10 just seemed like it was an in-between number. I just picked 10 and I'm really glad I picked it, I like this number now."

Q: What's your favorite: the white, the black, or the red uniforms?

KC: "I like the red jerseys. I just think we look sharp in them and I just really enjoy wearing them. It's the ring of red game and that's a really cool game to play in."

Q: Would you rather hit the winning shot or create the winning shot with an assist?

KC: "Create the winning shot. When you create the winning shot you're setting your teammate up and your team to win. Yeah, it's great to hit the game winning shot, but I would just rather have the assist."

Q: Do you have any pre-game rituals?

KC: "I listen to the same song over and over now. Last year I had a song and this year I have a new song. The song is "Doing It Wrong" by Drake. I listen to it before every game."

Q: What's your favorite basketball movie?

KC: "Love and Basketball. I just like the romance part and how they fell in love through basketball."

Q: Who is your toughest opponent?

KC: "I feel like Notre Dame is going to be our toughest opponent. Don't get me wrong everybody in our conference is going to be good and even out of conference, but the toughest opponent that we are really looking forward to play is Notre Dame. We look forward to those games."

Q: What characteristic do you think a Bearcat must have?

KC: "I feel like to be a Bearcat here you have to have the competitiveness and be able to compete and play hard for 40 minutes. You have to be mentally and physically focused all the time. Coach is the type of person who is going to drive you, so you have to give the energy back to her."

Q: If you had a winning celebration or dance what would it be?

KC: "I guess just being in the huddle with my team. You know, us getting together and high-fiving and pushing each other around would be it because basketball is a team sport and I look at it as I'm losing and winning with my team. Just being around my team and just being hyped through that."

Q: What's the best thing about being a Bearcat?

KC: "Just the atmosphere and being around here. Just being around coaches and my teammates and just being able to play ball. It's just a great atmosphere and we're a family, so it's just great to have the connection that I do with my team."   

The Morning After: UC 65, Alabama State 40

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Ask and you shall receive, I guess.

After an exhibition season that included Sean Kilpatrick not shooting a free throw and grabbing only three rebounds in two games, Mick Cronin saw enough. He knows for his team to be successful, they must generate rebounds and attacks from the wing position.

He went after Kilpatrick -- and others -- to us media folks following the game against NKU.

On Friday, Cronin sat down with Kilpatrick, Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright to talk about crashing the boards and being more aggressive.

Obviously, it worked. Kilpatrick came out Sunday, scored 13 points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, three offensive, in the 65-40 victory against Alabama State. His previous career high was seven boards last season against UConn.

Whatever was said or done between Cronin and Kilpatrick certainly worked.

"The past three years he has known me better than anybody," Kilpatrick said of his coach. "He knows his limits with me, like, how to get me really amped up, so he pushes my buttons but I like it."

What button gets him really amped up?

"Cursing me out," Kilpatrick said.

Judging by Kilpatrick's performance, practice must have sounded like an Andrew Dice Clay routine this week.

"He's just got to realize being a basketball player is not all about shooting and scoring," Cronin said. "These guys all have hopes and dreams as players. You have nights where you make shots, you have nights where you don't. People are going to recognize you for your floor game. His floor game improved tonight. He really got in there and rebounded which is what I challenged him about."

Cronin also challenged Kilpatrick to attack the basket and draw fouls. He didn't shoot a free throw in either of the two exhibition games. SK went to the line five times Sunday and buried all five.

"I just wanted to start from the free throw line," he said.

His near double-double response should be expected. Kilpatrick answered every challenge Cronin laid out for him last season. He accepted his minutes without a peep despite being one of the top scorers per minute in the Big East, but only playing 20 a game. Kilpatrick doesn't look at the numbers, he's dedicated to pleasing Cronin and benefiting the team.

"I was just trying to do any and everything to make our team win (Sunday)," Kilpatrick said. "Coach said if I am one of the guys that does the intangibles then I can be a big factor on the season. That is all I am worried about. I could care less about anything else but winning."

UC will do plenty of it if SK keeps churning out games like Sunday.

--- Yancy Gates opened
the season with a double-double, going for 15 points and 11 rebounds. It looked like an easy one at that. UC had Alabama State outmanned on the front line and Gates was able to have his way on the interior.

What I thought was telling about the double-double and his expectations this season, was his response to a question of what a double-double means to him. Last year, I remember asking the same question and Gates would talk about how he was trying to get one every night and something he strives for. This season, it's an afterthought.

"I think it is just something I am supposed to do," he said. "If we are going to win I am going to have to get the double-figure rebounds and also score the ball at the same time."

Last year, Gates managed three double-doubles during the 12-game, non-conference schedule. (That did include the opener against Mount St. Mary's where he went for 15-10).

How many he comes up with this season should serve as an accurate barometer for improvement and effort.

---  Cronin wants the offense to be better. They were sloppy half the time in the exhibition season and that was the case Sunday. The first half UC moved the ball well, created open shots, went to the rim and rolled up 35 points. All of that came without hitting a thing from the perimeter.

UC finished the game 1 for 9 from deep.

"We got the ball moving and made the extra pass, better than we had all year," Cronin said. "We were shooting open shots. We just weren't knocking anything down."

UC turned sloppy in the second half and finished with 16 turnovers. Not good. Many of those came from young guys still learning their way. Jeremiah Davis had four turnovers -- the final forced Cronin to snap to the bench and put in Alex Eppensteiner for the first time this year, much to the delight of the UC student section.

Unfortunately, four also came from Wright. Cronin attributed it to forcing the ball inside too much. From my angle, just first game stuff that will work itself out.

--- Justin Jackson contributed another remarkable stat. He played 29 minutes without a foul. Not one. Yes, I'm serious. This is not a typo.

He went without a personal foul in a game he played at least 10 minutes three times last year. Sunday was the most minutes without a foul for his career, though.

More than that, the aggression he played with in those 29 minutes sparked UC's surge. He finished with seven rebounds, four points, three assists, three blocks and three steals with one turnover.

"The guy gets four points, but he's a winning catalyst to the game," Cronin said. "You got to focus on being a complete player and he did a great job on his defense tonight."

Jackson broke on the scene last year to be an instant fan favorite because of his energy and passion on the court. As he continues to add offense and affect games with more minutes, the love affair looks on the verge of blossoming this year.

There was a scary moment, though. Cronin said he thought Jackson tore his Achilles on Friday in practice. Turns out it was just strained, but when Jackson started to tighten up in the second half Sunday, Cronin told him to put ice on it and shut him down.

--- Speaking of injuries, Cronin included a few injury updates.

JaQuon Parker didn't have a pulled groin, there was actually a slight tear. The doctors analysis was 2-6 weeks. Tuesday will be two weeks from the injury, so he could be out as long as another month, judging by the initial analysis.

Better news with Cheikh Mbodj. He's now doing light drills on the side and Cronin sees him making progress with his sprained ankle.

"He does look much better," Cronin said. "He's really close."

As well as Gates and Jackson played on the interior without the 6-10, 245-pound center, it will be interesting to see the effect when Mbodj joins them.

--- Octavius Ellis contributed six points, two boards and two blocks during eight minutes of play in the second half.

That included a new nickname courtesy new FSO analyst Terry Nelson. When Ellis dropped in a dunk on the fast break, Nelson exclaimed, "The Octopus!"

I fully support this.

Ellis may be the skinniest player Cronin has ever recruited. Because of his size, it seemed he'd be a perfect candidate for a redshirt.Apparently not, but it wasn't a snap decision.

"I thought about it," Cronin said. "The problem being is, I was concerned about his development. If he doesn't get to play it is hard for him to develop if he doesn't get to play. There really is nothing like experience. He is such a fighter, I see how much he has improved in the first three weeks. I am saying to myself, if he continues to improve he is going to be able to help us because of his size and this athleticism. Plus coach (Larry) Davis always tells me, if a guy can help you win one game..."

--- Quote of the night: The bottom line on Ellis is he's as raw as he is skinny. How raw?

"Literally, he had to ask what a pivot foot is," Cronin said.

--- Stat of the night: UC blocked 10 shots. The most blocks they had in any game since alsoo recording 10 against Western Illinois on Nov. 22, 2008. The most they had in any game last year was seven.

Legaux leverages hope, confidence, even in defeat

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The injury to Zach Collaros may have temporarily taken the air out UC's title hopes, but even in defeat, Munchie Legaux helped breathe life back into them.

CINCINNATI - The moment silenced 48,152 people. The hum of a golf cart carrying the heart, soul and captain of the Cincinnati football team to the locker room replaced the growing crescendo of a six-game win streak and whispers of locking up the Orange Bowl.

Zach Collaros, head in hands, knowledge of his body forcing tears out of it, disappeared into the back hallways of Paul Brown Stadium.

Once he did, all attention snapped to a 20-year-old kid from New Orleans wearing No. 4, dreads flowing out the back of his helmet suddenly a secondary visual to eyes opened wider than the Ohio River.

Munchie Legaux, seven career passes, zero relevant QB snaps. You're down 10 in front of the third largest crowd in the 124-year history of the institution against the most talented team in the conference. Get in there. Don't mess up.

"Yeah, I was nervous," Legaux said.

There was no hiding it.

"Nah, not at all," he said, smiling as he replayed the nerves in his head.

Those nerves quickly shifted from affecting Legaux to shaking the core of the Bearcats title aspirations.

Munchie.jpg

His second pass sailed aimlessly over the head of Anthony McClung and directly into the arms of safety Keith Tandy.

It didn't end there. Another pass short-hopped the target. Two incompletions later, another punt. Then another three-and-out on the first drive after halftime.

Finally, after weeks of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats being knocked down for the mandatory 8-count, it appeared the injury to Collaros delivered the knockout blow.

They always got back up. Even for the resilient Bearcats, this was too much. The excuse was built in. Nobody would fault them. Chemistry only completes so many passes. Will to win only overcomes so many forced punts.

Buried at their own 5-yard-line, UC was only left to wonder what would come next. What would be the decisive blow?

Then, on first down, Legaux experienced his Zach Collaros moment. At least, Collaros circa 2009 at USF. He busted through the line of scrimmage, made a safety miss and broke into the open PBS turf like a cheetah released out of his cage. Sixty-four yards later, he went down. Meanwhile, his sideline lifted up.

A roar of the crowd set a fitting soundtrack to the pack of Bearcats losing their minds on the sidelines. Collaros nearly came out of his crutches.

This was only one play. It didn't even result in a score after a missed field goal. But it made this crowd believe. It made this team believe. Most importantly, it made Legaux believe.

"That was big," Legaux said. "That was big on the whole offense, the whole team. We kind of had our head down a little bit that Zach was down."

No more.

"It was big in momentum," Jones said. "It kind of uplifted everyone and gave some confidence as well."

From that point forward, Legaux's eyes flipped from fear to focus. He no longer was a liability. He was a leader.

In his first four drives Legaux ran 12 plays for 44 yards with an interception and zero points.

The next three he ran 17 plays for 168 yards, two touchdowns and a missed field goal.

Legaux comfortably rolled right and made precise third-down throws. He broke tackles with elusive speed. He bounced a run outside for a touchdown.

Munchie Legaux started selling season tickets for 2012.

"Yeah, it just was a rhythm thing, finding a rhythm, seeing the defense," said Legaux, who finished 10 of 21 for 144 yards in the air adding 77 yards and a TD on the ground. "At first it was everybody flying all over the field. Once I got to the sideline after the first one, Zach talked to me and said calm down, you have been doing this in practice. This is what you do. So just calm down, so that is what I did."

Nobody should be surprised the future football coach found the motivational key to unlock the playmaker in his backup. With headset over his ears, Collaros leaned extra hard on his crutches describing play options with his hand.

Collaros may have been out, but he wasn't going away.

"That's Zach Collaros," Jones said. "He'll be a great coach. He's invested in this football program. He's invested in his teammates and he is the captain of this football team. He's one of the most unselfish individuals I have ever been around. That is him."

The UC defense propped up Legaux as well. They held the explosive WVU offense to a scoreless third quarter. It was only the fourth scoreless quarter the Mountaineers experienced all season - two of those came against No. 1 LSU.

"Munchie comes in there and plays against us every day in practice," said Derek Wolfe, who had 2.5 tackles for loss. "He comes in there and runs all over us and throws all over us sometimes. I have as much faith in Munchie as I do in anybody. I told him whenever he threw that pick or whatever, I said, 'Don't worry man, you'll be all right. We got your back.'"

