Cincinnati prepares for the long-awaited major non-conference home game at Fifth Third Arena as undefeated Alabama comes to town.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- If fans had wished for the Bearcats to play a major non-conference home game this season after not playing any last year, their wish is about to come true. The Bearcats will host Alabama at 3 p.m. Saturday at Fifth Third Arena, as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge.
Sean Kilpatrick called Alabama the best team they've faced this season in terms of speed and shooting capability. The Tide (6-0) are undefeated with wins against Villanova (77-55) and Oregon State (65-62).
"We know that they're a tough team and they're going to come in here trying to beat us, so we got to actually come with our A-game as well," Kilpatrick said.
Mick Cronin wasn't as quick to call them the best team they've faced, but had nothing but praise. The two teams have a similar style, in that they both thrive on excellent guard play.
That begins with Trevor Releford. The junior averages 18.6 points per game and can fill it up from deep. He's hit 55 percent from long range this year. Releford ranks No. 18 nationally in offensive rating by KenPom.
Also, Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph both connect better than 45 percent of the time from 3-point range.
"Their main scorers are their guards," Cronin said. "They like to spread it out on offense."
Alabama also has the ability to play strong defense. Cronin made note of the fact they beat Villanova by 22 points earlier this season at Madison Square Garden, a place where Villanova is comfortable playing.
"Villanova's a team that scraps and they just out scrapped them," Cronin said. "And they really shut down Villanova defensively. That was probably something that surprised people, the way they were able to defend Villanova."
Although his team matches up well with Alabama, Cronin still wants to avoid the "Las Vegas hangover." His goal, he says, is to help his players keep their focus and try to keep them from becoming complacent in their success winning the Global Sports Challenge. He saw the mentality and excitement needed to win in Las Vegas, even when the team played in front of crowds as small as 2,000 people.
"We've got to make sure that we maintain that edge and come out with that enthusiasm," Cronin said.
The tournament in Vegas proved a learning experience.
"[We] don't want to blow a lead, but to be able to handle another team physically coming at you because that's what they have to do to get back into the game," Cronin said. "We've got to do a better job getting ready for that in practice too."
Kilpatrick also took away learning experiences from Vegas that the team can use down the road and certainly against Alabama.
"You stick together through hard times and through droughts in a game and play defense and rebound, then you can stick out any game," he said.
Kilpatrick knows it will be a tough test against a scrappy team tomorrow afternoon, but he's looking at it as a tune-up for conference play.
"We know during the Big East conference that's when things get scrappy as well," he said.
But before they can get to Big East play, they have to face a team tomorrow who could be playing in the NCAA tournament. Does Cronin think Alabama is a team who will still be playing in March?
"Right now, they're really good, but right now is different from January," he said. "As long as they can continue to stay healthy at the guard position, they're probably a lock for the NCAA tournament."
We want to hear from you, if you have any comments or questions shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, a reminder, today is the last day to jump on the two tickets for $20 promotion for Saturday's game. You can order at gobearcats.com.
Ranking: Cincinnati receiving votes in the Coaches poll.
Tickets: Tickets are still available.
What to wear: Layers. Possible parka.
The Bearcats lead the series 6-2, UC has won two of the last three but lost the last game at The Rent in 2010 by a 38-17 final.
Need to know: Who knew this would be for a share of the Big East title two weeks ago, but here the Bearcats are thanks to Louisville's win at Rutgers on Thursday. A win and that would mean the fourth time in the last five years UC earned at least a share of the championship. This won't be as easy as anticipated a few weeks ago, either. The past two weeks UConn pulled off wins against Pitt and Louisville. Their defense ranks among the best in the country suddenly they've found some semblance of offense with Chandler Whitmer at quarterback. After scoring an average of 8.3 points through their first four conference games, the Huskies reeled off back-to-back games cracking 20 points.
Need to know stat: The UConn defense ranks in the top 25 in six different defensive categories:
Rushing defense: 9th Pass efficiency defense: 25th Total defense: 10th Scoring defense: 19th Sacks: 13th Tackles for loss: 14th
Who to know: Huskies DE Trevardo Williams. The senior became the UConn career sack leader on Nov. 3, he's now collected 30.5 career sacks. He took down the Cardinals QBs three times in the triple overtime win last week. He currently ranks fifth in the country in total sacks per game this year (1.05).
If UC can't keep Williams from terrorizing Brendon Kay off the edge, he's capable of scuttling the entire offensive gamplan.
Defining matchup: UC DL vs. UConn OL. The Huskies front five the team name. They average 304 pounds with the only player under 300 being 295-pound junior tackle Kevin Friend. Meanwhile, they'll own 15-30 pound differences on the Bearcats line. Not allowing the Huskies to plow a path for RB Lyle McCombs could decide the day. Though Whitmer's been better at QB, he's still a liability and forcing the offense to run through the pass game would swing a significant advantage toward the Bearcats.
Delving deeper: Jumping out to a quick start could be the biggest difference in the game. In wins against Pitt and Louisville the last two weeks the Huskies jumped out to a combined 34-0 halftime advantage.
By the numbers: The Huskies haven't scored a touchdown in the third quarter since Sept. 29 against Buffalo and yet to accomplish the feat in conference play.
Injury update: QB Chandler Whitmer was cleared to play by UConn, but was called a gametime decision by Paul Pasqualoni.
Quotent Quotables: Butch Jones on the importance of grabbing a share of the Big East title:
"It's what our program is. We expect to contend for conference championships."
Looking Ahead: The Bearcats will await their bowl placement, but all signs point to them ending up in Charlotte for the Belk Bowl or possibly the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.
With Wednesday night's win against Morehead State in the books, now it's time for the UC Bearcats to concentrate on the newly-named Crosstown Classic with Xavier at Fifth Third Arena on Sunday afternoon. Tickets are becoming scarce, so make sure you get yours soon, and there's no Bengals conflict-the men in stripes play after 4 p.m. in San Diego. By the way, wear red.
While Xavier has one more game Friday night before the Crosstown, UC has a clear schedule from now until Sunday. And while it is a cliche that 'you can throw the records out the window,' this game truly reflects that. You might remember that UC was undefeated before last year's Crosstown, but left without the Kendle Cup trophy and with its first loss of the season.
Here's what to watch, after seeing the Bearcats this early in the season: First, Dayeesha Hollins continues to sparkle. She seems to be more comfortable taking charge in her guard role, and when she sees that the shots aren't falling, she takes it upon herself to make shots. During the Morehead State game when it seemed as if there was a lid on the Bearcat basket, Dayeesha created chances by driving inside, looking for the layup or trying to draw the foul.
Second, watch the development of Lesha Dunn as a force inside. Dunn got sporadic playing time last season, but early this year, you can see the evolution of her game. She's become more confident in her shot and she's not afraid to get inside, sharp elbows notwithstanding. She has really improved her game and I think Bearcat fans will be pleased with her off-season development.
Third, Jamelle Elliott's starting to work her freshmen into the mix, including Jasmine Whitfield and Alexis Durley, although Destini Feagan got some playing time Wednesday night. Injuries have necessitated some of that experience, but you can tell that Coach Elliott believes in their skills. Might as well throw them into the deep end of the pool right away, because it only gets deeper during BIG EAST play.
It should be a great game, but also remember it's a day to celebrate girls and women in sports, with girls' youth teams eligible to win new uniforms, courtesy of TQL. On both sides of the court we'll see amazing role models for the next generation of player to follow. Join us on Sunday.
Bearcats defensive end Elijah Shuler battled tragedy with the help of his biological and football familes this season and returns to his home state this weekend as an unbelievable two months come full circle.
CINCINNATI -- In the locker room at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., a wild, party atmosphere broke out which only can be prompted by a dramatic national TV victory in enemy territory. And this celebration of beating Virginia Tech ranked among the all-time greats at UC.
High-5s replaced by hugs, singing the fight song, singing Get The Dub, jumping around and dancing engulfed all corners of the locker room. The type of pandemonium talked about at 25-year reunions.
This moment was perfect for junior defensive end Elijah Shuler. The kid known for his constant smile, energy and unrelenting positive attitude knows how to enjoy himself. There he was, smack in the middle, loving the first major victory of his Cincinnati career and enthralled by the endorphin rush.
"That was one of the most amazing games I've been a part of my entire life," Shuler said.
Amid the blur of the moment, coaches told Shuler to hurry up and shower because his mom was in from his hometown of New Bedford, Conn., awaiting him. He was excited, too. The son with a tight family unit hadn't seen his mother in quite some time because of the crazy football schedule.
Only, once breaking from the locker room and down a hallway in the underbelly of the stadium, he entered into a special office in the security corridor. His mother Brenda was there as Butch Jones and position coach Steve Stripling filed in as well with the team chaplain.
She had news. It wasn't good.
Earlier in the day, Shuler's father died. His brother found him slumped over in his bed and couldn't save him.
Isiah Shuler was 66.
"Went there, gave her a hug, kissed her," Shuler said, recalling the nightmarish moment. "She just hit me with it. She said your father passed away. And, I didn't even believe her at first. Everything shut down. I just broke down."
Shuler was close with his father. Isiah's reputation as a happy guy and phenomenal cook rubbed off on his son. Pops, as Elijah called him, taught proper southern cooking and how to make the best mac and cheese imaginable. Isiah loved washing his care, caring for his garden and appreciating the details in life. Elijah was worried about his dad who had been in the hospital, but recently released. Elijah just held a conversation the previous day about how relieved he was it appeared Pops would be OK.
Once home, a bad reaction to medicine he received turned into the worst case scenario.
For two weeks following that day, Shuler retreated to his home in New Haven, Conn., to assist with the funeral and support his family.
During the football season, the whole world of a student-athlete lives in a bubble - sometimes literally. The outside world ceases to exist. Football saps free time and focus. Instantly extracted from football reality, he suddenly faced one of life's toughest moments.
"My main concerns went straight to my brothers," he said. "I have one natural older brother and then my mom adopted two younger brothers. My focus went to them because they were actually there. My older brother actually found him and tried to give him CPR because he just graduated as a nurse. So my main concern went right to my brother -- how's he feel? He just got his nursing license and first thing he tries to do is save his father and it doesn't work."
Shuler didn't tell his mother he committed to Cincinnati out of Pierce Junior College in California. Two weeks before his March 20 birthday he sent a text message to Stripling informing he's coming to UC. Later that day, he told his mother of the decision.
Other visits were planned, but not needed. He loved the family atmosphere of Jones and the Bearcats. He loved how everyone cared so much about each other.
Little did he know just how important the family atmosphere would be to him.
Upon landing in Connecticut for the funeral and arrangements his phone filled with over 100 text messages and voicemails, most all from Bearcats teammates.
"Just them supporting me telling me they are there for me, they love me," he said of the messages.
No day more clearly proved that fact than Sept. 29 against Virginia Tech. Yet, those are the moments Jones molds his football philosophy around. His philosophy of creating a cohesive, family unit that supports itself both by players and coaches stand alone at his core belief system in a team. Dealing with adversity dials into every press conference, locker room speech and recruiting trip.
Supporting Shuler wasn't just something Jones wanted to do, it was something the entire team believes they have to do. It's part of being a family. It's part of Cincinnati football.
"The great thing is that's why we talk about the foundation of our football program being structured around the core value of family," Jones said. "(Shuler and I) have spoken a few times, because I've lost my father. And my father was my hero. He was everything to me. But just having that open line of communication having the support system in place from not only his coaches but his peers, teammates, that's really helped him. Plus, he's got a great mother, he's a high character individual. Just love everything about him."
A discussion arose early in the year whether Shuler should redshirt. He played sparingly, if at all most games. Stripling and Jones loved the energy and motor on the 6-foot-3, 258-pounder. His burst around the end only needed refining of technique and experience. Allowing two more years in the system would be beneficial.
Yet, two weeks after he returned home from Connecticut and the funeral he desperately desired a return to football. When Walter Stewart went down with an injury that would end his season, the Bearcats needed Shuler as well.
Come game week against Toledo, his role included more snaps on defense as part of the rotation. Shuler played differently now. The motivation changed.
As he taped up for his first games following his father's passing, he knew he wanted to place on his wrist what already blanketed his heart. Every game he writes the same seven large letters on his wrist: RIP Pops.
"I always look back to it every play," he said. "I probably will do it for as long as I play football just because it was so significant in my life."
'I WISH EVERYONE WAS LIKE THAT'
Shuler displayed glimpses of why coaches recruited him. He recorded six tackles, two pass breakups and one TFL during conference play.
The numbers weren't game-changing for the Bearcats, but they were for a college student recovering from tragedy.
"That was the key thing," Shuler said. "All my tears are gone. I just needed to take my focus off and put it into something else, into school, whether it is on the field or off the field I needed something else to take that away from me. Getting on the field, hearing your name on the speaker knowing that your father is up there watching you, really means a lot."
While inwardly, Shuler endured the grieving process, outwardly, anybody unaware of his story, would never know. The kid with the wide smile and easygoing attitude never ceased supplying the positivity Pops installed in him.
Nobody knew better than Dan Giordano. The senior defensive end was assigned Shuler in the Big Brothers program Jones utilizes. When Shuler first moved to campus in the summer, Giordano hung out with him, showed him the ropes, looked out for him and helped him feel at home. A bond quickly developed, but that wouldn't stop Giordano from acting like a true older brother during practices.
"I am so hard on that kid," he said, laughing thinking back at a few on-field conversations. "He plays right behind me and that is the identity of our d-line when I'm not in. He's got to hold it down. Whose going to start next year? I am harder on him than I ever was on anyone and he just keeps coming with a smile. Sometimes it aggravates me a little bit. I am yelling at him, how could he be happy? I wish everyone was like that."
Though few see a struggle, Shuler labors through the tough days. Thanks to his football family, they come fewer and farther in between now. He also calls his mother regularly to check on her and his brothers.
He won't need to call this weekend. As UC travels to play against UConn, he'll be dipped into a slice of home for the first time since his father's funeral. Cousins, aunts, uncles, friends all plan on showing up at the game to support Shuler.
His football family and real family will converge for the first time since Virginia Tech. Of course, regardless of win or loss against the Huskies, Shuler now knows better than anyone on the field he can handle whatever adversity unfolds, from the all-time high to the all-time low. Even if they arrive simultaneously.
He only needs the support of his two families --- and a little tape for his wrists.
"When I was back home I was telling all my family members how great this team is, how it is a real family and (my mom) is so happy I made my decision to come here," Shuler said. "I love this team so much because they are there for the good times and the bad times."
We want to hear from you, please shoot me an email with any comments or questions and I'd personally like to thank Elijah Shuler and everyone at UC for sharing his unbelievable story with me. Email me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Senior Travis Kelce is now the Bearcats all-time leader in receiving yards for tight ends. Thanks to his output against South Florida, Kelce surpassed Joe Koynock and now tops the list.
In addition to leading by catching, he's also led by firing up the troops with emotionally charged speeches you may have seen by video on this site. Like his brother, Jason, Kelce plays with incredible passion.
In his final year, it appears he emotionally has caught up with what God gave him physically. Here's the interview I did with him Tuesday prior to the Connecticut regular season finale.
The podcast returns this week as we catch up with UC New Media and Broadcasting director Tom Gelehrter. I track him down as he recently returned from Las Vegas with the basketball team and in-between calling games for 700WLW and ESPN and really anybody that broadcasts a signal out of the I-275 belt.
We discuss how close we came to seeing Chuck's streak end, the nickname debate, Titus Rubles, Walter Stewart, the unheralded defense and, of course, delicious cake.
Minutes 1-8: Get on the good foot with pleasantries, Vegas stories, the 50 shades of gray that is The Rent and a reminder to all college athletes: Don't bet on it.
8-12: Observations on the court from Vegas and the Titus Rubles effect.
12-15: looking ahead to Alabama and a considering what a bald President Ono will mean for the Bearcats ranking.
15-20: The nickname debate and the awkward moment when I try to divide the local broadcasting tandems. Oh, and we talk about cake for two minutes.
20-26: Talking football, jewelry accessories and a chance to seriously discuss one our all-time favorite Bearcats, Walter Stewart.
26-31: The overachieving, resilient defense and the beat up secondary.
31-33: Talking game times, TV and the 200 different places you can catch UC athletics and/or Tommy G this weekend. #TwitterPlugTime
In the world of Big East football, expect the unexpected. Or perhaps more fittingly, the legitimately inconceivable. That's the proper message coming out of Tuesday's press luncheon with Butch Jones and player interviews.
Suddenly, if Louisville can beat Rutgers on Thursday, UC will be playing for a four-way share of the Big East title. Now, they won't be the BCS rep regardless, but don't think that matters to these guys. When you work all offseason for a goal, attaining it means the world to them, even if it's only a portion.
"At the beginning of the year we didn't want a share of the title, but
just to have a chance to share would be amazing for us," OL Austen Bujnoch said. "As the program
builds we want to outright win the conference, but to have a share is
better than having nothing."
It wouldn't be worth nothing. At the end of the day, this team could possibly claim the fourth time in five years they've at least shared a portion of the league title and win 10 games for the fifth time in six seasons.
Plus, for somebody like Cam Cheatham he could add a fourth ring to his collection. Last year, he sized one for his pinky, but now he could possibly have all digits but the thumb covered. He says he's never worn his rings and they currently lay in the bottom a drawer at his apartment.
One day they'll be on display and he says he might even wear them when he walks at graduation on Dec. 15.
"I'm not a big jewelry guy," he said. "But it's definitely a big thing, you get another ring. that's your goal when you start out at the begi9nning of the year. For that to still be out there to accomplish your goal is big."
Butch Jones preached to keep all the focus on what this team can control. And they'll have their hands full with UConn. Jones ran down the long list of their impressive statistics in case us slacker media didn't do any research. Make no mistake, this is one of the best defenses in the country and probably better than even Rutgers. As they've figured out their offense a bit the last two weeks, they've taken down both Pitt and Louisville.
For that reason, avoiding any concern about sharing titles or other possibilities has been the major talking point on the stump this week.
"We can't worry about the outcome of the Rutgers-Louisville game," he said. "The only thing we can control is our mindset, our mentality and workmanlike approach, not only on the field but in the film room, in the classroom this week. The only thing we can control is ourselves. That's kind of been the message all week long. Let's worry about ourselves because we have a lot to be concerned about Saturday at 3:30."
That said, you know the Bearcats will be watching closely on Thursday.
"No doubt," Drew Frey said. "I'll be glued to the TV."
--- So, we went into the Tuesday presser discussing realignment thoughts and by the time we exited the second-floor bunker, the landscape already changed with the addition of Tulane and East Carolina.
