September 2013 Archives
The trying week for the Bearcats football team and university family teaches one life's hardest, unforgettable lessons.
CINCINNATI -- The years spent at college are designed to prepare young adults for the real world. Most of those come in the form of economics lessons or historical context, language advancement or public speaking.
They're meant to set up young adults to succeed in the real world. Often, the only preparation to succeed stems from heartbreak.
In the case of college football players, their college existence spans beyond that of a traditional student. Their brotherhood expands into the hundreds across a path paved in blood, sweat and grass stains. Few bonds replicate that of college football team.
Only the 110 players who fill that locker room every day and run side by side through the misery of post-practice gassers in the heat of Higher Ground understand the misery and magnificence of their unique college experience.
Just as understanding supply and demand or the civil rights movement teaches students lessons to prepare them for life, so do the events of this past weekend and passing of Ben Flick.
Life doesn't always teach lessons with hugs and predictability. Those that most impact young lives, comes with pain, shock and, in this tragic case, death.
Bonds forged by these players mean so much because how quickly they can be broken. These players know that now as they grieve for their fallen brother.
In a campus bubble where the goal stands to prepare student-athletes for life, this weekend did more than any game, than any class.
"It's something that will be in the back of these guys minds for a long time because it happened and they were all friends and teammates," Tommy Tuberville said. "It's life. It's something unfortunately you don't want to deal with or have to deal but they've dealt with it."
Sons lose fathers, mothers lose daughters and we all will eventually see someone close to us pass. If you're lucky, you've skirted that inevitability to this point.
For these players, they'll learn about continuing on through the pain, about remembering the good times, about pulling loved ones tight and relaying what they mean to them.
They'll learn about moving forward a stronger, caring person.
The Bearcats could have played this weekend had a bye not been placed on the schedule. The challenge would have been raised. To ask young kids to turn around and focus would be tough, but as it would be for any adults, which everyone in black, white and red with a FLICK#77 helmet sticker learns about at every practice, together.
"It's been terrible, it's tough, it's a tragedy," Tuberville said. "Here one day gone the next. Something I've been through and us older folks have been through quite a bit but when you take these young guys to go through something like this it's different. I think they've handled it fairly well but you know they wouldn't handle it as well as most people would that's been through it. It's kind of like losing a brother."
This situation is without doubt tragic and cruel, but as with every morning when the sun rises, comes a lesson that forms everyone moving forward. This team will be no different. They'll learn to move on, they'll learn how deal with unexpected twists and turns of life.
All part of growing up, where some days are easier than others.
"These are kids, they are not adults that have to look at this," Tuberville said. "Some have probably never been to a funeral like yesterday. They got their eyes opened. Lot of guys have never been to intensive care unit, like gone to this week and walked in and see what they see. But it's reality. I tell them, this is life. This is reality. This is what you'll deal with the rest of your life."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or remembrances of Ben Flick to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Many would view Saturday's 14-0 win as an ugly effort, but none of those were ringing the Victory Bell on Saturday at Yager Stadium.
OXFORD, Ohio -- In the Xbox era of college football, beauty comes defined by different standards. Wild shootouts and broken passing records draw double takes and smiles from the boys.
Physicality and frustrated offensive coordinators are demoted to a back room, sent out to the scrap heap along with Nintendo, Reebok pumps and other former objects of affection.
What once would be considered the definition of football in the Sunday newspaper today draws Twitter trolls.
Not for Tommy Tuberville. Wiping his hand through graying hair to symbolize the number of 14-0 stress sessions he's witnessed during a 17-year coaching career, he smiles about a game that never made him feel uncomfortable even though his 23-point favorite Bearcats failed to find a lead as minutes ran off the clock in the final quarter.
"A lot of people say that wasn't very pretty, but it was for me," Tuberville said. "Running the ball, playing defense and winning the game is always pretty to me."
To those who treasure broken noses and gnarly bruises Saturday was watching Picasso paint.