They gave Legaux three opportunities and he took advantage of the third with a 34-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins.

In the end, the 31-yard Tony Miliano field goal was blocked. And the Bearcats team that always finds a way to win finally didn't. But it was hard to blame the 20-year-old kid from New Orleans.

Considering the situation, he gave his team an opportunity for victory. That's good, because there's a chance they'll need him to do so a few more times.

The hunt for a Big East championship may have just fallen into his lap.

"I'm very comfortable (with Legaux), he has gained valuable reps," said Jones, adding Legaux and Collaros have had the same number of reps in practice since August. "Like I told Munchie, he has waited for this opportunity. It is all about opportunities and now your time is right now. Go make the most of it. And our players will rally around him."

Game Balls & Player Ratings: IPFW

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The Bearcats won in convincing fashion tonight against IPFW. Four players scored in double figures and UC was able to put up 74 points while only allowing 42. This is the first edition of Game Balls & Player Ratings and this feature will be showcased after every home game this season. Tonight's game balls go to Chanel Chisholm, Dayeesha Hollins, and Alyesha Lovett for their efforts and production.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Chanel Chisholm, 9 -- Chisholm got off to a red-hot start scoring seven of the first nine points for the Bearcats. She quickly reached double figures while also playing a key role on the defensive end. She was a stat sheet stuffer tonight recording her first career double-double adding 13 rebounds to her game-high 19 points. She also had three steals and three blocks. She propelled the squad tonight and set the pace for the convincing win. Chisholm will have to keep her defensive presence prominent because of a recent injury to starting forward Jeanise Randolph. Overall, it was a very nice performance for Chisholm, who in her senior season should be a recurring game ball winner.

"Previous to the game I knew I had to just focus on making shots," Chisholm said. "Honestly, I just knew I had to crash the boards a lot especially when Jeanise was out. I know that I can come in, go hard on the boards, and get some rebounds to help my team out."

"One of the things I told my team going into the game was we have two post-players that are pretty banged up," Elliott said. "One of the things we talked about was other guys stepping up at the things they're good at. Chanel is good at driving at the basket, offensive rebounding, and creating some points off her steals. She did that today." 

2. Dayeesha Hollins, 7.5 -- Hollins was not able to get off to the quick start that she did in last week's exhibition match against NKU, but Hollins got it going in the second half amounting 17 points for the game. Based on the type of player she is it will be tough for any team to stop her from scoring. Hollins was also able to get her teammates involved consistently tonight and added to the team's defense recording three steals. Hollins should be a recurring game ball winner this season and for good reason. Not a spectacular performance overall, but a memorable one for the new Bearcat.

"One thing about Dayeesha is I've had a chance to see her two years now, in practice, and now in couple games," Elliott said. "She can score a lot of different ways. She can shoot the three, she can drive to the basket and finish, she can pull-up, and she can play good defense. A kid like that who is able to score so many different ways is going to be hard to really shut out."  

3. Alyesha Lovett, 7 -- Lovett makes the most out her minutes. The talented freshman was third on the team in scoring tonight, but most importantly she did it while being a spark off the bench. She will have to keep up the intensity in order to be a common game ball winner this season, but she has started the season off with a bang. Able to control the pace and handle the ball as well, Lovett is another option at the guard position that can score double-figures every game. Overall, Lovett showed signs of stardom and in my estimation will become a fan favorite as the season progresses. 

"I just wanted to keep up the intensity that the team already had," Lovett said. "Going in there and making some quick shots helped my team out. My team helped me out in practice too and they pushed me hard so I think I was ready."

"She's a scorer. That's why I recruited here to come to Cincinnati," Elliott said. "She was an excellent three point shooter in high school, she's able to take the ball to the basket, she's long, and she's lengthy, so she can create some steals with deflections. I like having her out there."

Four Stats For Victory

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What: West Virginia at Cincinnati, noon, ABC, Paul Brown Stadium

Four Stats For Victory

1. Isaiah Pead plus 150.
Inability to stop the run defined West Virginia's defensive spiral the last three weeks. Each of the last three weeks, the opposing team's top rusher averaged about 5 yards per carry. None of those were ranked in the top eight in the conference in yards per carry. Pead ranks second.

Pead was disgusted by his performance against South Florida. He said he missed too many holes attempting to break the big run. If he sticks to the reads and makes the right cuts, he'll be able to break to the second level. When he does, well, we've seen this before.



2. More than three sacks.
Smith will pick apart the UC defense if he has time to throw. The same argument could be made for many Bearcats opponents this year, but perhaps none more than Smith. He's throw for at least 370 yards in five of nine game this season.

Try this on for size: Who are the top three leaders in the Big East in 30+yard pass receptions?

1. Stedman Bailey, WVU, 8
2. Tavon Austin, WVU, 6
3. Ivan McCartney, WVU, 6

Forget team, no other receiver in the conference owns more than four (Kenbrell Thompkins, DJ Woods both have four).

The Mountaineers will throw up top and they won't stop until you're crying for your mommy. UC must harass Smith. And they must do it often. I'll say more than three sacks as the stat to shoot for, but constant QB hurries will cause the desired effect.

If they don't, well.....



3. Win the turnover battle. UC ranks third in the country in turnover margin (+13), behind only Oklahoma State and LSU. West Virginia ranks 60th with a 14 giveaways and 14 takeaways. Whether it be Walter Stewart tipping a pass intercepted by Cam Cheatham or Drew Frey diving to snag an overthrown pass, UC has found itself in the right spots all season. The turnover binge has defined their defense. It must again to keep WVU's attack off the field.

Zach Collaros efficiently avoiding red zone turnovers -- as he did against Pittsburgh -- will be imperative, as well. Don't be afraid to take three, because this game will likely be decided by that number.

Special teams can create turnovers as well. Just ask Louisville.



4. Trail in the fourth quarter.
Why not? Time to embrace it. In each of the last three games the Bearcats trailed in the final quarter but found a way to win. There's not reason to abort a plan that works. If UC holds a lead as the seconds roll off the clock in the third, it's time to purposely toss an interception to set up the latest come-from-behind scenario.


Bearcats Breakfast 11.11.11

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Happy Veteran's Day and UC-WVU Armageddon Eve.

UC arrived down at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday afternoon for about a 90-minute practice in the stadium. One last walkthrough Friday and its on to the biggest game in the Butch Jones era.

Win this one and enjoy the ride to the Big East title. Book the rooms for Miami.

In fact, in a scenario where UC beats WVU and Rutgers then Louisville loses to Pittsburgh  then beats UConn -- UC would clinch the Big East title with two weeks to go in the season. Game over.

It's that close.

If West Virginia were to pull off a win Saturday, however, the whole race opens back up. WVU would only be one game back, Louisville could only be a game back, Rutgers would return to the mix.

This is the pivotal afternoon.

Be there. Wear red. Cheer your faces off.

Let's eat...

--- The weather could create an interesting advantage for the Bearcats. Current forecasting predicts temps in the 50s with winds around 15 mph. A possibility exists winds could kick up and gust to 25-30 mph. Should that happen, and passes become inaccurate figuring for significant gusts, the advantage goes to UC.

UC's running game far outperforms West Virginia's consistently this year and stopping the run has been (among) West Virginia's defensive bugaboo. Then, take away the deep ball from QB Geno Smith and you steal the explosive nature of their offense.

So, if you know anybody with control over the wind conditions Saturday afternoon, alert them to kick it up a notch.

--- The Bearcats kicking game bailed them out many times this season (See: UC 26, Pitt 23). The opposite can be said of the Mountaineers, who have been inconsistent on special teams most of the season.

It cost them against Louisville with a missed 33-yard field goal and another blocked, scooped and scored by the Cards.

Here's a piece from the Washington Post on WVU cleaning up their special teams miscues.

--- For my uni-geeks
out there, I've been told UC wearing the red jerseys and black helmets with the socks and pants combinations TBD. Go on about your day.

--- Andrea Adelson with a
video preview of UC-WVU talking West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen wanting his team to play like the Bearcats.

--- USA Today picks the Bearcats.

--- CBSsports.com's
Man, Woman and Machine all like West Virginia.

--- Not sure what Walter Stewart's rap name should be yet. Big Stew. Dub-Stew. Dub King. Dub Getta. Sir Walter. The options are plentiful. Anyway, he's also pretty good at football as Butch Jones called his performance Saturday his "best as a Bearcat."

Hard to argue. Bill Koch had the story about his upbringing and how it made him the 244-pound behemoth he is today.

--- Thanks to the crack research staff in the UC SID department, I can relay this lovely statistical nugget involving your Bearcats.

Butch Jones is currently tied for most improvement of all second-year coaches in the country right now with his +3 win differential. The other is Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky (5-4).

In fact, he currently owns the best winning percentage of any second-year coach in the country. He's tied for the most wins with Lane Kiffin at USC (7-2).

If looking at overall improvement, UC is third in the country (win differential + loss differential/2).

(Updated Nov. 11)
Team/Gms Improved From (2010) To (2011)/Coach
1. Louisiana   6       3-9    8-2    Mark Hudspeth
2. Houston   5 ½     5-7  10-0    Kevin Sumlin
3. Cincinnati  5       4-8    7-1    Butch Jones
4. Ark. St.  4 ½      4-8    7-2    Hugh Freeze
E. Mich.     4 ½     2-10   5-4    Ron English
6. Rutgers  3 ½      4-8    6-3    Greg Schiano
Virginia      3 ½      4-8    6-3    Mike London
W. Forest  3 ½      3-9     5-4   Jim Grobe

--- For those of you looking for TV for the UC-Alabama State basketball opener on Sunday you can find it on Time Warner Cable in Cincinnati: channels 43, 309 and 1309; also available on ESPN3, SNY and MASN).

And here is the ESPN3 link.

--- Bearcats Sports Weekly with Butch Jones includes special Get the Dub footage and a great feature on Sir Walter by Tommy G. Here's the link.

--- Be sure to check back later today as I post Four Stats For Victory. Don't be lazy, be an informed fan.

--- Some randomness...

--- The UNC-Michigan State Aircraft Carrier game tonight will be cool. Love this idea. Here's a timelapse video of the eight-day setup.

--- "Excuse me, sir, do you need help carrying that TV? Oh, wait, you're stealing it from me."

--- Finally got around to seeing Ides of March last night. Enjoyed all the Cincinnati backdrop, the movie wasn't bad at all. Made you think about what you would be willing to do to deliver on your dream. And made me realize how much I despise back room politics. Love talking about and attempting to solve issues, hate the sleazy nature in which the system operates.

--- Clay Travis, who wrote a book about SEC football I didn't like, with a profile I did as he features the face of college football, Kirk Herbsteit.

--- Who's your favorite
character on Community? Everyone has their opinion, but if you don't answer Abed then yours is wrong.

--- But, I don't want
Cookie Monster to have a real name. Especially if that real name is "Sid."

--- Prank wars are fun.
Almost as much fun as setting off fireworks in the house.

--- In case you forgot the last one.

Bearcats Breakfast 11.10.11

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Originally, my plan today was to write a feature on Tony Miliano. I spoke with him at length on Tuesday. The story tells itself. He's the walk-on kicker beating out the competition this summer and essentially kicking himself not only into a starting role, but performing so well Butch Jones told him he will have a scholarship next fall.

You thought the student picked to kick from 30 yards out between the first and second quarter was kicking for cash? This is the real deal.

Of course, as I did these interviews, and realized Bill Koch arrived with the idea of doing the same story, there was a good chance we would be copying each other's work a bit. Well, he posted the story last night.

Here it is. Well done, of course. Rather than duplicate his work, I'd ask that you read it, then pop back here and I'll add on extras I gathered that didn't make it into the story.

OK, you back?

Prior to the season, one of the biggest questions on the team -- and one of the most critical talking points from Jones -- came in regards to needing somebody to step up in the kicking competition. Eventually, Miliano did. But how he'd kick was still a major question mark.

Not any more.

He's 12 of 15 on the season. Most importantly, he's all but guaranteed when UC enters the red zone they leave with points. He's 7 of 8 from kicks inside the 40-yard line.

His ability to bury kicks from deep are cherries on top. He's 5 of 7 from beyond 40 yards.

My question for Jones was, when did he stop being nervous sending Miliano out there?

"Well, you are never nervous," he said. "You may be a little uneasy but that's why you practice. Tony has been very, very consistent since the time we hit training camp and Camp Higher Ground but it's just a consistency. You know, in the back of your mind obviously that's a lot of pressure on a redshirt freshman and I will tell you what, he has handled it extremely well and we are going to need him down the stretch."