Welcome to realignment. Absurd how quick the massive change occurs. As commish Mike Aresco said: "We are not done yet."
--- Kentucky announced Mark Stoops will be their head football coach. Guess that "Butch Jones to Kentucky. Done Deal," report was bogus. Shocking. #Sarcasmfont
The rumor mill is a failure of epic proportions right now. Dear UC fans, stop hanging on every rumor. It will drive you crazy. Follow Butch's advice:
"I can't concern myself with rumors," Jones said. "Ther'es a lot of rumors going on out there. Anybody can write a blog, anybody can tweet something, you throw things out there and you may be right one out of 10 times and you look like a genius." --- Hearing the outside rumors both of realignment and coaching searches can test a young player. Just ask Cheatham. Sure, he's a senior now, but he's been through the coaching rumor/change/adjustment situation before. It's as regular around UC this time of year as barren trees.
Even though Cheat's headed out after two more games, he does his best to help his teammates handle the news cycles.
"I care for those young guys," he said. "The young guys will ask me what's going on,
how does that situation work? I try to give them as much insight as I
can because it was the same way when I was young and coach Kelly was
leaving. We are kind of used to it."
--- As was the case last week, Jones discussed Whit Babcock and President Santa Ono doing all they can to assure the future of the University of Cincinnati athletics. Yes, the changes out there leave everyone nervous and unsure about the conference positioning and Jones admitted the conference standing of his job is a concern going forward. It has to be or you are blind to the environment.
"If you ask any coach around the country, that security in a conference is critical," he said. "That's critical for everything. That's big. I do have the comfort knowing that President Ono are doing anything and everything in their control to take care of the University of Cincinnati."
--- Remember, I want to hear from you so shoot me any questions, comments or your confirmation that Butch Jones will be the new coach at Waynesville High School. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
In the Big East, we should see these developments coming by now. Even as Rutgers and Louisville both charged undefeated toward the finish line it always felt like the the Big Eastyness of the season was yet to come. You know, the point when all logic and reason disappears and we start digging into tiebreaker G.2 in the manual.
Insanity took longer than normal, but arrived this weekend. Thanks to Rutgers losing at Pittsburgh and UConn winning at Louisville (!) chaos returns.
Remarkably, the Bearcats could still grab a piece of the Big East title. They can't advance to the BCS.
Basically, here is the scenario in which they own at least a share of the Big East title for the fourth time in five years:
Louisville beats Rutgers on Thursday. UC wins at UConn on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
That's it. That would create a four-way tie and "mini-conference" for the tie-breaker. UC and Cuse would be 1-2 with the higher ranked of Rutgers and Louisville advancing.
Not the most exciting for the fans, but still something to root for. All signs still point toward Charlotte for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl, but Orlando isn't an impossibility.
They are currently allowing 17.2 points per game. That is the lowest number since 1981! That's right, the best defense by the defining number in 31 years. They are currently ranked 13th nationally in scoring defense. Yet, where have all the stories been about them? Where is all the praise? And they did all this without Walter Stewart for half the season. Sure, the schedule didn't come full of Oregons and Oklahomas, but there are plenty of schedules over the last 31 years that weren't the toughest.
In fact, only six times during that 31-year span has the defensive scoring average even been below 20.
Much thanks to football SID to the stars Ryan Koslen for tracking down the info for me.
--- Rumors are flying all over the place last night and this morning on multiple Bearcats topics. I try not to do rumors here. If you want those, I'm sure you know places to find them.
--- This weekend's game at UConn doesn't look like the pushover it did before Saturday. They had been a disaster area before heading into Louisville to pull off the upset in triple overtime.
UConn is much like UC, actually, only their offense has been downright dreadful most of the season. They rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense (19th, 18.5 ppg) just as the Cats do, but on offense they average just 17.8 points per game -- good for 119 out of 124 in the country.
It gets worse. In conference games they are averaging just 13.3 points per game.
--- Zach Collaros' Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup yesterday. He was on the injured list and didn't play except for the one final game of the season (#CrazyForSwayze), but a champ nonetheless. Congrats to him. --- All right, on to the big basketball weekend. UC comes back from Vegas winners. They take down Iowa State on Friday, 78-70, and beat Oregon in the championship Saturday night, 77-66.
Biggest story of the weekend for me, Titus Rubles.
The Big Three (more on the nicknames in a moment) are going to get theirs, but Rubles ability to assert himself offensively -- particularly in the defining moments Saturday -- give an elite feel to this team.
Rubles showed a glimpse against Iowa State when the Bearcats couldn't buy a bucket as the lead cut to as little as 3 in the final minutes, he pulled up without hesitation from 15 feet and buried a jumper. The next time, he unleashed the full arsenal. He hit jumpers, he drove and dished to Jermaine Sanders for a big 3, knocked down free throws. All sparking the 25-12 run to close the game.
--- Saturday's opponent,Alabama (5-0), owns a 22-point win against Villanova -- which turns out means very little after Jay Wright lost back-to-back games to Columbia and LaSalle. Bama also beat Oregon State, but they will a great test at Fifth Third Arena. That's 3 p.m. tip on Saturday.
--- A few KenPom stats for you to hold a better understanding of why UC's playing well right now. All this talk about their offense, it's actually the defense posting the most impressive numbers.
They ranked 10th nationally in overall defensive rating (allowing only 88.2 points every 100 possessions) and fourth nationally in adjusted FG% defense (accounts for 3-pointers).
One of the big victories on offense is they rank 29th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. Without a true offensive big man, they're grabbing 40 percent of their misses. That's a big number. It saved them vs. Oregon when they rebounded 45 percent of their missed shots.
--- OK, so, thanks to everyone who sent in email submissions regarding the nickname situations for JaQuon Parker, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. As for the voting in last week's poll, the "Cincinnati Three-Way" won out by a 60 percent vote. Now, there were some very strong submissions from you guys that we will be putting into play. Basically, Cash, Parker and SK need to approve of their own nickname anyway. So, I'm going to sit down with them and run through some of your offerings and see what sticks. Then, we'll come back with the final poll pitting their top two against Cincinnati Three-Way for our final Bearcats Beat champion.
Here were the best of some of your offerings:
3G Network (Leaves it open for the stronger 4G network upon Rubles emergence) 3 Live Crew (Among my personal favorites, unique) Damage A Trois (which, remarkably, was dirtier than referencing 2 Live Crew. Uncle Luke would be devastated) Tres Leches (This literally translates to three milks, so not sure I get it, but catchy at the very least)
We're essentially in the losers bracket of the double-elimination CYO tournament right now trying to sift through to see who faces the champ. Be patient. By the end of the week, we should have a universal nickname.
If you have a nickname suggestion there is still time. I won't be sitting down with those three for a couple days. Shoot your ideas to me today and I'll add them to the list. Email: email@example.com or hit me on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
--- Again, thanks to everyone for reading, listening to the pod, voting in the polls and watching the videos. Love to hear from you, so shoot any emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) to me or chat on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr).
In the meantime, back to my comfort zone with Pearl Jam in full grunge attire from the 90s. Have a great day.
Greg Blair couldn't help but flash a knowing smile and laugh. The Bearcats leading tackler and middle linebacker knows his forced fumble Friday won't make the SportsCenter top plays.
No radio interview will want to know about what was going through his mind sending down USF for a three-yard loss.
Few headlines will boast the defensive effort on a night when all four Bearcats touchdowns were accounted for by seniors in their final night at Nippert Stadium. Perhaps, rightfully so. At the very least, unsurprising, the highlight culture where offense owns the airwaves and bandwidth hasn't changed not will it into the confernece network future.
Blair's OK with all that. He'll take the 27-10 win and knowing fundamental football truth.
"Offense sell tickets defense win games," Blair said laughing. "That's how it always is. That's how it is everywhere. That's how we go about it."
This defensive page in the book of the 2012 season should be dog-eared. While everyone will flip through exciting chapters about Ralph David Aberntathy, Munchie Legaux to Damon Julian and George Winn's soldiering through the record books, the quiet foundation of the plot line will be this forgotten defense.
Quietly, through the ups and downs, they've been the backbone of this journey to 8-3, 4-2.
"I think that's a great adjective when you talk about quietly because we have surrendered some yards, but very, very resilient," Butch Jones said. "We find ways to make plays at the end."
Consider UC came into Friday allowing the 47th most yards in FBS but their scoring defense ranked 15th.
They come out of Friday's suffocation of South Florida allowing just 17.2 points per game. In a season the defense has been overlooked by sexier storylines, this defense posted numbers among the best in the history of the program when it comes to the bottom line. How many points did you allow?
This season they've allowed fewer points per game than in any season since before any player on this team was born. Not quite the 1885 team that only allowed four total points, but substantial nonetheless.
A season of bending without breaking played out again Friday when 306 Bulls yards elicited only one field goal and a garbage touchdown. Between came seven punts and two turnovers. To be sure, nobody will be mistaking South Florida and their third-string quarterback for the Oregon Ducks considering the late TD marked their first trip to the end zone in 10 quarters.
That doesn't change the mark of this team all season. Whether it was the three red zone stops against Rutgers to keep the game within reach or second half shutdown of Syracuse to set the stage for Brendon Kay. Giving up yards but finding a way to make a play as much represents this team as the C-paw on the helmet.
"I do believe that's our style of play," LB Maalik Bomar said. "When things happen we think of it as another opportunity to create something. That's what it is on defense, a chance to create. What can happen next? You never know. You play hard each down. Don't take a play for granted."
Hard to take anything for granted Friday with 24 seniors playing their final game at Nippert Stadium. The rally cry during the week to snap the team out of the disappointment of losing their hopes of a Big East title against Rutgers came with Tuesday's practice. The pads were popping and the drive for win number eight took precedence.
On Friday, the defense took it from there. The first seven drives of the game forced six punts and a fumble. Eventually UC would notch four sacks, two turnovers and allowed the one TD. The first fumble recovery set up a short field and 19 yards later UC took a 7-0 and never looked back.
There was that one late touchdown to leave just a hint of frustration in the mouth. The touchdown-free game would have felt better than a cup of hot chocolate in Shank Pavilion.
"I'm not OK with that," Blair said. "But it happened."
Most won't leave Nippert Stadium on Friday talking about a defense as unremarkable as it has been effective. They'll discuss theories for defrosting digits, Travis Kelce's emergence and the thickness of Winn's neck.
So be it. Blair, Bomar and the rest of the Bearcats will happily trade discussions for dubs. Comes with the territory.
"We all have relentless attitudes," said Blair, who notched his seventh double-digit tackle game Friday. "We play swarm to the ball, 11 hats to the ball. That's how we play every down. (Offense is) going to get all the ESPN highlights, but we all know we are all team. We all know the defense play the back seat of the offense, but we are all on the same page."
I want to hear from you. Send me your questions, comments or suggestions for avoiding frostbite when walking 200 yards to your care by sending an email to 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 Friday's game against South Florida.
When to arrive: Senior Night festivities honoring 24 seniors will begin around 6:40 p.m.
The Bearcats lead the series 6-3. Zach Collaros led a comeback victory in the fourth quarter in Tampa last season.
Need to know: The goals of a Big East championship may have been altered by the Bearcats, but they still shoot for a 10-win season. Most importantly, Friday will be a chance to honor a class of seniors responsible for so many great moments in the recent history of the program. Players like Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano, George Winn and Travis Kelce.
As for the game, USF comes in beat up and struggling mightily. The Bulls are playing with their third string quarterback as starter BJ Daniels and backup Bobby Eveld both are out for the year. They lost 40-9 against Miami last week and only win in the Big East came against lowly UConn.
Who to know: Bulls QB Matt Floyd. The third-string, redshirt freshman quarterback makes his first career start Friday. He connected on 20 of 35 passes for 175 yards with two interceptions last week coming in to replace Eveld. They are clearly not afraid to let Floyd wing it and with USF looking forward to 2013, I'd expect them keeping the playbook open to grab a feel for what he brings.
Defining matchup: QB Brendon Kay vs. USF secondary. Kay didn't enjoy the success he would have liked against Rutgers, though he didn't play poorly. The door will b open against the Bulls, though. They come into the game ranked second-to-last in the Big East in passing defense. The Bulls allow an average of 263 yards per game in the air and given up 15 touchdowns -- only Temple and Syracuse are worse there. If Kay can connect as he did against Temple the Bearcats could quickly turn this into a Senior Night coronation.
Delving deeper: Maybe the biggest loss due to injury for South Florida is explosive runner/receiver/returner Lindsay Lamar. He hurt his chest two weeks ago against Syracuse and isn't expected to play. He brought the explosion on offense and special teams for USF and without him they've struggled to find another potent weapon .
In eight games before Lamar went down the Bulls compiled 13 plays of at least 30 yards. In two games since, they've only had two.
By the numbers: Football is a game of turnovers and the Bearcats hope that will be the case again Friday. The Bulls rank 120th out of 124 FBS teams in turnover margin (-14).
Remarkably, they have thrown 12 interceptions this year but only picked off two passes themselves. In their three games against ranked opponents they lost the turnover margin by an average of 2.33 per game. Not good.
Injury update: Kay injured his non-throwing elbow against Rutgers, but will start.
Quotent Quotables: Senior defensive lineman Dan Giordano on his final game at Nippert on Friday :
"We got to win, obviously, I want this
win. Especially at home, senior night. I refuse to lose. I am getting
carried off this field Friday night."
Looking Ahead: The Bearcats will close out the season at UConn and await their bid to what looks to be the Belk Bowl. Words from Butch Jones: Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones on Bearcats Football Weekly to discuss Saturday's game and the state of the Bearcats. He also did the first interview with Walter Stewart since his injury. Here's the link.
Hype video: Today is President Santa Ono's 50th birthday and here's the video birthday card from his party in the bubble.
middle of all of the conference angst, there still is a football game
to be played Friday.
While going through some facts and
figures for a radio interview, one of the best ones I saw came from The
Weather Channel app I have on my IPad. I was worried about
warmer-than-average temperatures Friday, since Thanksgiving Day features
a high of 65.
However, a tad of our northern weather
returns just in time for Friday night and South Florida. Friday's high
is set for 47. so it goes to reason that by kickoff that figure will
drop into the low 40s and possibly upper 30s.
UC. Big time.
Having witnessed nearly all of the
UC/USF games in person, I have seen games played here as early as late
October where the Bulls would be bundled up in tights, gloves and attire
normally meant for Lambeau Field conditions. As simple as it is, the
Bulls from Tampa don't care for the cold.
matter, neither does anyone who lives in Florida on a regular basis.
Thankfully, UC's abundant Florida recruits have been acclimated to the
ever-changing climate around here.
Now, for those of
you that recall BJ Daniels and company beating the Bearcats 38-30 in
October of 2010, let me remind you that the temperatures had not yet
dropped and it was 56 degrees.
On the other hand, in
2008, it was a pre-Halloween night game that featured a Bearcat-friendly
42 degrees. UC won 24-10. Likewise on Oct. 22, 2006 at 45 degrees, it
was a 23-6 Bearcat victory.
In 2004, it was Nov. 20
and no temperature was reported. UC won 45-23 with Gino Guidugli having
a pretty good day as I recall. Though I remember the sun being out, I
still have to think there was a nip at The Nipp that those from the
Sunshine State might not have appreciated.
point is it's easier for UC to go to Tampa and play in warmth than it is
for South Florida to come north and succeed in temperatures they
associate with winter. Historically, the NFL Buccaneers have
encountered the same problems.
As I've disclosed
before, I also have a degree from USF in addition to my UC degree. I
spent five years in Tampa and am very familiar with the football talent
there and throughout the state. Every DI school of note mines the
interstates and orange groves of Florida.
is great, but their idea of winter and ours are worlds apart. I
remember the weather dropping to the 50s and seeing folks in winter
coats. The lowest I ever came across was 28 one December night and the
power companies had rolling blackouts.
department stores would roll out winter sweaters, I still had my shorts
In addition to seeing USF players dressed for "The
Ice Bowl", I've witnessed Floridian Deion Sanders glued to a heated
bench at Riverfront Stadium for a late December game between the Bengals
and Falcons. I also watched then-freshman Florida quarterback Chad
Plummer hovering on the bench in the last game UC played at Kentucky in
1995. With wind chills dipping into the teens and snow, that was by far
the coldest game I ever did.
So, for those that might
be shivering and cursing the cold Friday night, suck it up and realize
the Bulls across the way are freezing and are likely as bundled up as
Ralphie's brother in "A Christmas Story".
I know I'm supposed to start here talking about Bearcats basketball, their win over the Fighting Camels last night and some of the fine perspective given my Mick Cronin after the game.
I can't. I just can't. That's because I woke up this morning researching the schedule of a Division III team out of Iowa. I'm mesmerized by what Grinnell College's Jack Taylor did last night. He scored 138 points in a win against Faith Baptist. He hit 27 3-pointers! He shot 52 of 108 from the field!
Not shockingly, zero assists.
At some point one of his teammates had to have been wide open under the basket for a layup yelling at him, throwing his headband, right? They did win 179-104. I want to see these guys play. Unfortunately the closest they come to here is about a six-hour drive. Almost still feels worth it.
I think Kobe is regretting supporting the Mike D'Antoni hire right now. A few LA losses and he'll be coming out in support of the Grinnell coach any day now.
Basically, the answers I got during the investigation from Mick was not really. As long as this team is posting 92 points per game he doesn't care who scores. He'll tell you as much.
"I don't care who scores," Cronin said.
Sure, having another weapon would be great, but as long as the other positions contribute occasionally there's no reason to care how many shots those three are taking. They are too good to care.
Granted, these numbers are relative this early in the season, but for perspective, SK (102) and Cash (252) both rank in the top 260 nationally in overall offensive rating, according to KenPom. If you look at estimated field goal percentage, which takes into account added weight for 3-pointers, SK ranks 23rd in the country right now. Yeah, you want that guy taking your shots.
They also both rank in the 150 nationally for percentage of shots taken when on the floor -- they both are around 31 percent. Nobody else under Mick Cronin ever topped 28.5 percent -- that counts Deonta Vaughn in his "only option on the floor" prime of 2007.
The Bearcats have taken 263 shots this season. Cash, SK, Park have taken 129 of them. That's 49 percent.
The key for Mick is shot selection. That was part of the problem in the first half, when settling too much for contested jumpers the opportunity to cut and dish were lost. Once SK did that more in the second half the whole court opened up for everyone -- including Kilpatrick.
--- While I'm at it, part of last night's story involved me jumping around the different nicknames we've heard for these three. Tommy G has been pushing the Three Amigos. Dan Hoard suggested the Cincinnati Three-Way to be true to the Cincy chili roots.
