University of Cincinnati product Derek Wolfe will return to town this weekend for the first time since capturing a share of the Big East title last season at Nippert Stadium.
The No. 36 overall selection and first pick of the Denver Broncos will take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Wolfe finished first in the Big East and fifth in the nation last year with 21.5 tackles for loss and provided the dominant force on the Bearcats defensive line with 9.5 sacks.
His rookie year with Denver (4-3) opened with a bang as he racked up three sacks and stands second on the team behind Von Miller in tackles for loss with five. He spent the year playing half his time at defensive tackle and the other half at the defensive end position.
For Sunday's game he anticipates busloads trekking from his hometown of Lisbon, Ohio and filling up PBS for his homecoming.
I had the opportunity to catch up with him this week to talk about the whirlwind of being drafted, chip still residing on his shoulder and his take on close friend, former teammate Walter Stewart.
Rookie year what you expected?
DW: Obviously, I would like to have a few more snaps, but, you know, other than that it has kind of gone how I thought it would. It stated off a little slow and starting to get the hang of things now. I'm starting to kind of get it. The game is starting to slow down for me a little bit and plays are starting to come my way.
What was it like getting that phone call on draft day?
DW: It feels like a house being lifted off your back because it's the most stressful thing I've ever been through. Where you are going to be, where you are going to live, what kind of job are you going to be doing, what kind of defense are you going to be playing in. It's just a big monkey off your back when you get that phone call. Then it's kind of like a surreal moments because you are doing nothing but doing phone interviews and talking to coaches and talking to media for two days straight. When it's all said and done, OK, now the real work starts. It's not time to take a break it's time to put the foot on the gas pedal and work even harder.
Any chance to reflect on your rise from off the radar junior year to first pick of the Broncos following your senior season?
DW: Honestly, no. To me it's just nothing but eyes forward. Don't look at what you've done and what you have been through
Kind of a homecoming here after going to UC, any extra juices to play at PBS?
DW: It's kind of, listen, everybody you know is going to be there so make sure you don't look stupid. Make sure you perform. Because, obviously, growing up there were a lot of people that doubted me. I'm sure some of those people will be in the stands rooting for me, but don't give anybody any reason to say, 'See, I told you he didn't belong here.' That's kind of like the thing on my back. I always want to make sure I belong and do what I have to do to do that. That's what motivates you?
DW: I love to prove people wrong. Oh, you are just one of those guys that works hard you are not really a good pass rusher. OK, so that's what motivates me. Obviously I was the first pick and everything but falling out of the first round, that is a chip on my shoulder, too. I just have to prove everybody wrong that I would have been worth that pick. So, all the people that passed up on me that is something I work to prove them wrong.
Feel like with what done so far you have proven you belong?
DW: I haven't proven anything yet because I'm not even done with my rookie season. After I've played a few years then I'll know I belong.
You say you talk to those guys at UC a couple times every other week, have you been able to talk with Walter Stewart since his injury?
DW: I haven't gotten to talk to Walt about it but that is a tough situation. I am pretty close to the kid anyways just from we came in together, went through that growing process together and he's putting a great year together then something like that happens. It just shows you that you have to play every snap like it is your last because you never know if it is going to be over. Breaks my heart. It really does. Talk about a guy that does everything right. He's a great leader, he does everything right. When something like that happens, it just - I don't know how to explain it, it just doesn't make sense to me.
If you have any comments, questions or just want to remind me that I drove the Derek Wolfe bandwagon calling out every service that didn't rate him First Team All-Big East last preseason (yes, I've somehow made his rise about me), please shoot me an email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Happy Halloween. As my police officer cousin Dan says, "the one day of the year where we ignore all our parents taught us about taking candy from strangers."
Trick-or-treating as a kid always consisted of the search of the one lazy house that left the bowl out front instead of handing it to you. Just handfuls of candy. The concept became almost mythical. Rumors of that bowl spread among the kids like it was Kardashian engagement report.
Yet, in that search going house to house there would sometimes be the one car driving up and down the streets also giving out candy. This was off limits. All the candy coming from the folks in the houses -- undeniably safe. Man in car, clearly will give you rickets.
That said, still love the ridiculousness of today if simply for the fact scaring children is not only OK, but encouraged. Try jumping out from behind a bush at a pack of kids tomorrow. See how that goes over with mom and dad.
--- Was honored to spend yesterday morning on the media panel of the Coaches v. Cancer Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency. Shannon Russell of The Enquirer, Tom Archdeacon of the DDN, Mo Egger of ESPN1530, HOFer Mike DeCourcy of the The Sporting News and myself fired off questions at the five area coaches (Chris Mack, Mick Cronin, John Cooper, Billy Donlon, Archie Miller) for a great cause.
Ken Broo did an incredible job as emcee sharing his story still fresh off losing his wife in August. Just a great event for an even greater cause.
Though, I will say once mascots enter a room of businessmen standing and talking shop at 7:30 a.m. in the morning, it becomes quite awkward.
Not much new ground was broken in the hour-plus conversation with the coaches, though, a good story from Mick -- who had plenty, as always. After Wright State's Donlon answered a question about his father being added to his staff, Mick popped in before answering another question to clarify something. He said his father, Hep, sits along the side, watches practice and drinks coffee every day. He's been wondering where exactly his stipend is. So, let's try to keep this development about Donlon's father being added to the staff inside the walls of this room here.
--- Had a few more notes from Monday's exhibition I wanted to pass along before jumping into football. In case you didn't read my story about the huge success of Brad Wurthman and the entire staff at UC growing the student section into the place to be -- even for an exhibition -- here is the link.
--- One quote from Cronin stood out beyond any others after the game. He was speaking about JuCo transfer Titus Rubles, who made a dynamic debut with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 25 minutes.
His expolosion and instincts with the basketball were evident. While his shot looks a little like a Jim Furyk backswing, he makes them. He hit 2 of 5 from deep.
Cronin said this: "He's as talented a player that has come in here since I've been here." He went on to specify he's talking about raw basketball talent and obviously portions of his game need to be refined, but even with that said, that's quite a claim.
Lance Stephenson, Yancy Gates, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright would be competition for that award. Speaks more to the high expectations Mick holds for Rubles this year.
"He's a great example, don't just get on the Internet and follow recruiting services, they are not always right," Cronin said.
If he can play well enough to earn the starting four spot it allows you unleash the #JustinJacksonMeanFace off the bench right when other teams are grabbing their first wind from the intial wave of game action. A dynamic luxury.
--- Other observations: Cheikh Mbodj showed off the lift and expolosion he lacked last year because of his ankle injury. On top of having lost 30 pounds, he's much more active within the defense. He blocked five shots in 26 minutes.
If you look at the 40 minutes Mick got out of the center spot from Kelvin Gaines, David Nyarsuk and Mbodj, that was 11 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks. He'll take that every night.
It took only one possession for the second-row fan to yell out, "You got to shoot that Titus!" It's almost become endearing.
--- Quick notes from football, I'll have more on this later in the week, but all signs point toward Greg Blair earning a medical redshirt for his torn meniscus in Week 3 last year. With him back, that will leave Blair, super-transfer Jeff Luc and Nick Temple as your projected starters. Formidable to say the least.
--- The Walter Stewart saga is playing out in what appears to be the worst case scenario. Heart-breaking to see. From his incredible backstory, to the dedication to his physical transformation to #GetTheDub to becoming one of the great leaders in the recent history of this program, he's a special person.
He's always approached me with a laugh, smile and insightful conversation. That's not necessarily always the case around sports and the media -- at any level.
--- David Pollack knows a thing or two about neck injuries derailing a career. The former first-round pick saw his career stopped after one season when he suffered a neck injury with the Bengals. He tweeted this out:
"Had a great convo with WalterStewart, gr8 young man with a bright future. God never closes 1 door w/out opening another"
And this, also: "Sept 17, 2006 I was told my life long dream wld come to an end. Life didnt stop & actually is better now then it ever was"
--- Nobody can deny Butch Jones cares about his players. It resides at the fabric of his football community. Nobody appreciated what Walter did for Jones and the program more.
He's made sure Stewart knows he's far from alone in this:
"I'm trying to convince him to give coaching a try because I think he can impact lives on a day to day basis I think that's his passion and I think he needs to be around the game, and I think he can be an asset to our profession, when he speaks the kids listen and he has credibility behind him."
Jones went on: "I'm going to be there for him as long as he allows me to be there for him and I told him we'll be together for a long, long time."
That's why Jones recruits so well. Taking care of these kids isn't just a sales pitch, it's a philosophy. It's the standard.
--- How about a song you surely won't hear anywhere today. Have a great one, everybody and remember to send any questions, comments, clever costumes or otherwise to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Cross Country and Track and Field coach Bill Schnier was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The 33-year journey left an impression on thousands.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- Bill Schnier was inducted into Cincinnati's James P. Kelly Athletics Hall of Fame on Tuesday. If he was nervous upon his induction, the University of Cincinnati cross country and track and field head coach of 33 years likely wasn't as nervous as he was in September when he announced his retirement to his team at the end of their annual cross-country camp.
"I was very nervous because I was maybe not quite ready to say it," Schnier said. "Like women who are pregnant and they wait awhile (to announce it)."
Looking out around the campfire that night, he witnessed a standing ovation from his runners. Much like so many events during his prestigious UC career, any worries turned out to be for naught.
"It was very nice," Schnier said. "I didn't expect that."
He did deserve it.
This is Schnier's 33rd year at UC and his 45th working in education. During his time leading the Bearcats track and field and cross country teams, the program has produced 136 individual conference champions, 25 NCAA national championship meet qualifiers, 10 All-Americans and two Olympic medalists. Schnier has been named conference coach of the year 15 times and was twice selected as Ohio cross country coach of the year. He was named the Conference USA coach of the decade in both cross country and track and field. His teams have won 12 conference titles and 47 of programs' 53 school records were set during his time at UC.
It all began with one decision. After spending five years as a graduate assistant and then assistant at Indiana University, he decided in 1980 to return to Ohio to be closer to family and friends.
"Three jobs opened up at the same time," he said. "I interviewed at the University of Toledo on a Wednesday, University of Cincinnati on a Thursday, and Ohio University on a Friday."
Schnier decided to take the job at UC because he saw the most potential.
His first team wasn't the best team, but they had the best spirit of any team he's ever had. They didn't have the best athletes, but they genuinely enjoyed each other.
"I don't want to take anything away from my other teams, but I think the first time you ever do something, it's special and memorable," he said. "I felt welcomed by the team and the university."
One of Schnier's favorite moments came in 1995 when the men's cross-country team won the All-Ohio Championship for the first time.
"At that time, there were a lot of very good cross-country teams in Ohio, with very good coaches and it just seemed so hopeless," he said. "We didn't have a lot of scholarships. It doesn't help to be in a big city for recruiting distance runners and it just seemed hopeless, like it would never happen. And then one year, we won."
Some of his favorite and most memorable races were the dual meets with Miami in the Armory Fieldhouse. Both teams were good in every event, so every race was contested.
"There was such emotion going into those meets," he said. "Fights almost broke out."
Schnier coached many notable runners during his time at UC. Lewis Johnson, a current school record holder, is a track and field analyst with NBC. Jeff Johnson is now a professor of biomedical engineering at UC. Mary Wineberg and David Payne were both Olympians. Wineberg won gold in the 4x400 relay in 2008 and Payne won silver in the 110-meter hurdles the same year. Eric Finan was an All-American in both track and cross-country and a 3.9 student in mechanical engineering.
For all the triumphs, Schnier's time spent at UC did not pass without roadblocks. The first major obstacle he faced was the fact that co-op students would be gone for an entire quarter.
"My first thought was we'll have no team at all," he said. "They could never train on their own. They need to be near their coach and near their teammates."
He quickly realized that those students were actually among the most motivated on campus. Many of the current record holders were co-op students.
The second obstacle occurred in 1999 when the department dropped the men's indoor track team.
"It was the same alarmist attitude I had about co-ops," Schnier said. "What I really found out is we were probably having too many meets all along."
However, it almost helped the team to be ready and motivated for outdoor track season.
The third obstacle proved to be the most difficult for Schnier. In 2008, the department dropped scholarships for the men's team. He wondered how the team could still be competitive in a conference like the Big East. The fact is they still are and beat more teams than beat them.
"Those three obstacles define my time here as much as anything else," he says. "Since sports is about overcoming obstacles, I'm really quite proud of myself and our team in most cases. It hasn't been easy."
Maybe not easy, but for Schnier, the ride has certainly been special.
"I grew up with the school," Schnier said. "As I got better as a coach and our teams got better, the school was getting better simultaneously."
He never saw the longeveity of 33 years as remarkable, but looking back and thinking about the current trend of coaches in college athletics, he recognizes the accomplishment. Why stay so long at UC?
Some outside the Cincinnati football program question whether Munchie Legaux should still be the starting quarterback. Butch Jones made his stance on the subject abundantly clear Tuesday. He stands by Munchie.
CINCINNATI -- Munchie Legaux critics stand on the pulpit preaching these days, only, their pulpits end in .com or come preceded by an @ symbol. Whether Twitter, blogs or message boards, opinions on Legaux spewed across all corners of the Bearcats fan base in the aftermath of losses to Toledo and Louisville.
Butch Jones owns a pulpit, too. He stands in front of it every Tuesday and addresses the state of his football team. Tuesday, he used his pulpit to discuss Legaux as well. His message came across clearer than any post in a 22-page message board thread.
Munchie Legaux is his quarterback. He will continue to be.
"I haven't flinched," Jones said. "Not one person on the football team has flinched. And I'm not going to. I believe in him."
Legaux tested Jones over the past two weeks. Where Legaux threw four interceptions through the first five games, he threw five the last two weeks. The growing pains of the first-year starter played out under enhanced scrutiny after making comments he was "better" than Louisville Teddy Bridgewater prior to the game.
Thus, the critics were filled with extra ammunition and the wind hit the wildfire in overtime Friday when Legaux's lofted pass on third down was intercepted and UC lost, 34-31.
It was a mistake. And a costly one. But not the final straw. Far from it. Jones sees too many positives during the week and on Saturdays to discount his capabilities.
"I see it in practice, I see it in games, but I don't see it on a consistent level yet," Jones said. "But I think he has all the quarterback intangibles. Every week he leaves the meeting rooms he has a book filled with notes, he has functional intelligence. He knows the purpose of the play-caller. We always talked about what's the intention of the play-caller. He understands the offense. He has great physical tools. It's an experience. It's something that he's going through."
Jones knows when Legaux plays his best. When the junior QB drops back with confidence and throws with aggression and a purpose, results are positive. When passes are lobbed or indecisiveness takes over, the mistakes that fuel message boards play out.
He needs Legaux to manage the game and take care of the football. He doesn't pay attention to the 52 percent completion percentage. Too many times throwing an incompletion would be the correct play for Jones to harp on that statistic. Legaux's development hinges on making proper decisions. There's no way around the fix.
"You got to keep rolling your sleeves up and working every day," Jones said. "Every snap, every rep is a teaching moment. You have to learn from your mistakes and you can't repeat your mistakes twice. He's a very prideful young man. He's a very accountable young man. He understands and has an inner drive to get better week in and week out. Something unfortunately that you go through. You look at rookie quarterbacks in the National Football League making millions and millions of dollars and that learning curve they go through. It's just like a first-year starter at the collegiate level. Some individuals progress faster than others."
Expediting Legaux's progression involves more than one player. Jones broached buzzwords like synergy and team on Tuesday. Any problem arising within the Bearcats football team shares responsibility by everyone. Incompletions can be accredited to receiver breaks or inability to shake press coverage.
"To the naked eye everyone wants to point to the quarterback," Jones said, "but it's everyone else around him playing as one unit that will make him play better as well."
Standing behind his quarterback doesn't mean resistance to change. Jones assured more touches for Ralph David Abernathy IV in the backfield and more plays designed for Legaux to use his legs will be inserted in the coming weeks. The urgency of the season mandates durability concerns be left in Louisville.
Legaux averages six yards per carry and scored a rushing touchdown in four consecutive games. Yet, he carried an average of six times per game over the last four. Adding the use of Legaux's considerable speed didn't come as a reaction to the five interceptions, rather what Jones referred to as a five-game stretch to close the season where "every game is a playoff."
Expectations are every opponent from this point forward will force Legaux to throw over them. The video of UC racking up 221 rushing yards per game doesn't lie. Solving eight men in the box and man coverage on the outside will be up to the developing quarterback.
No matter the criticism fueled by fans or media, Jones stays insulated to the road between his home in Terrace Park and office in Clifton. Those outside his Bearcats family can question all they want. Jones doesn't deny the situation.
"He's had some setbacks," Jones said.
Just don't expect Jones to have any. He hasn't flinched.
"You are the caretaker of our football program," Jones said. "That's what we talk to him about. It's a growth process that we are going through. I have the utmost trust and belief that he will continue to get better."
I want to hear from you, send any comments, questions, criticisms or otherwise to me via email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright caught wind of the development as Monday progressed. Their Twitter accounts blew up with students letting them know they'd be attending the opening exhibition against Grand Valley State.
Even as word spread that afternoon student tickets sold out, the sight still made an impression walking on the floor 15 minutes prior to the opening tip of the 2012-13 season.
"For it to be sold out on the first day?" Kilpatrick said. "That's crazy."
The scene looked crazy to anyone whose followed the recent history and rode the ups and downs of attendance issues at Fifth Third Arena. The last time an exhibition game sold out a student section, Kenyon Martin's jersey wasn't retired in the rafters, rather on his back.
These exhibitions have traditionally been reserved for what essentially amounted to a small pocket of diehards, a few resting security guards and four freshmen looking for a quiet spot to study.
Students stood for bathroom breaks not breakaway baskets.
Yet, here were the Bearcats, taking the floor in a glorified practice and not a soul in either student section sitting. The middle sections both jammed to near capacity. The masses cheered and booed as if Syracuse just took the floor.