Perhaps Miliano's laid-back persona helped ease any tension with taking over such a pressure-packed position. He walks, talks and carries himself with all the tension of somebody exiting Mitchell's Salon and Day Spa. Easy-going. Enjoying the ride.

"That's just how I am," Miliano said. "I am not really one of those guys who gets too excited or too down on himself when I mess up.

"Honestly, I really don't get nervous, but sometimes, like that fourth field goal, there was some pressure on it. But I think I handle pressure pretty well."

The great news in all of this is Miliano approached Jones about gaining a scholarship and was told that he will receive one starting next fall. It would be sooner, but a scholarship activated now would count toward next year's signing class and take their limit down from 25 to 24 in February.

Regardless, deserved. Well deserved.

Let's eat...

--- Doc takes a great path into a column about Butch Jones, by looking through the example of Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown. The Steelers receiver was a product of Jones' system at Central Michigan. Great insight into what Jones' program is all about.

And even contains some crow-eating from Doc for underestimating the coach. Didn't see that one coming. Got to give him credit, we love to criticize him for his opinions, but I immensely respect standing up and admitting you were wrong.

--- Dana Holgorsen finds himself
fighting his team's effort. He talks about it here. WVU endures spurts of uninspired play. Particularly, defensively, it's been killing them. Coming against a UC team defined by inspired play every snap, that could be the difference.

Apparently, to keep the players he believes in on the road with him, Holgorsen is trimming down the travel roster to only bring players with him that want to win. This from Dave Hickman of the West Virginia Gazette.

--- Andrea Adelson with a blog post on Isaiah Pead. With 21 carries Saturday he will equal his total from all of last season (157) with four games left to play.

Of course, I never miss an opportunity to speak with @iPead, so I tracked him down on Tuesday and he went off into a very interesting diatribe on the difference between last year at this time and now. Us scribes sure love the kid's honesty. Bill Koch wrote a story on what he said for Wednesday's Enquirer.

"I think we were naturally a tough football team, but it was a matter of all of us playing tough together and not pointing fingers, blaming the defense, blaming the offense, we are all as one and we are going to fight together."

The toughness and confidence was built in the offseason weight-training program with Dave Lawson. Pead compared them with Paul Luongo, who was renowned for his rigorous workouts on Brian Kelly's staff. He wouldn't commit to calling them more difficult, but clearly, they are.

"Luongo, he had his hard workouts, so to say," Pead said. "But every workout with Lawson is hard."

Those built the foundation for the running game and fourth-quarter comebacks that have defined this team.

--- West Virginia struggled against the run at times this season. They have allowed an average of 150 rushing yards in the last three contests. Of course, that includes negative QB yardage.

Take into account the leading rushers from those three games:

Team-Back: Attempts-Yards-Yards/Carry
Syracuse-Bailey: 22-125-5.7
Rutgers-Jamison: 19-96-4.0
Louisville-Brown: 14-69-4.9
TOTAL: 55-290-5.3

Of those three backs, only Bailey even ranks in the top 10 in the conference in yards per carry. Bailey (9th@4.5), Jamison (18th@3.06) and Brown (12th@3.73).

So, what should we expect of Pead? The guy who comes in not only ranked second in the conference in ypc at 6.04, but fourth among active career leaders in the category nationwide.

Add in the fact two of the biggest games of his career were at Paul Brown Stadium and the table sets nicely for another Pead showcase.

"That may be the key to victory is running the ball," Pead said. "I am up for the challenge, the line is up to the challenge. We may run the ball a lot, we may not, it's whatever the coach is feeling at the time. But if we are ready to run the ball 30, 40, 50 times I am down for it."

--- Zach Collaros touched on an interesting motivation point. When asked if WVU owns the best talent in the league, he admitted that they do.

"From recruiting classes to the way they develop their players over the last 8-10 years, I think that has been the case," he said.

Don't think that doesn't motivate this group of guys who always heard they didn't have enough stars and weren't big enough, fast enough,strong enough to compete with the big boys -- especially a guy like ZC.

"I think anytime somebody is ranked higher than you, you are an underdog, you embrace that and use it as motivation," he said.

Techinically, UC isn't an underdog this week according to the "experts," but they don't view the game that way. Never do.

"We are underdogs every week," Collaros said.

--- While UC being bumped up to ABC would seem like a great deal for the program, it probably isn't if you are looking for national exposure. Take a look at the national coverage map for Saturday's game. Yikes.

--- For those wondering about the Rutgers game time, it is in the six-day window and we will know the time for that Sunday.

--- For better or worse, Adelson picked UC to beat WVU, 40-38.

As for the CBSsports.com experts, four of the seven went with the Bearcats.

--- The West Virginia Daily Athenaeum says UC enters the game with momentum. So, the Cats have that going for them, which is nice.

--- Former UC assistant Mike Tomlin broke out a complementary comment about the program when asked if he was surprised by his success on his conference call with Bengals reporters yesterday:

"No, not at all. I know Butch personally, he is a really good football coach. I am excited for him and the university. That was a good place for me and my family when we were there years ago."

Tomlin said he wouldn't be able to make it to the game because the Steelers would be traveling at the time.

--- Tommy G has been
circulating rumors that possibly unseen, exclusive "Get the Dub" footage will be aired on Inside Bearcats Football tonight. Anybody who enjoyed my post on Walter Stewart's song on Tuesday should tune in. Of course, you should be tuning in every week, but I'm not your father.

--- If you did miss any IBF
, you could watch the Inside Bearcats Basketball from last night, which is posted here online.

--- For today's randomness,
I offer up my tribute to the late Heavy D. I haven't been around to posting anything about passing. Loved the guy. And loved this song. I convinced my folks at the Reds to play "Now that we found love" during Kiss Cam this year and people loved every second of it.



The Morning After: UC 66, NKU 54

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The theme of Mick Cronin's postgame press conference was one of disappointment. For 15 minutes he used the podium as a therapy couch and voiced concerns over what he saw. He brought them up because they're concerns he's held since the day practices began. Maybe sooner.

They stem from productivity and toughness of the wing positions.

"Some of my concerns about our season reared their head tonight because we don't really have a perimeter guy who views himself as a dirty-work guy," Cronin said in his opening statement. "Both our perimeter guys had seven turnovers and they each had one more rebound than John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. That's not going to get it."

Cronin was referring to the dress rehearsal performances of Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon. Kilpatrick finished with six points, four turnovers and one board while playing 31 minutes. This came one week after collecting four points and two rebounds against overmatched Canadians.

Last week, Dixon also only managed two boards.

For all the offense SK and Dixon can provide -- and they will -- they lack the rebounding versatility and length 6-foot-6 Rashad Bishop and 6-foot-7 Darnell Wilks provided. Neither top 6-foot-4.

"
We're a little too small with Dion and SK in there," Cronin said. "We are going to have to toughen up -- if that is our best lineup."

It is. Or at least it should be. They are both among the most dynamic wing scorers in the Big East and will be depended upon to average double figures this season. But to play for Cronin, a player needs to bring more than points to the table.

"
I got to do a better job at the end of the day," Cronin said. "My job. My team. I got to get my two wing guys rebounding the basketball."

Granted, Justin Jackson and Yancy Gates sucked up 21 boards. Still, UC missed 23 shots on the night, but only grabbed nine offensive rebounds. That's a 39 percent offensive-rebound percentage -- not a bad number, actually one point over last year's average. However, against an NKU team playing four guards and 6-foot-7 Ernest Watson, the numbers were far from good enough in Cronin's eyes.

"Nine (second chance points) is bad," he said. "We didn't make a 3 in the second half and we didn't come close to getting an offensive rebound. We recruit athletes that play big, strong and physical."

Not coincidentally, this grand search for wing toughness comes while JaQuon Parker sits on the sidelines with a groin injury. Parker believes he can provide that role. Cronin hopes that holds true.

The toughness and hustle doesn't apply to the defensive end. From point guard to wing to center, the Bearcats showed intensity, grit and hustle. They blocked shots, dove for loose balls, deflected passes and displayed all the attributes of a tough defensive team.

What Cronin wants to see is that same hustle and intensity flip to the offensive side of the court.

"We've got to become a better, more efficient offensive team and that goes with getting second-chance points," he said. "You can't just hope that you make every shot."

The greatest aspect of Jackson's 24-point performance Tuesday was he only had to make two difficult shots. He made his points with inside post moves and free throws. Those are the scoring lines Cronin seeks out of his wings.

"True scoring is layups and free throws," he said. "Carmelo Anthony, leading scoring in the NBA, leading free throw shooter in the NBA. You can't live with jump shots. That's where SK gets no free throws, Dion gets one." 

Don't take Cronin's therapeutic airing of the grievances as doubt about Kilpatrick's ability. Anybody who saw what SK did for this team last year knows what to expect as the season progresses.

Don't forget, the sophomore is adjusting to a new situation as well.

"I think he is trying to figure out his role on the team," Cronin said. "It is early. He is starting for the first time. He is trying to figure out when should I attack. He's got to attack and get fouled. Twice tonight he had great attacks and instead of going up and trying to get fouled he went with the Triple Lindy up-and-under airball layup. He's really strong for a guard. He's still learning."

--- Of course, credit to Mick for the Back to School reference. A nice touch for the guy who played the Rodney Dangerfield, "We get no respect" card perfectly last season.

--- All five UC starters played at least 30 minutes. With Cheikh Mbodj and Parker out nursing injuries, the rotation will be tightened for the time being. Cronin knows those guys need to be in shape to handle those types of minutes when the regular season opens Sunday.

--- The funny element of Justin Jackson's great game Tuesday was the sophomore was tossed out of practice on Friday.

"Justin was great (Tuesday)," Cronin said. "It was amazing, though, dealing with young people in sports. He got thrown out of practice Friday. I didn't like his effort. He's got Octavius (Ellis) battling him for playing time and he knows how good Cheikh is."  

"It's amazing what that does for a guy isn't it? He's a great kid."

--- And Jackson pulled up for a 3-pointer and buried it in the second half. He hit another jumper just in front of the 3-point line.

The reaction from most of us on press row was, "Are you kidding me?"

As Cronin pointed out after, we shouldn't have been surprised.

"He's pretty confident with his standstill 3, too," Cronin said. "That shocked our fans, it didn't shock our bench. He's worked hard on that all summer. He can make that if they don't guard him."

--- For the free throw haters: UC 11 of 19.

--- Eric Hicks, who has been practicing with the team, and Lance Stephenson were both in the house Tuesday night. Judging by the current state of the NBA labor negotiations, that won't be the last time we see Stephenson at a UC game this season.

--- Party Rock Anthem
count: 2. Season total: 5.

--- Stat of the night:
Justin Jackson played the first 21 minutes without a foul.

A One Game Schedule

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With UC's convincing win over Pittsburgh they are now 3-0 in the Big East and 7-1 overall putting them in great shape for a conference title and BCS bowl invitation. But before you order your BCS package and jump back on the Bearcat bandwagon follow Coach Butch Jones' (and any sane coach's) tried and true strategy: Focus on West Virginia only

We as fans have a tendency to write in wins after we get a big one forgetting every team we're going to face still has something to play for. West Virginia after losing to Louisville at home, is still mathematically in the running for the Big East crown and that goal starts with beating UC. UC still has to play Rutgers and I think you get the point. It has and always will be from a coaches perspective, a series of one game season and that's the kind of focus that will ultimately land you the BCS bid we all covet.

So lets join the coaching staff, players and the wise ones and look ahead to Saturday's game and not beyond. The other team has a lot of chips to play for and redemption after their home loss to the 'Ville. They're thinking let's return the favor and win on the road and I can guarantee the 'Cats staff is keenly aware of that, and that's why coach Jones said he was paying attention to all the little things in getting ready for this one big game.

You as a fan have a job to do for one game and that is show up, be loud and remind your crew to focus on West Virginia and nothing else. The 'Cats only need you to cheer one game and that's the game they're playing right now. The next one game season doesn't start until it starts; and then one day you'll look up and that one game season will be a BCS bowl game with lots of time to enjoy it. Whoops! We can all see how easy it is to get ahead of ourselves because I just did. With that being said I will see you Saturday, at Paul Brown Stadium for one game and one game only.

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

Tuesday Lunch: Quarterback Conversation Edition

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The conversation began last season when West Virginia's Geno Smith and Cincinnati's Zach Collaros battled to nearly identical numbers in the race for First Team All-Big East quarterback.