There is the standard Big Three that rolls off the tongue nicely. Or possibly we go into their hip-hop pop culture and instead of Trey Songz, go with Trey Problemz? Trey Day? 3 Chainz?
Clearly, we need your help! Vote in the poll or please, please, send in your ideas and we'll run your email suggestions next week when we hash this thing out once and for all.
--- Now that we've covered that, wanted to mention that Cheikh Mbodj is currently blocking 20.3% of the shots he sees, which is an absurd number. It ranks third in the nation right now. Sure, it's early. But the guy is protecting everything at the rim.
Speaking of protecting the rim -- Kilpatrick with a disrespectful block last night hitting the SC Top 10.
--- Wanted to hop in on a few things Mick said regarding this weekend's Vegas tournament. UC plays Iowa State Friday at 6:30 ET and then the winner/loser of UNLV/Oregon on Saturday.
All three are quality programs right now. Campbell played both UC and Iowa State and coach Robbie Laing favored the Bearcats.
"Cincinnati is much more physical," he said. "I don't want to give bulletin board
material to Iowa State. Cincinnati sat on top of us tonight defensively,
we didn't see that at Iowa State. Cincinnati smothered us. We couldn't
reverse the ball; they forced us into one-on-one play. Cincinnati is too
long for us to convert one-on-one baskets, Iowa State didn't have that
problem. Offensively, Cincinnati is a little tighter and executed
awfully well. ... I think Cincinnati is ranked where they ought to be in
comparison to Iowa State. They're a little bit further ahead right now."
So, there's that. The concept of playing No. 18 UNLV in the championships seems to be the matchup everyone desires -- but Oregon is no slouch, either. My guess, at least three of these four teams are in the Dance, if not all four. They haven't played many great opponents, but all four teams are a combined 14-0.
While coming away with a championship from the tournament would be nice and a decent measuring stick, Cronin will tell you how little it actually means. One of my favorite quotes of the season here:
"If you win them both, they say you're great and we're not great," he said. "If you
lose them both, they're going to say you stink and you don't stink. If
you win one and lose one, they're going to say you're just OK. And
none of it means anything because it's November. It's just the truth."
That said, these players have been sitting around watching Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, etc, play these major TV games. They are itching to jump in the action.
"I'm expecting teams to actually come at us," Cash said. "We have a bulls-eye on our
back and people are talking about us being a ranked team so people are
going to come out there and give us their best game. We just have to
come out there and stay focused for 40 minutes, play good defense and
not let down." --- Great to see Mike DeCourcy and Lance McAlister on press row last night. By some crazy coincidence I'd never really met Lance before. Still not sure how that's possible considering the circles we both run it, but it was great to sit next to him and chat during the game. He is a walking iPad advertisement. He's showing off all the great ways that thing can be used.
--- Also last night, filed under hilarious things seen: As Athletic Director Whit Babcock was making the rounds down press row during the game talking to a few of us, he was leaning over to talk to the sitting scribes courtside but as a tall guy it's hard to bend down far enough not to block a bit of the view of those behind him. A particularly frustrated older gentlemen in the front row basically said, AD or no AD, I'm using my cane to make sure you get the message I'd like you to move. So poke away he did. Hey, those aren't cheap seats -- and Whit happily obliged by slinking out of the way.
Cincinnati survived the first minor score of the season against the game Campbell Camels on Tuesday. The usual suspects assured victory in what should be the expectation, at least for now.
CINCINNATI -- The first nervous moment of the Bearcats 2012-13 season rode in on the back of a Camel. OK, technically, his name is Darren White, but referencing Campbell's leading scorer any other way feels like a missed opportunity.
Fighting Camels or not, Campbell proved why they were picked to win the Big South as White's 10 consecutive points cut the Bearcats once 25-point lead to 11 with under seven minutes to play. Runs like those and shots like ones White connected on might not strike a nerve with other Top 25 teams, but a Bearcats fan base who witnessed the Presbyterian nightmare tends to adjust in their seat.
No secret exists as to where the UC offense stems from in those critical moments. While this may have been the first game pressure of the season, it's far from the first game pressure for JaQuon Parker, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. They've been pressured by Camels before. No, wait - well, you know what I mean.
Bottom line, these three Bearcats factors are known. They've been accounted for and given nicknames. The only question comes from whether to call them the Three Amigos or the Cincinnati Three-Way.
When Campbell sent a brief Blue Hose flashback into the 5,924 filling Fifth Third Arena, cutting the lead to 11, the Amigos/Three-Way took over.
The phrase "taking over" can be overused in the sports realm. Call it the opposite of "pressured by Camels." On this night, the phrase fit more comfortably than a pregame warmup hoodie. From the time the lead cut to 14 points with 6:25 remaining, no other Bearcats player even took a shot outside of two foul shots by Titus Rubles when he had the ball on the opposite end of the court.
The plan worked. Wright capped off a career high 28 points with a 3-pointer from the corner, Parker tied for the second-highest total of his career and Kilpatrick contributed a workmanlike 15 points to go with 10 rebounds and three assists. Campbell faded to a moral victory and 91-72 loss.
Decisive moments for UC this year will be defined by the play of those three. They earned it.
"As a group we realize we're the veterans on the team so everybody look at us when times get tough and we feel like we worked so hard over the summer we are built to perform," Wright said.
With their talent those shots make sense. They will earn a heaping pile of wins by the time the regular season concludes in March. In order to reach levels discussed by the leadership contingent of this program, however, will the big three will need company?
On Tuesday, Kilpatrick, Parker and Wright shot 21 of 42 from the floor scoring 64 points. The rest of the team shot 11 of 22 for 27 points.
Very little concern came over Mick Cronin's face when questioned on the distribution.
"Don't read too much into it," he said. "Offensively, you can't complain too much when you shoot 50 percent and score 91 points."
Indeed, no need to complain. Teams should have such problems as three great offensive weapons asserting themselves in defining moments. Parker called the slight scare a wake-up call. Cronin files it under blessing in disguise.
"We needed that before Friday," Cronin said of the matchup with Iowa State to open the Global Sports Classic. "Things have been too easy for us."
When the Camels exit and Cyclones and Rebels enter as will be the case in Las Vegas the need for others join add offensive punch could be necessary. Through four games this year - games that featured at least 80 points scored every night - no non-Amigo notched double digits. The great news is a collection of players supplement right now. Seven players entered averaging between five and eight points per game. Those are all pieces attempting to find their role. After all, it's only Nov. 20. Nobody will remember these games come March.
This time last year the Bearcats concerns could be quadrupled. That turned out just fine.
Where should the other scoring options come from, though? Titus Rubles seems a logical choice. Justin Jackson could if he avoided foul trouble. The David Nyarsuk lob will be a weapon as the team adjusts to him.
"I don't care who scores," Cronin said. "I could care less who scores. What I would say we took too many tough jump shots tonight for no reason. When they played tough D and we threw four or five passes we just decided somebody was going to shoot it."
Cronin gives Wright and Kilpatrick "pretty free reign." When players penetrate and distribute, the points do the same. If they all come from three players, so be it. As long as they come. At the end of the day, this isn't an offensive conversation anyway. When looking at where points other than the three primary weapons come from, those are dictated by defense --- both their own and the opposing teams.
"All starts from defense," Wright said. "The offense going to come because we got scorers and got people who can actually play. The defense is where we going to win actual big games. And actually grind them down and win the game at the end."
As for who will be in charge of winning those games at the end, the answer doesn't come as a secret. The Three Amigos/Cincinnati Three-Way will handle the duties - for now. Doesn't mean these three aren't accepting applications.
"We are just playing," Wright said. "Whoever feel like you got the opportunity and you feel comfortable in your matchup, by all means try to score. If you keep scoring we are going to keep giving you the ball."
That day will come. Even if it doesn't, the Bearcats are in good hands. I want to hear from you. Shoot me any comments, questions or reasons why I should stop dissecting the offense of a team averaging 92 points per game to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Avoiding the topic Tuesday would be like avoiding the City BBQ. Not going to happen. Too much transpired surrounding conference realignment and coaching rumors to not address it at Butch Jones' Tuesday South Florida press conference.
It took 15 minutes for them to be brought up, but Jones wasn't afraid to jump in when asked about other schools pursuing his services.
"Everyone wants to speculate and throw darts," he said. "That's the time of
situation we are in, it's the time of season where it happens."
His bottom line when it comes to rumors that he has been contacted by the University of Kentucky was clear: "No."
He took being linked to other jobs as a compliment.
"You hear things out there," he said. "That's more a compliment to our football program. That's a compliment to our players. That's a compliment to our coaching staff. Like I said, we are 17-6, this coaching staff, we have won three championships at different levels, we graduate our players and I think we do things right."
Hard to deny his contention. To be playing meaningful games in the month of November with a team that lost its starting quarterback, leading tackler, defensive player of the year, offensive player of the year and four players selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft can only be considered a success.
Would he have liked a victory against Rutgers? Yes. He called the offensive performance "flat out inexcusable." Yet, taking a deeper look at all the obstacles placed in front of Jones this year it's easy to understand why he's being mentioned in the conversation of top jobs across the country.
He arrived to that spot by refusing to allow outside forces to keep any focus on the task at hand that day, that week, every week of the season. That's where he found himself again Tuesday.
"All my focus and energy is on the University of Cincinnati," he said. "Getting win No. 8 and obviously a quality bowl game and recruitment and all that. I think you know me by now, I think you knew the answer before you asked the question is my car knows home and back and our opponent, I live in a bunker and just study film and all my effort and energy is on every single player in our football program. That is the thing, when you are the head football coach I have a tremendous loyalty to our fans and to our administration here."
Unfortunately, those fans and administration have much more on their minds than Jones' future. They also wonder about the future of Big East Conference and where UC stands in the musical realignment chairs. Monday, Maryland made it official with a move to the B1G and Rutgers joined them Tuesday.
That leaves the ACC looking to replace Maryland. The lobbying has begun from across the Big East as questions arise regarding the latest round of instability.
Jones echoed many of Ono's feelings and as any good college football coach would do, equated the latest shuffle to football terms.
"Sudden change," he said. "You have to be able to answer sudden change."
He moved on to the crux of the situation. With what has been built at UC, the strength of the football and basketball programs along with the Cincinnati TV market make the school valuable wherever they stand.
"With all the conference expansion talk it's all about your university,
your institution's profile," Jones said. "You look at the University of Cincinnati,
I'm confident. You look at President Ono, he's been in front of this,
Whit Babcock, our entire administration. When you look at the profile,
it starts with academics. We have tremendous academics here, tremendous
facilities, our location, our campus life, then obviously our success on
the field. And also in basketball as well. Whatever happens, I think we
are going to end up in a good place, I really do. I think we have too
much value in the landscape of collegiate athletics to not be looked at."
Ono and Babcock continue to work toward the best solution for UC, no matter what that means, a fact made apparent in Ono's letter.
For Jones, his attention stays focused on winning football games because he holds the utmost confidence in the decision makers at the school.
"I've spoke with Whit about it, I've spoke with President Ono about it
and I will tell you this, our university is in great hands with those
two individuals along with our board of trustees of really being
proactive and having a vision for this institution," he said. "I think we are in
pretty good shape."
Of course, in realignment, just as in football, you have to stay prepared for everything.
"Now, sudden change," he said. "We leave this press conference and you never know."
If you have any questions, comments or would like to pitch that St. Susanna in Mason be added to the ACC, shoot me an email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Anybody else's head still spinning from a wild weekend of sports? Oregon, Kansas State, more realignment rumors, Rutgers, SK, record-setting basketball at Fifth Third. Hard to keep up, but I'll try.
Tough loss to swallow against Rutgers. Starting with anything but a tip of the cap would be wrong because that Rutgers team brings the hammer up front -- both offensively and defensively. The physicality with which they play on the lines was startling to see.
The frustrating element for the Bearcats was they made so many plays that typically offset a team imposing their will at the line. Between the two red zone interceptions and blocked field goal, they set themselves up to be one breakout play away from pulling off the win.
Can't remember a game where a team was nearly shutout but able to gain momentum on almost every drive. The beginning first down of any series tends to be the most difficult and once the drive gets going the playbook opens up for the coordinator. Mike Bajakian has done a great job this year utilizing different options. Somehow Rutgers found a way to stop drive after drive backed into their own territory.
Nine of 10 drives were in the Rutgers end? That is crazy.
Nonetheless, we move on. The sun rose again and UC will move the goals toward another 10-win season. Would be the fifth time in the last six seasons. That journey begins Friday for Senior night on ESPN against South Florida. Many great seniors deserving of the ovations they'll receive Friday. None more than Walter Stewart, still the most remarkable story of this season.
Here's the list of seniors on the roster playing their last game at Nippert (Blair and/or Kay could receive medical redshirts):
Dominique Battle, Maalik Bomar, Greg Blair, Cam Cheatham, Adam Dempsey, Adam Fearing, Drew Frey, Dan Giordano, Sean Hooey, Damon Julian, Brendon Kay, Travis Kelce, Pat Lambert, Colin Lozier, Danny Milligan, Brandon Mills, Malcolm Murray, Demetrius Richardson, Aaron Roberson, Stewart, Kenbrell Thompkins, Chris Williams, John Williams, George Winn.
They deserve to hear from you: 7 p.m., Friday, Nippert Stadium, ESPN.
Let's eat ...
--- These conference realignment rumors sap all the energy out of college football for me. The latest involve a scenario where Rutgers and Maryland could bolt for the B1G. We could know more later today as Maryland takes a vote on the possibility and where the heck they are going to come up with the $50 million exit fee. The types of dollars being thrown around in college football are mind-blowing.
Until we know anything more, it's unfair to discuss any possible fallout. It's exhausting.
--- Very cool to see the role Battle continues to play for this team. He came back against all odds and has utilized his football intelligence and instincts to make big plays. He played almost the entire second half and had the big pick in the end zone just before halftime. The interception was all a matter of anticipating throws, what he does best.
Battle sets a great example for the 65 first- and second-year players on the roster.
--- Butch Jones name will come up in head-coaching rumors. The same way they did last year. At the current state of the program, it comes with the territory. You want your coach on other team's lists. Just because he's rumored doesn't mean he's going anywhere.
Similar rumors floated around last offseason in regards to Illinois, UNC and a few others. He's still here.
--- As I mentioned in my story Saturday, Jones made sure he thanked the fans for what he viewed as a fantastic atmosphere at Nippert. Have to agree with him. Sold out student section and 34k-plus for a near overall sellout made for a rowdy Nipp on a gorgeous day. He was literally apologizing for not bringing home a win for them. Obvious he wants to deliver for this program in a way he hasn't yet.
"We'll get it done," he said.
--- All signs point to a trip to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. Absolutely love Charlotte. Great city. Highly recommend the Cajun Queen if you are into cajun food at all. Incredible.
--- USF comes in here struggling and with BJ Daniels injured and now back up Bobby Eveld injured, they could be sporting a third-string QB while coming off a 40-9 loss to Miami. Not pretty in Tampa right now.
--- UC posted a 54-point victory over North Carolina A&T on Sunday. Sean Kilpatrick outscored them for a half. He finished with a career high 29 points on 8 of 12 shooting from 3-point range. He's now averaging 21 points per game.
--- A big number to point out for me was the 12 blocks. Blocked shots are a staple of playing against bad teams. Teams like NCA&T aren't used to that type of ability guarding the rim. That said, the combination of David Nyarsuk and Cheikh Mbodj have shown as good an ability to block shots as any in recent memory.
Last year, UC blocked double-digit shots twice all season. They've now done it twice in three games. They had 10 against UT-Martin and 12 Sunday. Mick Cronin talked about not putting his centers in the position to constantly have to make up for mistakes, but having that type of protection will be essential.
What was the biggest difference last season for Louisville? Gorgui Dieng guarding the rim made scoring a nightmare against those guys. When a team like UC can garner so many points from their perimeter players, they don't need a huge offensive output from the 5 position, but do need them to be a force defensively. With 29 blocks through three games, so far, so good.
We will see how much that continues when the team heads to Vegas this week.
--- First, the Campbell Camels come to town Tuesday. Yes, the Camels. Some may joke, but camels can be a quite ornery animal. I don't know about you, but when I see a camel, the last thing I want to do is fight it.
--- On a serious note, this storyline about UC's schedule has popped up at a few press conferences and interview sessions. Can't stand this. You look at the Bearcats schedule as a whole this year and it will probably end up as the most difficult in the history of the school. Everybody plays cupcake teams early. Every-Body. UC is about to head to a tournament featuring a great UNLV team in their backyard.
To play them they have to get through a 3-0 Iowa State team that won 22 games and was an 8 seed beating UConn in last year's Big Dance.
They have non-con games against Alabama (4-0 with a 22-point win against Villanova), New Mexico (3-0, plays UConn tonight, 5 seed last year, nearly beat Louisville in tournament) and Xavier (pummeled Butler, no need to discuss intensity of that game more), all who will finish near the top of their major conference. Not to mention Marshall in Charleston.
Oh yeah, then they play the Big East. Shelve the schedule talk.
--- Reminder about Vegas games, the first game vs. Iowa State will be on CBS-College Sports. Then the championship game will also be on CBS-College Sports. A possible consolation game on Day 2 will not be televised. Props to Tommy G on the info.
--- You may have noticed I've railed quite regularly against Gangnam Style (which I understand isn't going anywhere, unfortunately), however, you will not find me railing against MC Hammer, who joined the guy who does that song (you mean he's not a robot?) on stage at the American Music Awards last night.
One of the most dominating performances in the Mick Cronin era saw records drop on both offense and defense. It all started with Sean Kilpatrick.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
The Bearcats basketball team displayed record-setting performances, both offensively and defensively, during Sunday's 93-39 win over North Carolina A&T.
Sean Kilpatrick led the team in three categories, showing why voters selected him as a preseason Top 50 Wooden Award nominee and preseason First Team All-Big East. His 29 points surpassed his previous career high of 27 points at Georgetown last January.
He started fast, scoring 21 of his 29 points in the first half and overtaking his season high 20 points against Mississippi Valley State. He quickly credited the team for his success though.
"Everyone was finding me early," Kilpatrick said. "On top of that, there were just open shots. It couldn't have been a good night without the team."
He also tied his career high with 10 made field goals and set a new career high for 3-point field goals with eight. His five assists, including a no-look pass to Cheikh Mbodj for a slam dunk in the second half, complemented his zero turnovers.
Head coach Mick Cronin was not surprised because he has "off the charts" preparation.
"His preparation every day for every game is good as I've ever been around as a coach," Mick Cronin said. "He's always focused, always intense and trying to get better every day."
