When the black and red game jerseys were slipped over top of the shoulder pads of the Bearcats players at Paul Brown Stadium, an explosion of ooohhhs filled the locker room.
This may have been a spring afternoon about six months from the first real football game of the season. This may have technically been listed as practice No. 11 on the schedule. However, make no mistake, this Saturday scrimmage at PBS felt as close to gameday as possible without 35,000 fans awaiting outside the tunnel.
"I had a couple jitters coming out here before the scrimmage," defensive end Silverberry Mouhon said.
Want to learn who responds to bright lights? Want to witness who rises to the occasion in a charged environment? Saturday's change of venue allowed a glimpse inside the gameday reactions of Tommy Tuberville's new team.
"We practice every single day we have the same atmosphere," cornerback Deven Drane said. "I know I got real hyped when we came out to the Bengals stadium and saw people like Marvin Lewis was out there. I know a lot of people had a lot of fire."
Both sides let the emotions out during an hour and a half of football under ideal 61-degree conditions in downtown. Mouhon stomped around the backfield with his arms flailing following a tackle in the backfield. Two goal-line touchdowns by RB Anthony King prompted celebrations with all the excitement a fourth-quarter score against Louisville. With a fresh staff evaluating every position battle with a new set of eyes and zero preconceived notions, a day like this made for one of the most important moment to date of the Tuberville era. Or at least it felt that way to the players.
"As far as the speed and consistency to be able to run your plays consistently it was the same as a game atmosphere," Mouhon said. "Just missing the fans yelling and screaming, but other than that, it was the same thing everywhere."
As for those who rose to the gameday atmosphere, Mouhon and Drane led the way on a day where the defense left their stamp on PBS. Drane hauled in an acrobatic interception in the end zone along with four more pass break-ups. He looked every bit the shutdown corner Tuberville needs him to be next year.
Mouhon, fighting for playing time at a defensive end position wide open to replace Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills, pulled down a twisting interception of Munchie Legaux as well as one and a half sacks.
The running game didn't produce much for UC, but the potent weapon of Brendon Kay's deep ball showed its face again. Kay connected on a 44-yard bomb to WR Chris Moore for a touchdown. The sixth-year senior showed more consistency with the deep ball than any QB through the end of last season and thus far through spring practice.
Despite the highlight to Moore, the day was also filled with a bevy of dropped passes and missed assignments for the offense. Tuberville didn't sound discouraged in the aftermath. In fact, after a first scrimmage where the offense played better than the defense, Saturday's switcheroo felt like normalcy.
"It was obvious that our defense was ahead of our offense today," Tuberville said. "You better be ahead on defense in the spring, I'll tell you that. If your defense is not ahead of your offense than you are going to have problems in the Fall."
The coach can attest to that and after this injection of energy Saturday, he owns a better feel for how this team will react come Fall.
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