Eventually, the Big East handed the distinction to Collaros, despite the Bearcats 4-8 campaign. The argument could have swayed both ways, likely dependent on the whose is in charge of the debate.

Just know, Collaros wasn't going to involve himself in it, whether then or now as Smith comes to town with the Mountaineers.

"I think my friends and people like that paid more attention to it than I did," he said. "They would bring it up to me. i would just laugh about it. I am not really one to read newspaper clippings and stuff like that. I don't really pay attention to things said through the week or in the offseason."

Here were the numbers from 2010:

QB                         G   Cmp-Att  Pct   Yds   Y/P TD  Int  Rtg     Y/G

Zach Collaros  11  225-383  58.7  2902  7.6  26  14  137.5   263.8
Geno Smith    13  241-372  64.8  2763   7.4  24   7  144.7   212.5

The other number not included here, of course, would be 4-8 vs 9-4, those being the records of the respective quarterbacks.

You be the judge.

With both returning and believed to be the top quarterbacks in the conference this offseason, the debate raged on. The bottom line is the two present different sizes and skill sets. Smith rolls in at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds and the big arm to go with it.

"You look at Geno and you look at his stature and his physical makeup, he's an NFL quarterback," Butch Jones said. "He's a great player, he's a pocket passer."

Collaros fights the battle of his size every day at 6-feet tall, but utilizes his legs more often to make plays.While Jones wouldn't place Collaros in the same "NFL quarterback" conversation as Smith just yet, he did allow this about the football-playing future of ZC.

"I think Zach would be the first to tell you, you focus on your senior year," Jones said. "The more you win, the more attention you receive. I know he has all the intangibles, it comes down to the so-called experts with his size and his height, but there's one thing you can't measure and that is a person's heart and his heart is very big."

As for the results on the field this year, the numbers shift dramatically to Smith in coach Dana Holgorsen's fast-paced, pass-heavy offense.

Here are the stats, with them separated out to represent only the totals against BCS AQ conferences.

QB                        G   Cmp-Att  Pct   Yds   Y/P TD  Int  Rtg     Y/G

Zach Collaros  5   109-167    65.3  1248  7.5  8   6    136.6  249.7
Geno Smith    6    176-275   64.0  2267  8.2  14  5   146.4   377.8

Smith holds the edge, specifically with his passes per interception ratio, which would be 1:55. Collaros would be 1:28.

Add in the number of plays put squarely on Smith's shoulders and he deserves all the credit in the world for the success of his offense. Yet, just because Dana Holgorsen created a one-dimensional offense based on Smith's play-making, doesn't make Collaros a less effective QB.

Toss in the fact Collaros rushed for seven touchdowns in the BCS AQ games and the TD-INT ratios are about even. With only one percentage point separating their completion percentage and a deceiving TD-INT ratio when rushes are considered, the numbers live much closer to even than a quick glance over the stats would prove.

Oh yeah, then throw in the fact UC is 7-1, 3-0 compared to 6-3, 2-2 and the perhaps the jury on this debate should reconsider some of the evidence.

What makes the mark of a winning quarterback? Is it gaudy numbers, or great plays in critical spots? Winners are those that makes the plays when they are needed most. For a quarterback, that's third down.

Take a look at the stats comparing Smith and Collaros on third downs this season.

QB                         Comp-Att  %  Yds  TD  Int  Rtg     1st   1st%
Zach Collaros     39-65     60   667  7    6   163.3   28     43
Geno Smith       49-77     63   682   4    2   150.0   33    43

The concerning element for Collaros would be the interceptions on third down, but looking past that he's converted the same amount of attempts into first downs and even holds a 13-point higher rating because some of this longest passes of the year have come on third down.

Beyond that, consider Collaros also ran 12 times on third-and-seven-or-less this season. Those went for 36 yards and five times ended in first downs (42 percent) and you have a quarterback making an impact in other areas of the game.

QB play equates to more than just throwing for an absurd amount of yards. All that really matters for now are the two numbers on the scoreboard at Paul Brown Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Behind the Music: Get the Dub

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The celebrations flow freely and often these days around the University of Cincinnati football team. Six wins in a row and first place in the conference will do that.

Although, this year, instead of sticking to the common traditions of UC football like the fight song and alma mater, the Bearcats added new flavor to the chaotic locker room victory scene.
walter stewart.jpeg
They added "Get The Dub."

After each of their wins, especially the last three, while in the locker room, they've sang along to the rap song created by junior Walter Stewart. Stewart recorded "Get the Dub" on his iPod this summer and as he played it during training camp and around the facilities it caught on around his teammates.

"Originally, I made it, really, it's about video games," Stewart said. "But after everybody heard it, the whole 'get wins' thing kind of stuck with the team."

Now, it's stuck as the team's unofficial victory theme song. And thanks to the video and Twitter account of Tom Gelehrter, the private celebration is out.

If you haven't seen it yet, here's the locker room scene from the USF win. And here is the song from Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

And who is that in the middle of 70 or so teenagers and 20-somethings pumping his arms up and down like he's auditioning for the latest Snoop Dogg video? Yep, that's Butch Jones.

"The team that works together, celebrates together," Jones said.

As for critiquing the coach's style, Alex Hoffman offered his analysis.

"It's definitely unique," Hoffman said with a laugh.

Dancing with the Stars hasn't called yet. Though, quarterback Zach Collaros thinks he's pinpointed Jones' go-to move.

"You ever seen 'Thriller,' by Michael Jackson? When (Jackson) hits this (move)," Collaros said, stopping to show off the classic zombie hands raising on each side of his head.

Check the 45-second mark to see what Collaros is talking about. And if you don't know, now you know.



As for defending his moves, Jones jokingly passed the buck.

"I just mimic was Zach does," he said.

While the dances are a running joke around the understandably loose locker room these days, Jones' willingness to let go isn't lost on his players. It's been a catalyst in creating the latest layer of camaraderie and chemistry within this group already overflowing with it.

"I have never seen a coach dance like that," Hoffman said. "It really gets the team fired up to show that much emotion."

In the long list of winning seasons, songs occasionally have made their way to the forefront. Whether the original Super Bowl Shuffle of the '85 Bears or across town with Bootsy Collins' Fear the Tiger.

Come to think of it, you can't have a big season around here without a them song.

"Reds Hot," by the 1990 Reds is still a crowd favorite.

Randy Myers: Fashionista.



In the middle of it all is Stewart, who say the song does have lyrics, but the catchy chorus pretty much dominates the celebration.

With all these big wins to add content to his lyrical stylings, the question is will Stewart be breaking out a remix of this song should UC capture a Big East title?

"I don't think so," he said with a smile. "It might just be a one-hit wonder."

Stewart isn't planning any rap career once he's done terrorizing quarterbacks at UC and hopefully beyond. But he can't help but be taken aback about how the song caught fire within the team.

"I didn't think it would affect the team as much as it has," he said. "I think it helps keep us together. That is the main reason I like it."

Jones would sure like to sing it five more times this year. As the wins grow larger and larger, the expectations will rise for the coach to top his previous performances and step his game up to the next level.

For those who hope to be tuning in to @TommyG_Sideline on Twitter during the late afternoon Saturday, well, Jones didn't deny the bar might raise.

"If we keep winning..." he said.

Friday Night Lights

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During my time covering sports I've had the privilege to watch the University of Connecticut women's basketball team play several times. The one thing I've always taken from their games is that whenever the basketball's in the air, the Huskies believe it's theirs. On a rebound, offense or defense, they don't wait for the ball to come down to them, they go up and get it. On defense, they're always diving to pick off a pass, slapping at the ball, working for the steal.

Now it's only the first game of the season, and an exhibition at that, but we saw a lot of that UConn ball hawking from the Bearcats against NKU last weekend.

The tempo that this team plays is markedly faster than last year, much of that because of the speed of play of transfer guard Dayeesha Hollins. When she gets the ball from a defensive rebound or turnover, she's headed to the other end of the court quicker than you can say 'UC.' She flies to the front court and if there's an opening in the lane, she's not afraid to take it. If not, she'll pull back and help set up the play.

Dayeesha had a lot of her Winton Woods supporters at the game on Friday, but Dayeesha's not the only new face to watch this season-Lesha Dunn, all six-foot-four of her, will be a great help underneath once she gets used to the pace of the BIG EAST.

And then, of course, there's the 'veterans' -- Kayla Cook, Tiffany Turner, Jeanise Randolph. I say 'veterans' tongue in cheek, of course, because, despite their names being familiar, remember, they're only sophomores. Pressed into action last season, these three got unbelievable experience facing the BIG EAST -- more experience than most freshmen get, playing at this level. That will only pay off for them this season, and seasons to come.

So the regular season starts on Friday against IPFW. Then next week, a big test against I-75 rival Dayton. It's going to be fun to see Jamelle Elliot and her revamped staff put more of a Coach Elliott-inspired UConn stamp on this team. It can only mean good things down the road.

Let the games begin.

Bearcats Breakfast 11.8.11

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Tuesday means media luncheon day. There might be a little more buzz around this game and you know what that means....I need to get there early before the extra media eat all the cornbread. Delicious.

My stomach informs me we need to move forward quickly.

Let's eat...

--- The finger pointing has begun in Morgantown. A team in disarray arrives in Cincinnati with more questions than answers. Dave Hickman writes they are pointing toward last season when they opened the season 1-2 in Big East play and eventually caught then 3-0 Pitt to tie for the conference title.

Jack Bogaczyk talks about a clear disconnect between players and new coach Dana Holgorsen.

John Antonik is even pointing at the explosive offense for their third-down conversion percentage (44 percent, not a bad number).

Oh yeah, and don't forget special teams. Andrea Adelson points out punts of 12 and 11 yards against Louisville weren't helpful.

I'll point to the turnover game. WVU only created 14 turnovers thus far this season, that's 73rd in the country and sixth in the Big East. UC fans know all too well what happens when you don't force turnovers. (Hint: 4-8)

From the Stats You Don't Need to Hear to Understand the Importance Department: The top three teams in the country in turnover margin (Oklahoma State, LSU, Cincinnati) are a combined 25-1.

--- Expecting anything other than a close game Saturday would be a mistake.

Not even taking into account all of UC's Big East games have been decided by a total of 15 points, take a look at the last four games in this series.

Year  Site             Result

2007  Cincinnati     28-23 WVU
2008  Morgantown  26-23 (OT) UC
2009  Cincinnati     24-21 UC
2010  Morgantown  37-10 WVU
2011 Cincinnati      ????

Only last year's game during UC's retooling season was not a dramatic finish. Also, take into consideration apparently nobody can play a two-possession game in this conference and a blowout result in either direction would be considered a massive upset.

--- Reminder: Ring of Red game Saturday. Wear red. Don't be that guy.

--- Butch Jones made another pitch to fans to make Paul Brown Stadium feel like a home-field advantage. I'd claim it felt like a heck of a home-field advantage last year against Oklahoma. With a galvanized fan base that traveled heavy to Pittsburgh, expectations are for big numbers at PBS. Let's hope so.

--- Was talking to an NFL scout this weekend about Isaiah Pead. He said he thinks Pead will be a great pro and be selected earlier rather than later than his projected spot. He pointed to last year's game against Oklahoma when Pead was the best back on the field against a quality defense in Oklahoma. That included Dallas' DeMarco Murray.

Pead certainly loves PBS. In two games there he has 41 carries for 320 rushing yards and a touchdown.

--- Remember, more blog posts
coming today. We'll have the Tuesday lunch following the presser and thoughts following tonight's hoops exhibition against NKU. Follow all of it on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr).

--- Randomness...

--- This is the true story, of seven strangers, picked to kill a network...

--- Attention Star Wars nerds:
Carrie Fisher lost 50 pounds. No word on bringing back the earmuffs haircut.

--- This my Tommy G shout out of the day. The video pretty much summarizes the cruel mental torture Browns fans endure.

"You are a factory of sadness!"

--- 10 Facebook statuses
gone horribly wrong from Mental Floss.

--- Somebody paid $31,200
for John Lennon's tooth. Don't let your kids know about Tooth Fairy inflation rates.

--- Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead ballin' out of control against WVU in 2009 at The Nipp.



Bearcats Breakfast 11.7.11

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I kept using this phrase last week when doing interviews or talking about UC football. If they could find a way to win their next two games, they wouldn't just be in the driver's seat, nobody else would be in the car.