Good defense creates offense and the Bearcats put on a defensive clinic. Cronin was most pleased with the defensive effort, including 12 blocked shots, most since he started coaching at UC.
"We blocked a lot of shots when they came at the rim. That was pretty discouraging for their guys and it got them gun shy," Cronin said. "Whenever you get 12 blocked shots from one position, you got to be happy with that. But we can't put our five man in that position as much as we did."
They also allowed NC A&T to shoot only 15 percent from the field, the lowest in the Cronin era.
Although the 54-point margin of victory ended up the largest under Cronin, the head coach still feels this team can get better, especially at the free throw line. They made just 9 of 23 and are hitting only 60 percent on the season. He called their performance from the stripe "unacceptable."
"I saw lack of concentration," said Cronin, who plans on attacking the problem with 7 a.m. free throw shooting practice Monday.
Kilpatrick also sees a need for improvement, but in a different way. He thinks the team can still improve on the turnover margin. UC dished out 24 assists to 13 turnovers.
"Thirteen is still a lot of turnovers," he said. "But at least we had more assists than turnovers."
However, Cronin knows his team isn't to the level they should be.
"We're not good enough yet," he said and followed quickly with, "but nobody is."
The Bearcats 10-3 defeat against Rutgers left the Big East championship out of reach, but UC walks away frustrated at how close they came to grabbing it.
CINCINNATI -- George Winn has always been a man of few words. Following the Bearcats 10-3 loss to Rutgers on Saturday, nobody could have expected more from the UC running back.
Sitting at an interview table outside the team's locker room, his words were few again, but they told the story.
"We just need to execute we need to score when we get our chances and execute," Winn said, stopping abruptly. "That's it."
He couldn't be more correct.
Sure, the Rutgers defense deserves credit. The Scarlet Knights lived up to every impressive national ranking earned during a season where they entered allowing the fifth-fewest points per game in all of college football. The Scarlet Knights nearly shut out the Bearcats, but didn't shut them down. This wasn't a day where three-and-outs disallowed drives to gather momentum. This was a day where drives gained momentum but slammed to frustrating stops just shy of the breakthrough moment time and again.
In fact, of the 11 Bearcats drives against Rutgers, only the opening three-and-out and knee taken before halftime didn't advance into Rutgers territory. That's right, essentially 9 of 10 drives crossed the 50-yard line.
Four of those nine drove inside the Rutgers 30. Only three teams this season gained more yards on the Scarlet Knights than UC.
Yet, the Bearcats could only finish off three points.
"They did a great job just like our defense of just being resilient," Butch Jones said. "They make you beat them. They don't beat themselves. That is the mark of a Rutgers football team. I said it in my press conference on Monday. They make you earn everything you get. That is a byproduct of playing great defense. It just comes down to the critical plays. We didn't make critical plays."
Upon analyzing the the journey shy of a Big East title, those plays will stand out. Whether the one play away against Louisville or the nine drives in Rutgers territory Saturday, it turned out to be two games packed with opportunity.
Ralph David Abernathy IV gained 54 yards on five touches. Kenbrell
Thompkins ripped off a 28-yard reception. Anthony McClung caught a
25-yard pass. Brendon Kay threw for 251 yards and gained 72 yards on the ground.
Many numbers contribute to Saturday's missed chances. The nearly 15-minute time of possession differential or 234-90 rushing game advantage for Rutgers.
Remarkably, a defensive performance Jones rightly described as "gritty" that included two red zone interceptions and a blocked field goal nullified all those lopsided stats. UC needed only to finish one of those nine drives to shift the momentum.
Instead, each came with its own story to create a more telling whole.
Time in game: Deepest portion of drive. Result
First quarter: Rutgers 17. Ended on third-and-12; Tony Miliano missed FG
Second quarter: Rutgers 39. Incomplete third-and-5 attempt to Travis Kelce
Second quarter: Rutgers 47. Kay intercepted by Ryan Logan going deep for Chris Moore.
Second quarter: Rutgers 48. Third-and-7 incompletion to Anthony McClung.
Third quarter: Rutgers 7. Fourth-and-inches, Winn stopped short.
Thrid quarter: Rutgers 49. Drive started at 49, Kay intercepted.
Fourth quarter: Rutgers 29. Two sacks in three plays forces fourth-and-25.
Fourth quarter: Rutgers 14. Miliano36-yd FG with 11 seconds left.
"They were good," Kay said. "But we didn't execute."
Jones often talks about staying on schedule and avoiding falling behind the sticks. Those mantras become the common theme in the death of all these drives. Five of these drives ended by virtue of falling into third-and-long. Partially, the lack of success in the running game filtered into the third down.
Those situations equal disaster against Khaseem Greene and company.
"When you are playing a talented defense like Rutgers you can't have third-and-long situations," Jones said. "You need third-and-1 third and 2. I give them a lot of credit, that's a great defense but obviously, we have a great standard and expectation of how we are going to play offensive football here and that didn't meet our standard or expectations today."
That's the reality UC must deal with as it recalculates the season goals toward a fifth 10-win season in six years. Understandably, it doesn't sit well. No loquacious speeches are necessary to explain the disappointment.
Jones doesn't plan on the frustration telling his story at UC. After he thanked the fans for the 34,526 that nearly sold out Nippert Stadium to create an ideal atmosphere for college football, he assured there will be no relenting from his part to avoid this feeling in the future.
"I am as disappointed in our team that we weren't able to give them a win today," he said. "As we continue to elevate the football program that's the type of environment we need around here. I am just disappointed and I apologize that we weren't able to get it done today. But, don't lose faith, we have a group of young men that are fighters and we'll keep going and that's all you can d0 ... but I'll get it done. Everyone in our football program will get it done."
I want to hear from you, email me with any questions, comments and observations about UC athletics at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 No. 22 Rutgers.
Where: Nippert Stadium, (turf, outdoors)
When: Saturday, noon, Big East Network/Local12/700WLW
Forecast: Temperature in 50s, no clouds, precipitation expected
Ranking: Rutgers is ranked 22 in the AP poll and 20 in the Coaches Poll. UC is receiving votes in both
Tickets: Tickets are still available. Student tickets are sold out, but $15 student overflow tickets are available
What to wear: Wear black.
Past results: This series has been filled with oddities. The last game at Nippert broke multiple Big East offensive records in a 69-38 UC victory. Last year, the first start for Munchie Legaux, Rutgers defense throttled UC and won 20-3 in Piscataway.
Need to know: This serves as a Big East championship game of sorts. UC will be heavily favored in its two final contests against USF and UConn. Beating Rutgers on Saturday means they would only need to take care of business the final two weeks and get Rutgers to beat Louisville at home the final week of the season in order for UC to win the Big East title and BCS berth.
A loss eliminates UC from any opportunity to win the Big East title.
It's that simple. This will be the biggest game of the year and most significant implications for a game at Nippert Stadium in the Butch Jones era.
Need to know quote: Butch Jones on how good this Rutgers team is:
"They are the most, THE MOST complete football team we have played to date."
Need to know stat: The Scarlet Knights have never won two Big East road games in the month of November. In fact, they are 4-25 all-time in November road Big East contests.
Who to know:
Senior DT Scott Vallone. All the talk will be about defending Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene. And he deserves much of it with the way he tracks down every play. He racked up 22 tackles last week against Army's triple-option. But, without the 6-3, 275-pound Vallone holding down the middle Greene wouldn't be uninhibited to the ball. Vallone made 47 consecutive starts -- the most of any active player in the Big East. He's tied for the team lead with 7.5 TFL. For the true, traditionalist football fan, watch Vallone vs UC center Dan Sprague for a feel of how the UC running game is doing.
Delving deeper: Hidden yardage alert! A game where points will come at a premium could easily be decided on special teams. Both teams are capable of creating explosive plays in the kicking game. Rutgers comes into the game as the top team in the nation returning kicks. Keep in mind, they've only returned 10 kickoffs all season (!) but in those they are averaging better than 30 yards per return.
They've taken 20 percent of their returns out more than 50 yards. Also, Rutgers is yet to allow a kickoff return longer than 40 yards.
By the numbers: UC will need to be cognizant of jump balls on the perimeter. Rutgers leading receivers both come tall and physical. Sophomore Brandon Coleman comes in at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. Opposite him will be senior Mark Harrison at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. Both can go up top and bully for position in tight quarters.
Up against them will be 5-11, 196-pound Deven Drane and 5-9, 187-pound Cam Cheatham.
Rutgers has connected on at least one pass of 30-plus yards in every game except for one this season and 24 total.
Injury update: Rutgers leading rusher Jawan Jamison was deemed 50-50 to play early in the week, but given the green light by coach Kyle Flood on Friday.
Brendon Kay on earning a week of experience against Temple and succeeding with two deep TD passes:
"The opportunity came and I took advantage of it. It's a confidence boost just to get out there and do it. You do it so many times in practice, but you are wondering if it will be the same way in the game and what-if, to do it in a game is a confidence boost."
Looking Ahead: Can't look past this game. A win here and two games against the bottom two teams in the conference --- including USF without BJ Daniels await. Words from Butch Jones: Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones on Bearcats Football Weekly to discuss Saturday's game and the state of the Bearcats. Here's the link.
Hype video: Video Shane and the crew broke out the dramatics for the big game this week. Can't really stress the enormity of it.
No matter the opponent this season, the Bearcats lined up and ran the ball. Everyone in the building knows George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy IV are coming. Next to nobody could stop it.
No matter the opponent, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights lined up their defense and dared teams to run the ball. Everyone in the building knows LB Khaseem Greene and DT Scott Vallone are coming. Next to nobody could break them.
In the process, the identities of both these teams forged around these facts. The Bearcats can run on anybody. Nobody runs on Rutgers.
Saturday, those two sides meet at the line of scrimmage in a game custom made for John Madden, Dick Butkus and cloud-of-dust lovers everywhere.
"It is good as of a defense as we've ever faced," Butch Jones said. "I mean that. That's no coach speak."
The numbers speak for themselves.
Rutgers ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense (10.3 points per game). They rank 17th in the nation in rushing defense and tied for third in country for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (5).
In four conference games, they've allowed but 82.3 yards per game and 2.5 yards per carry. That's tops in the conference by more than a yard.
On the flip side, UC ranks 16th in the country with 226 yards per game on the ground. USF ranks second-best in the conference a full 56 yards per game less. The Bearcats average 5.7 yards per carry where nobody else in the Big East tops 4.6.
In the is clash of strength against strength, whoever owns the line of scrimmage could end up owning the scoreboard. For UC, that means refusing frustration when the lanes they've become accustomed to don't emerge and when the explosive sprints toward the end zone aren't available.
"You just got to keep plugging away at them," OL Austen Bujnoch said. "That's just the thing, it's not going to be one play 80 yards. It's going to be five yards here, four yards there, three yards, like that. We just got to keep pounding the rock."
Persistence paid off the last two weeks for Kent State and Army against Rutgers. Army can be considered an anomaly as their triple option attack ran 68 times to but 17 passes.
Yet, in Kent's 35-23 upset in Piscataway, N.J., the Golden Flashes didn't abandon the run and handed it 50 times for 224 yards. Can a comparison be made? Consider Kent ranks only one spot ahead of UC nationally in rushing offense.
Taking a deeper look, prior to the past few weeks Rutgers rush defense hadn't truly been challenged all year by a prolific rushing team.
Tulane: 123 // 16-8
USF: 52 // 29-95
Arkansas: 106 // 19-73
Uconn: 119 // 28-53
Syracuse: 56 // 32-62
Temple: 55 // 42-119
Kent State: 15 // 50-224
Army: 1 // 68-282
Sure, Rutgers didn't allow four yards per carry to any team in their first six games, but none of those even rank in the top 50 in rushing yards per game.
The last two weeks, against teams who rank among the most efficient on the ground in the country, Rutgers gave up more than four yards a carry both times. They lost to Kent and were tied 7-7 in the fourth quarter against 2-8 Army. Not to say they aren't as good as advertised, but clearly Rutgers can be had on the ground.
"You just have to believe that you are going to break one eventually," Winn said.
Brendon Kay hit 4 of 4 passes longer than 15 yards down the field for 198 yards and two touchdowns last week against Temple. Proficiency with the deep ball also helps open the running game. Keeping safeties locked into coverage and disallowing eight men to stack the box means one less defender for Winn to avoid.
Even if Kay's numbers throwing long don't match those of last week, the threat alone should keep the Scarlet Knights from crowding the line.
"Well, it does," Jones said. "We have great confidence in the deep ball. The deep ball breeds confidence in our players as well. Every yard you get against Rutgers is earned. We have to be patient, but at the end of the day we have to win our one-on-one matchups."
That didn't happen last year at Rutgers. Despite current St. Louis Rams RB Isaiah Pead on the roster, the Bearcats scraped out only three points and the fewest rushing yards allowed in conference play (28 rushes for 67 yards). In Munchie Legaux's first start at QB, the offense sputtered and couldn't connect on the perimeter to take the pressure off the run defense.
Jones believes if the perimeter can create enough plays to keep the defense honest it could make all the difference. And don't think the Bearcats forget what it felt like in that loss at Rutgers that essentially stole their BCS berth.
"That was a tough game for us," Bujnoch said. "Munchie was getting his first start so everything was a little different. Definitely a little bit of revenge because they really gave it to us last year. I think they are a better team this year."
I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email to email@example.com with any questions, comments and observations about the game against Rutgers. Or hit me upon Twitter @pauldehnerjr before, during or after the game.
Jamelle Elliott joined a University of Connecticut basketball program that, at the time she signed, was building from scratch. She helped create a championship culture that is the model for schools across the country.
Amy Waugh tore her Achilles early in her junior season at Xavier. Instead of redshirting, she rehabbed her way back into the starting lineup that same season and helped lead her team to the Elite Eight.
These are the coaches who will face off December 2 in the Women's Crosstown Classic between UC and Xavier at Fifth Third Arena. If the determination and drive of the coaches are examples, this should be a good one. Of course, the annual game is a showcase for the two schools, but also serves as a showcase for women's sports.
For the last seven years, the goal has been to sell out the game, and there are a couple of reasons for that. First, of course, it's a great boost to the players to perform in front of a packed house. It gives a little more spring in their step, a little more energy on court to have thousands of fans in the house.
Secondly, it's a way to expose young girls in the Greater Cincinnati area to what is possible. I know if I had not seen women like Phyllis George, Gayle Sierens and Andrea Joyce covering sports on television, it would never have occurred to me that I would have an opportunity to do the same. It is vitally important that young girls, especially those playing on elementary or youth league teams, see what can happen if they stick with the sport.
And third, it's a way for girls' teams to have a chance to win new uniforms for their programs. Through the generosity of one of the Classic sponsors, TQL, teams who attend will be entered in a raffle to win new uniforms. At least five teams will win.
So if you have a daughter or granddaughter who loves basketball, take the time to bring her to the Women's Crosstown Classic on December 2. She'll see two coaches who have been fortunate enough to succeed in the highest levels of the game and who now are passing on their passion for the sport to the next generation. She'll also see student-athletes, many of them from the Greater Cincinnati area, who are taking advantage of their opportunity to play the sport they love. And she may see her future as well.
McClung's hauled in three catches the last three weeks where a vicious hit arrived along with the ball. All three possessed one common thread, not only did McClung hang on to the ball against all rules of force and mass, he popped before the defender handing the ball calmly to the referee.
At 6-foot, 172 pounds, McClung doesn't exactly tip the scales of intimidation. Yet, his reputation as the tough guy of the Bearcats receiving corps grows.
"I hope so," said McClung, asked if he's view as the tough guy. "It gets the momentum going for the offense to make a big play. It's just a momentum changer."
The junior caught 21 passes for 291 yards and one touchdown this season. No shortage of big hits come with the territory of returning punts as well, which he's done 14 times for 158 yards. But rarely can an offensive player steal momentum from a defensive player after the play has been completed. That's exactly what McClung and his ability to hold on to the ball during extreme violence provides.
The concept begins with a standard of the UC football program that the the Bearcats will always be the first one up after any play.
"I guess it's kind of like instinct," McClung said. "As we all know coach Jones always says, 'First up.' It is kind of a mentality thing. I am just trying to pop up as quickly as I can and get lined up fast."
Twice against Syracuse he popped up following big hits, both on shorter routes. Against Temple, he ran a fade down the sideline and held on to a 29-yard gain despite the safety nearly taking his head off.
He won't deny that one was the worst.
"I played the ball in the air," he said. "As soon as I touched it he just laid me out. It was a great play. I am not taking nothing from him. I just got to worry about what I can control which is the ball in the air, so I just try to make a play on the ball."
Send any questions, comments or stories about your own perseverance working through a stubbed toe to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Indeed, folks, the rumors are true. We
can officially put any gossip to rest. Yes, The Inside the Bearcats
Podcast has returned. <Waits for raucous cheers> <Awkwardly
sits down to sound of single slow clap>
I'd prefer to imagine all of you doing your best Rocky Balboa/Apollo Creed in your living room.
It's been quite a hiatus and search for
a new format to work with but the ITBP (still lacking the catchy
acronym) has a new home thanks to the public library.
What the library has given to me in the
form of free music, movies and now podcasting has been
life-changing. If you aren't aware of all the services and locations,
you need to be visiting the Greater Cincinnati Library system web
page right now.
Regardless, with basketball season upon
us and football entering the critical stretch run I'm here to bring
you all the conversations that give a deeper glimpse at UC athletics
from people you may know and maybe even a few you don't, but should.
In the past we've had Tom Gelehrter,
Mike DeCourcy, Josh Katzowitz, Whit Babcock as well as Sean
Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright.
I hope to deliver more with those folks
this year and hopefully some new faces as well.
You definitely should know my two
guests on today's basketball season preview podcast. First I sit down
with Voice of the Bearcats Dan Hoard from the gym prior to Tuesday's
game with the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils then catch up via
phone with Mo Egger. We talk all UC hoops all the time, as well as
the standard devolving into Party Rock Anthem, my particularly shoddy
setup and complete misunderstanding of recording technology.
But, the whole podcast sounds legit now
because we've added a spicy new open with much thanks to Shane
Harrison and the video team at UC. Without further ado, time from
Minute 1: Time to get off on the good
Minutes 1-3: Dan and I discuss my
impressive setup and philosophy behind using only the finest
equipment from the Wal-Mart bargain bin.
3-7: Are the Bearcats nationally
undervalued? What will it take for UC to put the word perennial in
front of their name?
7-11: Say it every year, but needs to
be said again, let's talk about the job Mick Cronin has done and how
it's different even this year.
11-15: Games we are most looking
forward to and the standard discussion of why the road trip food
always comes into play.