The Bearcats allowed one yard of net offense in the second half. One. Uno.
They held Miami to 0 for 11 on third downs and empty on three fourth-down attempts.
Of 45 RedHawks plays, the same went for negative yards (11) as went for more than five.
Eight players owned piece of a tackle for loss.
In the fourth quarter, Miami ran eight plays for minus-11 yards with one turnover and one punt.
Tuberville, while reading postgame stats, spotted 29 and 7 listed next to each other on the box score and remarked how well the defense shut them down only allowing 29 rushing yards. Only, the numbers read opposite. UC held Miami to seven yards on 29 rushes. That's 0.24 yards per rush for those searching for a calculator.
Ugly? Maybe to those flipping to ESPN3. And certainly to fans whiting out Yager Stadium. But not for anyone found ringing the Victory Bell on the way to the team bus in Oxford.
"That was one of the best wins I've ever had here," said defensive tackle Jordan Stepp, who racked up two sacks and saw UC rack up nine straight scoreless quarters in this stadium. "Here's why. Winning is hard to do, but we've had a lot of success the five years I've been here. Wins like that show the younger guys not to take it for granted. Those are the best wins. Wins you have to fight for are the ones - I got goosebumps right now - those are the ones you feel. They are the ones that mean everything."
They mean even more to a team seeking an identity entering conference play for the first time under Tuberville. Mark Dantonio's teams were defined by physicality. Brian Kelly's by electric offense. Butch Jones' by passion. What will be the calling card of Tuberville when UC walks into Raymond James Stadium in two weeks.
On Saturday, the case was made for relentless defense.
Defensive end Silverberry Mouhon consistently collapsed the edge along with Terrell Hartsfield and other rotating ends. It allowed UC's quick linebackers to blow up any of the few gaps opened by the Miami offense.
To be sure, the RedHawks won't be mistaken for Green Bay Packers anytime soon. And references of a coach on the hot seat echoed through the stadium as beleaguered Miami fans slogged to their cars. But this was as much about the Bearcats defense as Miami offense.
UC adapted to mistakes made on third downs and with quarterbacks sprinting out of the pocket at Illinois to become a strength against Miami.
Brendon Kay didn't play well. The kicking game left six points on the board. They became the first NCAA game to go scoreless through three quarters since 2007.
Yet, even amid frustration on the visitor sideline, the day never felt uncomfortable.
That's the beauty of it.
"We were on fire the second half," Stepp said. "Football is a game of momentum and that carried over to the offense. There's been a lot of times in my career here we've needed a spark lit under our butts from the offense. It's a beautiful thing in a win like that when you have to earn every inch, every yard, every down, every point. It's great."
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Written by Scott Springer
Austen Jack Bujnoch has a five-year history with the
Victory Bell and even more when you factor his brother Digger's tenure as a UC
After Digger had played his last snap here in 2007,
Austen was the top lineman in the Greater Catholic League-South for Elder in
2008. The Panthers were the Division I
Ohio runners-up that year.
He came to UC in 2009 under Brian Kelly and redshirted,
so his time on the field didn't actually start until after the Bearcats played
Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl.
However, for our purposes, we count 2009 as the
"Austen era" which makes him 4-0 in Victory Bell games against Miami
going into Saturday's trip to Oxford.
With Austen Bujnoch wearing a C-Paw logo, the Bearcats
have outscored Miami 161-30.
Yeah, it's not near as competitive as it was.
I can recall (as I mentioned to Coach Tuberville) the Ben
Roethlisberger years where Gino Guidugli, as good as he was, couldn't lead UC
over Big Ben.
As the stats show, UC has won the last seven. For a better appreciation of that, you
probably need to know that in 16 games from 1990-2005, Miami won 10 and tied
one with UC winning only five.
As a matter of fact, Austen Bujnoch (as he describes in
the video) witnessed the last Miami win in this series in 2005 when Digger was
on an extremely young squad that Mark Dantonio had recruited. Many of those players had great careers and
some are pros, but they took it on the chin that night, 44-16.