Well, UC sits 60 minutes from emptying the ride on the Big East championship highway.

Although, as with every weekend in the Big East this year, the two constants played out again. The Bearcats found a way to win and another favorite didn't.

West Virginia was shocked by Louisville next to the Morgantown trailer park and all of a sudden, the Cardinals (3-1) are the lone competitor within shouting distance and they're essentially two games back with UC owning the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Everyone else in the conference, outside of Syracuse and USF, are two games back in the loss column.

A loss to WVU would open the conference back up for grabs. Rutgers hosts UC and would control their own destiny at that point. Remarkably, the same could be said for UConn, as well. 

The Big East doesn't own a championship game. But the All But Over Game will be played at noon Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Let's eat...

--- That's right, noon kickoff, ABC. The last time UC kicked off at noon on ABC was the last time they won a Big East championship two years ago against Pitt. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Talk about a showcase game. National TV, main network, PBS, big crowd, undefeated in conference. With the NC State game a close second, I will call this the biggest stage of Butch Jones' tenure at UC.

Recruiting is all about image and relationships. You place another giant building block on both if the win streak balloons to seven Saturday.

--- Tickets still available, folks. Ring of Red. Should be electric. 1-877-CATS-TIX.

--- Kicker Tony Miliano named Placekicker of the Week by College Performance Awards. He tied a UC single-game record and set a career best with four field goals. Jake Rogers booted four field goals against UConn in 2009.

Love Miliano's story. Local kid, fighting for the job, doubters everywhere and proving everybody wrong. Sort of embodies the spirit of this team. Something in my gut tells me you'll be reading much more about him on this blog later in the week.

--- Miliano's opportunity comes with an assist from Zach Collaros. ZC wasn't perfect Saturday. Far from it, even admitting after the game he needs to stop "making stupid mistakes" regarding his two interceptions.

However, Collaros didn't force any passes in the red zone -- or at least none were intercepted. It had been a problem all season and on multiple occasions Saturday he threw the ball away where he had been taking shots into the end zone irresponsibly in previous games. He saves three points with those conservative decisions, UC wins by three.

Smart football equals victory.

--- Defensive adjustments anyone? Conditioning?

Take this into consideration.

Pittsburgh first six drives: 3 FGs, 2 TDs, 1 Punt, 269 yards
Pittsburgh next seven drives: 3 punts, two fumbles, 1 interception; 1 turnover on downs, 1 first down, 51 yards.

Cincinnati has now outscored opponents 34-7 in the fourth quarter of conference games. All come-from-behind victories, all decided by single digits.

There's your difference.

I said earlier in the season, UC can't keep falling behind and expect to win every one. Well, maybe they can. This appears to be a pretty successful formula.

--- Every game in the Big East this weekend decided by one possession. Average margin of victory: Four points.

--- The new rankings came out with UC making its first appearance in the BCS Top 25 at No. 23. They are No. 18 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 23 in the AP Poll.

If you are extrapolating out the possibilities if UC were to run the table from this point forward, they could legitimately finish in the top 10, top 15 prior to the bowl game with a perfect conference season.

A win Saturday would create the biggest bump in the human polls, because the lazy voters still hold this belief that West Virginia is far superior to everyone else in the conference, even though they haven't played a lick of defense since early October.

--- West Virginia points allowed last three games: 118. That's 39.3 points a game. As Outkast would say, go head and marinate on that for a minute.

--- Bill Koch points out nobody is laughing at UC anymore as the flip from 4-8 to Big East title hunt takes shape.

Many in the Twitterverse scoffed at me this offseason when I pointed out the outrageous success of coaches in their second seasons. Chip Kelly at Oregon and Gene Chizik at Auburn were the flag bearers for the argument, but the numbers don't lie that across all conferences, teams took major steps forward.

Now look at the top of the Big East, two second-year coaches sit there in Butch Jones and Charlie Strong. Go ahead and toss in Mike London at Virginia and Lane Kiffin (I don't like writing it anymore than you like reading it) at USC amid probation.

It happens every season.

--- Current prediction from CollegeFootballNews.com, UC vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Jan. 4. Hit the tanning beds, people.

Andrea Adelson breaks down the BE title scenarios

--- Big East winners and losers from CBSsports.com.

--- Real quick, flipping to basketball. Exhibition game against NKU on Tuesday at Fifth Third. Apparently, the Norse won't be a pushover after they beat WVU and Bob Huggins on Friday.

--- Here's an interview from Big East media day from Adam Zagoria with Yancy Gates.

Randomness...

--- If the playoffs started today, the Bengals would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Once again, go head and marinate on that for a minute.

This will be the biggest weekend in the history of Paul Brown Stadium. And it's not even close. They might as well move St. X-Colerain down there Friday.

--- All these natural disasters are starting to make me think somebody somewhere isn't very happy with our direction as a species.

--- Remember to put your
car in park when you go shopping. Or it might roll off an overpass.

--- Louis C.K. will be
doing a comedy show that is only broadcast online. I'm sure that will be clean.

--- Hey look, it's highlights of UC beating WVU on the way to a Big East title in 2008. Enjoy.




No more "Country Roads"

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Rarely will I applaud anything Louisville does, but I thought it was a hoot that they sang "Country Roads" in their locker room after beating the Mountaineers last weekend in West Virginia.

Serves'em right!

Generally, I would frown on any John Denver selection as a post-game celebration. but given the propensity of UC's recent opponents to bolt the conference, good for the Cards.

I hope those that counted Butch Jones' Bearcats out at the annual clambake in Rhode Island (wonder if they show the Elvis movie?) are taking notice of what UC is doing.

Louisville has entertained the Big 12 option and the Bearcats took them down at Paul Brown (Rick Pitino is the only one with any sense in "The 'Ville").

Pitt jumped ship to the ACC, joining Syracuse in an attempt to gut one of the best basketball conference's ever.  Their payback was another national TV loss at the hands of the Bearcats at Heinz Field.

Now, it's West Virginia's turn.

Again, the move is puzzling, but sometimes I think too much as a fan I suppose. In doing so, keep in mind, this conference jumping is a complete slap in the face to loyal fans.

West Virginia will travel heavy to Paul Brown Stadium, just as they have to Nippert Stadium and Fifth Third Arena. Outside of the few coach-burners who get worked up into a lather over beer being served, the Mountaineer fans are generally good people.

They'll load up the truck and drive to Louisville, they'll drive to Pittsburgh, they'll drive north to Syracuse and here.  That was the luxury of the Big East.

You think anyone's driving from Morgantown to Waco, Lubbock, Austin, Stillwater or even Lawrence, Kansas?

Maybe if it were a bowl game or an NCAA tournament game, but not for a regular season contest during one of the worst recessions ever.

Financially, I suppose it makes sense.  That's the end answer to anything in life you'll ever wonder about.

Logically and logistically, it's all a nightmare.

Pitt and Syracuse used to play in the BEST postseason basketball tournament around, the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden.  To any basketball junkie, Madison Square Garden is the mecca of college hoops.

Now, instead of playing where Willis Reed once limped onto the floor and led the Knicks to the NBA title and where Gerry McNamara made improbable shots for Jim Boeheim, Syracuse gets to play in Greensboro.

Greensboro exists solely to host first-round Duke tournament games.

Pitt also made great runs in New York, as did West Virginia. Now. the Panthers will play in a conference where they are middle-of-the-pack at best.

West Virginia's basketball in the Big 12 makes little sense too. Sure, they'll compete, but instead of Bob Huggins getting a yearly warm welcome in Cincinnati, he'll be heckled and harassed unmercifully by those in Manhattan, Kansas that he left high and dry.

In football, maybe all the teams compete. Maybe not.

In the ACC, Pitt and Syracuse can probably do OK, but I wonder how many of their local recruits will be ignored by the pressure to recruit more in the south?

As for West Virginia, do you really want to play Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, etc. every year?

The Mountaineers absolutely have had respectable teams, but be careful what you wish for.

What do you think the odds are of WVU making another Orange Bowl playing out of the Big 12?

For the Bearcats, Saturday at PBS is another of several opportunities to slap some schools around that in my mind have showed athletic arrogance. In exchange for some cash, these schools have spat on tradition, on rivalries and essentially told their fans, "You don't matter!"

It's sad.

Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia are all at fault. Connecticut, Louisville and Rutgers have made overtures.

It's kind of like having a date for the prom and then ditching her because the phony, superficial popular girl with her store-bought charm has feigned interest.

It's Eve tempting Adam with an apple.

Bite and you leave the Garden.

All I can say is if UC football continues on its path, you can cue up the Toby Keith song at season's end. Bite on that!

Four Stats For Victory

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I've gone heavy on the old traditional journalism this week. We had the postgame column from Tuesday night's basketball game, story on the secondary Thursday and today's excellent piece from the newest intern addition to GoBearcats.com, Chris Gundrum, on JaQuon Parker.

Before we head into Saturday night's game at Pitt -- 7 p.m., ESPNU -- here is this week's Four Stats For Victory.

1. Combined sacks+QB hurries > 5. Pittsburgh will be placing its hopes on the right arm of Tino Sunseri, for better or worse. UC buries the run and without RB Ray Graham, the Panthers will be without the firepower to break through. Two teams have protected the passer against the Cats: USF and Tennessee. They both threw for more than 400 yards. The rest didn't top 16 points. The Panthers rank dead last in FBS in sacks allowed (36). If Pitt can't protect Sunseri, it has no chance. None.

2. Rush for more than 150 yards. Pittsburgh rushes the passer effectively. Thirteen sacks the past two games proves that. Protecting against their edge rushers will be a challenge. However, the Panthers can be gashed in the run game.

Take a look at the last four games:

UConn -- Lyle McCoombs: 25-124
Utah -- John White: 36-171
Rutgers -- Team: 42-97
USF -- Team: 38-202

Isaiah Pead may still be kicking himself over game film he said he stopped watching in the third quarter because it his play was "disgusting." He's refocused and knows pounding No. 23 will be the most plausible method of success at Heinz Field.

White averages 5.1 yards per carry and McCoombs 4.2. Pead and his 6.2 ypc should be primed to run all over the Panthers and exact revenge for Dion Lewis' 267 yards last season.

3. Zero special teams points allowed. Pittsburgh proved it can score on special teams. Against Utah they had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a blocked punt return for a score. Avoiding the equalizer of special teams breakdowns for touchdowns or flip field position will allow UC's defense to force Sunseri to drive his team the distance.

4. No red zone turnovers. The biggest bugaboo for Zach Collaros this season hasn't necessarily been his six interceptions, rather where they occurred. Four of his six picks have come in the red zone and taken points off the board. In a game where points will come at a premium against a quality defense, he must learn to throw the ball away and settle for three.

Most of his mistakes have come with split decisions on improvisation in the pocket. Whether it be trying to lob a pass up to Anthony McClung under pressure in the back of the end zone or the backhanded shovel pass attempt, learning to keep the ad lib to a minimum and make smart decisions when he does run out of the pocket can avoid giving any momentum to Pittsburgh headed the other way.

Reaves and Chisholm lead as senior class

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Seniors Bjonee Reaves and Chanel Chisholm did not start there collegiate careers at the University of Cincinnati four years ago like the three newcomers we recently previewed are doing this season. Instead, the two savvy veterans arrived at UC via other programs and have now made their mark on an improving program looking to be competitive in the Big East.

An captain's job is not always aimed at scoring the most points or being the most productive player on the court at all times. While Reaves and Chisholm will be counted on as those type of key players this season, they know that their leadership and role model qualities are just as important.

Reaves who transfered to UC alongside Chisholm in 2009, first played the game she loves at Neosho County Community College is Chanute, Kansas after graduating high school in California. There she scored the ball at a prolific rate, averaging 20.6 points per game, which was good enough for fifth in scoring in the NJCAA that season. Now poised to continue her presence as a scoring guard and have the best season of her career, Reaves knows exactly what she needs to do to be successful. She's never been more hungry to win.

"I want to get stops defensively and I also want to shoot the ball consistently, that is my goal this year," Reaves said. "I want us to win. I want to be able to say we gave it everything we got and that our record reflects that."

Chisholm also came to UC after getting her start elsewhere, except it was not at junior college instead in the SEC. Chisholm of Long Island, New York attended Vanderbilt for two seasons until arriving with Reaves in 2009. Chisholm was a big addition for the Bearcats because she brought over experienced success with the Commodores making a sweet 16 appearance while she was there. Chisholm now knows the team must build off their prior experience and make this season one to remember.

