Cincinnati moves to 2-0 with a win against Delaware State, but the manner in which the win came provided motivational material for the Bearcats.
CINCINNATI - As the Bearcats football team flooded between cheerleaders to victory corner in front of the school marching band, the fight song played underneath the glare of a 23-7 Cincinnati victory over Delaware State beaming off the scoreboard.
The moment of celebration which motivates early-morning workouts and extra reps on the bench press all offseason came for one of seven possible times this season.
In the corner of Nippert Stadium UC helmets bobbed up and down along with the beat, but the effort looked more like a crew of teenagers dragged caroling by their parents through the neighborhood instead of a team celebrating victory.
There were few smiles. Even fewer bro-hugs. Not even a Butch Jones Bearcats patented chest bump rose in the air.
Not on this night. Not following a game where the golden rule of the program was violated - six times.
"Not up to our standard," Jones said in the opening seconds of his postgame press conference. "It starts first and foremost, I think you all know, we are going to take care of the football here."
Indeed, everyone knows. Not a training camp practice went by without Jones repeating his mantra of tucking and protecting the football over the loud speakers every 10 minutes.
"Chin, chin, chin, chin, chin," is likely still bouncing off trees in West Harrison, Ind.
The bad news of the night came in the form of six turnovers - two interceptions and two fumbles from Munchie Legaux with two other fumbles by Anthony McClung and Travis Kelce. The sloppy offense at one point saw four of five drives end in turnover and only scored three points in the second half against an FCS team.
Jones will be quick to point out the shrinking gap between FCS and FBS, but make no mistake the Bearcats athletically overmatched the Hornets. See George Winn barreling for 147 yards on 24 carries behind an offensive line pushing three to five yards every snap for proof.
In the world of education, these would be called teachable moments. That brings the silver lining of the six-turnover cloud. A UC team riding high off a 34-10 opening-night win against Pitt received a taste of humility and Jones added a game worth of ammunition to fuel the two weeks of preparation for Virginia Tech. And it all comes with a shiny 2-0 record next to their name in the standings.
"The positive is, we are 2-0 and won the football game," Jones said. "I think it makes everyone have a gut-check of how they are preparing, how they are living their life ... it gives us a lot of teaching points with a lot of young players."
First among them will be Legaux, who saw poor decisions mar a strong first four drives. The struggles with pitch-and-catch completions didn't show up as UC ran up to a 20-0 advantage in the first half. Players were hit in stride and he successfully used his legs when necessary.
But, a fumble on a handoff exchange and forced pass into traffic let two drives die inside the 10. The final stat sheet doesn't look bad for the quarterback in his fifth career start - 20 of 27, 208 yards passing, eight carries for 25 yards rushing. Yet, this wasn't a step forward in a development Jones expected to unfurl with growing pains.
The struggles didn't frustrate Legaux, though. They motivated him.
His first order of business, even in the 10 minutes following the game was to inform Jones he's ready to come in and watch film with him. He typically would watch film with the offensive staff and players, but he requested a personal session with the head coach.
Jones called Legaux's four turnovers "very disturbing," but when teachable moments aren't given by coaches, rather demanded by players, the sting of disturbing wears off fast.
"I told him I am going to come watch film with him," Legaux said. "I felt today we were real sloppy and I know coach Jones took that personal and guys on this team took that personal so I want to go sit down with him and see the things he sees and correct them going into next week."
Losing the turnover battle by four rarely equals a victory. Luckily for UC, on this night it did. For now, that's all that matters.
"We played a sloppy game," Legaux said. "We are glad it was now instead of later. We don't want to go into the Big East turning the ball over six times in one game. We'll never win a game like that."
The good news for Jones and the Bearcats, the focused fallout from this game means UC doesn't plan on having to prove that theory correct.