15-18: The possibility of a catchy new
nickname within this year's team.
18-20: Mo Egger live from a hotel room
in Atlanta discussing his rapid ascension to the backup to the backup
to the backup play-by-play man.
20-24: The pressure as caretaker of
24-30: As well-equipped for a deep NCAA
Tournament run as any since ...
30-35: The anatomy of the relationship
breakthrough between Cronin and the fan base.
35-40: Developing a relationship with
the student section DJ and the sad state where we Mo and I weave
nostalgia for the days of our long-standing enemy: Party Rock Anthem.
As always, I want to hear from you. Send me an email to email@example.com for any questions, comments or podcast suggestions. Would love to do a podcast answering fan questions in the future, so shoot them on to me. Or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
After back-to-back 26 win seasons, an appearance in
the Big East Tournament final, and a trip to the Sweet 16, is recruiting
getting easier for UC head coach Mick Cronin?
"It never gets easier to recruit," said Cronin."You do become more popular the more you win
and you get on TV more.So I have better
name recognition because that's the guy they see on TV and our program is
winning.It definitely has an effect,
but at the same time, it's still hard.Recruiting is the toughest thing we do.It's the hardest part of the job for any coach - there's no question
Today the hard work paid off for Coach Cronin and
his staff as three high school standouts faxed in letters of intent to the
University of Cincinnati on the first day of the early signing period.
Caupain, a 6'3" guard from Cosby High School in Midlothian,
VA verbally committed to UC in June after averaging 26 points, 12.9 rebounds,
and 8 assists as a junior last year.
"Troy is a huge recruit for us," said Cronin."He's a 6'3" point guard and he's 16-year-old
on signing day.He's going to turn 17 in
a couple of weeks.He's got something
that you can't teach - the gift of vision.He finds the open man and has great leadership skill.He's a true quarterback and it's natural for
him to talk on the floor - I won't have to coach that with him.And he can beat his man.More importantly, when he beats his man off
of the dribble, he finds the open man and he's a willing passer.He's a big-time recruit for us."
This year's class also includes a local recruit in
Summit Country Day's Kevin Johnson.
"I usually don't mention that he's local because I
don't want people to think that we recruited Kevin Johnson only because he is
from Cincinnati," said Cronin."That
would be patently false.We've passed on
some guys that are from Cincinnati because maybe they weren't the right fit for
us and Kevin is the right fit.He grew
up within miles of our campus, he is a great kid, and we are fortunate to have
Johnson is a 6'1" guard who averaged 14.1 points,
6.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists last year in helping the Silver Knights capture
the Division III state title.
"He's a guard that can do everything," said
Cronin."He can score, he can handle the
ball, and he can pass.He's also a
winner which goes a long way with me as he led his team to the state
championship.And he's very unselfish -
he could shoot a lot more for Summit Country Day than he did last year, but he
played within their system and their team was extremely well-coached.And he's got great upside.Kevin is a 17-year-old senior and won't turn
18 until next summer.He's a long guard
and can do a lot of things."
Cincinnati added a post player in Jamaree Strickland who hails from
"Even though he's from California, he grew up a
Bearcat fan," said Cronin."That worked
in our favor.We didn't know that until
we contacted him and his father couldn't have been more excited.You would have thought we were the hometown
Strickland was one of the top-rated big men in
California when he suffered a knee injury in 10th grade that
required surgery and wiped out his junior year.A second surgical procedure caused him to miss all but two games of his
But Jamaree is no longer wearing a knee brace and is
spending this season playing for Queen City Prep in Charlotte, North
"Jamaree didn't start playing without his knee brace
until the fall, and everybody that saw him offered him a scholarship," said
Cronin."He's left-handed; he's 6'9 ½"
or 6'10" and has great hands and a soft touch.He can score.Most big guys can
do one of two things - they are either a shot blocker or they can score.Jamaree can score and is a very comfortable
offensive player.He has range on his
jump shot, and has a nice jump hook and a soft touch.We're going to have to get his body together
because he's been out, but he's lost weight and that's why he's come on so much
after he got his knee brace off.Once we
get him in shape, he has a chance to be a great player for us."
Cincinnati still has one scholarship available.
"That's by design," Mick told me."When you get your program on solid footing
you're not desperate so you don't have to just take guys and hope for the best
because you need bodies.When you're in
a good position you can confidently say, 'We have 11 or 12 players and that's
enough.'Then you have a scholarship
available when things happen.For
instance, we have one available now.So
second semester, if a very good player wanted to transfer here over the
Christmas break, we could take him.If
that doesn't happen, then Alex Eppensteiner will get to use it in the second
semester.I would definitely rather have
a scholarship than take a chance on a guy that you're not really sure about."
The Bearcats are still figuring out how to avoid turnovers in their new offensive style, but we learned in beating Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday that when the system is perfected it should be worth the wait.
CINCINNATI -- When JaQuon Parker made a steal near the Mississippi Valley State 3-point line Tuesday night, a pass lofted toward Cashmere Wright looking more like it belonged at Nippert Stadium than Fifth Third Arena.
Yet, as Cashmere Wright settled under the lob Justin Jackson predicted what would happen filling the lane behind him.
"I already knew it before I seen it," Jackson said. "He looked at me before he started running."
Next came an instant behind-the-back pass to the trailing Jackson who rose up and flushed down an emphatic jam to light up the 5,761 who witnessed what turned into a 102-60 victory against the Delta Devils.
"If you ask me, I think (Wright) has eyes in the back of his head," Sean Kilpatrick said.
The play served as the SportsCenter highlight on a night full of them. Of course, under the new uptempo style of play highlights produce more frequently.
The pace snapped from one end to the other Tuesday just as Mick Cronin drew up this offseason. On this night, UC provided more than just a glimpse of what the 40-minute sprint can provide.
The lasting image of Jeremiah Davis III sending a half-court alley-oop to Shaq Thomas to slam down the 100th point caught MVSU by surprise - as did many plays during UC's 23-4 advantage in fast-break points.
There were plays like Wright pushing up the sideline, spinning out of a steal attempt and buzzing the ball ahead to Kilpatrick running free at the 3-point line. Left wide open, there was no secret where the shot was headed. Swish.
Kilpatrick's buckets spit out like an American Gladiators tennis ball gun when this offense churns. He finishes so effectively at the rim, when he's cutting in transition and on secondary break, flurries like the 13 points in the first eight minutes of the second half evolve with ease.
"When you got somebody like Cash you just got to run your lanes and he'll find you," said Kilpatrick, who finished with a game-high 20 points. "He's smart enough to make the right plays, if you are not open he's not going to throw it, but if you are just running your lanes hard and he see you then everything else takes its course."
When this tempo meets at the intersection of guard play and depth the Bearcats potential is limitless. And that was apparent on the journey to 102 Monday.
For all the crisp passes and open layups, the growing pains of the blurry tempo still remain. Cutting down on the 19 turnovers of Sunday's win against UT-Martin held a high priority on Cronin's emphasis list Tuesday.
In the end, UC dished out 20 assists to 15 turnovers. An improvement and step in the correct direction.
"Still too many for me, though," Cronin said. ""Fifteen turnovers in a Big East game, you are going to lose."
For now, those numbers come with the territory as the growing pains occasionally expose themselves in mastering the new offense.
"We still had some turnovers that we can't make in a big game and we know that," said Wright, who added 11 points, five assists and one turnover. "We still got a lot of work to day and we still improving. If you want to be a good player, you can't (turn it over). If you want to play this style and actually win games and make it to where we trying to make it we have to learn how to not turn the ball over, make the right plays and make the right passes."
Perfecting the balance between speed and control will be the challenge as this philosophy unfolds into what it needs to be for UC to live up to championship expectations. The transition to great transition requires patience.
Cronin's hands spun repeatedly following possession changes on Tuesday as he urged his team to keep the pace going. When they do, runs like the 20-2 spurt in the middle of the first half are the result.
"Us trying to push the pace offensively is new to us," Cronin said. "See me giving the let's go sign to our point guards? If somebody makes us, walk it up, but if not we try to have a three-part system where are trying to go for layups, if not, go and then flow into our offense. If we have to walk it up we have to execute whatever we are trying to run, but that is the third option in the way we are trying to play on offense."
That means grabbing the ball even when the opposing team scores and beating them down the floor. The way this team expends energy and dedicates itself to the defensive end, getting over the letdown of allowing points is part of the adjustment.
"We don't like to give up baskets," Cronin said, "but when we do we have to continue to practice transitioning to offense. It's just going to take time."
It will be worth it in the end. That much is apparent from watching the majority of the time when the offense does click. It leads to entertaining alley-oops and behind-the-back passes that pull everyone off their seats.
"We excited about all the fans being here," Wright said, "so we trying to keep them here."
Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions, comments or if you want to hear stories about the time I flushed an alley-oop on a nine-foot rim at the Mason Sportsplex. Or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
The Bearcats scored the most points in the Mick Cronin era Tuesday in a 102-60 victory against Mississippi Valley State, but the most encouraging aspect wasn't tripping 100, rather who pushed the score that high.
As the UC Bearcats approached 100 points Tuesday night, the bench, filled with starters Mick Cronin began pulling midway through the second half, was riled up as ever. Justin Jackson was cheering on his teammates as Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright waved towels over their heads while jumping around.
On the verge of scoring what would be the most points since Dec. 30, 2005, and with the high-flying plays taking place, one might assume the excitement from the bench stemmed from the drive to score 100.
Not quite. Instead, the celebration came from a theme that's grown inside this Bearcats team.
After last year, the Bearcats expected to be good, but a year later they simply aren't satisfied with being just a good team. The scores no longer seem to concern the players as their focus turned from trying to be a good basketball team to learning how to become a great one.
The difference between good, great and elite with this year's team begins with the play of their reserves. Tuesday's wild bench scene was a celebration of that progress.
"We were more so happy that they were making the right plays," Sean Kilpatrick said about the team topping 100 points. "We don't quite worry about the score, we are just worried about our players becoming more developed against other teams.
"They are starters as well. If they don't play to the level they are capable of then it can hurt us in the end. They need to expect that we are going to be looking for them to be playing just as well as we are."
They certainly played well. Jeremiah Davis led the bench with nine points while Jermaine Sanders and David Nyarsuk each had eight. The stat line of the night came from first off the bench and the guy playing through sickness Tuesday, Titus Rubles. He finished with eight points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and zero turnovers.
"We have a style and a system that we have been building since last spring to have a great team this year, and our guys know depth is an issue," said Mick Cronin, "It hurt us in the Ohio State game and it hurt us in the Big East Championship Game. Our veteran guys understand you are going to have to have quality play off of the bench if you are going to be an elite team."
While scoring 100 points is fun, and the behind-the-back passes and ally-oops are cool, Cronin says, "They don't pay me for cool; I'm here to win games."
The idea is quickly spreading from the veterans of the team down to the bench. You no longer hear them talking about plays and individual efforts. Their focus is set on the big picture.
With 45 points from Tuesday night's 102-point scoring effort coming off the bench, the Bearcats are showing that they have heard the message. The new. uptempo offense has caused some turnovers and mental errors at times, but it has also lit a spark under the team, and more importantly, the bench.
The Bearcats understand that it's time to take that next step and become an elite team, and after Tuesday's game, it was clear the coach and his team are focused on getting that done. In fact, Cronin expected to crack triple digits.
"I told them we should," he said. "If we execute and our mental state is focused for 40 minutes with our talent we should."
Thanks to a 65-yard touchdown pass from Brendon Kay, more UC fans are familiar with redshirt freshman Chris Moore.
However, those of us that have watched some practices the last couple of years have seen Moore's work and know the story behind him. Right now, Moore is part of a deep receiving crew. Next season (and possibly sooner) No. 15 could be on of your "go-to" guys.
He comes from Jefferson High School in Tampa and was recruited by a number of top programs including Auburn and the local South Florida Bulls. A teammate wound up at USF.
Jefferson High is also known for its great athletes, including baseball greats Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, Luis Gonzalez, Tony LaRussa, former Tampa mayor and Florida governor Bob Martinez, and the "fight doctor" Ferdie Pacheco (Muhammad Ali's physician). (In the video below, I included Dwight Gooden and Garry Sheffield by mistake who went to neighboring Hillsborough High School. I apologize, I lived in the area 22 years ago. I have interviewed and met all of those listed though.)
Suffice it to say, Chris Moore could reach the same level of success of those I mentioned. Here's the "Jefferson Jet" outside of the Bob Goin team room in the Lindner Center.
Butch Jones stood at the podium, as he does every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., and talked about the state the Bearcats season, opponent and a number of players making contributions to this year's team.
I didn't need to ask the question about student and fan attendance for Saturday's game to know that topic would be among the most prominent talking points. I only needed to follow @CoachButchJones on Twitter to know that. More than in any other week in recent memory, Jones, along with the rest of the UC marketing and sports information staff, has been crushing the airwaves and social media bandwidth pumping the need to fill Nippert Stadium on Saturday.
And understandably. The attendance at the Syracuse game drew storylines and with the biggest game of the season in UC's backyard and the chance for a Big East championship hanging in the balance, the players and coaches alike know the home-field advantage can make a difference. Strike that, need to make a difference.
"Our students and our fan base bring an energy," Jones said. "I believe Nippert is one of the great venues in all of college football and we need to take advantage of it. Our students have been outstanding, our fans have been outstanding. Again, I get back to really supporting this football team and having an opportunity to win. Our fans dictate a lot. They help us win. They provide momentum, they provide energy, they provide spark, they provide a great homefield advantage and when you are playing a team as talented as Rutgers you need any advantage you can get."
Jones never will shy away from a challenge and hit the stump again Tuesday stating his ideas of how the program should look. He's not pushing off any responsibility for the way the stands look during games the same way he wouldn't for the way his players look during games.
"First and foremost, I am the caretaker of Cincinnnati football," he said. "And in my opinion, I am reponsible for everything, including getting fans in the seats. I'll do anything and everything to get fans into Nippert."
For now, the Bearcats tickets office has been running contests to give out free student tickets and hoping to bring the same atmosphere that existed for the opener against Pitt and last year vs. NC State. Their even going with the official blackout routine for the game.
"When we see all those people in the stands we get all jacked up," OL Austen Bujnoch said. "It helps out the younger guys, too."
Drawing out fans when competing against pro sports like the Reds and Bengals can be difficult, but particularly as this team makes a run for a fourth Big East championship in five years. As Jones points out, attendance doesn't only affect momentum, but a number of major bowl reps are expected to be on hand for Saturday's game and judging the fans, how many there are and how they interact with the team. The base has made a habit of traveling well for bowl games in recent years and what happens Saturday will go a long way to deciding where that trip destination will be.
"Playing in front of sold out crowds as we continue to grow and elevate
this program," he said. "That is one of my visions. And we will get it done. every
game at one point in our stage as a football program will be sold out,
it's just a matter of time."
Judging by his Twitter feed and marketing meter, he's doing everything in his power for the next one to be Saturday.
--- One thing Jones jumped on was the narrative circulating right now that UC would have been undefeated had Brendon Kay been the starting quarterback from the beginning of the season. Butch will always protect his guys, but he was particularly right on with this one.
It's unfair to Kay or Legaux to go back and state that this team would have beaten Louisville or Toledo had the QB situation been different. Or to assume that Kay would have been able to have the effect Munchie did against VT or Pittsburgh.
"I know how people talk ... what if Brendon Kay would have been playing the whole season?" Jones said. "I'll tell you this, nobody felt that way after Week 3 when Munchie Legaux stood in the pocket with a fierce pass rush from Virginia Tech and threw the ball deep to win the football game. I don't believe in shoudla, coulda, wouldas. Munchie Legaux was 8-3 as a starting quarterback and he's helped us win seven football games."
--- There was no mincing words from the head coach in terms of how he feels about Rutgers:
"They are the most, the most complete football team we have played to date."
"That's as good a defense as we've ever faced."
The numbers support his case. They enter the game ranked fifth in FBS in scoring defense. They are allowing just 13.4 points per game. Since Jones arrived at UC the only time they played a team that finished the year ranked in the Top 5 nationally in defense was 2010 West Virginia. And that team allowed 13.5 points per game. Splitting hairs, yes, but correct nonetheless for Jones.
--- Got to catch up with Brendon Kay, fresh off his breakthrough game and earning the starting nod for Saturday against Rutgers. You'd be hard pressed to meet anybody more laid back than the new UC QB.
He's talked multiple times about needing to calm himself down before he enters games. I'd be interested to see when he's riled up, because the kid looks as relaxed as anybody I've met. He's taken his rise in stride. The stage doesn't look to big for him.
Having his 13 of 21 for 244 yards behind him, preparing for a daunting defense like the Scarlet Knights doesn't seem so difficult.
"All the early jitters and nerves are out of there so it's not really a factor," Kay said. "Last week you go in there with the unexpected a little bit. So, it definitely helps."
The questioning at one point turned to hearing that Louisville lost to Syracuse and the reaction to being placed in the BCS bowl conversation. You got the feeling Kay and the Bearcats aren't too concerned with that big picture right now. Many times you can tell players are only running the company line out there, but with Kay, the response is genuine. With so much on his plate lately, thinking about anything beyond Khaseem Greene and Rutgers hasn't entered his mind.
"I know it get the fans excited and helps out with attendance and all that, but for us it's just an extra motivational factor," he said. "We just got to keep winning, we can't worry about what other people do. It does help, but we can't worry about that stuff because we can't have any affect on it. Either way, we got to go out and we got to play."
--- Sidenote none of you care about nor want to hear about: You know it's abig week when City BBQ breaks out the press conference buffet with cornbread, bbq pork and the gumbo. Huge.
I want to hear from you, so send me an email to email@example.com with any questions, comments or observations. And let me know if you'll be in attendance at the Rutgers game. Also, please hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr and we'll chat, no big whoop.
Quite a weekend for the Bearcats with the blowout football win and arrival of Brendon Kay against Temple. Then the UC basketball team opens the season with an easy victory against UT-Martin.
And if anybody could appreciate the success of both teams, it is Connor Barwin. But was busy doing this during live game action in the Texans win against the Bears last night. Frightening athleticism. Does he have Flubber on his shoes? (Consult your 90s pop-culture reference guide, please)
Regardless, wins all around for UC sports with the most important game of the season slated for noon Saturday at Nippert Stadium.
Not my job to sell tickets, but I will only say if you care about UC football at all you will want to be there Saturday. The Bearcats win this and the path is paved to at least a share of the Big East conference title -- if not a BCS bid. But this will be no easy task against Rutgers (8-1, 4-0). The ticket office is open from 8am-noon today in observance of Veterans day, but you can go online at gobearcats.com to grab tickets any time you like.