As the nine-point halftime lead stretched to the eventual 80-60 final, the sections predictably thinned out to half their original size. No matter. Point taken.
Wright spent the last three years playing to an uninspired smattering for preseason run-ins. He knows what the student sections looked like in comparison to Monday.
"Not even close," Wright said. "It means a lot. It means we are improving. People actually want to come see you now. It means you're actually doing something."
UC did quite a lot, actually. For Brad Wurthman, Associate AD of Marketing and Strategic Communications, this scene began as a rough sketch in the summer. Enticing the students to match the excitement of the team on the floor would be challenging, but not impossible.
The UC staff decided to open the student section up as a general admission ticket for the first time in 22 years. Instead of any ticket bought and going unused left as empty seats in the front rows, everyone was motivated to come early and pack the front.
That meant, instead of students waiting until midway through the game to show, if that, the section filled before one Kilpatrick 3-pointer touched the net.
Also, UC created a loyalty program that tracks when students enter and leave the arena. Unused tickets now go noticed and chances for tickets to the Crosstown Classic, Big East tournament and NCAA tournament hinge not only on using tickets, but how long those students stayed in the building.
Once inside Fifth Third, Wurthman also assured the atmosphere would be worth staying for. He placed UC student DJ Magnificent atop the North section with a full setup and he handled the music for all non-band entertainment. And he didn't play Party Rock Anthem. A significant victory in itself.
For Cronin and the basketball program he hopes to guide for 20 years, this night was about more than Xavier tickets, seating arrangements or Gangnam Style. This was about checking off another box on his wishlist of how Cincinnati basketball should look.
"That's a huge step for our program," Cronin said. "Talking for a guy that wants to be here and build. Recruits will see that. The students are here every game like that it matters."
The next step will be adding the season-ticket holder fan base to the contingent of students. A total of 5,375 showed up for the exhibition -- still more than seven non-conference games and both exhibitions last year by up to 900 people per game.
With a student section larger than any in the Big East, according to Wurthman, the difference of a regular student section through the non-conference portion of the schedule could be a game-changer, both short and long-term.
"The students are the key," Cronin said. "You love to have your fans at every game but the students are the backbone because they are the ones that are going to bring the enthusiasm to the arena."
During a Monday night practice in October, against Division II Grand Valley State, the backbone was heard loud and clear. And considering recent history of these tilts, that's saying quite a lot.
I would love to hear all your feedback, questions, comments or otherwise. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
After the two-hour drive home from Louisville at 2 a.m. on Friday, I woke up a little groggy at a time I won't share with my judgmental readership still with my head swirling over what I witnessed Friday night.
Not because of the loss or any one play, but at the entertainment value of it all. With the loss removed, what we witnessed were the two flagship programs in the Big East conference in a year their difference in talent level appears negligible fighting through ugly weather conditions with more momentum swings than the Kings Island Viking Ship.
Even through the typical Twitter vitriol clogging my feed from the conclusion of the game through Saturday afternoon, another residing theme poked through the dark clouds --- these guys are going to be all right.
What we witnessed Friday was a team capable of beating the best in the Big East. Not just capable, but arguably the better team. At the very least, on par with Louisville. On a wild night in their place, they left one play away.
Now, they enter the rest of the Big East schedule where the margin for error is non-existent. While far from impossible Louisville could lose before facing Rutgers in their season finale -- this is the Big East, obviously, the conference is as predictably unpredictable as the final destination of your luggage on a Delta flight.
Take a look at the remaining schedule: Opponent (Overall, Big East) Syracuse (4-4, 3-1) @Temple (3-4, 2-2) Rutgers (7-1, 4-0) USF (2-6, 0-3) @UConn (3-5, 0-4)
The two toughest games are Syracuse and Rutgers, both coming at Nippert Stadium.
The combined record in conference of the other three teams: 2-9. And those two wins came from a Temple team that was just throttled, 47-17, at Pitt.
All games in which the Bearcats will be favored and/or playing at Nippert. Clearly, the Rutgers tilt will loom large, but a run to 6-1 would be far from improbable.
Louisville, on the other hand, still owns a tricky trip to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse and then their season finale at Rutgers. One loss and the race re-opens.
Since 2006, only the 2009 Bearcats finished with an undefeated conference record and only twice did the conference champion endure only one loss ('06 Louisville, '08 UC).
Invariably, the Bearcats concerns right now lie in-house. They are a team needing to break this two-game skid against Syracuse, whose losses this year came to Northwestern, USC, at Minnesota and Rutgers. And they've been in every game they played.
While the Louisville loss shifted momentum and power dramatically to the Cardinals, to expect the rest of the year to play out predictably in a Louisville coronation would be discounting all recent history of this conference.
--- The UC running game has become the storyline of this season. George Winn, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Munchie Legaux are all averaging exactly 6.0 yards per rush.
Only one other school in the FBS can claim three different ball-carriers averaging at least six: Oregon (Kenjon Barner 6.9, De'Anthony Thomas 8.6, Marcus Mariota 6.6).
Certainly, the UC backs deserve a significant amount of credit for all they've done, but we'd all be remiss if this conversation didn't start with an offensive line just owning people right now. The most encouraging aspect for UC? All five current starters will be back next season. Parker Ehinger seized the right tackle job with a Sean Hooey injury and we've yet to see Hooey back. He was the only senior up front.
The ratio of run/pass against Louisville came out about 60-40. For a game within a possession much of the night, that shows more than a coincidental stat. That shows an identity. When I asked if that was the way he sees his offense moving forward, Jones essentially confirmed that will continue to be the case. "I thought we ran the ball pretty well; I thought establishing the tempo was critical," Jones said. "I thought we did a much better job with playing tempo. I think we did a much better job that way and need to continue to play at that tempo."
Jones hasn't been afraid to utilize the run this season, but typically any disparity between run and pass comes in blowout wins that end with running out the clock on the ground.
Throwing out the games against FCS teams and the 52-14 blowout of Miami, you see the upward trend in run/pass ratio.
--- Many of the rushes to flip the percentage against Pitt came in the final
two drives with the game all but over. UC ran the ball the final eight plays of that game to run clock. Taking that into consideration you see the percentage rise consistently as the season progresses.
--- In my story last week about balance still being the calling card of this offense, RDAIV had this quote that I found interesting. "Honestly, I notice we put up a lot of yards every game but I never
notice that we are really running the ball at people like that," Abernathy IV said. "I've
never really took notice to it. We also have great receivers like (Kenbrell Thompkins) who
goes off in the Virginia Tech game. I have never really caught on to
the fact of how much we've really run the ball I just know we get a lot
Nobody could say that after the Louisville game. This wasn't just about running the ball more for the sake of running the ball more, this was about running the ball in critical situations and establishing that as the primary weapon.
They ran it at Louisville. All indications are that won't be changing anytime soon. --- Have you not read my postgame column from Louisville? Have you not seen the video of Maalik Bomar and Munchie Legaux speaking after the game? If so, I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed. But you can totally redeem yourself by going here and catching up.
--- Time to take notice of what Greg Blair is doing at MLB. The tackle stat may be the most overrated in all of college football and doesn't necessarily reflect effectiveness. However, 33 tackles in two games does.
He now ranks 16th in the country in tackles per game (10.43).
Blair followed up his 14-tackle game against Toledo with 19 against Louisville and the guy was everywhere. He ended up on the Big East Honor Roll -- along with RDAIV.
For a team worried about how they would replace Mr. Cincinnati JK Schaffer, Blair's erased any concerns about the middle of the defense. Blair was in a mix at second on the depth chart coming out of spring. That's quite a rise.
The MAC and Big East split eight games this year, 4-4.
It changes the national perception of Rutgers, though, they'll still be a handful here in a few weeks with the best rush defense in the conference. --- Andrea Adelson kept UC at No. 3 in her power rankings, with this week's opponent, Syracuse, right behind them.
Also, Brian Kelly is doing the same thing at ND he did at UC -- what nobody thought possible. At some point you have to tip your hat (or, I guess, you don't). --- The basketball season officially gets underway tonight. UC will host Grand Valley State in their exhibition opener at Fifth Third Arena. As I've mentioned in this space multiple times, this will be as entertaining and anticipated as a season of basketball has been at UC in more than a decade.
Loved talking to Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker last week about what to expect this year.
He took a higher road than myself when asked if he was surprised: "Nope. People were tweeting me about it and I was looking at it like, wow. Why
is it a big deal? It's like coach (Cronin) told me, 'the only award that
matters is at the end of the season.' So, all of the people that are
getting preseason awards basically
are getting a big bullseye on their back. And I'm one of those people
that is targeting them. So, basically it's fair game."
With all this this talk about polls and disrespect for UC, I asked Mick
if there was any poll or ranking he does pay attention to. I found his
answer, as always, honest and enlightening:
"That stuff only matters for fans and for ticket sales, so that is why
it can be irritating at times. I think our fans are excited if I got a
gauge for how things are and they should be about our season. If you are
not busy next Monday, you are going to
have fun watching us play. And (rankings and polls) are also for
"I want to go to Atlanta. That's my aim. I have a chance to end my
career in my home state, so it's kind of a big thing. Sean (Kilpatrick)
wants to go to the BIG EAST Tournament and actually win it this year in
New York. So, we have two goals."
The up-and-down style of play will be the most noticeable difference to fans tonight. There will be no slow-down, post-up set offense slogging this season. It will be all run-and-gun. Cash pulled out this gem when asked if there was any chance we see some of the slow-down game from the beginning of last year. "I hope not," Cash said. "I tell you what, if we see that, it's a bad season goin' on."
Couldn't help but laugh out loud after that one.
The first exhibition game always brings out the excitement. Not sure if we'll see new 7-1 toy David Nyarsuk whose been nursing a minor injury, but you'll see plenty of everyone else. Cronin plans on using everyone -- not just for the exhibition, but as the season goes along. He'll need to in order to wear teams down with the Blitz.
"Once the other team score you got one second to take the ball out and get it going," Wright said. "There is no more take the ball out and walk up and down the floor. You got one second to get the ball out the next to the point guard and get down the floor. He calls it Blitz. We are supposed to be able to beat them down the floor even if they score."
Hope to see everyone at 53 tonight.
--- How about some randomness ...
--- I liked it better when we couldblame Yoko for breaking up the Beatles. --- When I lived in Key West at least twice per year the Weather Channel and its band of terror-inducing meteorologists would descend upon the island to strike fear into everyone. There would -- as predictably as the storm missing the island -- be looney tunes time going on by locals behind them. Sandy has proven it wasn't just a Key West thing with shirtless horsehead man. --- I can only assume the person who drove their car through the front window of a Blockbuster was a tortured husband in a desperate, frantic rush to get "What to Expect When You Are Expecting" out of his possession.
--- NBC Sports now owns the rights to the English Premier League for all you soccer folks out there. Also, the best thing on TV in the mornings, The Dan Patrick Show, will be moving to the network as well starting next Monday.
In related news, only two days away from the Big East TV rights hitting the open market.
--- Busy week ahead, need to start it with some energy. Which means Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Remember, if you have any questions, comments, criticisms or just need a friend, please shoot me an email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. I want to hear from you. Have a great day, everybody.
UC lost to No. 16 Louisville 34-31 in overtime in one of the great games in the Keg of Nails rivalry, but they can't help but realize how close they were to a breakthrough victory.
LOUISVILLE -- Within a Teddy Bridgewater heave of where madness and exhilaration sprinted up and down the hashmarks, Bearcats linebacker Greg Blair sat in a chair near the visitor locker room with his hands folded and shook his head.
On a night his talent and value were beamed across the country, the reality felt as unavoidable as the cold, wet, windy conditions Friday night inside Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium.
"We just hate losing to these dudes," Blair said. "Anybody but these dudes."
Blair and the string of Bearcats who spoke with the media didn't show depression of the 34-31 overtime loss to those dudes of rival Louisville as Friday gave way to Saturday morning. Disappointment, hurt, frustration. Yes, yes and yes. But all with a hint of optimism.
If any reality proved clear during the insanity of the final minutes Friday, resiliency of these players moving forward won't be a problem. For every haymaker thrown by the I-65 Golden Boy wearing No. 5, the red and black rose off the FieldTurf with a resounding answer.
When Louisville rode early momentum, Maalik Bomar stole it with his first career interception. George Winn repeatedly bulldozed it along with the Bearcats identity into the Cardinals white helmets.
Ralph David Abernathy IV established himself as a primary weapon few teams can see, much less answer.
And with 1:48 remaining and the Bearcats needing 59 yards on a night the grind of the running game carried the day, Munchie Legaux needed but three plays before Legaux to Julian re-entered the UC lexicon.
On a night the Bearcats established their gameplan and showed the type of resiliency familiar of programs who've won three of the last four Big East championships, they were left to digest 34-31.
One field goal, one stop, one throw, one hold, one drop. Any one play and black jerseys would have flooded the field, Keg of Nails aloft, and seized the driver's seat in the Big East.
In a game for the ages in this rivalry the loss comes not for lack of effort, not for lack of savvy, not for lack of excitement. No, instead, for lack of one more play.
"You always got to have faith that we are going to make that play to win the game," said Blair, who finished with 19 tackles and now has 33 in the last two games. "That was a great game, man, we should have came up with the win but sometimes it just happen that way."
Indeed, sometimes it does.
Nobody would leave the Pizza Palace believing either team didn't belong. The combination of explosion and power that churned out 196 yards on 41 carries Friday exposed a primary weapon that could undeniably still win a Big East championship.
Despite Bridgewater growing his own Louisville legacy, the UC defense behind Blair, Maalik Bomar and dealing with the loss of their best player in Walter Stewart carried the Bearcats to a 10-point advantage in the second half that nearly proved enough.
In the end, it wasn't.
"We knew we fought," Bomar said. "We fought hard. But a loss is a loss and a win is a win. We're hurting right now and got some things to think about on the ride back."
Each player will rewind the play in his mind that he could have altered the final score. Any one of them would have been enough.
Legaux knows his after finishing 13 of 28 for 157 yards and three interceptions while rushing for a touchdown for the fourth straight game.
"A bigger guy like Travis (Kelce) I try to give him a chance to go up and make the play with a defender in his face," Legaux said of his third-down interception in overtime. "The cornerback did a great job of reacting and made a play on the ball. That's one of the plays you wish you could have back, but hey, you got to live and die with it."
Inevitably, the Bearcats died. That's the cold-hearted nature of sports. On a night where so much goes right for Legaux and all the Bearcats and victory feels deserved, it doesn't necessarily play out that way.
"They are a resilient group of kids," Butch Jones said. "That is a hurting locker room right now. As a coach they laid it on the line. They gave us everything they had. We'll bounce back ... I love our kids and I think they showed true character tonight."
UC will bounce back. They showed too much talent Friday night not to.
In the moments following John Wallace's 30-yard field goal, however, none of the bright future trumped the reality.
"That's what it was," Blair said, shaking his head one last time. "Coach Jones always tell us it's going to come down to a handful of plays. They made their play. We didn't. Back to the drawing boards."
Send any comments, questions, analysis or criticisms to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Forecast: Temperature in 40s, 50 percent chance of rain, increasing as game progresses, 10-15 mph wind
2012 records: Bearcats 5-1, 1-0 Big East, Cardinals 7-0, 2-0
Ranking: Louisville is ranked No. 14 in the AP/No. 16 in Coaches
Tickets: Louisville has announced the game as a sellout
What to wear: Louisville will be in a Whiteout, so black will be best. Team will be in black as well.
Past results: Last meeting was a 25-16 UC victory at Paul Brown Stadium last season. UC has won the Keg of Nails four straight times. The Bearcats lead the overall series 29-21-1.
The last meeting involved one of my favorite Isaiah Pead runs of all time. One cut. Gone.
Need to know: This game will define the Bearcats season.
Anybody who reads this blog knows I'm not one for shocking statements. I attempt to be calculated and logical. And all logic points to this game defining how far this team can go. Such is not to say UC's season would be over with a win or loss tonight. Not at all. But with Rutgers and Louisville the clear upper-echelon teams in the conference along with UC, the loser of this game relinquishes control. Beyond that, coming off the loss to Toledo this team needs to re-establish the momentum created during the 5-0 start to begin their charge through the Big East.
Sure, a win at home against Rutgers could be enough to share or even win the title, but this game sets the tone. This game determines the realistic stakes. A loss Friday wouldn't be insurmountable, but once all the dust settles on the season this game will be looked at as the turning point in one direction or the other.
Need to know stat: The Cardinals last five games have been decided by an average of 5.6 points. Only one of those opponents currently owns a winning record (North Carolina, 5-3).
Who to know: Louisville RB Senorise Perry. The Cardinals top rusher knows how to find the end zone and does so often. He's scored seven touchdowns in their last three games and pierced the goal line 10 times on the year. While QB Teddy Bridgewater receives much of the deserved recognition, Perry's compliment along with RB Jeremy Wright sets the stage for the the QB's efficiency. He's run for over 100 yards three times. He personally dismantled Pittsburgh taking four of 12 carries to the house.
Why did South Florida hang around and nearly knock off the Cards last week? They held Perry to just 29 yards on the ground.
Munchie Legaux vs. himself. The Bearcats quarterback struggled at Toledo. Butch Jones called it a "step back." Legaux doesn't need to beat Louisville, he only needs to not beat the Bearcats. Completions must be more frequent, but incompletions can be overcome. Missed reads can be tolerated. Turnovers kill. He must avoid the interceptions and fumbles that flip momentum and find the one or two big plays per game that marked the five-game winning streak.
The best news regarding interceptions is Louisville only picked off three passes all season and once in the last four games.
Delving deeper: This game may be decided by halftime. Louisville made a habit of stomping opponents out early at home, while slow starts followed UC lately. With the game on ESPN and PJCS sold out, the adrenaline will surely be pumping. Avoiding an early tidal wave will be key.
