This may be a day where the offense ran up the points and Munchie Legaux played like a refreshed quarterback, but the known quantities at linebacker changed the game in Saturday's 42-7 blowout.
CINCINNATI - Prior to Saturday's game, the trio of linebackers Greg Blair, Jeff Luc and Nick Temple gathered and discussed the way they envisioned the 2013 season beginning against Purdue.
While exact words weren't shared, one can only imagine considering Temple declared during camp that this group should be recognized as the best linebackers in the country.
"We were talking, we got to set the tone," Temple said. "Defense has to set the tone."
Tommy Tuberville agreed. That's why upon winning the toss he deferred and sent Temple, Greg Blair and Jeff Luc to the field against the Purdue offense.
Temple wasted little time backing up his words.
He twice tipped a Rob Henry pass then acrobatically stuck a foot in the ground for an interception. One play earlier, Jeff Luc sliced into the backfield to cut off a sweep attempt and Greg Blair cleaned up the rerouted mess.
On the next series, backed up deep in their own end, Luc broke through to throw stuff B.J. Knauff for a loss and Silverberry Mouhon tossed Henry to the turf. Suddenly first-and-goal from the 5 turned into a missed 39-yard field goal.
The defensive momentum began a day the defense suffocted the black and gold even more than the 130-degree temperatures on the turf. Purdue didn't cross the 100-yard mark until 3:45 remained in the third quarter and even then Temple tossed Gary Bush down for an eight-yard loss in the backfield to send them back across the barrier.
Silverberry Mouhon pressed the edge on repeat, Adrian Witty converted an overthrow into a 41-yard interception return for a score. The three starting linebackers combiend for 3.5 tackles for loss, two pass break ups, an interception and nine tackles.
UC forced a total of three turnovers in the Boilermakers worst opening-week loss since 1996 against Michigan State.
On a day where 36,007 left the building talking about Munchie Legaux in an August where the quarterback storyline owned the headlines, the Bearcats defense left the deepest footprint on the new Nippert Stadium turf.
"The linebackers are supposed to set the tone," Blair said. "Our team, that's where the leaders are. It was our job to set the tone and that was what we did today."
They not only set the tone but stomped them out. When the Boilermakers began to waver in the third quarter, the UC defense never relented. Three-and-out, pick-6 and fumble on consecutive possessions left the Boilermakers gasping for air.
They would never find any.
"I don't think there's any doubt that third quarter was huge for our defense," Tuberville said. "We pretty much smothered them."
As reward for their efforts, Blair, Luc, Temple and other starters spent the final quarter wearing a hat on the sidelines and cheering on the younger reserves. Not that they needed the breather. In fact, after the game players gave a standing ovation to the strength and conditioning staff for the fresh legs they felt as the game wore on.
"I feel like they were tired more than anything," Temple said. "You can't think, you can't get the ball from the offense, they were real tired. We were more conditioned team than them. I am looking at Blair, I am looking at Luc, they are playing like its still the first half. I am like, yeah, this conditioning thing is right."
Purdue won't be setting any Big Ten offensive records anytime soon - expect maybe a few based on futility. But this was the first glimpse at a defense capable of dominating its way through the season.
Tuberville saw it, too. The pace set by the linebackers, rippling to the defnes and eventually infecting the offense en route to the 35 unanswered points to close the team exposed a team owning a killer instinct to match their conditioned shape.
"It hadn't been fun for them," Tuberville said. "Today was fun. I saw something in their eyes I thought at halftime. We will make us a pretty good team as we go along. You don't see that very often. These kids love to play, they love to play hard, they love to play for Cincinnati. They know how to win."
If they continue to win, Temple's brash statement ranking his linebacker teammates as the best in the country may hold more weight. At least for one day, his analysis looks legit.
"I said it and I meant what I said," Tempele said. "If you say it, you have to believe in it. We believe in it. We work at it every day as we are the best linebackers in the nation. And I feel like we are."