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Butch Jones pushes all the right buttons

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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?

Wrong.

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 pauldehnerjr@gmail.com. Or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.


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