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 47. Third-and-7 incomplete pass intended for Kenbrell Thompkins.
- 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.
"It's pretty frustrating," Winn said. "It's frustrating."
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."
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