Here are the halftime scores of Louisville home games this year:
USF -- 14-3 UNC -- 36-7 Missouri State -- 21-0
The last three UC games?
Toledo -- trailed 13-0 early in second quarter Fordham -- led 14-6 at halftime, one offensive TD Miami -- only led 24-14 in a game they eventually dominated 52-14
By the numbers: If you are looking for a mismatch, it lies in the running game.
Looking ahead: UC returns home with a noon game against 3-4 Syracuse next week. But nobody connected to UC should be thinking about anything beyond Friday night. Words from Butch Jones: Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones on Bearcats Football Weekly to discuss Friday's game and the state of the Bearcats. Here's the link.
Hype video: Here's what happened the last time UC trekked down I-71. Now with 50 percent more Tessitore!
Assessing the UC offense over the first half of the season unveils a group as productive and efficient as any in Butch Jones' six years as a head coach.
They average more yards per game and yards per play by a wide margin. Even among the Cincinnati offensive renaissance teams this group leads the way. None of the UC teams since 2007 averaged more yards per game in non-conference play than this group.
Following the loss to Toledo, fingers begin pointing and knees begin jerking. Change this. Alter that.
Perhaps tweaks need to be made and those won't be evident until the Bearcats take the field Friday night against Louisville.
The base philosophy driving the most efficient offense in recent UC and Butch Jones history won't change, though. Balance always wins out.
Statistics illustrate one of the most successful run games in the country right now. Ralph David Abernathy IV (6.6 yards per carry), George Winn (6.3) and Munchie Legaux (6.0) all have become explosive threats on the ground.
UC's yards per rush average (5.9) ranks sixth in the FBS. Their total rushing yards per game (226) ranks 16th in the FBS. An identity sought after coming out of Higher Ground with this collection of young unknowns showed its hand during non-conference play with the triple threat on the ground and ability of the offensive line to wear teams down.
Without balance, though, the effectiveness of the run game would be lessened.
"We preach balance in everything we do," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "We emphasize efficiency in all
aspects of our game. Guys have stepped up like George Winn and Ralph
David and the offensive line. For sure, you want to be balanced as much
as possible and you want to control the ball."
The versatility of players like Abernathy IV and tight end Travis Kelce keep defenses off-balance because of their versatility. Kelce can split out as a wide receiver and win one-on-one matchups with corners because of his size while also push the pile in a power set attached to the tackle. Abernathy can split out into a five-wide as a dangerous player in space or run between the tackles for a 5-yard gain. One shift changes the defense's philosophy.
UC's ability to both run and pass allows them to take what the defense gives. That's why they've accumulated more yards per game than any in recent UC history.
At Louisville, their players expect to see plenty of the Bearcats run game considering the Cardinals gave up at least 195 yards rushing two of the last three games and the inconsistency Legaux showed at times this season.
Keep in mind UC rushed and passed for 12 touchdowns a piece this year. A focus on the run will leave advantageous matchups on the flip side.
The Bearcats haven't been a run-it-down-their-throats team and still racked up conference-best numbers on the ground. Making teams honestly defend all corners of the field makes the difference.
"Honestly, I notice we put up a lot of yards every game but I never
notice that we are really running the ball at people like that," Abernathy IV said. "I've
never really took notice to it. We also have great receivers like (Kenbrell Thompkins) who
goes off in the Virginia Tech game. I have never really caught on to
the fact of how much we've really run the ball I just know we get a lot
Doing so again Friday could be the most direct path to victory. Yet, doing so at the expense of the pass-game threat could take away the effectiveness of both.
Of course, Legaux will need to rebound from the struggles he endured at Toledo. The focus of practice continues to be allowing receivers to quickly transform into ball carriers with ball placement and recognizing the variety of looks Louisville will bring. The rest will be up to Legaux to manage the balance.
His confidence clearly hasn't wavered nor has that of his teammates.
"We still have that trust in Munchie, we still have that trust in
everybody on our team," Abernathy said. "Our trust never wavers, regardless. We are a
family." Please send any questions, comments or critiques to my email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
For me, whenever I think of Cam Cheatham, I always think about Louisville 2010. That year, he swatted down the fourth-down pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 12 to save a victory against the Cardinals. Then only a sophomore, it placed Cheatham on the map among the top corners in the program. He's never left since.
Now, for most that will be remembered as "The Armon Binns Game," and deservedly so. Binns caught eight passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns that night, including a leaping TD down the sideline for the game-clinching TD. Here's your refresher:
For whatever reason, I've always remembered it as "The Cam Cheatham Game," because of the big play he made at the conclusion and his emergence ever since.
I know I'm far in the minority on remembering it this way. Even Cheatham acknowledged that.
"That was the first big play of my career," he said. "But I do have to disagree with you, though, that's the Armon Binns Game. I have to give it to him. I am just a small fry there, Armon, he carried us there."
OK, OK, Armon earned that designation. But don't expect Cheatham to have any issue recalling how he helped seal the victory.
"I'll never forget that," Cheatham said. "I remember Reuben Johnson saying, 'They are coming your way,' when we broke the huddle. That's what I remember. I just had to be ready."
For a young kid coming up, there's nothing quite as special or
memorable as the first big play made to help a win, much less secure it
on fourth down in the end zone.
"When you start a game, after that first hit you get a little bit comfortable," he said. "After you make your first big play it's like, OK, I know how it feels to make this play now maybe I can get used to doing stuff like that."
As UC returns to the sight of his emergence its fitting they'll need a few more to slow Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals potent passing attack. Bridgewater leads the conference, completing 73.4 percent of his passes. That's good for third in the country, less than one percentage point behind national leader Geno Smith.
He's one of only two QBs in the conference to average greater than eight yards per pass -- he's stationed at 9.0. Without question, he's the biggest reason the Cardinals enter Friday night undefeated.
Last week, the Bearcats held Toledo QB Terrance Owens to his lowest passing total (126 yards) and completion percentage (54.2) since becoming the full-time QB following their Week 1.
Against Miami, UC held Zac Dysert to his lowest completion percentage (51.0) of the season and picked him off three times, including a Cheatham Pick-6.
UC limited Logan Thomas of VT to 56.4 percent completions -- though during his terrible season that hasn't been his worst, they still limited his effectiveness while picking him off twice.
Only Fordham and Pittsburgh saw their QBs exceed 57 percent in completions. Keeping Bridgewater out of his rhythm will go a long way to stealing a victory at Papa's place.
The flip in personality of the Bearcats from last trip to Louisville brings an interesting change of pace for somebody like Cheatham who was around during the days when UC won in spite of their defense instead of because of it.
"It used to be a lot different," Cheatham said. "I was here in the days when we were the laughingstock. It feels good to be needed more, which means we need to step up more."
Friday, they will need to win because of it. Being involved in a
shootout with Bridgewater in Louisville is no way to leave with a win. Of course, Cheatham owns experience making plays in their house. Likely, if the game stands on the line again, picking on Cheatham won't be their first option.
"I don't know, they might," he said. "Hopefully if they do I can make the same play."
--- Time named the 25 Best Blogs of 2012. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but I did not make the list. --- In honor of Connor Barwin's big game Sunday against Baltimore, here's Bulls on Parade.
Plenty to come on football this week with the monster tilt at the pizza palace, but wanted to flip to one brief statistical basketball analysis. Ever since I spotted this Top 50 point guards list put out by CBSSports, I can't stop thinking about the absurdity of it.
For the record, these folks decided to leave Cashmere Wright out of the top 50. I have no explanation outside of complete disbelief. Our guy, HOFer Mike Decourcy stated via Twitter that Wright would be in question for the Top 25 PGs, but Top 50 is not debatable.
My point I want to make here, is my disbelief isn't some sort of homer bias. Sure, I've seen more of Wright than any PG in the country, but the numbers don't add up. And my bias has nothing to do with those.
How are PGs judged? Points, assists. Good starting point. Assist to turnover ratio is about as big as it gets in the point guard analysis realm. Toss in steals and the value of a player like Aaron Craft is truly exposed. Also, point guards are the quarterbacks of their teams. Plenty of good QBs lose games because of poor play around them, but for the most part you can also judge a point guard by wins. How far did they advance in the tournament, where the point guard is the most important player on the floor?
Let's take a look at those stats and see where Cash compares. I selected eight players from the top 35 without even bothering with the bottom 15 just to prove the point.
CBS rank, Player: PPG/APG/A:TO/Steal%/2011Success N/A, Cashmere Wright, UC: 10.9/4.6/2.01/4.0/Sweet16 ---------------------------------------------------------
4. Aaron Craft, OSU: 8.8/4.6/2.25/4.7%/Final4
--- Two fewer points than Cash, but that's not Craft's game. He was slightly ahead in A:TO and steal percentage, but both rank among the best in the NCAA. And, of course, OSU beat UC head to head. Craft deserves his spot, but Cash is similar in style with more offensive punch.
9. Peyton Siva, Lou: 9.1/5.6/1.55/3.2%/Final4
--- This comparison I find interesting. Siva attacks more and dishes out an extra assist per game, but turns the ball over much more than Wright. He's also not near the defensive player of the UC PG. His game is flashy and the Louisville tournament run impressive, but Cash's numbers are superior looking at the bigger picture.
11. Mark Lyons, Arizona (formerly Xavier): 15.1/2.8/1.27/2.5%/Sweet16
--- Never mind the fact he almost single-handedly blew up an entire season before bolting for Arizona, Lyons can score and that's about it. Plus, he rarely even played PG last year at X with Holloway running the show. He scored 15.1 points, but turned it over nearly as much as he assisted and did little on defense. Oh, and did I mention he almost blew the team up from the inside-out? Who would you rather have as your leader?
18. Myck Kabongo, Texas: 9.6/5.2/1.74/2.5%/LostR1
--- Kabongo and the Longhorns lost to UC in the first round of the tournament last year. Kabongo didn't score as much as Cash, but did dish out an extra half assist more per game. Of course, when you turn it over 100 times in a season as he did (1.74 A/TO) assists don't mean as much. So, he turns it over more, doesn't score as much, has far less defensive impact and lost to UC in the first round. Your choice. 21. Joe Jackson, Memphis: 11.0/3.9/1.63/2.7%/LostR1
--- Jackson scored almost exactly the same amount as Wright, only dished out fewer assists, turned it over at a higher rate, played less effective defense and lost in the first round of the tournament. But, you know, whatever.
28. Keith Appling, Michigan State: 11.4/3.9/1.70/2.3%/Sweet16
--- Appling averaged a half-point more than Wright, dished out fewer assists, turned it over at a higher rate, didn't have the same defensive effect and lost in the Sweet 16. Oh, and a stat not listed above, Wright his 37.5 percent from 3-point range and Appling hit 25 percent (24 of 96).
34. Erick Green, VT: 15.6/2.8/1.86/2.4%/NoNCAAs
--- Depending on how you like your point guards, Green might be your choice. He led VT in scoring at 15.6 per game, but he's much more a score-first PG than Wright. Outside of the point differential he dished out almost two fewer assists per game, turned it over more and didn't have near the defensive impact. Oh, and VT lost five of their last 19 games and didn't make any postseason play.
35. Kwamain Mitchell, St. Louis: 12.4/3.7/2.06/2.6%/LostR2
--- Mitchell scored a point and a half more than Wright, but had one fewer assist per game with about the same assist to turnover rate. Again, not the same defensive force and lost a round earlier than the Bearcats.
--- Now, I suppose somebody could offer a more brutal deconstruction of how Wright could be left off such a list, but it would be unnecessary. This merely shows the latest trend of how overlooked the Bearcats have been as a whole. Great news is, none of those opinions mean squat in this sport where the talent is decided on the court.
I only wish a player of Wright's ability would be recognized for how good he has been here.
With their eighth shutout of the season coming Saturday against Rutgers, the defensive ability of the Bearcats men's soccer team altered the expectations of their season.
By Joseph Gryniewski
Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- A slew of early injuries, struggles
scoring goals and defending the net, the Bearcats stumbled out of the
gates. Starting the season with a 1-4-1 record through their first
six matches put the Bearcats in an early hole. UC had scored only
three goals, while allowing nine to the opposition through the first
The season was in jeopardy.
That's when it happened.
The season's saving grace came in the
form of a streak that no one expected, but one the Bearcats
After the slow start, the Bearcats next
671 minutes and 22 seconds on the field covering six games were spent
putting on a defensive clinic and effectively shutting out every team
in their path. The Bearcats allowed no goals to the likes of Towson,
Gardner-Webb, Pittsburgh, Cleveland State, Syracuse and USF.
With games only lasting a mere 90
minutes, the fact that they spent nearly 700 minutes playing shutout
soccer is jaw dropping. The shutout streak was a key component to a
major turnaround. While UC's defense was busy posting zeros on
their opponents, the offense was busy making sure their effort wasn't
Through the first six matches UC's
offense had only been able to muster three goals, but during the next
six games they backed up the tremendous defensive effort, providing
four goals for the cause. The team rolled off a beautiful 4-0-2 mark
during the record-breaking streak, and the saves at the net helped
spark the run that saved the season.
"At the fourth game we were just
going, then someone told us at the fifth game and we definitely
started pushing for it," center Michael Millay said.
While UC hadn't been aware of the
streak until the last few games, the Bearcats knew that if they were
going to have any success going forward something would have to
However, the Bearcats don't feel as
though the streak was due to a change in physical play, so much as it
was a mental adjustment.
"It was a lot about positioning and
communication," said goalkeeper Taylor Hafling, "We were covering
each other more and talking a lot more than we were in the beginning
of the year, and that helped a lot."
"We were tired of giving up goals,"
Millay said. "It's not something we changed up, we were just able
to work together to keep the ball out of the net as a unit."
The Bearcats (6-7-4, 3-3-2) added an
eighth shutout of the season Saturday in a home win against Rutgers
which gives them a third-place ranking in the Big East Red Division.
The school record for shutouts in a season is 11, set in 1989.
The team closes out the regular season
at home Saturday night against Louisville at 7 p.m. One more shutout
would be a fitting conclusion.
"The feeling is 'Let's go get
another one,'" Hafling said. "It gave us something to build on,
but it's just about doing the little things and the results will
Ask yourself this, what did you want out of this season? If I went all DeLeorean this morning and went back to the moments before the Pitt game and asked your goals for the year, what would you have said? (I promise if I did steal Doc Brown's time machine, I would then proceed to many much cooler times and places).
Would any of you said you see an undefeated season and top five ranking? I'm guessing no. Considering the youth of this team and inserting one of the more inexperienced QBs in the conference, that's not realistic.
The goal has been and should be to capture a Big East title. Guess what, despite issues exposed in the 29-23 loss to Toledo on Saturday night, those goals are still right there in front of this team. In fact, they will be in front of the nation in one of the biggest games of the year on Friday at Louisville.
The Bearcats are 5-1 and could move to 6-1 while taking early charge of the race to the conference championship with a win against the Cards.
As much as the Bearcats wanted a win and as nice as that crisp, undefeated record would have looked on ESPN, the result changed little in the big picture of the season. Beat Louisville, win the Big East, go to the Orange Bowl, refurbish your pale on South Beach in the middle of the winter. Would you call that a successful season?
All of those are right in front of UC and start Friday night. All is not lost. In fact, almost nothing is.
Let's eat ...
--- If you would have told me before the game that the UC defense would hold the Toledo offense without a touchdown, I would have predicted a blowout win for UC. While many like to start pointing fingers at the offense, I'd prefer to start by talking about a defense that will be counted on to show more of the resolve it did Saturday night.
Playing without its heart and soul, Walter Stewart, whose status is unknown (Bill Koch posted this blog), they bent but never broke against the Rockets team that was averaging nearly 40 points a game.
With the offense still in search of consistency, this defense will be the group that needs to carry UC against Louisville, Rutgers and the rest of the Big East. --- Finding a fix for theslow starts will be the first place to start on Friday. Falling behind 13-0 in the Glass Bowl marked the third consecutive game UC came out of the gates sluggish. While struggling against the likes of Fordham and Miami are survivable, doing so against a quality Toledo team didn't cut it.
Louisville has made a habit of quick starts at home this year. They jumped out to a 36-7 halftime lead against North Carolina before narrowly surviving a wild comeback attempt. In all four of their home games, the opponent needed to fight from behind from the jump.
--- While the Cards are undefeated and receiving much of the Big East's national love, they are far from world beaters. Each of their last five games were decided by 10 points or less, including games against lowly Southern Miss and FIU.
They beat a UNC team that lost to Wake Forest and Duke. They beat one of the worst Kentucky teams in recent memory (and that's saying something). Little else glimmers on their schedule. A similar analysis could be made of the Bearcats schedule, but to think Louisville owns some major advantage here would be disregarding the facts. --- I find high comedic value that after Syracuse beat that powerhouse that is UConn and UC's loss to Toledo, CBS moved the 3-4 Orange over the 5-1 Bearcats in their power rankings.
--- Meanwhile, this running game continues to mash. UC now ranks T-6th nationally in yards per rush. They are 16th in total rushing yards per game.
Against the Rockets they ran 25 times for 184 yards. George Winn, RDAIV and Munchie Legaux are all averaging six yards or better per rush.
Might we see more of that as the team's offensive identity must come into shape for Big East play? Might be in the cards this week where Louisville enters sixth in the conference in allowing yards per rush (3.88) and fifth in total rushing yards allowed per game.
They allowed 200 yards on the ground to USF last week. Certainly Lou's glaring weakness.
--- Quick basketball thought, I was paralyzed by uncontrollable laughter so that's why I haven't touched yet on the fact UC was left out of the Coaches Top 25 poll. Preseason polls are jokes. Complete jokes. Have been for years. All polls should be like the BCS and not show up until about midseason. Of course, then that would leave poor scribes like me with nothing to talk about for months, so I'll let it slide.
One of the best backcourts in the country, coming off a Sweet 16 berth, Big East tourney final, returning about 75 percent of its points, doesn't crack the Top 25? Somebody will have to explain that to me over dinner sometime, because we'll need the course of a full meal to figure that one out.
