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 football team."
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.
--- Bill Koch writes about Jones asking fans to fill Nippert Stadium. Tom Groeschen also contributed this week, adding a story on the offensive line.
--- Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna take their pick of Big East games. Both like UC by double digits.
--- 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.
--- Randomness ...
--- Can't believe Tim Tebow's inbox was hacked.
--- Pretty stoked to see Lincoln.
--- If you grew up watching wrestling as a kid like I did, you can't wait to read this book on Superfly Jimmy Snuka.
--- The new world's tallest water slide is 134 feet tall. Luckily, it's in Brazil.
--- Journey played in Columbus last night. I wasn't there, but sure wish I was. So, we break out Separate Ways this morning. Have a great day.
Remember, I want to hear from you. Shoot me any questions, comments or your top ten list of Journey songs to my email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.