Let's eat ...
--- What's on the line vs. Rutgers?
If UC wins:
They will need two wins against the cellar-dwellars of the BE -- USF,
UConn -- in order to clinch at least a share of the conference title.
They would need one Louisville loss to become outright champs and earn
the BCS berth. The Cards travel to Rutgers the final week of the regular
If UC loses: They will be eliminated from winning the Big East title.
Essentially, this is UC's Big East championship game. --- Have to give it up for Brendon Kay. Want to start there. The guy came off the bench for the first start of his career and looked phenomenal. Not just because of his stats, but the types of throws he made. And the types of throws he didn't.
With a running game as potent as the Bearcats own, if you can keep safeties constantly concerned about the deep ball, it provides a defensive conundrum. Kay showed great accuracy going long. He was 4 of 4 for 198 yards on passes thrown beyond 15 yards. That stat is more important than any other coming out of the game.
His line: 13 of 21 for 244 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 190.9 Rating.
I think we all learned that Kay will be the Bearcats starting quarterback going forward. He earned that.
Should Bearcats fans be clicking their heels in the streets over this game, though? Let's remember, this was against former MAC foe Temple. The Owls didn't exactly roll in with the defense Rutgers will on Saturday.
For today's statistical analysis: Let's take a look at how the other Big East quarterbacks fared against Temple in comparison to their season averages:
Pittsburgh Tino Sunseri average vs. FBS: 20 of 30 for 260 yards 1.5 TD/.25 INT /// Rating: 158.0 Tino vs. Temple: 20 of 28 for 321, 3 TD/0 INT /// Rating: 203.1 (season high, non-FBS)
Louisville Teddy Bridgewater average vs. FBS: 21 of 30 for 279 yards 2.1 TD/.6 INT /// Rating: 168.9 Teddy vs. Temple: 19 of 28 for 324, 5 TD/0 INT /// Rating: 224.0 (season high)
Rutgers Gary Nova average vs. FBS: 18 of 30 for 226 yards 2.0 TD/1.1 INT /// Rating: 140.8 Gary vs. Temple: 17 of 27 for 232, 4 TD/1 INT /// Rating: 176.6 (second-highest of season)
USF BJ Daniels average vs. FBS: 19 of 33 for 231 yards 1.4 TD/1.1 INT /// Rating: 121.9 BJ vs. Temple: 18 of 31 for 219, 1 TD/1 INT /// Rating: 121.6 (highest in Big East play)
UConn Chandler Whitmer average vs. FBS: 19 of 31 for 233 yards 0.8 TD/1.4 INT /// Rating: 122.6 Chandler vs. Temple: 22 of 39 for 293, 2 TD/0 INT /// Rating: 136.4 (only BE game w/out INT)
--- Two things noticed:
1) Every quarterback set some kind of season superlative against the Owls. Sunseri and Bridgewater turned out their highest ratings of the season, Nova his second-highest, Daniels his highest in Big East play. Clearly, everyone performed above the norm against the Owls. 2) Jones preaches ball security and not only did Kay not throw a pick, there weren't any very close to being intercepted, either. That again falls into the Temple trap. The Owls only intercepted two passes in Big East play and never more than one in a game.
--- Certainly not trying to rain on the Kay parade here. I think the throws he did make and way he managed the offense showed a reason for legitimate excitement about the possibilities. I will only point out the competition should skew the numbers slightly.
--- Of course, all of this renewed title talk is thanks to Syracuse's throttling of Louisville. The Orange seem to do this once a year and they picked a great time for Bearcats fans (not that there's ever a bad time for Louisville to lose in the eyes of UC fans).
--- Moving on to Sunday's win against UT-Martin in the season opener -- congrats go out to Mo Egger for breaking out his first play-by-play gig since the last time the Knicks were relevant. He took over the radio duties and by all accounts did a great job. You can catch him again on Sunday against NC A&T.
--- Our latest addition here at The Bearcats Beat Blog is Ashley Davis, who has been doing outstanding work helping out with cross country, volleyball and picked up my slack yesterday for the opener against the SkyHawks.
She discussed the play of the bench. Cronin's made it apparent he desires to be two deep at every position and run at teams in waves. Judging by what we saw last night, that won't be a problem.
Cronin expressed concern over the 19 turnovers. It certainly was a sloppy showing by UC handling the ball. It should be noted UC only reached the 19-turnover mark twice last season and both came in the stretch of the opening four games. Still working out the kinks.
--- Justin Jackson was all over the floor -- his standard effort. That can be good and bad. He showed a little rust in his first game back with a team high five turnovers to go with his 7 points and 11 rebounds.
Cronin thinks Jackson can turn his energy into a positive on offense without being subject to turnovers. The thing is, in this offense he's asked to play a role of guard. That's not a great fit for him, but Cronin believes he can make it work. I spoke with Mick at length about this Friday. Here is what he had to say regarding Justin and the offense.
"On the offensive end, he's spent the whole offseason working as a guard, as a playmaker. And he's got to learn when to just make an easy play. At times he forces the action too much. That's something I wish he would have had the two exhibition games from an offensive standpoint.
"One thing about Justin, he does understand basketball and he's a very
good passer. He knows his strengths and he does know his teammates as
well. When he's not in a hurry he's very effective. He's not out there
looking to shoot the 3-point shot every time he gets it. He understands
how to create mismatches with his teammates and has a very good
basketball mind. I just have to make sure he slows down a little bit.
His strength is his weakness. He is full throttle all the time but when
you are an offensive player you have to read the defense and kind of let
the game come to you. That is the biggest thing he's got to continue to
work on. It will take a little bit of time."
Waiting on Jackson is worth it when considering the injection of energy, defense and rebounding he brings the second he hits the floor. That's another area where Cronin sees potential.
"The challenge for Justin is to become more of a consistent player," Cronin said. "I
don't want him to rely on his hustle. I want him to rely on his
fundamentals. His great hustle to run down blocked shots and make up for
mistakes is a tremendous attribute but I don't want him to get beat I
want him to be more fundamental in his stance.
"I've challenged him to become a great defender. For him to have a professional career at his size, it is going to be as a defender and being able to defend guys at three positions. So, really trying to get him to be more fundamental with his stance. Not just a guy who runs down and blocks shots and covers for his teammates, just a lockdown defender like Rashad Bishop was, just taller."
--- For the record, SK told me he has a great #JustinJacksonMeanFace impression. He wouldn't offer it yet, but don't worry, I'll keep working on him and see if we can't get it posted to the blog soon. Truthfully, forget signings and rumors, these are the stories you know I'll hunt down like a dog.
--- Time for some randomness ...
--- The Aircraft Carrier games are a logistical nightmare, as seen by the two games being canceled. I think one Carrier game per year would be worth the hassle with some mending the setup. Point being, they are worth it because of the incredible images like these they produce.
--- MTV has pulled theplug on America's Best Dance Crew. ABDC was the model for which all my best, new dance moves came from. Guess this means I'll go back to doing the Stanky Leg.
--- This is a relatively serious story about some fallout from Sandy in NY, but I personally love the photo of the 12-year-old directing traffic. --- Remember, I want to hear from you. Shoot me any emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions, comments or observations and I'll do my best to get them answered for you. You can also hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
As for today's tune, with this huge week at hand for UC football, decided to break out the old classic by Van Halen. Enjoy your day everybody.
The Bearcats opened their season with an expected win against Tennessee-Martin. While it wasn't perfect, the play delivered by the bench proved encouraging for the near future.
By Ashley Davis Special to GoBearcats.com
The Bearcats know what to expect from Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright, and Jaquon Parker. In the season opener against the University of Tennessee-Martin, it was 16 points from Cash, 14 points from SK and eight from Park.
But if this collections want to be playing at Madison Square Garden on the last day of the Big East tournament again, their bench needs to be a key factor. At least on Sunday in the season opener against the Skyhawks, the bench had a balanced scoring attack, combining for 30 points in the 80-57 win.
If the balanced waves of offense from the bench players complements the scoring that the veteran starters provide, the Bearcats can be a dangerous. It helps that head coach Mick Cronin has the luxury of bringing talented players off the bench.
"This team really has seven starters, with Titus (Rubles) and David (Nyarsuk)," Cronin said.
Nyarsuk led all bench players with nine points and six rebounds. Seven of his nine points came in just 10 first half minutes. While it's not easy, he can still make it appear so during back-to-back dunks at the end of the first half or when blocking shots as he did in the second half. His coach was pleased with his effort.
"David played like a veteran," Cronin said. "I was really impressed with David's competitive nature. David's not the greatest practice player. But when the games come on, he's pretty competitive."
Nyarsuk wasn't alone. Rubles was second in bench scoring with eight points and seven rebounds. He gives Cronin an extra scoring threat off the bench. He came into the game in the first half when Cronin pulled Jackson in response to a turnover. Rubles promptly made the first field goal of the game.
"He's a very good offensive player," Cronin said. "But at times, he gets over aggressive. His talent is real though. He's got tremendous talent. He had four assists. He led us in assists. He may be our best passer."
Cronin always looks for improvement from his players, however. This afternoon was no different. He wasn't pleased with the 19 turnovers, saying that has to change for Tuesday's game against Mississippi Valley State. He also bemoaned the three lowly deflections compiled by Rubles, Shaq Thomas, Ge'Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Sanders.
"That confirms my belief their intensity wasn't what it needed to be," Cronin said. "And then offensively, [we were] just too sloppy at times."
Wright echoed what his head coach said about his team's intensity.
"Basically it just showed us that we got to keep working," Wright said. "The whole team from the first to the last person that comes into the game has to play hard and keep the intensity up. We can't let down. We seemed like, once we started mixing the lineups up that the intensity level went down."
Cronin recognizes that winning games is important. But he also sees the big picture in trying to improve the mistakes now.
"It's not about today; it's about where we are going," he said. "We just try to stay focused on what we've got to do to get where we are trying to go."
We want to hear from you. Send any comments, questions or observations about UC athletics to email@example.com or hit him up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Before Saturday's 34-10 win at Temple, the last time
that quarterback Brendon Kay started a game was November 24, 2007 when he led
Marine City (MI) High School to a state title at Ford Field in Detroit.
That's a Rip Van Winkle-like 1,813 days between starts.
So was the fifth-year senior able to sleep the night
before his first start as a Bearcat?
"Not really," Brendon told me with a laugh."I'll be honest with you - I didn't."
Imagine what he'll do with a good night's rest.
After coming off the bench last week to help rally
the Bearcats to a win over Syracuse, Kay left no doubt who the starting
quarterback will be next week against Rutgers, completing 13-of-21 passes for 244 yards
and 2 touchdowns, while running for an additional 71 yards on 7 carries.He even caught one of his own passes for a
five yard gain when it ricocheted off of a Temple defender.
"It was awesome to be out there," said Kay."You prepare all week like you're the
starter, but when you hear that you are, your mentality changes a little bit.When you get the opportunity you have to take
advantage of it."
"I'm proud of him," said wide receiver Anthony
McClung."This is what everybody dreams
of.He's been the backup all season and
now that he got his opportunity, he came through for us.I told him, 'It's not like you've never done
Kay was especially impressive throwing the deep ball
as he tossed a 75-yard TD pass to Kenbrell Thompkins and a 65-yard TD to Chris
"That pass to me was right on the money," said
Moore."All I had to was put my hands
out and it was right there."
Kay's college career has been slowed by a series of
knee injuries that have required him to undergo three surgeries.That were times where it appeared that his Bearcat
career was over.
"That's what makes this even better," Brendon told
me."All of the people who say 'You
can't do it.'All of the doctors who
say, 'I don't think you can come back from this'When you come out and do it, it's that much
"I'm alright now.I've put in the time and I feel good."
Due to his multiple knee injuries, Kay hopes to be
granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"Right now, all indications are that it's very
favorable," said head coach Butch Jones."That's something that we'll work on once the season is concluded."
"It's not in my hands so I can't really worry about
it," said Kay."I'm going to approach
these last few games like they're my last."
While there wasn't much of a crowd at Lincoln
Financial Field, the spectators did include several members of Kay's family.
"My mom, my grandma, my girlfriend, my dad, and my
stepmom were all here," Brendon told me."It was awesome to see them out there.It was pretty emotional.I saw my
dad after the game and he came down and gave me a hug."
After going nearly five years between starts, was it
worth the wait?
"Honestly, looking back on it, it goes by quickly,"
said Kay/"But it was a long process, so
it was definitely rewarding.I'm going
to celebrate for the rest of the day.Tomorrow I'm going to get to work and start watching film."
After all, he only has seven days to get ready for start number
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 Temple.
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, (grass, outdoors)
When: Saturday, noon, Big East Network/Local12/700WLW
Forecast: Temperature in 50s, partly cloudy
2012 records: Bearcats 6-2, 2-1 Big East, Owls 3-5, 2-3
Ranking: Neither team is ranked, UC received votes in the Coaches Poll.
Tickets: Tickets are still available.
What to wear: Nothing with a Cowboys logo on it.
Last meeting came in 2003. UC has won the last two in a series the Owls hold a 9-4-1 advantage in. Drawing on anything from nine years ago means as much as drawing on what the pregame music will be. (Likely Gangnam Style)
Need to know: This should be an easy win for the Bearcats. Temple showed it can hang with the bottom of the conference notching two wins against USF and UConn to open their first year in the Big East, but once it came time to face the premier teams they were exposed in their transition from the MAC.
Temple has been outscored by at least 25 points in each of its last three games (Rutgers/Louisville/Pitt). No reason to believe this wouldn't follow right in line.
Need to know quote: Butch Jones on the toughest part of moving to a new conference:
"I just think depth, that's the thing that you fight week in and week
out the level of competition that you are playing against that you are
facing and I just think that your 22 players I think we've found that
around the country
anyone's 22 players can usually play with anyone and everyone. But
it's the next guy in and it also shows its way on special teams as well."
Need to know stat: After the first quarter the last three games, Temple has been outscored 98-16. They've shown an ability to hang for a quarter and maybe a little more, but the depth problem creeps up as the game wears on.
Who to know: Senior RB Montel Harris. In both of Temple's conference wins Harris topped 100 yards. If they can't establish Harris on the ground they accomplish little on offense. He transferred from Boston College to Temple. He was the ACC's all-time career leading rusher and racked up 22 100-yard games there. He's the most dangerous player on the Owls. Quarterback quandary: Jones stated he will make a decision on the starting quarterback gameday. The job has been considered a competition in practice all week. More than likely, we see a combination of Brendon Kay, Munchie Legaux and Jordan Luallen. If UC can establish a big lead, it would offer a prime opportunity to see what Kay can bring to the table.
Defining matchup: UC offensive line vs. Temple. The Bearcats have owned in the trenches most every opponent they've faced this year. Temple would stack up to be no different. The Owls rank dead last in the conference in rush defense. If UC can control the tempo with the league's best running game and allow whatever happens at quarterback to stay conservative and efficient, Temple will have a difficult time hanging with the Bearcats.
Delving deeper: Temple's passing attack makes John Skelton look like Aaron Rodgers. The Owls rank 117th nationally in passing offense and total offense. Southpaw Chris Coyer averages 111.2 yards per game through air with a 53 percent completion rate.
Against Louisville last week -- a game in which they trailed by double-digits the majority of the day -- they only managed to hit 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards.
Jump out to an early lead and Temple has no firepower to jump back in the game.
By the numbers: The Bearcats offensive line allowed only two sacks in the last five games for a total loss of 5 yards. They rank 17th in the nation in sacks allowed.
Butch Jones on the standard expected of the quarterback position and battle between Kay, Legaux and Luallen:
"I've spoken to all of them and they
understand. We are not going to tolerate
carelessness with the football. We are going to take care of the
football ... All
three individuals understand and are extremely
competitive and it's going to make all three better. It's going to turn
out to be a huge benefit for or entire football team."
Looking Ahead: Massive home matchup against Rutgers (7-1, 4-0) on Saturday at noon at Nippert looms. Words from Butch Jones: Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones on Bearcats Football Weekly to discuss Saturday's game and the state of the Bearcats. Here's the link.
Hype video: In case you haven't caught the behind the scenes highlights from the win against Syracuse, they are worth it for the Travis Kelce pregame speech alone. Plenty of fire in this team.
At one point, Butch Jones peered out at his defense Saturday and saw a collection of players that more resembled the final quarter of the spring game rather than the second half against Syracuse with their season goals hinging on victory.
"I look out there at one time you have Dominique Battle out there, you
have Kevin Brown out there, then you have Malcolm Murray out there, you
have Leviticus Payne a true freshman, you have Aaron Roberson a walk-on,
you have John Williams who walked-on here from Central Michigan, you
know you have Adam Dempsey a walk-on, you know you have Elijah Shular
first-year player," Jones said. "And at one point in time they are basically all on
the field together against a team that was number
one on pass offense with 360 yards per game coming in with a really
gifted quarterback and wide receivers."
Injuries have befallen this defense, particularly in the secondary where searching the names inserted on the field meant digging off the depth chart distributed to the media.
Yet, in the second half with the battered, bruised and inexperienced at the helm, the Orange managed but seven points.
"I thought they did a phenomenal job," Jones said.
The good news is Jones expects everyone except Trenier Orr back this week. Deven Drane was forced into duty with a cast on his hand last week, but returns at full strength along with starting safety Arryn Chenault and Drew Frey.
They re-join Cam Cheatham, who over the last few weeks looks more like the one survivor bobbing in the water on top of a suitcase next to the Titanic.
"It's a blessing to be honest with you," Cheatham said of his own health. "I always sit back and think, man, I don't know how I stay healthy."
He's done his best to assist the rotating wounded consistently lining up around him. Beyond the basics of reiterating the offensive looks he's been seeing when the next wave enters the game, the transition felt seamless.
"Those guys prepare just like they are starters," Cheatham said. "When we come in and prepare in the morning they come in with us. If we are practicing they get just as many reps. It's not necessarily what I got to do, it is maybe just talk to them, make sure they are watching their film, but those guys prepare like they are starters anyway, so I don't have to do much. That is just a testament to them."
Of course, nobody needs to tell Dominique Battle how to prepare for game action. Battle earned a sixth-year hardship eligibility exemption this season as a product of the three major knee injuries he sustained during his career. They've caused a move to backup safety where's he entered in spot roles periodically during the season.
Saturday he was forced in nearly every snap and helped hold down the secondary late in the game. When his third knee injury occurred last season he told coaches he would help in any way necessary not knowing if that would be as a student coach or actually touching the field again.
Turns out after yet another grinding rehab, he's more than found a way to help the team, he's become a significant part of the solution.
