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. Â
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."
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