"One of the biggest games we had last year was our Marquette game because it was our senior night and we wanted to go out with a bang," Chisholm said. "We had just finished a long losing streak, so it just showed that we had heart and character and even though we lost that many games in a row we were able to come out and compete again."

Both players are aware of what the job description entails when being a senior. Their play on the court must set a precedent for the rest of the team, but Reaves knows that being the floor general is also an important facet of an upperclassmen's game. She believes she must have coach-like attributes on the floor in order to pick her team up when they are down and lead by example.

"I would say picking the team up when they're down, making sure everyone is keeping energy and also not being hypercritical," Reaves said. "If I am going to tell someone that they should be doing this then I need to make sure I'm doing it too."

Chisholm's road to UC may not have been a scripted one. She had to make several stops along the way until she reached her final destination, and no, I'm not talking about the Long Island Railroad trips that she endured growing up in New York. I'm simply talking about her road to Cincinnati, which maybe a stressful one, is now a place she will always remember and can call home.

"One thing that I'll always keep with me are the people in Cincinnati, that is one of the main reasons I came here initially," Chisholm said. "I can be around these people every day and I feel like they really care and they genuinely support womens basketball and they want to see us win."

Both student athletes are poised for a breakout season and many memories to come alongside their final year in the red, white and black. The memories have already started to pile up however. The two accompanied head coach Jamelle Elliott and the program to New York City a couple weeks ago for Big East Media Day. Reaves and Chisholm represented UC and were able to interact with their fellow peers while have a good time doing it.

"It was an amazing experience being in a room with some of the top players in the country and hall of fame coaches, I was just in amazement," Reaves said. "I had a blast. It was my first time in New York, so going to Times Square and seeing that type of atmosphere was amazing and I actually wish I could do it again."

"I really enjoyed going to the media day because you get to see a lot of the girls you compete with and you get to see them off the court. I enjoyed that aspect," Chisholm said. "Also, I'm from New York so I got to see some family and friends and that is always nice."

The co-captains will take the court with their team tomorrow for their first exhibition game of the season. The Bearcats will host Northern Kentucky University at Fifth Third Arena at 7 p.m.

Parker shifts back into drive

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Parkerpic.jpgJaQuon Parker could have transferred. Many would have. Instead, he turned the mirror on himself and his effort and worked his way back into position to be a key contributor for the Bearcats.

By Chris Gundrum
Special to GoBearcats.com


CINCINNATI - For JaQuon Parker, the 2010-11 season didn't unfold as planned. Parker played like a budding star as a freshman. The vision of Parker celebrating a bucket in the final minutes of UC's improbable run at Madison Square Garden was fresh in the heads of Bearcats coaches, players and fans.

Nights like his 15-point, five-assist show against South Florida and 13-point, five-rebound grind against Rutgers were supposed to be the rule more than the exception as his game evolved.

Rather than build on his freshman season, Parker faded into a sophomore slump. He averaged nearly five points per game in 2009 for the Bearcats, compared to barely one in 2010.

Parker was simply odd man out in the rotation. Instead of contributing to the best season in the Mick Cronin era on a nightly basis, Parker sat on the bench watching, waiting for his name to be called.

Many nights, it wasn't.

"When you're just sitting on the bench for all of those games it's real hard," Parker said. "You can't do anything to help your team."

One influence that certainly didn't help Parker was those asking why he wasn't receiving more playing time.

Some close to him questioned whether or not Cincinnati was the right place for him and suggested that maybe transferring was the way to go. Former Virginia AAA state players of the year expect to play. Parker never logged more than eight minutes in a conference game. He didn't leave the bench in half of them.

Hundreds of players transfer in college basketball every year. Nobody would have blamed Parker for being one of them.

"A couple people told me that but I knew better," Parker said.

He knew the only person to blame for his lack of success was wearing No. 44 on game nights. Effort was his problem.

"When the season was over he said, 'Look, it's all me, I had a bad offseason,'" Cronin said, recalling the conversation. "I thought I was just going to come in and play and I got beat out. I need to work harder."

Cronin asked Parker to commit to his self-assessment. Parker already did.

"I didn't really work hard so I didn't expect much out of it," Parker said of his sophomore year. "I know when I work hard that there's a pretty good chance that I'm going to play."

Still, Parker brushed off the negative suggestions and continued to work in practice and support his team when they needed him.

"He was the first guy to come off the bench if you yelled his name," Cronin said. "He had a great attitude about being a team player. I appreciate the way he was handling it."

Teammate Dion Dixon could relate to Parker's problems. Dixon went through the same tribulations his sophomore year. Like Parker, Dixon was the first player to come off the bench during games yet wondered if he made the right choice coming to Cincinnati.

"He didn't even have to ask me about it, I already knew what was going on," Dixon said. "I would just tell him to be positive about it, get in the gym and work at it and you'll be all right."

So, they did.

The two worked out together this summer and Dixon continued to reiterate the importance of Parker staying focused and working hard.

It has been clear to his teammates that Parker took Dixon's advice to heart, changing his workout routine from a year ago. Instead of waiting to get better, he dedicated most of his summer to becoming a better player in hopes of playing a more active role in his team's success this year

"The last couple years I really didn't do much work," Parker said. "But this offseason, I did everything from conditioning to shooting the ball and defense and footwork."

With all of the work Parker put in over the summer, Cronin believes Parker has the potential to surprise people with his role on the team this year. He also looks for Parker to fill a void left by former players Rashad Bishop and Larry Davis.
 

According to Cronin, Bishop and Davis brought an invaluable toughness to the team. Parker can be the guy to fill that role. It's why he's still here.

"I am already seeing it in his workouts," Cronin said. "Mentally he's ready to go. He's as focused as I've ever seen him. He is going to help us. You can only hope to coach guys with his character. If everybody had his character I would have the easiest job in the world."

A Look Back At UC's Last Football Game At Pitt

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As a play-by-play announcer, I'm often asked, "What's the best game that you've ever called?"

 

Easiest question ever.

 

Cincinnati 45 Pitt 44

 

Binns catch.jpg 

Perhaps my answer will eventually change, but I seriously doubt it.  It was the game that had everything.

 

For starters, the stakes were astronomically high as the Bearcats were 11-0, ranked fifth in the country, and still in contention for a national championship.  With a win, Cincinnati was going to a BCS bowl for the 2nd straight year.  If UC lost, Pitt would have been the Big East champ and the Bearcats would have wound up in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

 

Then you have the atmosphere.  It was a frigid and snowy December afternoon with 63,387 fans in attendance - including the largest contingent of Bearcat fans to ever travel to a regular season road game. 

 

And finally, there was the game itself.

 

Gilyard.jpg 

I'll admit it; I thought the Bearcats were toast when they fell behind 31-10 in the second quarter.  But when Mardy Gilyard returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown with 70 seconds left in the first half, the 'Cats - like Frankenstein's monster - were ALIVE (you can watch Mardy's return here).

 

"Obviously when you get down by 21, panic starts to set it," said safety Drew Frey.  "That's when you have to rely on each other.  There were still more than 30 minutes left in the game and to be honest, it had everything to do with momentum.  When Mardy ran that kick back before halftime, we were able to slowly shift the momentum and things just went from there."

 

"We never felt like we were out of it," said wide receiver Armon Binns.  "We just felt like we were shooting ourselves in the foot, but we knew that we could get it right."

 

"We were down by a lot of points and nobody panicked," said running back Isaiah Pead.  "We felt like our brotherhood was so tight that it couldn't be broken."

 

Still, the Bearcats never had a lead until there were 33 seconds to go when Tony Pike hit Armon Binns with a 29-yard touchdown pass that tied the score and gave Jake Rogers the opportunity to kick the game-winning extra point (you can watch Pike to Binns here).

 

Cincinnati 45 Pitt 44

 

"I can't remember the name of the play," Pike told me this week.  "We went up and checked the play at the line of scrimmage and they went into a man-to-man defense.  The safety had been cheating toward Mardy's side all day and as a quarterback and receiver, that's the kind of thing that you talk about on the sideline.  Once we saw them single up into man-to-man, I made eye contact with Armon and he checked his route into a simple fade.  He did a great job beating his guy off the line of scrimmage and I just kind of put it out there for him."

 

"Every time I watch it, I kind of get chills," said Binns.  "I just remember all of the feelings from that game.  I remember how excited we were and I can remember that whole play so vividly."

 

Pike vs Pitt.jpg 

The Pike-to-Binns touchdown pass has to rank as the greatest moment in UC football history.

 

"Being from Cincinnati my whole life and going down to the games with my grandpa and family growing up, to have your name associated with a play of that caliber is something special and something that I'm going to carry with me for the rest of my life," said Pike.

 

"It's a blessing to know that I was able to make my mark and that I'll be remembered at the school for a long time," said Binns.

 

So yes, it's the best game that I've ever had the privlege to broadcast - but what about the Bearcats?  Best game you've ever played in?

 

"Easily," said Drew Frey.  "No question.  I don't think words can describe it.  That's all I can say." 

 

"It's not only the best one that I've been a part of - I think it's the best one that I remember seeing since I've been watching sports," said Tony Pike.  "With everything on the line and the way the game played out, it was definitely the biggest and best that I've even been a part of.

 

"It had everything that you love in a great football game," said Armon Binns.  "I actually was sitting back in my house watching some highlights this week.  They've got a bunch of stuff on YouTube with the 'Cats celebrating after the game.  It was a crazy, crazy day."

 

Cincinnati 45 Pitt 44

 

* * * * *

 

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.

 

Enjoy this week's photo of young Sam displaying his soccer skills.

 

Sam soccer.JPG

Secondary accepts primary focus

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FreyPick.jpg

The Bearcats secondary will be under pressure to forget the 409 passing yards allowed against South Florida and bottle a Pittsburgh passing game coming off a 400-yard passing effort of its own.

CINCINNATI - The blueprint for breaking the Bearcats defense has been laid out. It's no secret.

Find a way to buy time for the quarterback and attempt to throw on the Bearcats secondary. The pressure placed on the back line is evident. The UC coaches know it. The Pitt coaches know it. And most assuredly, the UC DBs know it.

Check that -- the UC DBs love it.

"I don't think it is pressure, I think it is a means of opportunity," junior safety Drew Frey said. "It is going to be a hostile environment; they got to throw the ball and we got to try to take it away. That is what football is all about."

Boasting the nation's second-best run defense, Cincinnati forces opponents to beat them through the air. The only two teams topping 16 points against UC racked up more than 400 passing yards apiece to do so.

The latest being South Florida. The Bulls game served as a hiccup for a secondary starting one senior that appeared to be developing into an opportunistic group of veterans. With the phrase "snap and clear" more prevalent than "Beat Pitt" around the football meeting rooms, this group of defensive backs stand firm in the belief their ability to shut down opponents didn't go anywhere.

Cheatham.jpeg

"Yeah, I'm confident, you got to be," CB Camerron Cheatham said. "It is just about lining back up doing what we know we can do. Games are won in the back end. That is just the nature of the beast."

The scary element for UC remains avoiding chunk plays. The Bearcats are tied for seventh in the Big East allowing 13 pass plays of 30-plus yards this season. Their four pass plays of 50 or more yards ties for last in the conference.

Containing those 20-yard passes to no more than that and avoiding the deep ball over the top has been the key to slowing defenses during the five games where opponents couldn't reach the 20-point plateau.

"I think people look purely at statistics, passing yards, I think you get an assumption that our defensive backs aren't' playing well," Frey said. "A lot of times we give up big yardage it is two or three plays. It is a 40-yard gain here, a 50-yard gain there, but we just need to limit the big plays. If we limit their yards after catch it should be a different story."

The latest chapter will come Saturday. Without Ray Graham, the Panthers must rely on the arm of Tino Sunseri. Coming off a 400-yard passing game against UConn, Pitt feels he's finally found the ignition switch in new coach Todd Graham's High Octane Offense.

Sunseri's 10.1 yards per attempt in the 35-20 win against the Huskies was a full 3.6 yards better than any of the previous four games. Toss in 6-foot-5, 225-pound target Mike Shanahan on jump balls and the degree of difficulty increases.

"They're going to create situations where our secondary has to play in space," Butch Jones said. "We have to be great space players Saturday night."

Pittsburgh creates space through a wide variety of perimeter screens and quick throws that attempt to slow opposing pass rushes. It's been a necessity for a team that ranks dead last in FBS in sacks allowed (36).