"Definitely fortunate to be able to play again," Battle said. "Most people,
including myself, didn't think I would have an opportunity to touch the
field again after the third injury. It makes you really cherish every play, like Walter Stewart, you never know when it's going to be done."
For Jones, Battle's contribution and determination represents a microcosm of the greater attitude of his players.
"You talk about resiliency and resolve," Jones said. "Here's a young man that has gone
through so much adversity and I think it's the entire story of our
Let's eat ... --- Want to open this section with the peek behind the scenes given by ButchJonesBlog.com, as they have this video including the stirring speech from Travis Kelce delivered before the win against Syracuse. And you know I can't resist pumping anything that ends with Walt Stewart and #GetTheDub.
--- The CBSSports.com power rankings that went that temporarily went off the reservation last week returned UC to No. 3.
--- Opened up my Sports Illustrated this week to see the College Basketball Preview Edition. Required reading around my house. Was shocked to see UC slated at No. 40. I wonder if I am too close and missing something, but I know college hoops too well to think this team isn't among the top 20. Those folks dinging UC are not paying close enough attention. Period.
--- Mick Cronin offered a great message regarding outside influences such as the SI poll. His team learned last year not to let outside influences define who they are. I think I'm going to take that on as my befuddlement grows regarding the way people view this group. Cronin talked about expectations and many other topics sitting down with Tommy G on the Bearcats Season Preview Show. here's the seven-minute Cronin interview.
I know only about half of you wake up in a good mood this morning, but I'll try to brighten the day with some witty banter. Or at least some remind you the Bearcats are playing to go to 7-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference on Saturday. The basketball team opens one of the most anticipated seasons in recent history on Sunday.
See, you should feel better already. If not, I recommend coffee and a danish.
--- I also caught up with newest Bengal JK Schaffer this week and detailed the conversation on the blog yesterday afternoon. Just pumped to see JK down there and hope everything works out for him. His key will be to show some of his capabilities in practice the rest of this season and then be in the conversation to kill it next training camp. In the new NFL where backers who make plays on the ball and excel in coverage are in high demand, he could definitely help the Bengals.
--- Butch Jones talked a bit about having perspective during yesterday's press conference, I think he made a valid point worth reiterating.
Here was his quote:
"Name me another college football team in America maybe Alabama that's
had to replace the graduating talent that we have had to replace. To be
sitting at 6-2 and be playing
meaningful games in November and being in a Big East title hunt I think
that's a tremendous story that everyone here should be extremely proud
of. Are we satisfied with it? Absolutely not. You are never
satisfied as a coach but I think we have some players
that are grinding things out on a day to day basis they're gritty they
understand what they are representing."
Not that winning every game isn't the objective, but any doom and gloom surrounding this portion of the season needs to be shelved. The team is 6-2 and 2-1 in the conference with the chance at a share or better in the Big East within reach. They were one overtime period away from the undeniable driver's seat in the conference.
All this has been done with a team that lost its starting quarterback, leading tackler, offensive player of the year and defensive player of the year in the conference.
They lost more in the NFL draft than any other school in the conference:
Cincinnati: 4 (DL Wolfe, RB Pead, DL Hughes, TE Robinson)
Temple: 3 (RB Pierce, TE Rodriguez, OLB Whitehead)
Syracuse: 2 (DE Jones, G Tiller)
Rutgers: 1 (WR Sanu)
Louisville: 1 (DE Scruggs)
UConn: 1 (DE Reyes)
If you look back at this Phil Steele preaseason chart, they ranked 96th in the country in returning starters and dead last in the Big East. In fact, only five BCS conference schools had fewer returning starters (this occurred before final early-entry draft deadline, so some figures might be changed, but not much).
And, oh by the way, UC also lost its best overall player in Walter Stewart.
Yet, here they are with only one OT conference loss the difference between them and top dog in the Big East. Perhaps the expectations created from both last year's run and the early success this season evaporated that perspective, but this is not a team full of prolific seniors. It is predominantly a young team (65 first and second year players) trying to find its way.
They've been finding a way to win with a number of inexperienced pieces playing a major role. This team has three games left against the worst three teams in the league and a huge home tilt against Rutgers. Winning out would be considered far from a longshot at this point.
At worst that would mean fifth 10-win season in the last six years and date in one of the top three Big East bowl games. Depending on Louisville's ability to win at Cuse and at Rutgers, it could mean at least another share of the Big East title or better.
When you combine the possible season accomplishments paired with the facts of what this team rebuilt during the offseason, I think a better perspective should remain about the respect this group deserves.
Mr. Cincinnati earned the sport custom-made for him. Cincinnati born and raised, star at the University of Cincinnati, pride of LaSalle High School, JK Schaffer landed on the Bengals practice squad Tuesday to take the spot of Emmanuel Lamur.
Schaffer went undrafted out of UC and landed on the Jacksonville practice squad. He narrowly missed out on making the Jaguars team out of training camp, earned a short stint in Tampa Bay before working out with the Bengals more than a month ago. The right combination of luck left Cincinnati in need of a linebacker for its practice squad and Schaffer was ready and waiting.
He showed up Tuesday with a locker with a No. 49 jersey hanging and iPad playbook in hand. I had a chance to catch up with one of the scribe and crowd favorites from UC history. Nobody loves Cincinnati more as displayed by the ear-to-ear grin he sported as he made his way through the locker room for the first time.
"Growing up there is nobody else I cheered for besides the Bengals," he said. "For me to be here is a dream come true."
Here are some bits and pieces of the conversation as he settled in to his new job on Day 1.
What can you bring to this team?
JK: Got to first of all take my time learn the system, get to know this team, what the coaches want and find my role on this team. Excel at that. So, I am going to take it one step at a time, but I would do anything to help this football team. I think I could fill a pretty good role on special teams and then eventually be able to help out on defense. Whatever my role is I'll do it. I am just excited to be here.
What have you taken from the other camps you've been in you bring here?
JK: Everywhere I have been I've learned from a lot of good players. In Jacksonville, I learned from Paul Posluszny, he was a great role model for me and taught me how to come into this league and be an NFL player. I have learned things everywhere I have been and I am going to continue to do that, learn from Rey (Maualuga) and these guys that have been here for a long time. Just continue that journey.
What have the last two months been like?
JK: Roller coaster is a good way to explain it. There have been some really fun times and some really hard times, too, just trying to find my place.
Did you think you had it made in Jacksonville?
JK: I knew that there is no guarantee ever in this business. So, I didn't think I had it made. I thought I had a very good opportunity. I thought things were looking really good for me, but I knew that I had to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That's what I did. Once I got cut, I said, OK, put my head down and move on to the next thing and the next opportunity. You are a UC guy, cut by Jacksonville, Bengals practice squad - Armon Binns serve as model?
JK: Oh yeah, I've been thinking about that the whole time. Coach Lewis even said that to me around the draft. When I was making my choice and everything, he was using Armon as an example. I think it is meant to be.
He's far from the only undrafted guy making an impact, they are everywhere even at linebacker here where Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur are now undrafted rookies playing?
JK: You look at guys like Harrison from Pittsburgh, he was cut from a team six times or something before he got to start playing. So, you hear stories like that all the time. I want to be one of those stories.
Did you have your hopes up and feel good about your workout here?
JK: I'd lie if I said my hopes weren't up. Had a good workout, I just kind of tried to trust in the thought that everything happens for a reason and things will work out the way they should.
What Bengals did you like growing up?
JK: I really liked Justin Smith. I really like watching him play, I still like watching him play. He's probably one of my favorite Bengals defenders of all time. I liked his overall effort and motor, he wasn't the most athletic guy in the world but you watch him he was the guy going through smacking the backs as hard as he can and hustling everywhere he goes. Those are the kind of things I like about him.
Did you think you might choose the Bengals after the draft instead of Jacksonville?
JK: I knew going into the draft it would be either here or Jacksonville. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make in my life. It was neck and neck. It came down to a few tiny little details that I thought I might have a better opportunity. That was the only thing. It was a tough decision. I am not going to say that I particularly know if it was the right decision or not, but it was tough.
What would people say to you as you were helping coach at LaSalle the last few months?
JK: The same question all the time, 'Hey what is going on now? Oh, we want the Bengals to pick you up.' I say, yeah, I know, me too. You are not the only one.
I would like to hear from you, send me any questions, comments or criticisms and I'll be sure to fire back an answer along with all the reasons JK was one of my favorite Bearcats to cover. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can find me on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
I had a chance to speak with Jordan Luallen today shortly after he received treatment from the legendary Bob Mangine in the Bearcat training room.
While all the talk is about Munchie Legaux or Brendon Kay, Butch Jones brought up Luallen's name today as part of that mix.
It's all quite logical, given that the team moved the ball with Luallen running for 32 yards on six carries. He also had some runs called back. Luallen also connected on his one pass and is tied with running back George Winn for the lead in NCAA efficiency (100 percent).
Everyone wants a starter named, but why show your hand? When you think about it, all three guys offer different skills and you realistically could have them ALL on the field at once.
While it took 11 minutes for the quarterback conversation to pop up in Butch Jones' Tuesday press conference, that won't be the case here on the blog. I know what you people want and I'm going to give it to you. Though, it's more because I want to get this over with so we can all move on with our lives until Saturday.
Here's what we know: Jones has no plans of telling us who will be the starting quarterback until Saturday. He said Tuesday Brendon Kay, Munchie Legaux and even Jordan Luallen will all be in the mix competing for the starting position -- though that was news to Luallen.
For the sake of transparency, I didn't have a chance to speak with Munchie who was in class, but did come across Luallen and Kay.
The quarterback room appears to be a tight one and the message has been one of everyone preparing as if they will be the starter and helping each through the competition. They don't know when or where they will find out the plan about Saturday and don't seem too concerned about it. Especially for Kay and Luallen, they've needed to prepare for entering through any situation all season anyway, so any unknowns over their roll Saturday wouldn't be a new experience.
"Not different than any other week," Kay said. "Go out and compete, go to practice. My mentality is every week you have to prepare like you are the
starter when your number gets called. So, it's not really that
different. You go in with the same mentality just prepare like its any
Jones said he trusts anyone in the room with the keys to this offense and all three are aware of his expectations.
"We are not going to tolerate carelessness with the football," he said. "We are
going to take care of the football. I believe in all of our players but
we have a standard on the football team. I think it is going to make all
three better and I think it is going to turn out to be a huge advantage
for our entire football team."
It certainly will make them difficult to prepare for. Kay, Luallen and Legaux are three very different quarterbacks. Kay brings the role of more prototypical passer, Legaux the combo passer/athlete and Luallen the change-of-pace running QB.
For anybody wondering about how either of these three will handle the unsettled situation, they aren't familiar with these three. They've all been through roller-coaster careers, to say the least. Luallen's played every position except maybe kicker, Kay's been battled injuries every year of his career and Legaux played WR while experiencing the ups and downs of starting QB pressure.
Through it all, the only constant has been each other.
"We have been here for three years now, all three of us have, we've all
seen all kinds of situations," Luallen said. "Munchie playing wide receiver, me playing
other positions, Brendon being injured an everything he's had, we've all
been together through a lot of stuff. It makes it easy to be able to
cheer for one another because we've been through the ups and downs
The makeup of this football team strays from the standard, according to Jones. And the could be one of the primary reasons not to be concerned about however the QB situation plays out.
"It's different than any football team I have coached," he said. "They are resilient
and they just go with the flow. I mean it is truly amazing. When we
made the change and Brendon stepped in the huddle, it was like, 'All
right, let's go.' That's the great thing with this football team. Even
though they are extremely young, they take it and they go with it. They
don't ask questions, they just go. They don't care who it is. That has
been great to see." --- Jones specifically mentioned Luallen's role will continue to expand. He ran six times for 32 yards and completed a pass for 14 yards in what is becoming the annual rite of throwing off Syracuse.
Against a team like Temple whose struggled mightily stopping the run -- they rank dead last in the conference -- his style could give the Owls fits.
On thing is for sure, Luallen will be excited when the play is finished. His exuberant celebrations made for a highlight of the day through my eyes. The senior caught a fair amount of ribbing from friends, family and teammates for it.
"I have had a lot of people make fun of me saying I had more fist pumps than I did yards," Luallen said.
That's what he brings, though. He brings the juice.
"I just love playing football," he said. "It's just exciting for me to be
able to get out there and play a few plays and stuff. It's been a long
season so far, I guess that was a bit of pent up excitement and
frustration and everything combined, but it was exciting. That's really
just how I play football, it was the same way last year. That's just how
I approach it."
--- Kay said the response he's heard since Saturday has been strong as well.
"The phone has been ringing off the hook," he said. "It's all good. Friends from back home they follow you and they are happy for you."
--- I know you folks can't get enough talk about the quarterback, but I'm to attempt to give the topic a rest here as the week goes on. Unless fresh news breaks (i.e. starter named) this will be it for that topic. There's not much else we can say about it here.
--- Believe it or not there are other storylines beyond the quarterback situation that came up at the presser. Jones brought up the fact Nippert needs to be sold out. There were 26,180 at Saturday's game.
"I thought the people that were there did a tremendous job of making it a home-field advantage," Jones said. "Again, as we continue to move forward and progress Nippert needs to be sold out. That's just an overall consciousness and awareness of developing a football program. The people that came out were loud, they were in to the game, they created some momentum for us, especially when Syracuse is coming out the one turnover was in the student section. They did a great job of really being involved in the game."
--- DB Trenier Orr will be out this week, but Deven Drane (hand) will return along with S Arryn Chenault. They are expected to be in better health after the attrition that occurred over the last few weeks. They were all the way down to freshman Leviticus Payne and Kevin Brown against the Cuse. With all the depletion they were still able to hold Syracuse to seven points in the second half.
I'll have more on this topic later in the week, but those are the news nuggets.
Prior the first exhibition game, Cashmere Wright balked when asked if he felt excited about showcasing his team's fresh uptempo style for the fan base.
Seemingly a softball answer, he shook off the concept. He needed to make sure they were ready before excitement took over in showing off this product.
Following Monday night's 86-51 thrashing of Division II Bellarmine, Wright changed his tune.
"I feel a little more comfortable," said Wright, who knocked down 3 of 5 3-pointers on his way to 13 points. "Even after the first game I was still a little bit skeptical of the whole situation, knowing that we still have to get better. I see we are making a lot of steps at being a better team."
Forget steps, Monday more resembled a James White free-throw line leap. The Sparta Speedway mentality blurred up and down Fifth Third Arena as UC pulled off a 19-0 advantage in fast break points against the Knights.
Defensive pressure forced 17 turnovers and Mick Cronin saw a young Bellarmine team "get rattled." This represented the style of play the coach promised for this anticipated season. If effort and energy resembling what was put forth Monday continues, the Knights won't be the last rattled in this building.
"Hopefully we rewarded the fans that came tonight with our effort," Cronin said. "If we commit to playing with toughness and doing the little things we can have a special season with this group that we have. I was really pleased with our effort, we had tremendous effort."
Effort only goes so far. It hasn't taken long for the veteran talent to show the polish in their game.
JaQuon Parker spun off his defender at the perimeter and lofted a soft runner in the lane for two of his team-high 16 points.
Sean Kilpatrick drove to the basket and instead of utilizing the head down, bulldog philosophy often associated with his attack of the basket, he kicked to Wright for a wide open 3.
Then, of course, there was Cash, leaping in the lane to snag a steal and push the ball up the court with one pass and an easy transition layup for Parker.
When Wright, Kilpatrick and Parker wanted to reach the basket, for the most part they did. When they wanted to manufacture a 3-pointer, for the most part they did.
The three combined for 32 of the Bearcats 45 halftime points.
"We have three really good guards that can really play," Cronin said in the understatement of the evening.
None of the team's nine 3-pointers, 42 points in the paint or 13 steals told the true story of this group's maturity quite like the 19-0 flash that blinded Bellarmine to open the second half.
The run meant more than a meaningless spurt to sap any drama out of an exhibition. In a situation custom made for a lackadaisical stroll to the final buzzer, UC held the Knights without a point for the first 6:32 of the half and posted a 40-point advantage.
Cronin bemoaned in past year the Bearcats tendency to lead by 20 at halftime and lead by 15. With a group who the coach says never practices at a level other than the highest possilbe on a daily basis, even a meaningless exhibition elicited a charge coming out of the locker room. And with this group, those charges arrive swift and powerful.
"I didn't even know we had a 19-0 run," Cronin said. "I looked up and said, 'Wow.' I didn't expect that.'
Perhaps he will start to. To judge the potential and expectations from one exhibition would silly. They will be judged by what occurs starting against Tennessee-Martin. All we know from these two exhibitions is that they are certainly ready for Sunday. That's abundantly clear.
"Takes a lot of to adjust and everybody to get on the same page," Wright said. "We understand exactly what (Cronin) wants. At first we were just out there moving the ball trying to find our spacing. Now we seemed to actually find our identity and know what we are doing."
I want to hear from you. Send me any questions, comments, criticism or your predictions for the Bearcats basketball season via email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Plenty to sift through over the course of this week. UC (6-2, 2-1) travels to Temple (3-5, 2-3) on Saturday for a noon kick at Lincoln Financial Field. The quarterback question will undoubtedly hover over every media availability and UC football conversation this week. The basketball team rounds out its exhibition season tonight at 7 p.m.
against Bellarmine, whose no stranger to knocking off major conference
opponents. The season opener comes Sunday against Tennessee-Martin.
Something about an election on Tuesday. I guess we may have an important vote or something (need to turn on my sarcasm font for that one, regardless of affiliation folks, go out and vote. If you ever need to know every vote counts look at the millions being spent in our state alone trying to persuade you)
Fifth Third Arena played host to President Obama last night with 13,500 in the building and another few thousand in Armory overflow, according to Tommy G. About 30k showed up to see Mitt Romney and Kid Rock in West Chester on Friday. A Romney blimp hovered over Paul Brown Stadium before the Bengals game. Yeah, they are interesting in your vote. If this election went even one week longer, I'm pretty sure Romney and Obama would be holding a fourth debate in my living room.
I will spare everyone the political rhetoric, however, and delve right into The Breakfast. Let's eat ...
Monday, he was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week. Congrats to George.
While on the topic, hard to believe we'd be discussing running back records coming off the year @iPead enjoyed last season and a three-headed rotation being promoted entering the year, but Winn's on pace for an all-time UC rushing season.
Winn racked up 897 yards in eight games, averaging 112.1 yards per game. That's good for 13th in the country.
With UC almost certainly headed to a bowl game that means a 13-game season. Counting the bowl game he's on pace for 1,458 yards.
Where would that rank on UC's all-time single season rushing list? No. 1.