(For your extra trivial nugget, the TV sideline reporter
that night was Heather Mitts. I remember such things.)
Austen was one of several Bearcats slated to speak to the
team on the history and importance of the rivalry. Before he addressed the team, I caught up to
him outside of the fabled Bob Goin team room.
Occasionally you find a great story idea and show up to see apparently you aren't the only insightful genius to spot the oasis in the desert. Typically, when this happens, I'll just write the story anyway and pretend no other outlet had it.
That happened this week. Only, when the other outlet is the Enquirer and Bill Koch is on the case, competing doesn't make much sense. Certainly not in this space -- as much as I would love to have fully broken out McKay's vibrant personality. The goal here is for the stories of the talented student-athletes to make their way to your eyes. Rather than punt the story and find something else, this one was too good to leave alone.
I'd love for you to come here and for the most part I always trot out unique pieces. That's not always possible.
Sometimes, however, as in this case there is even more to the story than the original story. This is where I come in. So, I'm going to piggyback on Bill's piece on McKay with even more information about this receiver who followed his heart and not his draft profile in maneuvering through his college career. Why say the same thing twice when I can add to the primary message? We the media can co-exist harmoniously, right? (Cue soft Rinaldi piano)
First off, read Bill's story her
e. It's excellent. And what I'm about to tell you won't make much sense unless you do.
Second, would like to offer what most struck me about the gist of Bill's tome and McKay's journey.
--- How many times do we see the story about the selfish college athlete, the ugliness of the NCAA plus the despicable coaches and administration supposedly attempting to impede their development? Blocked transfers, criminal behavior, suspensions, connections to agents, money, money, money. It dominates every offseason (Manziel anyone?) and consistently sullies the view of college athletics.
Yet, here were four parties -- McKay, Arkansas, NCAA, UC -- able to work together and realize the true intent and necessity in the life of a student-athlete. Bert Bielema and the Razorbacks (where McKay was their top returning receiver) happily granted McKay his full release.
"He didn't want me to leave, he told me that, but some things are bigger than other things," McKay said of Bielema. "He helped me tremendously. I still appreciate him to this day and thank him for all he did for me."
And here's the NCAA, which allowed him to not have to sit out a year, because they realized this was about a 20-year-old kid trying to put family first. The NCAA takes a number of shots nationally -- many deserved -- but in this case they very much did the correct thing allowing McKay to play and give memories like Saturday at Nippert Stadium to this grandson and his "granny."
Thank you, common sense and values, for prevailing in a landscape where they rarely do.
--- Tommy Tuberville admitted as much when talking about the acquisition of McKay, who he refers to as a "next-level" talent, the Bearcats got lucky with this one. Tuberville will shoot you straight. He speaks how he honestly sees it, good, bad or indifferent. In the nine months since we've known him, I've never heard him reference the NFL with any of this current players. Until now. That's how good McKay is and in particular, how good he can be.
McKay admits when he knew he needed to leave Arkansas to be closer to his grandmother, he had a few schools to choose from. Any within a quick drive of Louisville. Credit UC for taking advantage of their fortunate geography.
"I didn't know where I was going to be landing, Louisville, Cincinnati, I didn't know where. I just kind of went with the flow. It was awesome how I ran into the coaches, they knew about me and when they seen the film and when we met in person it came to blank. When you know good people and you see good people who are going to help you out for your best interest, it's kind of easy."
--- I'm just going to rerun this quote from McKay, who I repeat, put his personal NFL aspirations and an opportunity to be the top receiver as a sophomore on an SEC team on the back burner to be with his 57-year-old grandmother.
This, folks, is a good kid.
"When you grow up with your grandmother, you are kind of protective of her. You grow up with her as a mom and a dad and her age is something that plays a big role. I'm a 'grandmother's boy,' I'm not a 'mama's boy.' I love her with all my heart, man. I'm so happy she gets to come to my home games and see me play."