At this point the Bearcats should just paint a chip on the shoulder of their jerseys permanently.
--- Those parodies of Ryan Lochte on SNL and 30 Rock sure don't reflect reality. Oh wait ... --- Sad that when I see posts entitled"Don't Bother Earning These Degrees" I just assume journalism is one of them. Shockingly, it wasn't on this list. --- Saw a great show this weekend, highly recommend the Trey Anastasio Band to anybody who has a chance to see them. Yes, he's the lead singer of Phish and yes there is plenty of jam banding, but bringing the horn players along with him and his own unique songs make for a great change of pace. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Here's a taste from a show they did last year.
For those who haven't been paying close enough attention this week, I
don't condone it, but here is a helpful cheat sheet so you can be an
informed fan heading into Saturday's game at Toledo.
Where: The Glass Bowl, Toledo, (turf, outdoors)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3/700WLW
Forecast: Temperature in 40s, 40 percent chance of rain, 15mph wind
2012 records: No. 18 Bearcats 5-0, 1-0 Big East, Rockets 6-1, 4-0 MAC
Ranking: Toledo received two votes in the coaches poll.
Tickets: Reports from Toledo say the game is sold out.
What to wear: Layers.
Past results: Last meeting came in the 2001 Motor City Bowl, a 23-16 UT win. UC leads the overall series, 4-2.
Need to know: Toledo will score And score. And score. And score. The Rockets are averaging just under 40 points a game and rack up points with anyone. On the flip side, every game seems to be a shootout because the Rockets defense has been a disaster area. Most of the damage has been done through the air where they rank 116th in the nation in pass defense.
Need to know stat: Five of the seven Toledo opponents have seen their QB throw for 300+ yards.
Who to know: WR Bernard Reedy. The junior caught 11 passes for a school-record 237 yards last week against Eastern Michigan. Reedy can hit the explosive play -- caught TDs of 65 and 59. Don't forget him in the special teams, Reedy took a kickoff back 89 yards for a score. He finished that game with 407 all-purpose yards. The guy is electric.
Defining matchup: Greg Blair/Maalik Bomar vs. Toledo RB David Fluellen. While QB Terrance Owens and Reedy post many of the highlight plays, what really makes the Rockets offense tick is the the balance with Fluellen on the ground. He's averaging 113.1 yards per game (16th nationally). Making their offense one-dimensional takes away their versatility and allows Walter Stewart and company to pin their ears back off the edges.
Delving deeper: Pointing to the Rockets 6-1 record infers they bring an impressive pedigree into the. Sure, the record is nice, but they are yet to beat a team of any substance. Of their seven opponents only 4-3 Bowling Green currently owns a winning record.
Arizona (3-3) L Wyoming (1-5) W Bowling Green (4-3) W Coastal Carolina (2-4) W Western Michigan (3-4) W Central Michigan (2-4) W Eastern MIchigan (0-6) W
By the numbers: The Bearcats allowed 72 total points this season. Toledo scored 71 points in the last five quarters.
By the numbers, Part II: The Bearcats own 10 consecutive wins against MAC opponents.
Munchie Legaux on UC's slow starts the last two weeks, they outscored Fordham and Miami 63-11 in the second halves:
"We are hurting ourselves and that is not getting into the rhythm fast enough. We have to start the game off smooth, no penalties, continue to move the ball, play pitch and catch and run the football."
Looking ahead: UC doesn't want to get caught looking ahead to one of the two biggest games of their season next when they travel to No. 16 Louisville on Friday for an ESPN game. Words from Butch Jones: Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones to discuss Saturday's game and the state of the Bearcats. Here's the link.
Hype video: Video Shane with this trailer about a team that follows the trend of making national pundits look foolish. Good stuff as always.
Sophomore WR Alex Chisum fell victim to his own freshman year success this season, but a competition with Damon Julian re-energized one of the Bearcats most potent offensive weapons.
CINCINNATI -- During the final minutes against Virginia Tech few were more excited when Damon Julian slid to haul in the game-winning touchdown than Alex Chisum.
The sophomore competes with Julian for playing time every day at practice. Those long days forged a solid friendship. Seeing a friend enjoy a shining moment in his career while delivering a win for the team doesn't get much better.
For Chisum, though, as the drive unfolded and in the moments after, he couldn't deny an eye-opening reality.
That could have been him. Perhaps, that should have been him.
Chisum broke onto the scene as a freshman with a point to prove last season and delivered one of the year's great moments when he elevated above a South Florida defender to deliver a game-changing touchdown in Tampa. The same way he snagged that Zach Collaros pass, he seized the open spot as a starting receiver by the end of the year.
He returned his sophomore year pegged as the starter. Only, four games in, he wasn't. Julian bullied him out of playing time.
"Coming in this sophomore year I kind of knew I was going to be in the starting position and kind of got a little complacent," said Chisum, who caught one pass through the first four games. "I kind of thought, 'OK, I did what I came to do,' and the hunger kind of went away."
Such can be the case with 19- and 20-year-olds. Complacency, overconfidence and distraction slips in and out more regularly than friends in the dorm. More importantly, for Butch Jones and the Bearcats, Legaux to Julian snapped him out of it.
The battle for playing time has become a daily competition in practice. Best man plays Saturday. Suddenly, the hungry, opportunistic Chisum who drew comparisons to Armon Binns last season returned. That became evident when Chisum rose up for an acrobatic 25-yard reception down the sideline. He attacked the ball with a purpose. He attacked the ball like his job depended on it because, in his mind, it did.
"I had to take advantage of my opportunity," Chisum said. "That is what I did."
Few could be happier to see the effort than Jones. He's pushed buttons with Chisum this season hoping to energize one of his most physically gifted wideouts.
"We've challenged Alex because we haven't seen the sense of urgency from him that he had last year," Jones said. "We want him to come out and compete in practice as though he has been relegated to second string and have a hunger, and I'm starting to see that now. I know this about Alex Chisum, he is a very high character individual, two of the greatest parents I have ever been associated with, so I know he is going to get it going. I thought he took a step in the right direction last week ... I'm encouraged by what I see and I think you are going to see him step up and even take on a larger role on our offense."
His skill set offers a unique security blanket for Legaux. With a wide catching radius due to his lanky 6-foot-3 frame, he reaches the outer fringes of the target zone. For someone like Legaux who has occasionally struggled with accuracy down the field, the impact can be immeasurable.
Thus far this season, Legaux connected on only seven passes longer than 30 yards. The two longest of those, a 79-yarder to Travis Kelce against Fordham and 76-yarder to Ralph David Abernathy against Virginia Tech, were results of breaking shorter passes for long gains. Finding a consistent deep threat like Chisum would change the dynamics of what the Bearcats offense can accomplish.
"He got over the freshman slump," Legaux said with a laugh. "Everybody said he was in the freshman slump. But he's stepped up. I guess Damon kind of pushed him. (Chisum) is a bigger body guy, he can go up and grab the big balls. He's more of a vertical threat for us."
He will continue to be, if he can beat out Julian this week in practice. That's proving no easy task. At least now, Chisum acknowledges he's up to it. Though the first half of the season didn't jump off to the start he hoped for, there's still at least seven opportunities to prove he belongs on the field for the game-winning drive this time.
"That game right there kind of gave me a little sense of urgency to myself," Chisum said. "I realized somebody else is coming for my spot. There's a lot of football left to play and I look forward to getting better as the season goes on." Send any questions, comments or criticisms to Paul Dehner Jr. via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit him up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
In order to create a new style of play at Cincinnati, Mick Cronin needed to shape a new style of player this offseason.
CINCINNATI -- When discussing the University of Cincinnati basketball program over the past two decades, the prevailing image more resembled MMA than NBA. Any victories against the Bearcats weren't won, they were survived.
Opponents staggered to the bus bruised and battered. Next stop: Cold tub.
The bodies of Bearcats basketball featured intimidating frames like Eric Hicks and Jason Maxiell, or the absurdity of Curtis Bostic. When numbers were low, football players crossed from Nippert Stadium to the Shoemaker Center and fit in perfectly.
The Mick Cronin Reboot ushered in a new era of UC basketball. Year by year, recruit by recruit, the pounding of powerful paint players faded to the buzzing of speedy athletes.
This offseason, the official transformation of Bearcats basketball became complete. Cronin officially ditched a traditional style of play for the four guards out, transition-based, fly-the-floor motto for his program. Injecting a fast-paced, exciting brand of basketball caters to all parties - players, recruits, the fans.
Points, assists and steals will be on the rise at Fifth Third Arena. In theory, so will opponents' timeouts and gasps for air.
In order to change the shape of UC basketball, Mick Cronin needed to change the shape of his team.
Under the direction of basketball's new Strength Coach Mike Rehfeldt, the offseason program molded the new breed of Bearcats, a team built for speed.
The focus didn't fall solely on dropping weight. This transformation was about more than that. Nobody wanted 15 skinny sprinters. These body changes were about leaner and stronger, not skinnier and lighter.
In many cases, weight dropped. Cheikh Mbodj played at 265 pounds last season with a bum ankle never truly healing as the season progressed. He arrived for practice at a nearly unrecognizable 233. Sophomore Jermaine Sanders added bulk last season to handle the rigors of college basketball but missed his quickness. He's down more than 10 pounds.
Most importantly, body fat percentages are dropping like 3-pointers against Syracuse. Meanwhile, vertical leaps and bench press reps are rising.
In only the 95 days of Rehfeldt's program, he saw body fat drop three percent for Jeremiah Davis III and JuCo transfer Titus Rubles. Sean Kilpatrick trimmed nearly two percent. Across the board every player attempting to cut body fat, did by at least a percentage point.
"For the most part they all got leaner and stronger," Rehfeldt said. "More horsepower, less weight."
From an insider or outside observer, the difference can't be missed.
"In practice you can tell everybody got a little faster, more athletic, everybody's jumping, blocking shots, getting in passing lanes faster," Sanders said. "We just make a way better team, deeper, everybody is in shape, athletic."
In order to play at Cronin's desired pace, the changes were necessary. With a team built to run two-deep at every position, he plans to attack in waves. Full-court press and filling it up will become the calling card. The goal of such a plan isn't necessarily to trap every spot on the court, though there will be plenty of that.
The goal will be to never let a second go by without placing additional stress and pressure on the opponent. This game features recovering and scrambling, not gambling. The end result becomes a gassed opponent battling itself in the game's decisive moments. That's when the Bearcats will have won.
"You always have to be bringing pressure and the cumulative effect of it is the key," Cronin said. "Not necessarily, 'I didn't steal the ball so I am not going to pressure him.' Pressure him to wear him down. The mistakes come when you wear your opponent down. Teams don't make mistakes until they get tired. Most teams can play at a certain pace; the question is how long can they play at a certain pace."
With injuries to Mbodj and JaQuon Parker, the size of Yancy Gates, along with the youth of six freshmen, adopting this style last season made little sense. When numbers were down following the suspensions, a smaller version of it was unveiled. But not anywhere near the truest sense UC plans to unleash this year.
Teams must be built for this style. And thanks to the changing shape of the team, the Bearcats are prepared.
That began with Mbodj. He played at this weight at Grayson County Junior College, but focused on adding bulk during his injury-riddled first year with UC. The quick rise and burst associated with his game all but disappeared, partly because of injury and partly because of weight.
Now, he's able to run the floor and block shots with ease. Beyond that, he went from benching 185 pounds nine times to benching 185 pounds 17 times. No, he won't be a 20-point scorer, but he won't be a sluggish caboose on the transition train, either.
"I feel a lot different," said Mbodj, slated to play many more than the 9.7 minutes he averaged last season. "I don't feel pain in my ankle anymore, besides people are telling me you have changed, you've changed."
It's impossible not to notice.
"Cheikh got skinny overnight," Sanders said.
The same could be said about Sanders. Coming out of Rice HS in Far Rockaway, NY, the style that made him the NY Post's All-Manhattan Player of the Year gave way to a thicker, heavier body type that consequently curtailed his minutes.
"My style is more smooth, make good passes, slashing to the hole a lot," said Sanders, who not only dropped weight, but gained about four pounds of muscle to complete the explosive transformation. "I feel I was limited at that last year because of the weight. I just feel faster. I don't get tired as quicker. I just feel better."
The only player who didn't drop weight was 6-7 Shaq Thomas, who came to UC at a twiggish 174 pounds, but added 17 over the offseason on his way to 191. Yes, he's bigger, but nobody will mistake him for Shaq O'Neal.
Flipping through the before and after pictures of every player on the team with Rehfeldt, many players might have a difficult time recognizing themselves from the 95-day overhaul. Six-packs are defined, muscles pop, frames are leaner.
Another noticeable difference could be seen looking at the after pictures. They all also featured wide smiles. Those weren't poses for the camera, but they've been obvious to Rehfeldt for some time now.
"I didn't tell them to smile," he said of the after pictures. "You can tell they are just loving it. You are seeing the confidence built."
You are seeing the new shape of the Bearcats built, as well. That's what offseasons are for. Across the country stories about players adding and losing weight will circulate the Internet. In Cincinnati, this means more. This reflects an entire team's changing shape and dedication to a new philosophy. The results indicate the transformation is complete.
All that's left is to watch those changes in body shape funnel into changes in final scores.
"What I try to keep telling my team every day, (this style) is much harder," Cronin said. "It takes tremendous effort. It takes tremendous commitment. It's not about being in shape, it's not about playing hard, it's about being in the best shape of anybody we play against. It's about playing harder than anybody we play against.
"It's really about trying to make sure (opponents) have to deal with some form of pressure when playing against us at all times. Nothing is free, nothing is easy. We are trying to come at you as fast as we can at all times."
Send any comments, questions or anything else via email to Paul Dehner Jr. at email@example.com or hit him up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Cam Cheatham was a running back and slot receiver at
Kalamazoo (MI) Central High School and anticipated having a similar role at the
University of Cincinnati.
On his first day of training camp in 2008 he found
out he was being moved to cornerback.
"I was given a black jersey and I was like, 'Man,
that's for the defensive players.'" Cheatham told me."I thought they might have made a
mistake.I went to the equipment guy and
he was like, 'No, that's what you play.You're with (defensive backs coach) Kerry Coombs.'I was mad and there were times where I didn't
want to play that position, but God always has a plan and it worked out.I've been a three-year starter and I've
played a lot of football."
Cheatham did get to show off his running back skills
recently, when he intercepted a pass against Miami's Zac Dysert and sprinted 68
yards for a touchdown.
"I had flashbacks," said Cheatham."It's been a long time since I ran into an
open end zone like that."
Cam's "Pick Six" swung the momentum when it appeared
that the RedHawks might jump out to an early two touchdown lead.
"It was a great call by (defensive coordinator) John
Jancek and I just made a play," said Cheatham."Everybody else was doing their job and I was able to reap the benefits
and make the big play.That's all it
"I'm really proud of him," said head coach Butch
Jones."He's really improved his
leadership skills and he's really taken ownership in the back end of our
defense.He's been extremely consistent,
extremely competitive, and it's a great comfort knowing that you have a corner
who can win in man coverage."
Ironically, Coach Jones unsuccessfully tried to
recruit Cheatham when he was the head coach at Central Michigan but wound up
getting to coach him for three years at Cincinnati.
"It all worked out and I feel very fortunate," said
Jones."I'm very proud of how far he's
come and the improvement that he's made.Each year you could see him making dramatic improvement and he's
well-respected on our football team.Cam's
very polite and quiet and unassuming and then all of a sudden, you put him in
some competitive situations and you see another side to him."
In addition to being handed a defensive practice
jersey at his first training camp, Cheatham was originally given the #2.But he was able to change to #21 in honor of his
hero Deion Sanders.
"If you look at it, Deion Sanders is to the
cornerback position what Michael Jordan is to basketball," said Cheatham."All great cornerbacks come up wanting to
wear #21.He was Prime Time, he had the
shoes, he was bouncing around out there, and he was a lock-down corner.It's on my bucket list to meet him.He's the best to ever do it."
Deion returned nine interceptions for touchdowns in
the NFL and Cheatham has done that twice at UC.The decision to move him from running back to cornerback proved to be a
"It worked out perfectly and I'm happy where I'm at,"
Cam told me."I don't know if I would
have made it at running back.We've had
some great running backs and I don't know if I could have taken all of those
Last week, Bearcat punter/kickoff man Pat O'Donnell identified UC defensive back Malcolm Murray as the instigator/initiator/orchestrator of the "Down the Drive" cheer the kickoff team has been doing with the students and the crowd on kickoffs after touchdowns.
That would be the "Ooooooooooooooooooh...UC!" cheer complete with the hand motions for those not aware.
No. 17 in your program has also been a big part of the secondary as senior Drew Frey has missed some games. Murray spoke about his cheer skills and the upcoming Toledo game inside the Bob Goin team room in the Lindner Center Oct. 16.
One glance at the scores during Toledo's six-game win streak makes it abundantly clear what the popular topic would be at Tuesday's Bearcats football luncheon.
How do you stop this Rockets offense? They enter averaging 36.4 points and 475 yards per game. "You add everything in, physicality, their skill-set of their players, their scheme, they keep you on your toes because they give you a little something different every week," Butch Jones said. "Hands down, this will be the biggest test we've had from a defensive standpoint."
The numbers back up Jones' analysis. Toledo enters ranked 26th in the country in total offense and tied for 30th in scoring offense. Jones states that this will be the most difficult defensive test to date, but an argument could be made it will be the toughest all season.
No UC opponent ranks as high in total offense or scoring offense as the Rockets. Now, the level of competition between Toledo and, say, Louisville the following week doesn't compare so the stats are all relative, but make no mistake, few score it as much as these guys.
"We come in with a mindset we are going to have to score some points," Jones said. "It's going to challenge our overall discipline as a football team. How are we going to respond? They are going to get their points. That is the nature of their offense. How do we respond?"
