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."
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