Obviously, the first person McKay looked to spot during Saturday's game when he caught his first UC touchdown was his grandmother. Here's his version of that moment.
"I seen her, I looked in the stands and made eye contact. It was a great feeling."
--- As for what will make McKay a scary player for the next level, he needs to put on weight. His frame is already intimidating at 6-foot-6, but at 195 pounds he doesn't threaten push corners around at the line of scrimmage. Tuberville and the strength staff plan to change that.
"They want me to get as big as I can stand," McKay said. "Right now I lift before practice and after practice. It's really helping me with getting stronger and being able to dominate my opponent. It's getting easier and easier the more I work."
The current plan is to put about 20 more pounds of muscle on his body by next year. How many 6-6, 215 pound former basketball players with soft hands do you know? I bet most of them have a nice NFL contract.
--- And oh yeah, in case you didn't know, McKay very easily could've have been starring next door at Fifth Third Arena. Mick Cronin and UC actually were among the teams to offer him a scholarship offer coming out of high school in Louisville.
"I come back to thinking about basketball a lot, but those were my older days I kind of left that behind me," he said. "It was something about playing football and I picked that as my first sport. Basketball, I could have played on at Arkansas I just chose to seek my football chances."
Hard to believe granny didn't try to weigh in on pushing him to the safer sport of basketball over football.
"Granny didn't care about what sport I was playing," McKay said. "Only thing granny cared about was getting a degree."
I want to hear from you! Have any comments, questions or suggestions shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Time to take a look back at the weekend around UC football, the AAC conference and anything else affecting Bearcats fans and determine what we learned. So what did we learn as the Bearcats beat Northwestern State, 66-9.
Let's start learning ...
1) We learned the Brendon Kay deep ball still looks effective.
I wrote about it. So I won't anymore. Read this
2) We learned the perfect passer rating in college football is 1261.6. That would be if you completed every pass thrown for 99 yards. Why did we learn this, because Brendon Kay posted one of the best passer ratings in school history at 326. The number is hard to track down and not available in team files, but at the online stats that do track it back to 2007 nothing came close.
Kay earned a spot on The American weekly Honor Roll.
Granted, it comes against FCS Northwestern State, but was nice for Kay to get back into game rhythm.
"The biggest thing is just the rhythm. Going through pregame and working out all that stuff, just going out there and doing it," Kay said. "Confidence-wise and everything like that I'm fine, I've done it a couple times. to get in a game rhythm so much different than practice."
3) We learned Trenier Orr will miss 7-8 more weeks. Tommy Tuberville told us the starting cornerback had surgery and now a search is on for depth in the secondary. In fact, Tuberville and his staff are converting JuCo running back Rod Moore to corner. He's played the position before and will do so again as a backup. For now, we saw Howard Wilder, Zack Edwards and Leviticus Payne out there among other auditioning. Probably will see more of that before the rotation settles more entering conference play.
4) We learned the battle is heating up between Hosey Williams and Tion Green. Williams earned the majority of the backup snaps behind RDAIV the first two weeks, but Tuberville opened up opportunities for Green against the Demons and he played well. He ran 11 times for 66 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Williams broke out for 11 rushes for 120 yards and two scores. The majority of those yards came on one 77-yard run up the middle. That helped the average on a day when every UC running back averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry.
5) We learned to never question the handing off skills of Bennie Coney. The new backup quarterback entered to play with the first team in the second quarter. He flawlessly handed off eight consecutive times in leading a touchdown drive. His steps toward the running back were efficient, his extension brilliant.
I kid, of course, but once Tuberville allowed Coney to let it fly the redshirt freshman looked equally as impressive. He didn't miss a pass, connecting on all five passes, the final the most eye-opening by far.