Player (year): Rushing Yards
DeMarco McCleskey (2002): 1,361
Reggie Taylor (1986): 1,325
Allen Harvin (1978): 1,283
Isaiah Pead (2011): 1,259
Robert Cooper (1999): 1,245
Even in a 12-game season Winn's pace leaves him only 16 yards shy of McCleskey. You have to love a guy like Winn in his final season finally receiving a shot and making good on it to this extent. Can't tell you how many players -- current and former -- I've come across who call Winn one of their favorite players. Nobody has quietly earned the respect of his teammates with the way he carries himself, plays and treats others like the senior RB.
As always, I can't continue to praise Winn without praising the job the offensive line is doing in front of him. And remember, all five of the current starters will be back here next year. The future is bright for the running game. -- Plus, Winn broke out the jump pass and landed at No. 1 on the SportsCenter Top plays list for the weekend. Loved him talking about the play after the game. Here's that video.
And here's the play, which at the time of the post is approaching 890k views. Must be because I referenced His Tebowness when Tweeting about it. (Did that reference crash the servers?)
--- Temple on the docket this week and the bad news for the Owls -- among a number of ominous items -- they rank dead last in the Big East in rushing defense. If you only look at conference games, they are slightly better finishing 5th of eight teams, but still in the bottom half.
The Bearcats plan for victory won't be a secret at The Link.
The Owls slammed back to earth the last three weeks. After enjoying a 2-0 start against the cellar of the conference in USF and UConn, they were outscored 127-44 the last three weeks by Rutgers, Pitt and Louisville. That's an average final of 42-15. UC will enter as heavy favorites to jump to 7-2.
--- OK, OK, I guess we have to talk QB situation, right?
Bottom line: Brendon Kay provided the spark that UC needed to beat Syracuse on Saturday. It was a great effort and Kay deserves credit for making the plays when called upon. But he went 3 for 3 for 32 yards and didn't throw a pass down the field. Butch Jones said he will compete with Munchie Legaux this week to see who ends up the starter against Temple. Jones made what he called a "gut decision" Saturday. It proved to be right. What that means for the big picture future of the position wasn't decided with three passes in one quarter, though. Nor should it be.
You have to imagine we will see Kay in some capacity against Temple. Whether this turns to a three-headed Luallen, Kay, Legaux monster or all-Kay all-day, we shall see. --- Caution: Opinion coming, proceed with caution.
Maybe as reporters sometimeswe can get too close, but I feel for Munchie. He's taken a lot of heat this year, much of which is deserved, and worked as hard as anybody to overcome it. He's a good guy and one you can't help but root for. Unfortunately, in the judgmental state of athletics we live in he had to endure boos on Saturday. Really hate when that happens, especially at college games. He's an adult and understands that comes with the territory of playing QB at this level, but does it help to boo a 20-year-old kid? It's different when pro athletes are making millions of dollars to play to a certain level. This kid is going to school, practicing almost every day and staying up all hours studying film and the playbook. That's his week. And he gives everything he has to help this program win. Yes, sometimes he falls short. As adults, we should be about more than that.
I personally don't like the booing, but won't stay on the soapbox any longer and judge those who do. Just wish it didn't happen.
BYU has won at least 10 games five of the last six seasons. Only in 2010 did they not reach double digits. They've been nearly identical to UC in that regard. If you believe BYU isn't a marquee opponent you don't believe the Bearcats are on the flip side and I can't imagine anybody whose followed this program closely would make that claim.
Now, as far as what Provo, Utah will look like in late October, that may be a different story. Let's hope this global warming thing speeds up between now and then.
Syracuse will host Louisville this weekend at the Carrier Dome. The Orange showed here they have the talent to pull the upset. They just can't let those few mistakes cost them. A Cuse win would change the complexion of the Big East race 180 degrees.
--- Bellarmine comes to town tonight. They are about as good as it gets in Division II. Remember, two years ago they beat West Virginia and Xavier in the preseason. They are no joke. Should be another fun game to watch. Looking forward to seeing more of what Titus Rubles brings to the table for the Bearcats, hard not to enjoy the first taste he gave last week.
This quote stood out to me and I couldn't agree more with Whit:
"With what Mick did leadership-wise after last year's incident, he
really rallied everybody. How he led us out of that
situation may be Mick's defining moment."
Mick doesn't like to discuss the Xavier situation in those terms and says nothing feels different for him since the incident occurred, but there's not doubt from a perception, respect and credibility standpoint it solidified his standing. Maybe more than anything, it opened people's eyes to the great job he had been doing over the past six years.
--- Saw the movie Seven Psychopaths this weekend. Vintage Christopher Walken absurdity. Recommend. --- Boy Meets World is returning. Or for adults my age, an opportunity to think back glowingly on our youth when we ogled Topanga every Friday.
--- Since Stevie was in the building yesterday, have to go with Superstition for song of the day.
I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr with any questions, comments, criticisms or to offer YouTube clips of your own Jim Rome impressions.
It's impossible for most of us to imagine the
anguish that Walter Stewart must have felt when he was informed that a
congenital defect in his spine would likely end his football career.
But David Pollack can identify.
Six years ago in the second game of his second
season with the Cincinnati Bengals, Pollack broke his sixth cervical vertebrae while making a tackle.It ended his NFL career after playing in 16
Pollack met Stewart earlier this season while he was in Cincinnati to
broadcast the UC-Pitt game on ESPN, and called the Bearcat senior
this week to offer his encouragement.
"I've been through having football being a huge part
of your life and then all of the sudden it's gone," Pollack told me."That can be extremely tough, so I just
wanted to reach out to him and tell him a little bit about my experience.I wanted to share any words of wisdom - which
doesn't come from my mouth very often - or anything that I thought was a big
help for me during a time when I needed it."
"They've really bonded and formed a close
relationship," said head coach Butch Jones.
"He's a kid that I have a lot of respect for," said
Pollack."When you see people and the
way that they play, I think that tells you a lot about them and he's one of
those guys that plays really hard and loves the game."
By all accounts, Stewart has handled the news of his
injury remarkably well.
"I talked to Cincinnati trainer Bob Mangine and he
told that he cried when he told Walter the news, but Walter didn't cry," said
Pollack."He's handled it as well as
you can when you get that kind of news."
"He's dealing with it in Walter Stewart fashion -
very poised, very calm, very realistic, and just a model of resiliency," said
Stewart had five sacks in five games this season before
suffering his injury and was likely to be a high NFL draft pick in April.But Pollack says it's important not to dwell
on what might have been.
"It's always easy to look at a situation like that
and see the bad," said Pollack."But I
think it's extremely important to look at the positive too.He's in a situation where he can walk, he can
move - he's not in a situation as severe as Eric LeGrand or Kevin Everett several
years ago - so I think right away you count your blessings.One thing that kind of gave me hope and
clicked in my brain when I was going through my situation is that at some
point, there comes a time when you're going to have to hang your cleats up.That day will come.Whether it's now or 10, 12, 15 years down the
road, it will come.It's about how you
handle it and how you move on."
Over the past several weeks, Stewart has remained an
integral part of the Cincinnati football program as he has tried to lead his
teammates in the locker room and on the sideline.
"I'm trying to convince him to give
coaching a try because I think he can impact lives on a day to day basis," said
Coach Jones."I think that's his passion,
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.I fully anticipate him doing that - if playing football is out - I think
you will see him on the sideline with us."
"The most important thing to remember is that life
is never going to be perfect," said Pollack."It's never going to go exactly how you planned it, and it's always
important to know that God never closes one door without opening another one.Walter is a great kid with great perspective
and I think he'll be absolutely fine with whatever comes his way."
Butch Jones described his team's 35-24 victory against Syracuse on Saturday in specific terms.
Tough. Gritty. Gutsy. Resilient.
He spoke generally about the collection of 100-plus Bearcats wearing red jerseys inside the winning locker room. Truthfully, he'd also be correct in talking about just one of them: George Winn.
Over the course of the last month the personalty of the Bearcats team and its starting running back morphed to become one in the same. Saturday's red herring of the quarterback position swap from Munchie Legaux to Brendon Kay draws the flash of light bulbs and pizazz of national headlines, but the true personality of the Bearcats, the true personality of this critical victory, are defined by No. 32.
"He completely defines (the team)," Butch Jones said. "This football program means everything to him."
UC's Big East championship hopes owe everything to him.
Winn finished with 30 carries for 165 yards and three touchdown runs - all career highs. He even added a nifty 37-yard jump pass on fourth down to spark the game's first momentum shift. Long, physical drives grinded Syracuse into submission as a clear noon sky turned into a soggy early evening at Nippert Stadium.
These are Winn's Bearcats. Quiet, physical, dedicated to detail, unrelenting, determined. They were Saturday and will continue to be as the final month of the season plays out.
"I try to set the tone every week," Winn said. "Especially for this week. They came out and they told us the whole week this is a physical team, they are going to come out and smack us. I wanted to set the tone that we are more physical than them."
The final score told the victor in that story. Winn's tome delves deeper, though.
For four years he labored behind Jacob Ramsey and Isaiah Pead. Coaches loved his intensity. They loved his attention to detail - just not enough to take any carries away from the St. Louis Rams second-round draft pick. And understandably. Not that Winn would be one to complain. He's only one to do his job.
Teammates describe him in different ways: Rock. Horse. Hard-nosed. Solid.
In need of a play, Winn gets the call. No matter the situation.
Three times the Bearcats faced a third down and gave the ball to Winn. All three times he converted. He added a fourth conversion but a holding call stopped what would have been a 30-yard run to end the game.
Even with 30 carries, Jones wasn't about to take Winn off special teams. He took him off kickoff coverage last week and it hurt them. For the coach, Winn's best play of the day came when a Pat O'Donnell rugby punt expected to head to the sidelines flew off target to the middle of the field. Only, Winn stayed in his lane and made the tackle.
Of course he did.
"George runs down and makes a big play," Jones said. "George doesn't make that tackle they have the sideline."
No drive more showed the Bearcats personality than when given the ball at the Syracuse 47 needing a touchdown to go ahead by double digits. What did OC Mike Bajakian call for? Four plays, all to Winn - 9-yard pass, back-to-back 18-yard runs and 2-yard TD plunge. Have a nice trip home.
The play calls rolled in from the sideline like a broken record. Winn. Winn. Winn. Winn. The senior admits sometimes being surprised as his number is called on repeat, but he happily accepted. At one point he needed heat on his neck because it was snapped back by a hit. No matter, like a robot, he returned to the backfield.
"As game goes on I actually get better," Winn said. "I actually get less tired as the game goes on."
When Walter Stewart went down the team didn't just lose its top pass rusher, but top leader. The guy whose will to do whatever it takes to will the football team to victory has quickly stepped into that role. No, not as a vocal director. Woudln't be his personality. His work ethic, focus and refusal to give in rallied the troops through an emotional three weeks.
"The only difference between him and Walter is he doesn't really say too much," Jones said.
That's why it's no coincidence after allowing Syracuse to move up and down the field for 24 points in the last six drives midway through the third quarter, the UC defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way.
The final five drives: Fumble, punt, missed FG, punt, downs. That's 26 plays, 79 yards. Winner by TKO: Bearcats.
They wore down the Orange. Just like their running back.
The talk on sports radio, blogs and message boards this week will center around the quarterback battle between Kay and Legaux. Who will start and in what direction will the passing game trend with that decision? What Jones called a gut decision did deliver a spark during the decisive portion of Saturday's game. But to call this the day Kay came off the bench to lead UC to victory would be a drastic misinterpretation.
Kay entered the game and supported the true heart of the Cincinnati Bearcats. He gave the ball the George Winn. That's the real story.
"We knew it was pretty simple," Kay said. "We were going to give him the ball and watch him go to work."
I want to hear from you. Send me your questions, comments and observations via email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Forecast: Temperature in 40s, no precipitation expected
2012 records: Bearcats 5-2, 1-1 Big East, Orange 4-4, 3-1
Ranking: Neither team is ranked, UC received votes in the Coaches Poll.
Tickets: Tickets are still available.
What to wear: This is a Ring of Red game.
Last meeting was a 30-13 victory last season in the Carrier Dome. UC owns a 7-5 lead in the series, but has won six of the last seven. UC opened up the playbook to involve Isaiah Pead more in Munchie Legaux's second start. It worked as Pead finished with nine receptions for 112 yards to go with his 17 rushes for 80.
Need to know: Tell me if this script sounds familiar. UC riding a two-game losing streak with concerns about Legaux. UC hopes to tinker with the game plan to alleviate pressure on the quarterback against a Syracuse team hovering around .500. Heard this before? That was last year. What happened next was the aforementioned 30-13 victory in the Carrier Dome. This time, UC hosts the Orange hoping to bust a two-game skid. Butch Jones referred to a "five-game playoff" this week and clearly all margin for error has been sapped out of this quest for a fourth Big East title in five seasons.
One more loss and its consolation prize time for the Bearcats.
Need to know stat: Last week USF ran for 369 (!) yards on the ground against Syracuse. Mobile QB B.J. Daniels used his legs to open up every aspect of the rushing attack to make the difference. Daniels rushed 12 times for 134 yards. That's a big reason to expect Jones to make good on his promise Legaux would use his legs more moving forward.
This was Syracuse's first run in during conference play with a true mobile QB and look how it changed the game. Here are their rushing defense stats in their four conference games.
Replicating the USF model certainly seems like the proper approach.
Who to know: Syracuse Senior QB Ryan Nassib. He leads the top passing offense in the conference. Only once this season has Nassib completed less than 60 percent of his passes and in conference play he's been as good as any point in his career. In four conference games his average stat line is 21 of 33 for 280 yards at 64.4 percent completion. He's thrown seven touchdowns to just three picks.
How to beat Nassib and, consequently, beat the Orange? Interceptions. In the team's four wins he's thrown nine TDs with one pick. In the team's four losses he's thrown eight touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Defining matchup: UC defensive pass rush vs. Syracuse line. The primary problem in allowing 416 yards to Teddy Bridgewater was the lack of pressure on Louisville's sophomore QB. Since Walter Stewart's absence began UC struggled to place pressure on the quarterback. Ends Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills must harass Nassib to force him into quick decisions and the decisive interceptions. They just didn't do that enough against Louisville and it proved the difference.
Delving deeper: Hidden yards played a major role in the game against Louisville. Had UC won in overtime it would have been a primary storyline. UC gained an average of 10 yards more per kickoff return and eight yards more per punt return. It totaled 91 hidden yards in UC's favor by the time all was said and done.
Syracuse struggles similarly in special teams. Outside of kickoff return coverage where they actually rank fifth in the nation, they are among the worst in the FBS in the major kicking categories.
They are dead last (124) in opponent punt return average. They are allowing an average of 20 yards per return and gave up a touchdown.
As for returning kickoffs themselves, they average less than 20 yards per return and rank 98th in the nation. Lacking a dynamic returner of their own and being gouged on their punt return team, that could be a hidden area where UC swings momentum.
By the numbers: The Bearcats offensive line allowed but one sack in the last four games.
Quotent Quotables: Butch Jones on expectations for his team bouncing back from a two-game losing streak compared to two years ago when the Bearcats finished 4-8 in his first season:
"Everyone says, 'How will your team respond?' Well if you're built right
from the inside out, they will respond. Three years ago we weren't
built right; no leadership, first year entitlement, but this year we are
Looking Ahead: UC travels to Philadelphia to play conference newcomer Temple (3-4, 2-2) next week. Words from Butch Jones: Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones on Bearcats Football Weekly to discuss Saturday's game and the state of the Bearcats. Here's the link.
Hype video: In case you hadn't seen this yet, it's the Fall season highlight video. See everybody on Saturday.
Calling Ralph David Abernathy IV a running back never comes so simply. An adjective of some sort always precedes the title.
Small back. Short back. Scat back. Change-of-pace back.
Even his own teammate, George Winn, reminds him he's not a true running back because he doesn't block or perform any of the heavy lifting entrenched in Winn's daily routine.
Go ahead and use whatever adjective necessary to describe the Bearcats back officially listed at 5-foot-7, 161 pounds. Just don't call him afraid of contact.
"I've been playing running back my entire life," he said. "I may be little, but that
is part of the position. That's part of the position I love. I love the
contact. I love being able to get in there with the big guys and kind
of hit them a little bit."
The final five weeks of the season, he'll be given more opportunity to do so, according to Butch Jones. The staff plans on finding ways to involve RDAIV more in the offense and have him mastering nearly every position on the field. He's taking lessons at the outside X receiver, the inside Z, running back and even learning concepts of the tight end. Don't expect him to be holding the edge off tackle for Winn, of course, but don't expect him not to know the play, either.
The latest crash course comes at the clear need to give more touches to the Bearcats most electric weapon. He's averaging 8.0 yards per touch on offense and leads the team with six touchdowns. Yet, he's averaging just nine touches per game.
He's caught 15 passes for 214 yards at 14.3 yards per reception. He's rushed 47 times for 284 yards at 6.0 yards per carry. He also ranks 21st in the country at 27.2 yards per each of his 19 kickoff returns.
The philosophy on the IV Plan was to limit pounding on the little guy over the course of the season.
With only five games remaining and plays like the remarkable 14-yard sweep against Louisville continuing to dominate highlight reels, it became evident the time was now to increase his workload. That means not only more plays on the perimeter, but more time splitting carries with Winn.
"Everyone talks about a small running back or a short running back and he
is a short running back," Jones said. "He is very strong and has a great body makeup,
and has worked extremely hard and can lower his pads and lower his
center of gravity so he doesn't take a lot of unnecessary shots and that
is what has helped him and given us the confidence to increase his work
load as well."
Leaving Abernathy in at running back means asking him to protect Munchie Legaux against charging linebackers, as well. Much of his time in practice is spent perfecting technique and pop in blocking. When a 235-pound linebacker comes charging through the hole, Abernathy better have a plan.
"The first thing that goes through my mind is hit him
before he hits you," RDAIV said. "That's all I think. Because if he hits me, it could
be a trainwreck."
This sets the stage for Abernathy to handle duty as more of a feature back next season, a pounding Jones believes he'll be able to handle after an offseason of adding muscle. For now, however, the focus will stay on finding ways to place the football in his hands. If that means more plays between the tackles, don't expect this short, small, scat back to shy away from contact. That is, if the defense can get their hands on him.
"I love the position of being a running back regardless of how little I
am that is really what I want to do and I pride myself on being a
running back," he said. "I am not a big guy, it's just kind of who I am. You got to kind of work
with what you got. God blessed me with being fast so that's all I
really got to work with." I'd love to hear from you. Shoot me an questions, comments or your own 40-yard dash times via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.