To this point, the Bearcats have responded well. Despite both Miami and Fordham enjoying success through the first few drives, UC ended up shutting down the gameplan as the wins progressed.
After giving up 14 first-half points against Miami, the Bearcats defense pitched a second-half shutout. For S Drew Frey, who Jones confirmed will play this week after missing the Fordham game with an injury, the experience of the Victory Bell game could pay off Saturday.
"They are going to spread you out, similar to Miami style," Frey said. "Lot of empty, but they are going to take you vertically, too. We just have to really lock into our keys and identify things on the move ... You don't play good defense you are gong to get scored on. We want to be consistent, we want to eliminate mental errors, we want to play together as a team and do what we always do, run hard to the ball. We do that and stay locked in, we'll be all right."
They may be all right, but a chance exists they could find themselves in a shootout. Considering the Rockets rank 116th of 124 FBS teams in passing defense, Munchie Legaux likes his chances to keep up.
The key will be avoiding the interception since Toledo picked off its opponent 10 times this year. Of course, that's their best shot since they haven't been big fans of actually forcing punts.
Still, the pressure amps up on offense as well in a game of this fashion to post touchdowns every possession when the opponent shows a propensity to do the same.
"A team like this, every play counts," Legaux said. "We don't want to take any drives off. We don't want to have any three-and-out situations. We don't want to put our defense in any tough situations."
--- Thanks to the magic of Twitter, Toledo's confident trash talk registered inside the Lindner Center on Tuesday. Jones and his players pointed out they've seen a tweet from a Toledo football player claiming that their fans are going to storm the field when they beat Cincinnati.
Needless to say, that found its way to a bulletin board in the Bearcats locker room. "We don't look at all that, we are going in to play our game, it's going to be a hostile environment," Legaux said. "We aren't going to take those guys lightly. They are going to get out 'A' game."
--- On top of confirming Frey would play against Toledo, Jones also said WR Anthony McClung will return against the Rockets.
--- As for the reviews of the Fordham game, Jones thought the team improved on offense, particularly on third down. UC finished 7 of 11 on third down. The 63 percent conversion rate was the best in any game this year.
Jones also thought the eight explosive plays (20+ yards) made for an encouraging sign.
On the flip side, the defense didn't impress him as much.
"I was not particularly happy with the performance of our defense, especially from the backups. We had a number of individuals who had an opportunity to really put their resume on film." --- Toledo is no stranger to playing BCS opponents and winning. Being competitive against schools like Cincinnati doesn't cut it. They expect to win. They've tallied a victory over either B1G and Big 12 school four of the last five years. This season, they lost in OT at Arizona.
2011: Lost by 5 at Ohio St. 2010: Beat Purdue 2009: Beat Colorado 2008: Beat Michigan 2007: Beat Iowa State
--- Nugget from the UC sports information staff: Derek Wolfe is now the third-leading sack artist among rookies after notching his third sack of the season last night.
only does the Broncos rookie own three sacks, but he's taken down Ben Roethlisberger,
Tom Brady and Philip Rivers -- all Pro Bowl QBs. Though, it should be
mentioned Rivers is now terrible at football.
--- That's all for now, folks. Keep checking back later this week for plenty more on both the football and basketball fronts. Had a great time chatting with Mick Cronin and a few players about the changing shape of UC basketball -- hidden meaning alert!
Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) if you have any questions, comments or general sarcasm.
Beginning of a sneaky week in the UC season. Warning flags have flown around this game all year. Reports from the Land Up North repeated that this Rockets team looks more like it belongs in the Big East than even some playing in the Big East.
And the MAC undeniably looked more like it belongs among the AQ conferences than any year in recent memory. The Rockets (6-1, 4-0) lost one game this season, and it came in overtime in the desert at night against Arizona.
They've scored 177 points the last four weeks, averaging nearly 40 points per game.
There's a reason programs don't schedule these games. Going on the road against quality MAC teams doesn't make for a winning proposition. UC will be favored, and rightfully so for a team ranked No. 21 in the BCS standings. When winning this game draws a national yawn and losing a gasp, that's the old lose-lose situation. The business-folk will tell you to avoid those.
Only, UC can't. With Louisville looming, they certainly can't take this red flag lightly or spend one minute looking ahead.
Could there be any more trap game characteristics here? Huge game the next week. Facing traditionally inferior conference. Underrated, hot opponent. First true road game. "We don't take anybody lightly," TE Travis Kelce said. "As the competition rises as a competitor you look forward to the big games. We look forward to the nationally televised and the big scene. We are definitely looking forward to (the rest of the schedule)."
--- I walked away from Saturday more impressed by five touchdowns in five drives than concerned about the first half.
Still, the potential of how well this offense can be when clicking was made apparent in one of the most efficient offensive displays you'll see. That's the way the offense should look against an FCS school, but executing remains a different animal. The Bearcats spread the ball around, were balanced and produced big plays.
Seven players caught passes of at least 10 yards. Four different players produced a rush of at least 20 yards.
Nobody will throw a ticker-tape parade for showing off depth and variety against the Patriot League, but the potential of this offense was exposed.
In no situation does that relationship pay off more than needing to find the motivational needs on the fly. Knowing calm and poise would win out over anger and rage made the difference in 49-17.
--- Drew Frey and Anthony McClung did not play due to injury, Jones said. McClung was dressed, but without a helmet on the sidelines. No word on their status for Saturday. --- Bearcats stayed at No. 21in the AP poll, debuted at the same spot in the first BCS rankings and advanced to No. 18 in the Coaches Poll.
If UC can leave the Glass Bowl unscathed and Louisville beat USF, should be two top 20 teams on Friday night ESPN from the Pizza Box.
--- Alex Chisum played the majority of snaps instead of Damon Julian at the spot opposite Kenbrell Thompkins. Looks like Chisum and Julian will be competing for playing team every week this year.
Chisum's athletic ability and potential possess a higher ceiling than Julian, but it appears Chisum needed a bit of a foot in the behind for his sophomore year. Not an uncommon plight.
He looked like the dynamic receiver who emerged last year. He pulled in two nice receptions, both 20 yards or longer. --- Who is making the trip to Toledo?You must stop by Tony Packo's for the chili. This is not a suggestion. This is a demand because I want everyone to enjoy their experience.
--- You know I love my CBSSports.com folks, but can't help but wonder about these midseason awards and the jaded nature of only mentioning UC in the category of most overrated team.
Attempting to make a case that both Jawan Jamison and Senorise Perry deserve the nod over George Winn for the All-Conference RB spot holds zero water.
Here are the three by comparison
Player: Attpts-Yds Yds/Gm Yds/Rsh TDs Jamison, Rutgers: 158-665 111 4.2 3 Winn, Cincinnati: 81-521 104 6.4 4 Perry, Louisville: 96-559 93 5.8 9 --- Winn leads the trio in yards per rush and is second in yards per game. He's only carried 81 times, but in one less game it's the exact same number of attempts per game as Perry.
The only advantage for Perry is the nine TDs he's racked up. Does it matter who takes it into the end zone anymore as long as somebody does? The Bearcats lead the conference in average points per game.
So on the team who scores the most points, Winn touches it as many times per game as Perry, averaging more yards per touch and 11 more yards per game.
The prosecution rests. --- A very good shot remains only three Big East teams will be bowl eligible. Barring a run by Pitt or USF, you could see only Rutgers, Louisville and UC playing in the postseason. That means likely Miami, Orlando or Charlotte -- unless something really special happens. All winning locations in my book.
--- UC honored a number of former basketball players at Saturday's game. Keith Gregor was among those in attendance. If you grew up around this program and didn't love Keith Gregor there was something wrong with you.
Came across this gem in the UC sports information office last week and wanted to pass it along to bring out the nostalgia for you folks.
--- The Rolling Stones will begoing on tour again, playing four shows in the NY area. I love the Stones and could listen to them all day, but nobody thinks they are still seeing a quality act here do they? They are celebrating 50 years since their first gig.
Let's just hope all the stages are handicap accessible.
--- This Felix Baumgartner freefall from space yesterday was mesmerizing. As for the low-hanging fruit joke of the Cincy professional sports correlation, I'll only say it's too soon.
At 5-0 and still a game away from reaching the "meat" of the conference schedule, it would be easy for the UC Bearcats to be brimming with confidence.
Some of that is good, too much (of anything) is not.
Just as I had concerns over the Miami University game, this Toledo contest is also perplexing.
First off, the Bearcats are a visitor. The scheduling puzzles me, but again, I'm not invited to those meetings.
Toledo's Glass Bowl has a listed capacity of just over 26,000. However, they list a 2001 game with Navy as having 36,852 there and this year's Bowling Green tilt drew 28,115. Other games with Coastal Carolina and Central Michigan have been 19,000 and change.
None of this should matter as the Bearcats have played bigger opponents in bigger venues. On the other hand, it reminds me of the game in 2008 at Akron that UC barely won, 17-15.
It's the same formula. An opponent you should beat, but a game that realistically would mean far more to the Rockets than it would here.
For those more "experienced" Bearcats, you should want to drill Toledo as they took the second Motor City Bowl from you in 2001 at the old Pontiac Silverdome. The Bearcats blew a 13-3 halftime lead and were unsuccessful in trying to "eat clock" in the second half as running backs DeMarco McCleskey and Ray Jackson were held below 30 yards combined.
Meantime, future NFL back Chester Taylor ran all over UC for 190 yards and the Rockets rallied to sent the Bearcats back to the Marriott in Troy (Michigan) with a second consecutive Motor City "L".
I doubt that sparks the current players who were 7-10 years of age at that point, but some of you paid good money for the drive up and probably pounded your dashboard on the way home.
This game on Oct. 20 is far from a pushover. If you overlook Toledo, you'll find yourself pounding dashboards and anything in sight. The Rockets are 6-1 with their only loss on the road in overtime to Arizona.
The Mid-American Conference would take enormous pride in knocking off a Big East school.
Hopefully, the second half of the Fordham game and the Miami Redhawk rout will be what you see in the Glass Bowl. I do see a lot of points being scored however it does turn out.
WHAT: That would be the UC/Toledo tilt on Oct. 20. WHERE: The aforementioned Glass Bowl (which at one time was an actual bowl game UC won in 1949, 33-13) WHEN: 7 p.m. TUBE: The ever popular ESPN3 coming to a laptop near you. SERIES: UC leads 4-2 LAST TIME: Toledo beat UC 23-16 in the Motor City Bowl Dec. 29, 2001.
UC offense vs. Toledo defense
Well, we know the Bearcat lads can score when they want. I'm still a little concerned over over-thrown and under-thrown passes, but Munchie Legaux still has a knack for hitting a big play when needed. I'm particularly fond of throwing to Travis Kelce whose 78-yard ramble in the last game was nearly Brent Celek-esque. I would like to see Kenbrell Thompkins more involved (unless he's just being taken out by the defense). Running-wise, there's no complaints as George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy IV continue to have big gains when needed. Clearly, UC will score as Toledo's last two wins over Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan involved giving up 35 and 47 points, respectively. As an aside, EMU was 0-6 and rang up that many. The Rockets top tackler is linebacker Dan Molls. Their top sack man is Jayrone Elliott at defensive end.
Whatcha got? I say UC should not have any problem lighting up the scoreboard so long as they "chin the ball".
UC defense vs. Toledo offense
This is an honest concern. The Rockets are averaging about 44 points in their last four contests, including 50 against CMU and 52 against EMU. They will move the football and 6-foot-4 quarterback Terrance Owens out of Cleveland Glenville chucked it for over 400 yards last week. On the other hand, UC's seen back-to-back weeks where the quarterbacks threw for boatloads of yards between the 20s and still lost substantially. On the ground, Toledo's David Fluellen racked up 188 yards in the last game and has nearly 800 for the year. An obvious key would be putting the hammer down on Fluellen to make the Rockets one-dimensional. Their best receiver is 5-foot-9 Bernard Reedy who doubles as a kick/punt returner and is dangerous. 6-foot-4 Alonzo Russell is also a serious target.
Hmmm? I liked some of UC's secondary play last week with Drew Frey out. I don't know his status for this one, but he would definitely help with his size. On the other hand, I'm seeing good things from Cam Cheatham, Devin Drane and I liked what I saw of freshman Kevin Brown. I'm not a fan of some of the "cushions" I see in coverage, but I'll trust the defensive coaches on the how and whys. Toledo will get their points, but anything under 30 will equate to a Bearcat win.
Tony Miliano missed a field goal against Fordham, putting him 6-9. Toledo's Jeremiah Detmer is 13-18. What that means to me is he merely is getting more chances. With UC often scoring touchdowns, Miliano hasn't had the opportunities to improve. However, a kick on the road can be crucial as UC found out in 2008 at Akron with Jake Rogers. Punting-wise, Patrick O'Donnell has been top notch and his kickoffs are rarely returned. The key vs. Toledo is keeping it away from the dangerous Bernard Reedy - just as Toledo probably has their eyes on RDA IV.
Who? At home, I tend to lean toward the folks used to the stadium and atmosphere. Doesn't mean they're any better, just one of those intangibles.
(Speaking of) Intangibles
Again, the Rockets are a high-powered offense with a winning mentality playing at home. That's not a favorable atmosphere. As much as the players and everyone want to focus on Louisville on Oct. 26, this one comes first. The defense has given up chunk yards to Zac Dysert of Miami and Ryan Higgins of Fordham in consecutive weeks. You don't want to make that a trend. There's a fair amount of Cincinnati talent on Toledo's roster, much like Miami's and some of these kids may take great pride in beating a school that might not have recruited them. This is far from a throwaway game and two consistent, complete halves will need to be played. That's where the Coach Butch Jones pep-talk comes in and he's gotten the point across thus far.
Considering the ugly nature of the first 30 minutes for the Bearcats against FCS Fordham University on Saturday night, one would think Butch Jones strided purposely toward the home locker room plotting a halftime explosion in his head.
Use of descriptive expletives. Flipping over of tables. Hail, fire, brimstone, plagues of locusts. Really, any form of Old Testament destruction would do, right?
Couldn't be more wrong.
"Calm, poise," Jones said about his halftime demeanor during the 49-17 win. "Our players work extremely hard during the week. They know how to win. I didn't have to go in there and yell at them or blow them up. They know. It was part of maybe refocusing, recalibrating, let's go."
Oh, they went.
The second half saw five drives - four of at least 75 yards - all of them ending in touchdowns. Offensive coordinators dreams don't churn out this kind of efficiency.
The final numbers were 35 points and 341 yards on 35 plays after the break. Averaging nearly 10 yards per play will win more than a few games - of Madden.
Meanwhile, the defense pulled off back-to-back three-and-outs. Even special teams contributed with a 42-yard punt return from senior Danny Milligan. Before fans could consider flooding the Saturday night party scene, all drama of the night disappeared.
"When the rhythm is going, it's good," said TE Travis Kelce, who pulled off the longest touchdown reception of the season in the first half, a 79-yard catch-and-run from Munchie Legaux. "We got a lot of guys who can make plays. We got Munchie back there who is the commander of the offense. When he is rolling we are a pretty dang good team."
In the first half, however, they were a pretty dang average team.
Fordham outgained UC by 35 yards with seven more first downs. Legaux stumbled to 5 of 12 passing for 118 yards. Take away the Kelce run after catch and Legaux scuffled at 4 of 11 for 40 yards in the half. And all this against Fordham. If the Rams sent Legaux a scholarship offer in the mail three years ago, it wouldn't have made it past the garbage in the garage of his New Orleans home.
Yet, here they were, frustrating the Bearcats offense, possessing the ball and outside of Kelce's play and a 76-yard fumble return by Deven Drane, the Rams looked the team freshly minted in the AP Top 25.
Milligan has seen every halftime speech in the Jones repertoire. From screaming to silence and every decibel level in-between. He admittedly expected a little more fury in his tone, but saw this as the latest example of how well his coach feels the pulse of his team. And the pulse of his senior leadership.
"At halftime when Coach Jones came in I think he understood that the team understood what was going on," Milligan said. "We didn't give our best effort and they gave their best punch. He was very calm and didn't get an attitude or get aggressive. He is trusting the seniors and trusting the team a lot. It's really good to see that. He handled it well and we responded well."
Thirty minutes of uninspiring football will eventually doom UC with the FCS opponents now in the rearview mirror of the 2012 schedule. Giving up 15 minutes of time of possession in 13 days at Louisville won't be good enough. That fact doesn't fly over Jones' head.
"Our margin of error is very small," Jones said. "It doesn't matter if we are playing Delaware State, Fordham, Louisville, Toledo, it does not matter. We just can't show up, we are not good enough to just show up and beat anybody. We have to follow the plan to win, the formula to win."
Jones proved again he understands the ingredients necessary to produce the formula. On this night, calm and collected was necessary. Technical adjustments and calculated focus kept his players from reaching any level of concern.
"I think they needed to see a calmness from me instead of going off and showing any panic," Jones said. "Because there was absolutely no panic."
At the end of the day, there was a 49-17 victory and the fifth consecutive game with at least 425 yards of total offense. In the second half, Legaux led four touchdown drives before giving way to Brendon Kay. In the second half he finished 10 of 12 for 144 yards. Toss in an 8-yard sprint to the pylon for a rushing TD and a 29-yard throw on the run to Milligan that Jones thinks may have been the best throw of the season for his starting QB.
This night wasn't about Legaux, Drane, Kelce or even Milligan magic. This was about a coach understanding what his team needs and pushing the correct buttons to produce the ideal response. Not all coaches own this ability. In fact, the majority don't - just check the unemployment line in two months.
Nobody wants to see their team struggle at home against the Patriot League for a half. But a coach extracting the brutal efficiency and precision of what followed becomes a more important result. Nobody doubted Jones coaching ability coming off a Big East Coach of the Year Award, but it's certainly reassuring to see the skills at work again.