He tossed a 44-yard dart down the far sideline to Shakim Alonzo for a touchdown to close out the scoring. Coney showed off the arm that earned him scholarship offers by Michigan, Virginia Tech and Arkansas, among others. I wrote about Coney and his potential at the conclusion of his fantastic spring
. He'll likely see more time as the year goes ona and vertainly if any more games get out of hand Tuberville would love to give him more snaps.
6) We learned a bit about the potential of transfer Mekale McKay. The sophomore transfer from Arkansas did a nice job positioning himself on a 40-yard touchdown reception from Kay. Tuberville has searched for a big body receiver, particularly as Alex Chisum rehabs from injury, and knows the rare size and skill McKay brings to the table.
He caught 21 passes for 317 yards last year for Arkansas. The Bearcats are currently trying to help the 6-foot-6, 195-pound put on weight during the season to push around smaller DBs.
"He's going to be a star receiver," Tuberville said. "He doesn't know how talented he is. We want to get him stronger. ... He's not aggressive enough. We are doing a lot of things with him in practice to try and get the ball to him more. We had a few more things planned tonight but decided to hold up on them until next week because the score got out of hand too quick. He's an intimidating factor on a corner that tries to line up on him."
UC does not play UCF this year.
Again, Louisville established its dominance and ranking with an easy win at rival Kentucky.
The rest of the conference would prefer to run and hide after this weekend's results. Previously winless Florida Atlanta blew out USF, 28-10. Horribly disappointing start to the Willie Taggart era in Tampa. Middle Tennessee State topped Memphis, 17-15. UConn followed their loss to Towson losing to Maryland at home by 11. And Fordham ended up beating Temple in Philly, 30-29.
Right now, it looks like UC (2-1), Rutgers (2-1), Louisville (3-0) and UCF (3-0) -- then everyone else in the conference outlook.
8) We learned fans are still on board. The 30,284 made for a fantastic crowd on a gorgeous night in Clifton. To pull in 30k+ for a game against a no-name opponent like Northwestern State should be viewed as a big win going forward. Next home game will be Oct. 11 against Temple.
9) We learned the road appears clearly paved to 7-1. None of the next five opponents have a win yet on the year, totaling 0-12.
I want to hear from you! Shoot any comments, questions or tell me what you learned about UC football by sending an email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Brendon Kay connected on four passes that traveled at least 35 yards in the air Saturday night and reminded everyone how explosive the offense can be on his watch.
CINCINNATI -- On this night, when if not for the a pitchfork splitting the state of Louisiana on the Demons logo, nobody would know where Northwestern State is located, the final score would matter little.
What would move the needle on Tommy Tuberville's barometer of the UC football program would be players proving capable of making plays that win conference games, conference championships.
In the case of Saturday night's 66-9 victory, the proving should be classified more as a reminder.
Brendon Kay - and more precisely the accurate deep ball stemming from his right arm - brings a weapon all teams in the American must prepare for.
Coverage didn't always blanket downfield receivers. And for that matter, pressure rarely fell around the senior's feet. Yet, from the moment Kay planted on his drop and floated his soft spiral no execution appeared more impressive or aesthetic.
"It's not really anything I think about before the play," Kay said. "It's just go out there and do it."
Utilizing his natural instincts, Kay completed four passes that hung longer than 35 yards in the air and all landed perfectly in the hands of the intended target. And in stride, for good measure.
The bombs arrive in different shapes and sizes. Finding the time and place for all makes the difference.
"It's just a feel for the game," Kay said. "Been doing it my whole life. Certain receivers I put more air under it and let them run to it. If it's pretty open you want to put it on him. Just let him make the catch and run with it."
The first Saturday, an intent strike to tight end Blake Annen breaking open between the seams for an eventual 49-yard gain arrived on him like a pregame parachuter careening around the scoreboard.
The second came hung in front of transfer Mekale McKay long enough for him to hold off the defender draped behind him on a broken play for a contested catch.
The last two were the types of throws that make writers like myself consult the thesaurus for adjectives. No other choice, really, when a pass holds high in the air, softly spiraling against the backdrop of a black-clad upper deck at Nippert then landing in the ideal spot for Max Morrison to accept without slowing.