This would seem to be the dream scenario for the Bearcats defense which has feasted on patchwork offensive lines this season and ranks tied for third in the conference in sacks per game. Specifically for Derek Wolfe, who ranks 21st nationally in sacks per game.

Not necessarily.

"In the back of our head, we are thinking they are not going to let us produce like that," Wolfe said. "They are going to keep up with their quick passes and screens and try to run the ball."

Whether by scheme or protection, at some point Sunseri will have time to throw. How the Bearcats defense responds to last week's step back will likely determine if UC takes another step toward a third Big East title in four years.

Dominique Battle was starting for the first two. Take into account UC will be without his services the rest of the season due to an ACL tear and the challenge grows.

Cheatham said the defense now plays for its injured teammate. Coincidentally, the greatest impression he made might be the key to forgetting the 409 passing yards allowed in Tampa and moving forward successfully.

"The biggest thing Dominique taught me was to always keep my composure," said sophomore Deven Drane, Battle's replacement. "I used to get mad. He taught me the best corners are the ones that know how to snap and clear."  

The Morning After: UC 75, McGill 41

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Not much can be derived from these exhibitions. By the final minutes of the game, it legitimately looked like the Bearcats were playing the LaSalle Lancers. A few McGill players looked like extras from School Ties. (Ask your parents)

Still, after a first half where UC played like it was a regular season Deveroes league contest, they showed up in the second half with the type of emotion and intensity expected out of a Top 25 team.

We learned Yancy Gates can still pick on guys half his size. We learned Cashmere Wright is still the motor that makes the Bearcats go. We learned Dion Dixon can make SportsCenter's Top 10 when Gates tosses him a pass off the backboard.

Outside of that, stay tuned. If you were looking for a big splash from one of the freshmen, you left disappointed. That's what I wrote my postgame column on. Read it here.

If you want to watch the game, I recommend moving forward to the second half -- and here is the link.

If you are looking for the Gates backboard pass to Dixon, jump ahead to the 1:32:30 mark.

--- As for some news and notes to come out of the game, there were a few. JuCo transfer Cheikh Mbodj (Pronounced Sheck Mood-g) turned his ankle a second time in practice last week and he had a boot on it Tuesday. It is a sprain and not only will it keep him out for a while, Mick Cronin plans on being extra cautious with his center.

"Cheikh Mbodj will not play until he is 100 percent," he said. "It is a long season. We have a very good team. We have a chance to have a great team especially when he is with us. The last thing I am going to do is bring him back too soon and have him dealing with a bad ankle all season."

Cronin went on to explain, not only will Mbodj need to be cleared by the doctors, he will also need to be cleared by him. He didn't have a specific timetable, but clearly he will not be messing around with his return. This team needs to be ready by the time Big East play begins Jan. 1 at Pittsburgh. Forcing anything prior to that would be irresponsible.

"
When I see him run up and down the floor and not limp and no pain then he will be back," Cronin said. 

--- JaQuon Parker was fouled going up for a layup in the second half and went to the bench with an injury. He didn't return. Mick Cronin said Paker pulled a groin, but that was all he knew. Check back to the blog this week for updates.

--- One of the biggest points of interest entering this game was the defensive play of Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon. Somewhere between those two, they need to exhibit the defensive grit and toughness of Rashad Bishop.

Cronin clearly sounded like he didn't see what he was looking for there on Tuesday -- at least out of SK.

"We got to get our wing guys, especially Sean Kilpatrick, more sound defensively," Cronin said. "That is a big concern of mine."

Bishop brought an element many fans and even "experts" like us media types don't see. Cronin saw, and that's why he called him the best perimeter defender he's ever been around.

"What we lost with a guy like Rashad Bishop, he could play well without ever scoring because three guys would get beat and he could protect them until they recovered and he'd get back to his man," Cronin said. "That happened three times in the same possession last year. For us this year, it's our veterans, Yancy, Dion and Cash, they have to do that. I don't know if SK is ready for that, I am trying to turn Justin into the type of guy and JaQuon Parker."

For Dixon, the 20 points and 7 of 10 from the field make for nice numbers, but they don't define how he plays. He needs to have games where he affects the game but doesn't fill up the offensive stat sheet. That's the next level for him. 

"Scramble," Cronin said. "Don't just sit out there and think you got to have 20 to have a good night. He is going to get many nights with 20 anyway. He's got to affect the game in other ways to be a great player. He is from Chicago, he loves Dwyane Wade, Dwyane Wade has a lot of nights when he affects games with his defense."

--- The free throw shooting numbers that fans love to complain about weren't great last night, UC went 15 of 25. However, the three players that will be doing the majority of the free-throw shooting this year -- Gates, Wright and Dixon -- combined to drain 12 of 13.

Cronin said Wright and Dixon in particular have been incredible this preseason with their free throws. It's getting to the point where Cronin can start calling for Dixon to bait contact in the one-and-one situation to grab two easy points. 

He estimated in all the preseason free throw situations in the past month, Dixon and Wright combined to miss maybe four or five total. 

--- The backboard dunk by Dixon was a pass he called for, according to Gates. 

"I heard somebody go 'Backboard,'" Gates said. "We was winning, I looked and I know Dion can jump, we were winning, so I figured Cronin wouldn't get too mad."

Though, I'm not sure what was more amusing about that play and the breakaway dunk prior, the actual dunks or the complete disinterest from the McGill players in running back on defense.

--- Season tally of times Party Rock Anthem is played: 3.

--- Stat of the game: In the first half UC had but four assists. In the second half they had 12. Defense turned into offense and ball movement, a staple of last year's Bearcats. That all began with Wright, who had all four of his steals and four of his five assists after halftime.

"It took a little just to adjust, work out all the kinks in the offense and get the defense down pat," Wright said. "We just got loose and got a feel for the game, we got a feel for each other and were just out there playing better."

--- Gates seemed downright angry late in the game during a media timeout, but nobody knew why. When he was asked about it after the game, he delivered the quote of the night and an early favorite for quote of the year.

"We are up 30, this dude is walking up the court elbowing my ribs," Gates said. "I am like, 'Man, we are up 30, can you move your elbow til I get the ball?'"

Freshmen finding their way

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A group of five freshmen made their Bearcats debut in Tuesday's 71-43 exhibition win against McGill, but none made a significant splash.

CINCINNATI -- There would be no breakout freshman star on this night. The first glimpse of the five future components of the Bearcats basketball program came with all the flair of a sales seminar and pizazz of a plate of meatloaf.

Nobody turned the heads of the 3,484 for No. 22 UC's exhibition opener. And Mick Cronin couldn't be happier about it.

"I kept taking them out because I didn't want that to happen," Cronin said with a smile. "I was really concerned with (the media) blowing some guys head up and telling him how great he was."

No worries about that on this night. Ge'Lawn Guyn made a few nice passes and buried a 3-pointer. Jermaine Sanders knocked down a shot. Kelvin Gaines didn't injure anyone. That's as close to a success as you'll find for a first exhibition. But it's as far from a concern for Cronin as it would be a sign of immediate impact had Jermaine Davis exploded for 22 points.

Cronin rotated the five freshmen into the game together as much as possible by design. He didn't want veterans like Dion Dixon covering for a freshman missed assignment. He wanted the players to be forced to communicate with each other.

Judging performance had little to do with the fact the five freshmen combined for 12 points and nobody scored more than Guyn's five. Cronin knows they can score. He's seen all of them light up an AAU court.

He's not seen them play defense for him. This season, for their purpose on the 2011-12 Bearcats, that will be the deciding factor on how many opportunities any of them have to show off their offensive prowess.

"When you get to a point when you are playing a game you can actually lose -- and they all want to play - they need to learn the answer is I got to learn to not get exploited when I go in," Cronin said.

The coach bombards these players with defensive concepts and assignments unfamiliar in a competitive setting. Tuesday's 75-41 win against McGill was the first opportunity to test them in full speed. Or at least, whatever the Canadian exchange rate is on full speed.

"It's just a whole different world for them," Cronin said. "Just think your whole life all you really worried about was offense. I am not concerned with their offense. I am concerned with their defense."

That might not be 100 percent the case for redshirt freshman Kelvin Gaines, whose elbows are wrapped in knee pads during practice. His 225-pound frame spent most of the night clearing space and connecting body blows.

Gaines will be a powerful inside presence for the Bearcats this year. A fact his teammates who spent all of last season and the first two weeks of this year absorbing shots know all too well.

"
We got too much pride so we are not going to fall," Yancy Gates said. "We are just going to take the elbow in the chest. Better somebody else than us."

For all the intimidation and force he brings on the inside, there will always be the flip side.

"He still found a way to get four fouls in 12 minutes," Cronin said.

Such will be the case with all of these freshmen as the season progresses. There will be mundane nights like this one and nights that prompt the media to project the next Jason Maxiell.

"They had some good moments and they had some freshmen moments," Gates said. "They are going to be all right."

Tuesday Lunch: On The Run Edition

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After the media contingent was done with the Butch Jones press conference this afternoon (watch here) SID Ryan Koslen made a quick correction of a bit of information suggested in a question about this being a possible last game against Pitt. It, obviously, will not be with the Panthers locked into a 27-month waiting period of by the conference, as Koz pointed out.

We immediately joked with Jones, saying, well not that we know of right now. Truth be told, we hadn't been monitoring the situation for the last 30 minutes, so, who knows?

That's how fast this game changes and today was no different upon exiting the press conference the Big East announced they had sent out formal invitations to a few unnamed institutions as the expansion plan took on its latest shape. The expected locks are UCF, SMU and Houston. Other schools mentioned during the process and thought to be included for football only have been Boise State, Air Force and Navy. They could accept any minute and are expected to do so according to Adam Zagoria had this story on it.

The ever-changing landscape continues to flip on its head about every week or two.

Here was the statement from commissioner John Marinatto:

"We had a very productive meeting and were able to discuss the great progress we have made in the last few weeks regarding conference realignment.

"Our Presidents voted unanimously to extend invitations to specific institutions, including both football-only and all-sport members to join the BIG EAST Conference.  I will be speaking to representatives of those schools shortly and look forward to announcing with them their acceptance into the BIG EAST. The addition of these members will extend our reach, bring us to exciting new markets, strengthen our status within the BCS, and lay the foundation for possible further expansion, all while maintaining the high quality and standards our Conference is known for.

"In light of the lawsuit filed by West Virginia yesterday, the Presidents also discussed and confirmed our continuing commitment to enforce the Conference's 27-month notification period for schools choosing to leave. The Conference believes these claims to be wholly without merit and will explore all its legal options to protect its interests and to ensure that West Virginia lives up to its obligations."

--- This means Cincinnati will be at the center of this new, restructured Big East and the exit fee is about to rise to $10 million. If you took the projected alignment, the conference would stack up well.

They'd have three teams in the AP Top 25 (No. 23 UC, No. 14 Houston, No. 5 Boise State).

That would be the same amount as the ACC (No. 11 Clemson, No. 12 Virginia Tech and No. 22 Georgia Tech).

And one shy of the new Big 12 (No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 17 Kansas State and No. 24 West Virginia).

It would take some adjusting, but the league would provide plenty of stiff tests.

--- And Marinatto pretty much broke out his impression of The Rock when addressing the West Virginia suit. Know your role and shut your mouth.

--- But enough about the future,
lets focus on the present and what was discussed regarding the Pittsburgh game Saturday.

Jones gave the standard praise for the opponent, specifically RB Zach Brown, who takes the place of Ray Graham. Brown, a transfer from Wisconsin, hasn't produced much in place of Graham this year, but Jones called him "as good as any running back in our conference."

Brown did run for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns during his three seasons at Wisconsin, but doesn't possess quite the pass-catching ability of Graham. Still, Jones doesn't see Pittsburgh switching anything up because of the injury.

"You look at the experience (Brown) has had from Wisconsin," Jones said. "When Ray went down early in the UConn game they really put a lot on Zach's plate and he responded. I don't see them changing much at all, they are going to do what they do."

--- If they attempt
what they did last year at Nippert Stadium, Derek Wolfe plans to be prepared for it.

The numbers were ugly. Dion Lewis ran 42 times for 261 yards and four touchdowns on a snow-covered field.

Pittsburgh pounding the ball successfully on the Bearcats was nothing new. Take the last four games in this series and the numbers from the Panthers top RBs.