"I kind of read his demeanor," DE Dan Giordano said. "All the coaches, there is no panic. There never is any panic. The good thing about this team is nobody points any fingers. Whether we are up 21-0 or down 21-0 it doesn't matter. There is still a consistency and it's kind of like a positive atmosphere and we all feed off each other."
Send any comments, questions or player nickname ideas to Paul Dehner Jr. at email@example.com. Or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
For those who haven't been paying close enough attention this week, I
don't condone it, but here is a helpful cheat sheet so you can be an
informed fan heading into Saturday's game against Miami.
Where: Nippert Stadium, (turf, outdoors)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m., FoxSportsOhio/700WLW. Also on Time Warner 315 (Sports Pass)
Forecast: Temperature in 60s, 20 percent chance of rain
2012 records: Bearcats 4-0, 1-0 Big East, Rams 4-2, 1-1 Patriot League
Tickets: Seats still available. Call 1-800-Cats-Tix or stop by the box office.
What to wear: There are no clothing mandates.
Past results: This is the first meeting between the two teams, they were the last team added to the schedule after West Virginia dropped out of the Big East.
Need to know: The FBS Rams come from the Patriot league and will be outmanned in size, speed, quickness, experience, depth and pedigree. Other than that ...
Who to know: Fordham RB Carlton Koonce. He will run early and often. The Rams aren't shy giving the 5-8, 180-pound scat back opportunities. Koonce carried 35 times for 250 yards in a win against Columbia. In fact, over the last four weeks he carried at least 27 times every game for a average of 31 rushes for 158 yards.
Defining matchup: Fordham defensive line vs. UC offensive line. The Rams lack the size and power of UC and struggle against the run even at the FCS level. Of 121 FCS teams their defense ranks 74th overall and 49th against the run. Meanwhile, the UC rushing attack runs 22nd in the nation and 15th in yards per rush. If the Bearcats decide to use their size, they can push Fordham up and down the field.
Delving deeper:Looking for perspective, Fordham played one FBS AQ school last year when they traveled to UConn for the opener. That Connecticut team went on to finish 5-7 on the year but rolled up a 35-0 score through the first 41 minutes and eventually let the scrubs hold on for a 35-3 victory.
Connections: The Iron Major, Frank Cavanaugh began his legendary coaching career at UC in 1889, he eventually served in WWI then finished his coaching career at Fordham. So, there's that.
By the numbers: Fordham placekicker Patrick Murray is a beast. He was named Sports Network placekicker player of the of the week for the third time this season this past week.
On the year he's 12 of 14 on field goals, including two from 50 or longer. He's also averaging 46.2 yards per punt. In the FBS, that number would be good for seventh in the country.,
By the numbers, Part II: Typical of these types of matchups, UC has jumped out early and often in recent years against FCS opponents. In the last five games against teams from the former Division I-AA, the first half scoring has been a combined 148-10.
Quotent Quotables: Munchie Legaux on if he works on different aspects of his game in a contest like this where the score can get out of hand quickly:
"No, you do the same thing. Same preparation, same gameplan. You go out
with the same attitude. You don't want to take these guys lightly. We
just want to go out there and execute. I am still working on those same
small details whether it is Fordham, whether it is the next team."
Looking ahead: The sneaky scary game of the season looms next week as UC makes their first official road trip to an opponent's home stadium to play at Toledo. The Rockets haven't lost since nearly knocking off Arizona in the season opener.
Hype video: No official movie trailer this week, but we do have this timelapse from the Battle for the Victory Bell. Enjoy the game.
Confession: Writing this blog at 6 a.m. because I'm having trouble sleeping. Isn't it crazy what sports can do to a person? Probably why I never became a professional athlete (Lacking of any discernible athletic skill probably only played a minor role).
It's been a while since this city has seen a game of this magnitude. One of its best against another team's best with everything on the line. A pro sports town without playoff success hangs over this city a bit. So many chances have fallen by the wayside around here whether by injury, inferiority or just bad luck.
The Reds will attempt to exorcise those demons of the past at 1 p.m. today. We'll see what happens. There are no guarantees outside of the fact it won't be easy.
Here on the Bearcats beat, a number of these types of games have arisen since I started covering these programs in 2009. More often than not, UC came out on top.
There was the first game I ever covered for CNati -- UC 45, Pitt 44. Quite a first day.
There was the first-round NCAA tournament game against Mizzou in 2011.
There was the last-minute drive of Zach Collaros at USF. There was Tony Miliano at Pitt.
There was the 3-point barrage of Syracuse at the Big East tournament.
There was the sweat and rubble remaining when the dust settled on UC 56, FSU 52.
There was Legaux to Julian.
Sure, moments of humility came in-between, whether by Tebow or tOSU. Point being, when success rains buckets, as has been the case around Clifton the last few years, the difficulty of the journey often becomes masked to the average fan. The average fan invests x-number of games a year. Maybe they read a blog (please!) or two. Maybe they met an athlete and took to his/her story. But completely understanding the everyday grind of these student-athletes at UC means appreciating the work put in to get there. It means appreciating what these games, these wins, mean to those who dedicate their lives to winning for this university.
Maybe you grew up a Reds fan, you watch as many games as you can, attend a few even. And what does today mean to you? If you are like me, quite a bit.
Imagine being one of these athletes who live and breathe the program every day? Every game feels like Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 to them. If there's one lesson we all should take away from the excitement, anticipation and anxiety surrounding today's elimination game at Great American Ballpark is to never take winning for granted at any level.
For a team that's won three of four championships and off to an undefeated 4-0 start, it would be easy for such an evolution to occur with this fan base. Hopefully, that's not the case. If that was beginning to seep in, maybe today will return perspective.
Let's eat... --- Funny I talk about taking winning for granted when nationally the perception of Cincinnati football continues to leave a chip on the team's shoulder. At least, it should when considering the latest piece from Andrea Adelson at ESPN.
She writes about the national perception of the program. Being recognized as a perennial Top 25 team doesn't come overnight. But at this point, sure feels like morning arrived and gave way to lunchtime already.
Butch Jones has bigger fish to fry, but Adelson makes the point he shouldn't have to say. UC should be recognized immediately among the conference's best. If there's anything the first four games of 2012 taught us, that's the takeaway.
Now, those perceptions can change in a hurry, but no short-term result can trump four 10-win seasons in five years.
Hard to believe how well this group has done. Each of the past two seasons we sat here in preseason and talked about how big of a question mark the group up front would be. Now two years in a row they've been one of the biggest reasons the team succeeds.
Credit O-line coach Don Mahoney first and foremost. He's proven exemplary at molding and teaching on the fly. Look no further than Parker Ehinger, a redshirt freshman who started the last two games at right tackle.
He's been forced to step in to a new spot and thrived. He's a repeat of last year's case of Eric Lefeld, who played for an injured Sean Hooey and a year later starts at LT.
Beyond this year, UC should return all five starters on the line for next season with Hooey set to graduate. Another reason Ehinger's starting experience will serve as a major benefit going forward.
--- Hard to believe basketball practice begins Friday. I'll have more from the player/coach availability session this weekend and early next week.
Replacing three starters and without a senior the past two weeks, the Bearcats offensive line plowed through inexperience to fuel the UC offense. This isn't the first time it's happened.
CINCINNATI -- Following individual statistics doesn't typically fly in college football. Multiply that by three around the team-first, family environment cultivated by Butch Jones.
Yet, Cincinnati starting left guard Austen Bujnoch won't deny he's closely following one individual statistic. And he's been doing so for weeks.
Now four games into the season, RB George Winn rushed for 446 yards. More than that, he's averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
The 446 yards are better than Isaiah Pead held through four games last year. The 6.6 exceeds Pead's season average of 5.3. Pead totaled 424 yards on the ground in the first four games last season.
That's right, Pead, drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Rams and one of the great running backs ever to come through the University of Cincinnati couldn't keep up with the pace of Winn and this offensive line.
"George isn't focused on the stats, but for an offensive line we look at that," Bujnoch said. "I've been tracking it. I like tracking it."
What's not to like? The numbers in themselves are impressive, but placed in a broader context they tell a remarkable story. One fueling the Bearcats undefeated start.
Thus, where the pride enters for Bujnoch. This group heard the questions before the season started. How will they replace the loss of three starters while blocking for a first-year QB and relative unknown backfield? Will the line fold under the pressure of inexperience?
Those questions would have rung louder had the injury keeping starting RT Sean Hooey out of the lineup the two weeks occurred before the season. Against Virginia Tech and Miami, the five starting offensive linemen comprised of three juniors, a sophomore and one redshirt freshman. Combined starts prior to the season for the right side of the line: Zero.
Junior center Dan Sprague, junior right guard Sam Longo and freshman right tackle Parker Ehigner comprised about the most inexperienced group as possible to the right side of Munchie Legaux. Toss in Bujnoch's 13 starts last season and seven from sophomore left tackle Eric Lefeld and even the most experienced starters don't scream grizzled vet.
No matter. Experience meant little.
An offense packed with as much unknown as potential, now averages more yards per play (6.6) than any in Jones' six years as a head coach. At the head of this ascension stands this group of five who never proved they could handle the college football pressure-cooker before.
"It's crazy to think the starting five right now is all juniors (or younger)," Bujnoch said. "It's amazing how well we've done this year."
Chemistry is often overused in sports, particularly football. On the offensive line, however, where five must work in unison as one on every play, where one mistake exposes the whole, it's as important as bench reps and squat press.
"Sounds kind of cheesy, but we are all good friends so communicating and stuff on the line is really easy for us," said Sprague, the chief communicator. "I trust Austen and Sam, those guys, with pretty much anything. The fact we can rely on each other and smooth the transition since we didn't have many combined starts coming in ... it's definitely made the transition easier."
Nearly seamless, especially in the running game. UC ranks 23rd in the country in rushing yards per game (223) and 15th in rushing yards per play (5.5). They've topped 425 yards of total offense through each of the first four games.
Jones looks for more success maintaining blocks on the second level and a decrease in holding penalties, but admits the quick comprehension of this offensive line made a difference in stabilizing the offense. No person owns more responsibility than Bujnoch.
"Austen provides the stability to that group," Jones said. "The leadership, he takes great pride in their development."
Thus the intriguing element to this offensive line story. Last year, Bujnoch looked up to the leadership of a few among another group of untested linemen. That group lost Jason Kelce to the NFL and replaced three starters.
For the second year in a row now, the offensive line flipped from preseason question mark to midseason strength. The common thread weaves within the words of offensive line coach Don Mahoney, but more embeds in expectations of the position.
"It also goes along with the tradition we built as an offensive line," Bujnoch said. "The young guys look up to the older guys. Like last year, when you play like me and Sean played, we didn't want to let the older guys down. That is what the new guys motivation is here, they don't want to let the older guys down."
And, of course, they don't want to let Winn or his stat sheet down, either. Much like chasing Pead on the field, chasing him on the stat sheet only grows more difficult as the game goes along. Such will be the case the rest of the year - but they'll be watching.
"If we can keep him on pace or above Isaiah," Sprague said, "we'll be happy."
Early in the Victory Bell demolishment of Miami, you may have noticed some celebrations among UC's kickoff team.
Specifically, the "OOOOOOOOOH...OOOOOOH...OOOOOOH...U-C!" cheer was done by the kick team, complete with arm choreography. By all accounts, the fans loved it. Whether or not a touchy opponent like a Louisville might like it remains to be seen.
The centerpiece of the kickoff team is Pat O'Donnell, who routinely deposits the ball into the endzone. When not achieving touchbacks, O'Donnell averages 42.6 yards per punt and is on the Ray Guy "watch list".
I caught up with the native Floridian Tuesday on his way to meet the legendary trainer Bob Mangine for pre-practice taping.
If there were an odder UC football schedule than this year, I'm yet to see it. This week brings the oddity into the spotlight. The FCS Fordham Rams (4-2) come to town for the Bearcats second game this season against a playoff-division opponent.
Is this ideal? Nope. Nobody inside the UC building wants to see multiple FCS foes. But in a year when West Virgina and TCU were yanked off the schedule and UC forced to adjust on the fly when most teams already had their schedules set, well, this is what was left.
So, UC enjoys another "confidence game" against a Fordham team that will be physically overmatched by the bigger, faster Bearcats. So be it. For one week, the Bearcats deal with it. Though, the schedule quirks go beyond just the second FCS week, rather with the Pitt opener already in the books and two early bye weeks, the rest of the Big East is immersed in league play while UC stares down two more weeks of non-conference games.
Very odd. But at this point in the game, Jones sees the advantages rather than any disadvantages.
"I think there's benefit to that," he said. "I think the conference race is sorting itself out. There's some teams that are gaining great momentum and other teams that are still trying to figure things out, which they will. I also think it's great to know that right now we are 1-0 in the Big East conference. To have that one game under our belt I think is big."
Take this into consideration, by the time UC finally takes the field against Louisville to reopen Big East play, Rutgers will only have three conference games REMAINING on their schedule.
Every other team will have played at least two conference games, with most three under their belt. Now, the conference layout looks pretty clear already, but by the time UC hits the Pizza Palace the lay of the land will be clear.
Jones, of course, can't worry about such setups.
"For us, especially with a young football team, we have to continue to focus on the bulls-eye," Jones said. "We have to continue to focus on the process and not the end result."
--- Sidenote about the wide divide within the conference between the Haves (UC, Louisville, Rutgers) and Have-Nots (everyone else) is the respect the conference is earning nationally. They've moved up to fourth in the national conference power rankings ahead of the B1G and ACC, according to CBSSports.com.
BTW, the ACC is poor.
--- This week against Fordham allows an opportunity to build depth -- at least, the Bearcats hope it does.
Jones called out a number of positions in needed to show growth in the second and third strings. The most notable name he called out was DL Brandon Mills, stating he was "being challenged this week."
While the defensive line has done a nice job chasing around the quarterback, Mills only owns one sack against lowly Delaware State to his name this season. That's not egregious outside of the fact he racked up 11.5 sacks over his last 20 games entering the season.
"He needs to step up a little bit more and give us a little bit more that a senior needs to," Jones said.
--- Jones also pointed to the reserves at linebacker. While Maalik Bomar (1st), Greg Blair (3rd) and Nick Temple (5th) all rank among UC's top tacklers, but the coach knows little of what's happening behind them.
"I think we are still working to create some depth," Jones sad. "I'm not pleased where we are at right now."
--- Bill brought up the fact Jones has won seven games in a row dating back to last year. Jones last won seven games in a row during his final season at Central Michigan (2009).
He doesn't think much about it.
"You're the first person whose brought it up to me," Jones said. "Our players understand what it takes to win. But our big thing is deserving to win. Do you deserve to win by the work you put in on a day-to-day basis."
A year ago, Alex Hoffman was a 300-plus pound offensive lineman opening massive holes for the likes of future St. Louis Ram, Isaiah Pead.
In a matter of months, an injury led him to shed his "playing pounds" and he currently is working in UC's Lindner Center and is surrounded by Bearcat athletes.
His academic goals are amazing as is his physical transformation.
I recently found the svelte Hoffman outside the Bob Goin team room:
(Hoffman several pounds ago)
Q: You're 24 now, what are you up to?
A: I am in grad school getting my MBA and I'm working upstairs (at the
Lindner Center) as a graduate assistant in Athletic Academic Services.
Q: What was your degree in?
A: My degree was in Biology with a focus on Pre-Med. The plan now is to
get my Masters and hopefully go on to medical school.
Q: An MBA and medical school? That's a little different path.
A: I know. Usually you go right into medical school. I took a class over
at the medical school this summer and they want me to be a
non-traditional applicant. I'm going to get my Masters first and then go
on. That's the plan.
Q: So your grades have never been an issue?
A: I had a 3.4 undergrad and medical school was a little bit above that.
That's another reason to go back and get a Masters and hopefully
Q: If anything, you can start a weight loss clinic. The pounds are just
dropping off of you!
A: After I got hurt in February, I lost about 30 pounds. When I was
finally able to walk around, I lost about 40. I've lost about 75 pounds
Q: What did you top out at?
A: I was 308 when I got hurt. Now, I'm about 235.
Q: So you're like linebacker/safety size?
A: Tight end! I kind of think of myself as an H-back now.
Q: Are your 40 times up?
A: I haven't run. I've done some jogging since I got hurt, but I haven't
done any sprinting yet. I'm physically fit.
Q: Are you a recreational guy now? Is the CFL calling you for a
defensive back tryout?
A: I haven't given any thought to that stuff yet.
Q: From just watching games, are you still fired up when they come out
of the tunnel?
A: The first game I went to, the Pittsburgh game, was an awesome
atmosphere. It's different being up in the stands than on the field. I
definitely enjoyed it and I can't wait for the Homecoming game.
Q: What was your highlight playing?
A: All the bowl games and Big East championships. Probably the most
meaningful was my senior year. I was a senior and a leader and that
team really came together after my junior year when we went 4-8. Going
to the Liberty Bowl my senior year and sharing the Big East were the
Q: How do you keep the weight off?
A: Diet and exercise are the main things that make it come off.
Q: When was the last time you weighed 230? Eighth grade?
A: Sophomore year of high school.
Q: And you were always a lineman?
A: Always a lineman. Even in grade school.
Q: MBA, med school, the Dr. Hoffman takes over the world?
A: We'll see. That's the plan.
The Bearcats officially cracked the AP Top 25 this week and are now ranked in both polls. They rank 21st in the AP and 20 in the Coaches.
Good for them. They've earned it. Little bit of luster taken off the win against Virginia Tech after the Hokies were trounced by North Carolina. Doesn't change 4-0, though. The Bearcats can't ask for much more as they try to run off a perfect non-conference slate.
The divide between upper echelon and the rest grew wider this weekend in the Big East. You now have three undefeated teams in the conference: No. 18 Louisville (5-0, 0-0), No. 20 Rutgers (5-0, 2-0) and No. 21 UC (4-0, 1-0).