Pick which one you prefer: Exquisite, stunning, angelic, pulchritudinous. (For the record have no idea what pulchritudinous means, but sure rolls off the tongue).
The first bomb to Morrison covered 46 yards to set up an Anthony McClung spinning touchdown.
"I felt the DB right there on my hip and Brendon put the ball exactly where it needed to be," Morrison said. "He was right there with me when I caught it. If it weren't for the great ball from Brendon it might not have turned out the way it did."
The second came as Morrison broke open down the sideline for 41 yards and an easy touchdown to close out a spectacular night.
"Nothing was there but the ball and me," Morrison continued.
Kay finished 12 of 14 for 277 yards while tying a career high with four touchdowns. His final passer rating of 346.2 ranked better than any quarterback in a UC game since the mid-2000s renaissance. It wasn't close.
How Kay can change the game for the Bearcats entering conference play in three weeks will be by stretching the defense with his accuracy deep. Keeping the safeties out of the box allows more one-on-one matchups up front to keep Ralph David Abernathy IV and company in space.
That, according to Tuberville, serves as the key in the chain reaction to moving the ball consistently in this type of attack. From there forward, his next level in throwing the deep ball will be knowing when not to throw. There Tuberville came away particularly impressed in his play.
"He didn't throw the ball up for grabs," Tuberville said. "There was a couple of times he could have chucked it down the field but he tucked it and ran it. He's learning. He's got a lot more to learn about playing quarterback in this type of offense, a pro-style offense, where your running game has to be No. 1 and passing game work off of that."
As for if Kay believes the deep ball is his primary weapon, he wouldn't go so far.
"I'm going to do whatever is called," Kay said. "If it's called on me to throw the ball deep I'm going to do that. If I have to stay across the middle, short game, quick game, whatever it is I am going to go out there and do my job."
In the end, the bomb is one of many ways to do his job. But having it in the arsenal can change the look of the conference chase. And for UC, that's a pulchritudinous thing.
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Written by Scott Springer
Like every University of Cincinnati Bearcat, Chris Moore
was affected by the injury to quarterback Munchie Legaux in the road game at
We'll never know what might have been had Legaux's third
quarter touchdown been allowed to stand.
At 21-17, it clearly would've been a momentum changer. Instead, the game went from a four-point
deficit to 18 points as the Illini were able to march down 99 yards to further their lead.
Then, there was the injury and we all know what happened
For any of you that were in Memphis for the Conference
USA basketball tournament when Kenyon Martin broke his leg (I was and remember
it like it was yesterday) the Legaux injury had a similar effect. Though the Bearcats were the better team,
they couldn't regroup quick enough to stop the opposition.
There's no bright side to what happened. However, there are some things to learn from
and some points to consider.
Now at quarterback is Brendon Kay.
A year ago, Kay was the No. 2, which meant he took
practice reps with the No. 2 receivers.
One of those was Chris Moore.
The camaraderie and chemistry that came out of that,
resulted in a 65-yard touchdown against Temple last year. In the opener against Purdue, Kay and Moore
also went long for 51 yards, the longest reception of the season.
Chris Moore runs the best deep route on the team and has
a connection to Kay that can't always be explained other than you don't mess
with what works.
It's kind of like the pitcher that is lights out with a
certain catcher and so-so with anyone else.
Kay to Moore is special and you shouldn't be shocked to see more of that
As always, after the Coach Tuberville luncheon (featuring
City BBQ and including a delightful peach cobber ordered by newly reinstated
Ryan Koslen) I hung out in the hall to snare an interview.
The product of my lurking this week is Mr. Moore, the
pride of Jefferson High in Tampa. As it
turns out, one of his high school teammates is a Northwestern State Demon.
Here's No. 15:
The first two games of the Tommy Tuberville era were challenging and important. The win against Purdue and loss to Illinois gauged where the program sits under the supervision of its new coach.