Year-Back           Carries-Yards-TDs

2010-Dion Lewis         42-261-4
2009-Dion Lewis         47-194-3
2008-LeSean McCoy  17-82-2
2007-LeSean McCoy  25-137-0
TOTAL                131-674-9 (5.1 ypc)

Wolfe still recalls the Panthers lining up and running power handoffs directly at him. Seven times in a row.

"It was just bad," he said. "The way they were blocking it, their offensive line, their butts were in the air. They looked like they were about to run a 40. I know what play is coming, but we are out there in an inch of snow and sliding around and you have two 300-pounders coming at you all you can do it try to make a pile right there. It was just over and over and over and over again. We didn't play well and last year was a whole different team. They better not be thinking it's the same team coming out there."

This is far from the same team. Beyond a 6-1 record, UC is second nationally against the run -- sandwiched between Alabama and LSU.

No team has averaged better than 3.8 yards per rush against them. In the last four games, teams rushed 129 times for 127 yards.

Wolfe admitted he felt helpless as Pittsburgh punished the line and placed an exclamation point on one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Bearcats history.

He hasn't forgotten.

"I have been thinking about this game since they beat us last year," he said. "We got some payback. They kicked us when we were down. We are going to make sure we get back up this year."

--- Running the ball on repeat wasn't the only detail the Bearcats held onto from last year's game. Isaiah Pead recalled watching the Panthers make snow angels and rushing the field with the River City Rivalry Trophy.

"We don't like these guys," Pead said. "They were dancing with the trophy, stormed the field. It hurt. Everything hurt. Losing that game, going 4-8, not going to a bowl game. It was a bad feeling all around. You could see in everybody's eyes that that was going to be a statement. When you get another chance to get that title back and play that team that did that to you, you have to be on your tip-top effort."

Zach Collaros tells the story about hearing them sing their fight song. Listening to the serious tone with which ZC tells the story explains all you need to know about his memory of the event.

"We got embarrassed on our home field," he said. "They were singing their fight song in our locker room. The locker rooms on the field are kind of close to each other. They were pretty excited and we just came off one of the worst seasons in all of our lives. That was a pretty depressing feeling for us. But it is something we have kept in the back of our heads for a long time."

--- Pittsburgh won't be the only motivation in Collaros' head. Despite his incredible second half against South Florida, much discussion this week has been on avoiding the turnovers -- particularly in the red zone -- providing the blemish on his season to this point.

Of Collaros' six interceptions on the season, four of them came in the red zone, with only the interception by NC State inside their own 5 not being caught in the end zone.

The mistakes caught Jones' attention.

"Lot of his interceptions have come in the red zone area and we can never take points off the board," Jones said. "That's critical. When we get in the red zone we take great pride in scoring touchdowns but if it's not there throw the ball away. Zach, being a competitor and maybe trying to force some things. We understand that and have worked extremely hard at that over the past two weeks."

Collaros is well aware of needing to avoid forcing throws. That's what got him into trouble last year when he tossed 14 picks. It's been a point of emphasis since the end of last season and continues to be so now.

"Just making good decisions," he said. "Not trying to do too much. There is a red zone play where I forced one to Anthony McClung trying to give him a shot to make a play and I underthrew it. Could have came away with three points there. That comes from experience. I have done dumb things in the past like that. I think I have learned form it. We work it every day in practice, making good decisions. I will improve on that."

I guess they don't like the trophy--take it back!

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When all this Big East stuff started for UC a few years back, they decided to make it another one of those "trophy games".

Along with the "Victory Bell" and the "Keg of Nails", we were blessed with "The River City Rivalry" courtesy of Trophy Awards who concocted  something that looked like a riverboat steering apparatus (that's the extent of my nautical knowledge).

Most of these trophies rested inside the Lindner Center, but Pitt last year was able to grab the "wheel" back with a 28-10 win at Nippert.

Given the current conference carousel, it's best for the Bearcats to retrieve said trophy and place it back in the case on the fourth floor.I don't suppose Pitt will have much use for it in their television-dictated move to the ACC.

That's just one of the reasons UC should have for beating the Panthers.

The most obvious one is that they're 6-1 and ranked and Pitt is 4-4. A Bearcat win at Heinz Field is a serious blow to the ribs for the Pittsburghers in their first season under their new head coach.

Show of hands...who is the Pitt head coach?

I bet a lot of fans still think it's Dave "Wannstache" Wannstedt.

Part of the joy of beating Pitt used to be watching "the 'Stache" nervously run his hands through his 1970s disco hair.  Somewhere, I can imagine a white John Travolta suit in the Wannstache closet that plays "Burn Baby Burn (Disco Inferno)" by the Trammps as the door opens.

Todd Graham did an excellent job at Tulsa, but there's no reason (yet) to have a burning desire to pummel his teams.  It simply was a lot of fun to watch an agitated Wannstedt on the sidelines getting outcoached time and time again.

One other word of warning Bearcat fans: you may not to know it, but the Pittsburgh folks are trying to infiltrate and sway your thinking. Why else would there be a virtual dumping of Yuengling Beer on the Tri-State during the last week?
Coincidence or not?

(Either way, I'm still in a Halloween mood stirring the pot.)

The bottom line is the Bearcats should take care of business and win. It might not be as crazy as the Dec. 5, 2009 classic, but I'm guessing the days after it will be more pleasant than they were nearly two years ago.

Lest you forget, here was the timeline:
  • 12/5/09 Bearcats pull out instant classic win as Tony Pike hits Armon Binns in the endzone (nothing fancy--Binns beats his man and Pike hits the target).
  • 12/6/09 Bearcats host a selection show at Fifth Third Arena where everyone nervously approaches Brian Kelly with kid gloves. It's announced that UC's going to the Sugar Bowl.
  • 12/10/09 Brian Kelly is announced as the Home Depot Coach of the Year while at UC's football banquet. Word is already out that he's going to Notre Dame, he officially tells us team after the banquet, then marches across the hall to play political word games with Chris Fowler on ESPN.
  • 12/11/09 Brian Kelly resigns and is announced new head coach at Notre Dame.
  • 12/11/09 Kelly assistant Jeff Quinn named interim head coach and will coach Sugar Bowl.
  • 12/16/09 Butch Jones named new head coach, but Quinn still coaches Sugar Bowl.
  • 1/2/10 Bearcats get Tebow'd at Sugar Bowl by Florida.
All things considered it was from joy to madness as a Bearcat fan, a scenario many hope never plays out again (in terms of coaching musical chairs).

Also of note from that game in 2009, of the key players you may remember in that game offensively, only Pitt's Dion Lewis (47 carries 194 yards and three scores) is on an NFL active roster (he's an Eagle where Jason Kelce, Trent Cole and Brent Celek can agitate him).
Tony Pike received an injury settlement from Carolina in late August and Mardy Gilyard was released by the Rams and then the Jets in early September.
Armon Binns is wearing No. 85 for the Cincinnati Bengals, but is on the practice squad.

Since the hustling Paul Dehner Jr. has already provided you with the Pike to Binns highlight, I'll leave you with this one.
This, in my opinion, changed the momentum of the game. UC was down 31-10 late in the first half, when Mardy Gilyard took the football 99 yards to cut it to a two touchdown game at halftime. Later, in the third quarter he had a 68-yard touchdown catch to make it 31-24. Pitt then had leads of 38-24 and 44-38 before Tony Pike hit Binns on the memorable pass and Jake Rogers made the extra point for the 45-44 win.


>Also, for those thinking Tony Pike had the game of his life, you might not remember that he threw three picks that game and was only 22-42 passing.

However, as the saying goes, it only takes one.

Bearcats Breakfast 11.1.11

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How many of you will be wearing the bUCkeye State shirts this weekend? If you've been growing horizontally recently, you may want to buy a new one because you'll need it to fit for three more years after Monday's decision to move the Ohio State game scheduled for next year back to 2018. The 2014 game in Columbus will still be played.

Here is the story from Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch.

And Bill Koch's corresponding blog.

The basics of the case are this, when TCU joined the Big East, schools in the conference needed to investigate shuffling schedules to drop a non-conference game.

At that point in time, here were four road games on the Bearcats' 2012 schedule: @Ohio State, @TCU, @West Virginia and essentially @Virginia Tech (FedEx Field). Opening discussions of moving the Buckeyes back at that point made all the sense in the world. Playing top teams is essential to establishing the program. Playing two elite programs, both on the road in the same season as the top two BE contenders come on the road is almost suicidal.

Yes, the Bearcats opened the conversation, but when the Buckeyes began exploring options to fill and when UCF came available, tOSU closed it. Enjoy your own opinion for why that happened. Everybody has one.

In Columbus, this story is a footnote. A blip on the radar of their college football machine. In the eyes of their fans, Cincinnati is viewed as a non-factor, the pesky gnat circling their face. Such is why it irks UC fans so much when this happens. All the Bearcats want is an opportunity to prove their worth on a level playing field. Since the ascension in 2008 and 2009, they've been unable to do so.

So, the beat goes on. The posturing and message board denigration will continue. At least for another three years.

In my opinion, this development bodes well for UC. How will they fill that spot? Nobody knows just yet. But the high-profile road game is already set on the schedule with a trip to Virginia Tech. If they can find another BCS home game, you have a nice balance of team development games and headline-grabbers entering the Big East season. Much like this year's schedule.

Once again, my thoughts on the matter, not necessarily those of anybody inside the football offices.

Let's eat...

--- Headed over to the Pitt week media luncheon this morning, so look for a blog this afternoon on the rumblings coming out of that function.

--- For those of you looking to break out from work a little early and relive one of the great days in UC history, ESPN Classic is airing UC-Pitt 2009 at 4 p.m. on Thursday. Try not to hurt yourself when Armon Binns slides in the end zone.

--- We will wait another few days for the West Virginia game time. It has been pushed into the six-day window and will be announced Sunday. Heading into the window assures it will either be on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

--- The Panthers hope QB Tino Sunseri can continue playing as he did against UConn. With a depleted running game and the Bearcats stingy run defense awaiting, they are sorely going to need him.

--- West Virginia deciding to go out with class and sue the Big East to avoid the 27-month waiting period to move to the Big 12.

I don't know if the Big East needs a lawyer for that one. I'd send an intern with the contract in his hands. "Your Honor, may I approach the bench, I'd like to submit this contract as Exhibit A, and I'm out of here. Call me when you reach the verdict."

As commish John Marinatto said to Mike DeCourcy: "To put it simply, a contract is a contract."

--- USA Today takes
an in-depth look at the role ESPN plays in conference realignment.

--- Could a reconfigured Big East for football actually be better than the current form? Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel makes that argument and UCF coach George O'Leary agrees with him.

If you are looking at TV markets, the answer would be yes (Orlando, Dallas, Houston vs Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Morgantown). And if you were looking at current success, the answer would be yes with two of the targeted schools in the Top 20. A solid argument, but if you look at sustained success this would be a trade-off of tradition for potential.

--- UC opens the basketball season (sort of) tonight when they host McGill University in the season's first exhibition. This is the first look at the 2011-12 Bearcats.

Cheikh Mbdoj won't play due to a sprained ankle. But this will be an unveiling for a group of four freshmen. Ge'Lawn Guyn, Jeremiah Davis will rotate in at point guard as they battle to backup Cashmere Wright. Octavius Ellis and Jermaine Sanders will jump in on the wings as they play for the right to fill out the back of the team's rotation. Also, redshirt freshman Kelvin Gaines will make his UC debut.

Mick Cronin had a great quote about what to make of Tuesday's game to Bill Koch.

"I can already tell you what's going to happen," UC coach Mick Cronin said Monday. "One of them is going to have a great night and everybody's going to want to say he's the next great player. One of them is going to have a bad night and everybody's going to say 'Oh, he's not that good.' Next week we're going to play Northern (Kentucky) and they're going to play the direct opposite. Freshmen are going to be inconsistent. That's just a fact."

--- Outside of the freshmen, I'll be keeping a close eye on the improvements in the games of Justin Jackson and JaQuon Parker, who both figure to play a major role in rebuilding the defense and toughness lost to graduation.

--- Randomness...

--- Sloth from the Goonies for Halloween? I support this.

--- Because I never
miss a mustache link. Top 100 in sports.

--- Carve a pumpkin with authority.

--- Sports Pickle with this gem: The Pizza Hut Guy is Getting Frustrated with Reggie Bush.

--- Kevin Durant showed up and played at an Oklahoma State intramural flag football game. This dude is something else.

Love the kid attempting to defend the lob pass to him around the 1:40 mark.