None of the other five teams in the conference own a winning record.
Just when it appears Pittsburgh found their stride under Paul Chryst, they score 13 points and lose to Syracuse. You consider UConn as a possible contender, then the Rutgers defense exposes the Huskies quarterback situation as a debilitating weakness. South Florida loses to Temple?
Three games will decide this championship. As for the round robin between the three teams, here's the slate:
Cincinnati at Louisville, Oct. 26 Rutgers at Cincinnati, Nov. 17 Louisville at Rutgers, Nov. 29
Luck fell on the side of competitive balance this year with each team owning a home and away game. All will be even and settled on the field. UC can only hope they won't need a specific result in that Louisville-Rutgers tilt come the end of the season.
Of course, the season can turn dramatically between now and then so I'll stop speculating on speculation.
Let's eat ... --- Could this be the most consistent UC offense of any since Butch Jones arrived? Bearcats Football SID Ryan Koslen ran some numbers by me that popped the question into my head.
Consider this -- with the 429-yard showing against Miami on Saturday, this made four consecutive games with at least 400 yards. Now, we haven't seen the dramatic 500/600 outbursts of the BK era and six times during Butch's run, but there haven't been the lulls.
The run of four straight games comes for the second time since Butch arrived. The other was the run of Oklahoma, Miami, Louisville, USF in the middle of the 2010 season. One more plus-400 game -- which seems more likely than me crushing the City BBQ buffet before the game --- will make this the most consistent run in these three years.
They now lead the Big East in yards per game and rank No. 29 in the country.
--- All signs of consistency point toward the running game. Three of the first four games UC rushed for better than 250 yards.
Compare that with this stat: In the first 25 games under Jones, the Bearcats exceeded 250 yards on the ground four times. And those came with Isaiah Pead in the backfield. Point to Miami's porous rush defense or playing Delaware State all you want, but they aren't the first lax defenses to run through Nippert Stadium.
At this point, UC ranks 15th in the country in yards per rush (5.51) and 23rd nationally in rushing yards per game. They lead the Big East in both categories.
Time will tell if these stats hold up. Here is the rank against the rush of every FBS team remaining on UC's schedule.
--- Rutgers and UConn will force Munchie Legaux and co., to beat them through the air, but none of the other five opponents are currently ranked better than 35. This running game can carry UC deep into the season.
Top 15 running game and defense ranked among the best in the conference sure sound like a proven recipe for success. --- Speaking of Munchie, I wrote about riding the Legaux-llercoaster. Excuse my awkward headline. At midnight Saturday it sounded like a great idea.
While many may bemoan the overthrows and inconsistency from Legaux, the way he bounced back in the second half to manage the offense and leave an overmatched Miami program behind deserved as much recognition as the first half criticism.
That's all part of the process for Munchie. Let's not let what happened at Virginia Tech trick us to getting ahead of ourselves here.
Here's three minutes of Munchie talking with myself and other reporters about development, overthrows and playing through it after the game.
--- Overlooked about Munchie on Saturday, he played through injury. He didn't practice until Wednesday last week but worked through a nagging ailment to deliver the seventh straight victory against Miami.
--- While we spend countless of words discussing offense and defense, a UC special teamer took down the Big East Special Teams Player of the Week award two weeks in a row.
K Tony Miliano won the honor Saturday. He finished 7 of 7 on PATs and hit a 24-yard FG. Quietly, Miliano's been solid this year. He's a perfect 4 of 4 from inside 40 yards and hit 2 of 4 from beyond 40.
Congrats to him.
--- FYI to students: There are still some of the free tickets available for Saturday's game against Fordham.
--- Check out NBATV today at 3 p.m. -- you can do so while filing applications for jobs -- and watch Pete Mickeal's Spanish team play against the Dallas Mavericks.
--- There is goingto be a Hungry, Hungry Hippos movie? I have to assume it ends with one player stealing the balls from everyone else with his hand because that's how it ended every time I played that game as a kid.
--- Best inadvertent humor of the Infield Fly Incident from Friday? MLB's Twitter bio had this line in it before the event and it was almost immediately deleted off after it happened. "We don't understand the Infield Fly Rule, either."
--- Been a while since I've posted Pearl Jam. Here's Rearviewmirror live from Pink Pop a few years back. If you have any comments, questions, criticisms, music suggestions, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
OK, it is a little uninspiring, but when your team's coming off a big rivalry win and has just been ranked, you need to flair it up a little bit.
Sure, Fordham's not your ideal opponent when you've just checked into the Top 25. However, this honestly is a replacement game and most schools have similar opponents on their schedules.
In college football, you often eat in reverse. Cupcakes are usually served before the main course.
That's not meant to offend Fordham fans, which I suppose it will. They are 4-2 and perhaps they can make a run in the Patriot League. I'm just saying that losses to Villanova and Lehigh aren't going to put the fear of God in any team playing the Rams.
Villanova's trying to amp up football, so they're not bad. Lehigh, for local sports scholars, is known as the alma mater of former Bengals wide receiver Steve Kreider. Old "Who Dey" fans may appreciate that nugget. Young ones probably don't know more than three players from some of the better teams of the 80s when the Bengals made two Super Bowls.
Back to Fordham (as the nuggets continue). The school in the Bronx actually boasts more notable alums than Lehigh and Kreider.
Giants owner Wellington Mara went to Fordham, as did the legendary Vince Lombardi. I think the offense the Rams run is far from Lombardi's offensive principles, but that's something to be proud of.
Matter of fact, I would propose that Fordham switch their nickname to the Lombardis.
If that wasn't enough, Fordham is also where broadcast legend Vin Scully went to school. There's no bigger fan of Scully than UC voice Dan Hoard, so I give you that.
Why all of the Fordham history?
Quite honestly, I don't know what to tell you about them. I have to admit, when I check college scores on my various devices, the Fordham game is not a priority.
They beat the Georgetown Hoyas last week, although I think the Georgetown (NAIA) Tigers down the road could maybe give them a better game.
Like it or not, this is the NEXT game on the schedule which is why it's important. This is one where the bench should get some reps. It's a night game, so have some fun and realize that if you leave before the fourth quarter, you'll likely miss the "Gangnam Style" song on the PA.
There--that ought to sell some tickets.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. WHAT TO WEAR? : It's not a Whiteout, a Blackout, or a Ring of Red. I'd bring all three. WHAT IF I'M NOT THERE? : You could miss the the kickoff team doing the "OOOOOOH UC!!" cheer complete with hand motions after a touchdown. WHERE TO WATCH: ESPN3 (It's getting more available now on several nearby planets) SERIES: This is the first meeting. Should be a commemorative t-shirt shouldn't there?
UC OFFENSE VS. FORDHAM DEFENSE
Well, Fordham shut out Lock Haven in week one.... Seriously, they gave up 34 points to Lehigh and 31 to Georgetown. UC scored 52 on Miami which tied for the most ever in that series. The only thing that will prevent the Bearcats from surpassing that is if the second and third-stringers are confined to running plays in the second half. Linebacker Michael Martin had 18 tackles last week, but he's 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds and will be surrounded by bigger, quicker players at Nippert. Personally, I'd like to see Brendon Kay get a chance to throw the ball and some of the back-up receivers have a chance to catch. The downside of a lopsided game, is that back-up quarterbacks can't practice throwing and receivers are decoys. It only pays to be a back-up running back. As for UC's first team, they should be able to rack up a normal game of stats within a half or three quarters.
Obvious nod: Bearcats
UC DEFENSE VS. FORDHAM OFFENSE
Like Miami and Zac Dysert, Fordham's Ryan Higgins can throw and move the ball. He's thrown for 300-yards in two straight games. The downside, like Dysert found, is 300 yards can still result in a 38-point loss, particularly when some of your throws wind up in Bearcat paws. Receiver Brian Wetzel had 123 yards receiving last week and will likely get more. I would suspect UC could shut down Fordham runner Carlton Koonce, leaving Fordham no alternative than to pass. Because of that, I look for Walter Stewart, John Williams, Dan Giordano, Cameron Beard, Jordan Stepp and the defensive line to have several up close and personal encounters with Higgins.
Edge to UC.
Patrick Murray is a double-duty kicker/punter for Fordham. He drilled three through the uprights against the Hoyas last week. Against UC, he'll likely be in punt formation. The Bearcats are due for a returned punt for six. Will this be the game for Anthony McClung to do it? On UC's kicking end, it could be night of extra points for Tony Miliano.
Edge: The home team. INTANGIBLES
Look, it's not the ideal situation, but hopefully the Bearcats will take care of business as they should. The Delaware State game should be a lesson to UC. Letting them hang around, even though it was never in doubt, was like Chuck Wepner going 15 with Muhammad Ali (more history kids!). I hope for plenty of points, no injuries to starters, and some quality playing time for the kids that bust their hump in practice.
Butch Jones did a great job with keeping the proper perspective on the Miami U. game and I would suspect he'll have the guys on their game Saturday night.
buzz of the final minute at FedEx Field hung over the practice field,
meeting rooms and, yes, this blog all week leading up to Saturday's
Homecoming game against Miami.
and radio calls of Legaux to Damon Julian echoed through the chilly
Nippert Stadium pregame. If every fan wasn't already aware of what
occurred last week in D.C., they assuredly were by the time kickoff
sailed into the air.
to Julian changed the course of that game, maybe even the Bearcats
season, but it didn't change reality.
reality for UC football right now remains for every magical moment
there will be those of frustration. Some nights many of them. The
junior's maturation evolves each week, each drive, each throw. That
development enjoyed a giant leap in the final minute against VT.
That's a leap, not bending time and space.
game more defined the maturation process than the 52-14 win against
was a perfectly executed rollout and touchdown zip to Danny Milligan
for this first touchdown. There was the second touchdown perfectly
thrown on a line to Travis Kelce into the Miami defense.
was a run of four consecutive third-down passes for conversions early
in the second quarter that led to a score. Maybe his best throw of
the night came in the third quarter when rolling out and absorbing a
personal foul hit while connecting on a 21-yard pass on the sideline
to Anthony McClung.
between those plays during what could politely be considered an
uneven first half, there were two badly overthrown passes down the
sidelines that would have resulted in touchdowns. Kelce in the end
zone; Alex Chisum with a defensive back on the ground behind him.
Both ended with Legaux clapping his hands in frustration.
first-half completion percentage dipped below the concerning 50
percent level and a game without rhythm or explosive plays began with
during a third quarter when the Bearcats sucked any drama out of the
117th edition of the Victory Bell rivalry, Legaux bounced
back to hit 5 of 6 for 77 yards leading two touchdown drives.
over. Ring the bell.
this point in his development, more consistency would be desired, but
responding to it the way Legaux did trumped any overthrows.
can't come out in the second half with the first half on your mind,"
Legaux said. "That's gone. You can't get those throws back. You
have to move on and keep on playing football. I knew going into
halftime that I had some bad throws. That was on my mind, but at
halftime a lot of guys came up to me and said it's OK, you'll have
that. Just continue to throw the ball."
finished 13 of 23 for 157 yards and two touchdowns while running six
times for 22 yards and his first career rushing TD. By the fourth
quarter he stood on the sidelines with no helmet and a wide smile.
flashes of brilliance pop more frequently than last year. Yet, there
will still be droughts of darkness. For a quarterback making his
seventh career start perfection isn't the expectation.
way he responded to it, however ...
said Jones, who admitted Legaux played hurt and didn't practice
until Wednesday. "That is that maturation process of a quarterback,
being able to handle the scrutiny being able to handle the day-to-day
rigors of what it is to be a starting quarterback at this level.
Every week, every game is a learning experience for him. Obviously,
he didn't perform at his best in the first half we had too many wide
open receivers. But the second half he came back and managed our
offense, he ran our offense. That was great to see because that was a
great test of his maturation process so far."
second half doesn't excuse the first. Legaux knows it, Jones does as
have to take great strides in our throw game this week," Jones
don't need to make great strides in Legaux's mental game. The same
couldn't be said last year or even last month. Overthrows and skipped
passes used to change the quarterbacks demeanor for an extra play,
series or maybe even more. His receivers noticed it.
composure is great," said Milligan, who caught his first career TD
in the first quarter. "That is one thing that has been a huge
change from last year and even from the Pitt game."
not perfect. He will frustrate and exhilarate with only snaps in
between. For now, UC rides the waves. The best news for the
undefeated Bearcats is the quarterback understands better how to calm
just me developing as a quarterback," Legaux said. "The main
thing, though, I have to come out and be consistent. I have to have a
whole game like the second half. I can't miss those deep ball like I
did and miss those small throws."
For those who haven't been paying close enough attention this week, I
don't condone it, but here is a helpful cheat sheet so you can be an
informed fan heading into Saturday's game against Miami.
Where: Nippert Stadium, (turf, outdoors)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m., FoxSportsOhio
Forecast: Temperature in 50s at kickoff, dipping into the 40s with 40 percent chance of rain
2012 records: Bearcats 3-0, 1-0 Big East, RedHawks 3-2, 1-0 MAC
Tickets: The game is sold out.
What to wear: If you are going, wear white. It's a whiteout. About 600 white shirts will provided for the student section.
Past results: UC has won six in a row entering this 117th edition of the Battle for the Victory Bell. They won last season 27-0 in Oxford.
Need to know: Somebody call the school nurse, the RedHawks can't stop the bleeding. Miami's defense enters ranked 117th out of 120 FBS schools and allowed 49 points to dadgum Akron last week. They've struggled to apply pressure to the QB (T-103rd in sacks) and stop the run (108th). Not a great combination. Munchie Legaux and the Bearcats offense hopes to pad the stats entering the game with the momentum of the one-minute drill victory against Virginia Tech.
Who to know: Miami QB Zac Dysert. You should know him by now, though. He's been starting since his freshmen year and enters his fourth contest against the Bearcats. Has anybody thrown more passes in this rivalry than Dysert? After Saturday, that will be hard to imagine. Miami's success rests on his right arm. Last week he became the first QB in college football history to throw for 500 yards and rush for 100. The Bearcats feel their pass rush and experienced secondary are a strength -- we will see exactly how strong they are Saturday night.
Defining matchup: Miami WR Andy Cruse vs. UC DB Cam Cheatham. This won't necessarily be Cheatham all day, but he'll see a fair amount of Cruse along with Deven Drane. He's Dysert's most frequent target through the air. The senior caught at least eight passes in three of the first five games. When in doubt, target Cruse. If UC can shut down the first throw and force Dysert into progressions that will leave a uncomfortable scenario of searching for secondary receivers while Walter Stewart attempts to #GetTheDub.
As CBJ points out, however, stopping Dysert won't completely be about blanketing Cruse.
"He's playing exceptionally well," Jones said. "He catches the football, gets in and
out of breaks; he can win in transition and plays very strong. It will
be a challenge and the quarterback at Miami Zac Dysert, has a number of
weapons he can throw
the football to, so again, we
can't just zero in on an individual. They do a great job with their
empty sets, of really spreading our players out and creating some
Injuries of note: Drew Frey has been banged up and missed the second half of the Virginia Tech game with a sprained neck but is expected to return according to Butch Jones.
Delving deeper: Playing the MAC this year hasn't been the walk in the park of recent years. In fact, six MAC teams have beaten AQ programs this year.
Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31 Western Michigan 30, UConn 24 Northern Illinois 30, Kansas 23 Ball St. 31, USF 27 Ball St. 41, Indiana 39 Ohio 24, Penn St. 14
Actually, despite a small sample size, the MAC actually leads the season series over the Big East 2-1.
Why has #MACtion been so tough to stop this year? Former Central Michigan coach CBJ employs a solid theory:
"Looking at some of the great quarterbacks right now and I'm being told
they could have upwards of four quarterbacks drafted in the National
Football League," Jones said. "Everyone wants to say when I walked in the door here from Central
Michigan to Cincinnati. There were seven kids my last year at Central
Michigan that are starting in the National Football
League and one of those guys is the premier player for the Pittsburgh
Steelers, Antonio Brown. I just think the level of competition that they
play definitely has our respect and it's going to take everything we
have to win this football game on Saturday."
Connections: Miami head coach Don Treadwell comes with a Bearcats background. He was the UC offensive coordinator from 2004-06 as well as the WR coach in 1994.
By the numbers: Over the last nine quarters of the Victory Bell rivalry, UC hasn't allowed a touchdown. In fact, during that span they've outscored Miami 86-3.
By the numbers, Part II: The UC defense opened games strong this year. It has only allowed one touchdown through the first three quarters of games. And that came by virtue of Virginia Tech only needing 13 yards for a touchdown drive following an interception.
Quotent Quotables: Maalik Bomar on if they feel they need to prove to critics they deserve to be discussed among the top defenses in the conference:
may think that. But it is something we don't think about. We look at
it as another opportunity to come back and play ball again. Not just
play ball, have fun out there and entertain."
Looking ahead: Jones won't allow UC to look ahead, but there's not rule bloggers can't. Winning this week then taking heavily favored games against Fordham and at Toledo would set up a showdown Oct. 26 on ESPN at Louisville.
Hype video: Another strong effort from VideoShane. With plenty of dramatic bell ringing.
Bit of a triumphant return for the Breakfast (or at least a return). With so much happening around football the Breakfast in its traditional form needed to give way to a few more important stories the last three days.
Important tangent: I'd like to start calling Maalik Bomar and Greg Blair the B-Boys. I know I'm still living in a world where 1980s hip-hop breakdancing references play huge, but not sure if it resonates elsewhere. Listen, there are still B-Boy Breakdancing Championships going on in 2012, so folks should give this nickname a chance.
I'll continue to float my nickname for a few more weeks and in the words of another 80s culture icon, Ivan Drago, "if he dies, he dies."
--- Andrea Adelson delved deeper into a concept we've talked about here for a few weeks, don't look now but the Big East DOA proclamation should stop. It boasts three undefeated teams in Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati to go along with a winning record against the darling ACC.
Most importantly, the teams continuing to establish themselves this year aren't going anywhere in the future. These are the future core pieces along with Boise State.
The Big East still treads upstream on the perception battle, but reiterating facts of the conference as this piece does silences critics. For now. --- The always strong Joe Kay of the AP with a look at #MunchieMagic.
Frey will be a big part of the reason why if it happens. Zac Dysert can straight fling it.
The Fighting Zippys let him throw for 516 yards last week. He also racked up 303 at Ohio State in the opener. Against the Bearcats during his four years, Dysert's success has been limited along with his team.
The RedHawks have lost six in a row in the series and here's Dysert's numbers:
2009: 33 of 47 for 286, 1 TD, 2 INT 2010: 22 of 35 for 165, 0 TD, 0 INT 2011: 19 of 33 for 252, 0 TD, 1 INT
Most importantly, Miami hasn't managed a TD against the Bearcats in the last nine quarters. They've been outscored 86-3 in that span. Yikes.
Outsiders may worry about overconfidence, CBJ doesn't.
"No, we don't take anything for granted," he said. "Each week is a new season in
and of itself; each game is a new game. All the past games can be thrown
out because it's about this year. I will tell you this, if they are on
our sideline or in Nippert, ringing the Victory Bell after the game, no one's going to
look back and say we beat them six times in a row, but rather, look at
the game and how players are going to be remembered for this year." --- The Bearcats spent some time on the front page of CBSSports.com, a site everyone should be visiting every day, by the way, for all your sports knowledge -- particularly all your Bengals updates and analysis (shameless plug).
The Bearcats defense may be overlooked by Munchie Legaux to Damon Julian, but deserve as much credit for UC's ascension.
CINCINNATI -- Greg Blair walked over to Maalik Bomar in the moments following Saturday's Bearcats win against Virginia Tech. Carrying the stat sheet, he ceded bragging rights to his road roommate.
Bomar 16 tackles, Blair 13.
Who could rack up the most tackles always brings out the competitor in both, but the friendly competition more resembled a heavyweight fight on a day the Bearcats defense landed a string of early haymakers on the Hokies.
"I was mad the first game he was getting all the attention, everything was coming his way," said Bomar, who trails Blair 30-29 in tackles on the season. "I told him you are not running away from me in tackles this year. I refuse to let that happen."
Bomar and Blair let little penetrate the second level Saturday and minimized the impact of the Virginia Tech running game while chasing down the short passing attack.
Bomar and former middle linebacker JK Schaffer used to go by the nickname Siamese Twins because every move looked identical on film. A question entering the season was if Blair could find a portion of the Siamese chemistry with his teammate.
In the season's biggest game, he answered the question. They've evolved exponentially even since the opener against Pitt.
"Just communicating together," Blair said. "Even when we know the assignments. We will get a certain call and we will remind each other. Overall communication was better with me and Maalik."
While the B-boys served as the face of the group, the entire defense set a tone through the first three quarters that proved to be enough to allow the heroics of Legaux to capture the headlines.
UC held Virginia Tech without a first down for almost 25 minutes to open the game. The first five drives of the game ended three-and-out with a turnover tossed in the middle.
No drive in the first half lasted longer than two minutes and only a VT interception where the Hokies needed just 13 yards for a touchdown served as a blemish. Actually, that short-field score punctured an impressive stat: UC has now allowed only seven points in the first three quarters of games this season.
The Bearcats rank 16th in the country in scoring defense.
Yet, searching Google or scrolling blogs won't turn up headlines about the UC defense. And rightfully so in many respects due to the dramatics of Legaux to Damon Julian coupled with the lasting impression of Virginia Tech's fourth-quarter push. When the concept of being overlooked is mentioned to Bomar and Blair, a smile instantly comes to their face. Not because they care or even listen to chatter surrounding their group, only because that seems to come with the territory around Clifton.
"I attended media day and there was a lot of talk about other Big East schools and their defenses, but we like to be under the radar," Bomar said. "We like to prove others wrong. We've grown accustomed to it. We just work out here and get after it."
The next step comes in creating more turnovers. Arryn Chenault pulled down his second interception of the season in the red zone and changed the complexion of the win, but Jones needs more.
"I like the way we played with our level of physicality last week," he said. "I think we still need to be much more opportunistic."
Nobody can deny Bomar took advantage of his opportunity. Often covered by Schaffer's shadow through the years, he's entered the spotlight with comparable numbers. Consider Schaffer twice finished with 16 tackles in a game during his career, but never more and didn't do it one time his senior season.
"I'm still shocked to this day I racked up that many," Bomar said.
The tackles stat can be misleading on the true efficiency of a linebacker. If all the plays are run one way or many tackles happen 25 yards down the field, the linebacker didn't exactly change the game. Such wasn't the case Saturday.
"When you look at Maalik Bomar, he is playing like a senior should play," Butch Jones said. "He is leading like a senior should lead. We are going to need him. I thought our linebackers took a step in the positive direction."
No, the University of Cincinnati's Interim President
isn't looking to work baseball play-by-play into his busy schedule, but like
the Reds' Hall of Fame broadcaster, Dr. Ono is willing to have his head shaved
if the Bearcats win 10 consecutive games.
"That is for both football and basketball," Ono told
me at halftime of the UC/Virginia Tech game."I hope that I lose my hair.You
look pretty good, and if they win 10 games, I'll do it at midfield or in front
of the student section.I'll do whatever
I can to encourage the team and the coaches to play at their utmost
abilities.It's not a big deal for me to
lose my hair - I think the students love it, and I love the students.Whatever gets them excited I'm happy to do."
(You can see Dr. Ono pledge to shave his head in the
locker room after the dramatic victory over Virginia Tech)
If you're among the thousands of people that follow
Dr. Ono on Twitter (@PrezOno), you are well aware of his passion for Bearcat
athletics.In our halftime interview
last Saturday, I asked UC's Interim President for his view on the role that athletics
play in the mission of the university.
"I think it's incredibly important," said Ono."I went to college at the University of
Chicago and most recently I was at a D-III school - Emory University - and they're
fantastic universities just as the University of Cincinnati is.But there's nothing like D-I sports to bring
a whole community together.We have 14
outstanding colleges at UC and they have a lot of different identities, but
what galvanizes the community and links us to the 250,000 alumni around the
globe is Bearcat sports.I'm slightly
enthusiastic about it.I'm a big fan and
I think I've tweeted about 11,000 times and have about 19,000 followers on
Twitter and Facebook and I think that's really, really important.It's one of my primary jobs:To connect to the community and show how
enthusiastic I am about what's going on at the University.Not only sports, but the tremendous research
that's going on and the art, architecture, and music that are all part of
Representing the C."
Earlier this year, Dr. Ono took part in a practice
of sorts with the football team and caught some passes from Munchie Legaux.Last Saturday, I asked him to share some
thoughts on his relationship with head coach Butch Jones and the job that he is
"Butch Jones, I think, is one of the best football
coaches in America," said Ono."We
really are privileged in athletics right now at UC to have a great athletic
director, a great team of coaches, and great head coaches across all of the
different sports, but Butch Jones and Mick Cronin, I think, are anchors to our
program.They are people with integrity
and they are people that are really committed to Cincinnati.I love them and I view them as brothers and
partners in Bearcat Nation.We have
something really special here.(Coach
Jones) is really important to the University and he and I really cheerlead and
back each other.I was in the locker
room before the Bearcats came out and he said to the team, 'Do you have my
back?'I think that everybody knows that
I have his back."
He has his coach's back, but if the Bearcats win
their next seven games (the three wins to end last season don't
count), Dr. Ono won't have his hair.
Can't help but open this Tuesday Bearcats luncheon recap with comical fallout from Saturday's game.
While talking about Saturday's breakthrough win with Munchie Legaux today, I asked who the first person he called was after the game.
Not surprisingly, he stated his grandmother in New Orleans actually called him. What was surprising was why she called.
As UC began their final drive and she prepared to see if her grandson could pull off the first dramatic comeback drive of his life --- the local affiliates flipped to the beginning of the LSU game.
"My grandmother said on the last drive right after we got the first drive they cut it off, then flashed back in later," Legaux recalled. " She was was real mad."
Understandable anger considering what she missed. The opening kickoff of LSU-Towson played instead of the defining moment of Legaux's career.
This was not some common occurrence grandma saw once a season in high school. Legaux said he's never won a game like that in his career. Rarely has there been an opportunity.
He seized this one. Three days later, Legaux says he doesn't feel different, necessarily. Even though nearly everyone surrounding him undoubtedly holds an altered view of the junior QB after #MunchieMagic.
No, he doesn't feel different, he feels he proved a point.
"I figured some guys on that last drive were like, 'Let's see what he's made of,'" Legaux said. "I'm
the same no matter what. I don't get too high. I don't run around
here screaming and I am not going to get too down on myself. I just
want to have a cool, calm and collected attitude that no matter the
situation I know how to handle it. Confidence."
He now knows. He also knows the scouting report on stopping the UC quarterback reads different this week than it did last. Expectations were the Hokies would crowd the line of scrimmage and dare Legaux to beat them down the field with his arm.
The throwing motion criticism, turnover number and completion percentage talk followed him since he took over for Zach Collaros. Legaux desired an opportunity to rip it in half. Virgina Tech offered it.
Beamer and those guys did a great job of saying he's not going to
beat us with his feet," Legaux said. "We are going to make him throw the ball. I was
OK with that. I wanted to show the world that I could throw the ball,
for one. I feel like that is what I did. Those guys put eight in the
box, nine in the box at some times and made me throw the ball. They
did a great job of doing that. I took a lot of hits, but hey, I got
right back up and kept fighting."
The final numbers were 19 of 42 for 366 yards, three TDs and one pick. The difference from first half to second half left a lasting impression.
Before the break: 9 of 22 for 119 yards and an interception. After halftime: 10 of 20 for 247 yards and three TD passes without a turnover.
"The biggest thing Munchie did from improvement from the first half to the second half is taking what the defense gives you and if it's not there getting rid of the football," Butch Jones said. "I thought the first half he hung on to the ball too long, he took some unnecessary hits, ball security, whereas the second half he was a little more poised a little more under control and if it wasn't there he had the confidence to throw the ball away and play the next play."
--- Good news on the Drew Frey front. The safety suffered a sprained neck against Virginia Tech and never returned. Jones stated Tuesday the senior safety is cleared to practice and expected to play Saturday against Miami.
--- One of Jones' primary complaints came in the way UC finished the game. Not the final 1:39, obviously, but the opportunities to prior where the final drive wouldn't have been necessary.
UC allowed 17 fourth-quarter points and when given the ball with six minutes remaining and a chance to salt away the game with a long drive it quickly stalled.
"We have to do a better job finishing. That's where we have to take the next step as a football team. We need to finish the game. We need to take the ball the length of the football field, keep them off the field and score a touchdown. In that situation defensively, we have to close them out."
--- Miami QB Zac Dysert became the first player in college football history to throw for 500 yards and rush for 100 last week.
This only added fuel to Jones' fiery love affair with the Miami QB he recruited heavily while at Central Michigan.
"I've said, it you guys probably get sick and tired of me saying it but I'm Zac Dysert's biggest fan," Jones said. "We all know what he is capable of doing. He's very cerebral."
--- Since I know everyone will feel empty without this information. City BBQ came up huge this week with the first cornbread serving since Week 1. Huge.
Banana pudding continues to play like go-to veteran everyone expected it to be prior to the season.
--- Feel lost without any music to close the blog the last few days since I went with the UC highlight video and #GetTheDub yesterday. This Foo Fighters jam seems appropriate for today's content.
In catching up with the cross country team's this notebook looks at the men's championship weekend, key runners returning, Cotton breaks out and coach Bill Schnier outlines the path to improvement.
By Ashley Davis Special to GoBearcats.com
The Bearcats men's cross-country team defended their All-Ohio championship title at Cedarville University on Saturday.
On paper the team was expected to finish fifth, but head coach Bill Schnier was confident they could do better than that.
"Our hopes are high to move up and just see how high we get," Schnier said Thursday before the race.
Colin Cotton was the top finisher for the 8K race, finishing in third place with a time of 24:40.02.
The women's team finished fifth, the same place as last year. This was an improvement, as they were predicted to finish seventh.
Emily Clay was the top finisher for the 5K race with an eighth place individual finish in a time of 18:16.42. Returning Runners: Aside from trying to defend the All-Ohio championship at Cedarville University, Schnier was also looking forward to seeing two new runners race for both the men's and women's cross-country team. Both are not new to the team, but competed Saturday for the first time this season.
Evan Baum, a junior architecture student, has been co-oping in New York City.
"He's not been with us since August, but he's been doing good training on his own," Schnier said.
Baum finished 25th overall with a time of 25:22.57 in the men's 8K race.
Alison Zukowski was the women's team MVP last year, but has been injured the first month of the season.
"She hasn't run in any meets the whole year, but she plans to make this her first meet, so she's looking forward to that," Schnier said.
Zukowski finished 32nd with a time of 18:50.17 in the women's 5K race.
Breakout Runners: The Bearcats may have some young runners on the team this year, but they are showing promise in either their first or second year running on a college team.
Cotton, a sophomore transfer student from Williams College, has been a pleasant surprise, according to Schnier. Cotton leads the team so far this season with three third-place finishes and a 13th-place finish at the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic.
Ian Silver, a freshman who competed in a run-off just to make the team, also has started strong.
"This last meet he was our fifth man, so he's really done quite well," Schnier said.
On the women's team, sophomore Emily Clay has became the top runner after being second on the team last year and Anne Pace has been the top freshman runner, finishing second, second and third for UC in the last three races.
"It's a little hard to say a freshman broke out, but she really did because she's running so much better than she did last year in high school,," Schnier said.
Room for Improvement: With championship races ahead in October, Schnier feels the team could improve in three areas. The first is to think bigger.
"We're actually doing that, so I'm feeling pretty good about that," Schnier said.
Second on his list for improvement is to have his runners run in larger packs.
"Sometimes you run in pairs or groups of three, so I'm looking for more than just that," he said.
Finally, he wants them to be able to understand their pace because in distance running, pace is at a premium.
"We're pretty close to getting that right," Schnier said. "If we get it right, it's all going to work."
Starting anywhere but with Munchie Legaux would be unfair to the junior quarterback. So much time and energy has been dedicated in the space to speculating if he could be the type of QB to lead this team to victory on a grand stage.
Could he be consistent enough? Could he be a leader? Could he control the huddle? Would he complete enough passes? Could he handle the big moment?
The line of quarterbacks who came before him all proved themselves and due to the success of the program over those years, carved out their own special spot in the hearts of the Bearcats fan base.
Munchie was yet to carve his corner. Well, until Saturday.
With one drive Legaux unearthed a legacy. He provided himself, his teammates, his coaches, his fans, the reference point to believe in the next two years. In the game of team leadership, few more important facts exist.
This development stems from more than one throw or even one drive. The decision-making in the nine-play, 85-yard drive into the hearts of the fan base was nearly impeccable. He used his remarkable speed and quickness when necessary. He accepted checkdowns as the situation dictated. He showed off a strong arm when allowed.
As much as Bearcats fans stand and cheer at the incredible game-winning throw to win it, the coaches offer an ovation for how many times he avoided the mistake throw to end it.
In the end, there was 19 of 42, 366 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT along with another 27 yards on the ground.
The biggest development Saturday won't show up in the box score, though. It only exists in the eyes of Legaux's coaches and teammates every time he takes the field.
Let's eat ...
--- To the stat sheet! Did you know Munchie Legaux is now 30th in the FBS in average passing yards per game? I'm not sure if you seen the arena football games breaking out across college right now, but considering this is his first year starting and he's up there in the top quarter of the nation in that category can only be called a significant success.
Before the season I ran through a list of the top returning dual threat QBs and found a guesstimation of what he would need to do to be among the best in the country. Passing for an average of 200 yards and rushing for an average of 50 was the realistic goal set. And was backed up by coaches and Munchie himself as stats that would lead to a number of big wins this season.
Well, through three games he's averaging 263 yards passing and 56 rushing.
How many other FBS QBs can currently claim they average 260/55? One. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. That's it.
--- Would be remiss to go any further without mentioning Kenbrell Thompkins. He talked all training camp about his renewed focus, his dedication and the polish placed on his game entering his senior season.
Saturday he showed UC the receiver it believed signed on two years ago as a former Tennessee commit. He terrorized Antone Exum and Munchie kept going to him. They had no answer.
He finished with seven receptions for 134 yards and a TD. With the emergence of Damon Julian and established connection of Anthony McClung, a position of concern in the eyes of Butch Jones prior to the season quickly flipped into one of strength.
All those who spend countless hours knocking the Big East? They now have three teams in the Top 25. Louisville (19 AP/16 Coach), Rutgers (22/21) and UC (26/23). None of those teams are bolting for another conference.
Toss in Boise State (27/25), on their way in next year and that's four in the future BE.
--- Most reaction from fans on Twitter after the game placed this as the second-best UC game they've witnessed.
The UC-Pitt 2009 season finale universally ranks at the top, but what follows it for you guys?
Some other games I've heard in the conversation: UC-VT '12, USF '11, WVU '08, TCU '02, Cuse '00, Vandy '11.
Considering the stage and national opponent this came against, would probably place this game as a firm No. 2 behind Pitt.
--- Jones called this a"credibility win" after the game, in this Bill Koch blog. Can't deny that. Considering the non-conference slate and constant bashing the BE endures, this was the primary game to make a national splash.
With three games where UC will be heavily favored in front of them, the possibility of a massive 6-0 vs. 6-0 showdown in Louisville on ESPN sure makes the juices flow. --- Down the Drive runs through10 significant quotes from after the game.
--- You know me, I love nothing more than a great Get The Dub video. Here it is over at ButchJonesBlog. This with a special appearance from Prez Ono breaking out the Twitter hashtag talk. Fantastic. #HottestCollegeInAmerica.