They also were a two-game trial evaluation of his roster.
Tuberville purposely ran 60-plus players on and off the field in hopes of seeing how they respond when crowd fills the stadium. The new coach learned as much as he could about the talent on the team pushing them through spring practice and camp at Higher Ground. But you never truly learn about how a player will act until the real games start.
A total of 12 players who have started games this year came into the season with one start or less. And not a single player on the team had started a game for Tuberville. Some will deliver, others won't. All will be judged. Starting this week, the results of those judgments will begin to be seen.
Tuberville expects the starting lineup to start shifting. The pattern where only one change occurred in the starting lineup from Week 1 to Week 2 won't continue.
"We are finding more out about what we can handle with this team and who can handle a bigger load and help us get better," Tuberville said. "That is what coaching is about. It really isn't about the x's and the o's. It is about getting the right guys on the field and getting the right guys on the field in the right situation."
These first four games serve as a preseason for the true test in conference play. That's what this season will inevitably be about. Can the Bearcats beat out Louisville and win The American? Only one way to make it happen and that's know the moment they arrive in South Florida who the best players are and how they need to be used.
Tuberville wants to utilize a bigger running back like Tion Green to help alleviate struggles in goal line situations. The Bearcats were unable to push into the end zone on the play where Munchie Legaux was denied at the goal line. Ralph David Abernathy and Hosey Williams have their strengths, but size will never be among them.
"That red zone has been a concern on both sides, but especially offensively with getting the ball in the end zone," Tuberville said. "It is something that we are making changes on."
He's looking for more consistency and less panic out of the defensive backs. Too often as Illinois changed formation he saw defensive backs squirming instead of relaxing. It ended up being the reason for so many big plays by the Illini.
"We gave up two or three big plays where they ran some trick things that we have not seen," Tuberville said. "Our secondary did not adjust very well. That was the area that I was a little concerned about."
Saturday will offer the first college snaps for redshirt freshman Bennie Coney at quarterback. With Legaux lost for the season and Kay saying he's at "90 to 95 percent" in terms of health. Tuberville needs to know what he has in Coney, who took dramatic strides in the spring and caught everyone's attention.
Much like the last two weeks, Coney can only partially be judged by what happens inside the trees in West Harrison, Ind., but mostly by what occurs under the lights in Clifton.
"I have confidence in him. He will go in the game on Saturday no matter how we are doing," Tuberville said. "We have to get him into the game. We can't put him into a tough situation when the first time he goes in he looks around and hasn't taken a snap."
All this means moving around the depth chart and beginning the process of paring down the roster to those who can help as the season pushes forward. The trial run portion of the season will come to a close the next two weeks. The time has come to find out who is coming with him.
"Each week we are finding out more and more about players that are starters, backups, or even third string guys," Tuberville said. "That's the focus, we have two non-conference games left, and we have to get better in both of those. We have to get much better, as we found out last week."
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Every Monday this football season I will take a look back at the weekend that was surrounding the UC football program and all affects it. Here's what we learned following the Bearcats 45-17 defeat in Champaign.
Let's eat ...
Usually, when backing away from the initial reaction of any game, a loss is never as bad as it seems and win never as great as it seems. That's probably the case following this weekend. If you look at what happened in the fourth quarter, it's difficult to criticize the play of a team after that kind of gruesome injury.
All the players after the game said it wasn't difficult to refocus after seeing Munchie Legaux go down. They have to say that. They are football players and do their best move forward to do their jobs. But let's be honest here, how could anyone properly regain focus after witnessing that? Especially considering the spiraling situation of the game.
They are football players, but they're also human.
Legaux spent Saturday night at Carle Foundation Hospital and was transported to UC Medical Center on Sunday. He does have a redshirt year available. Until we know more specifics about the injury, will be hard to say if next season would even be possible. Modern science does crazy things, but might be more of a two-year comeback in reality, if at all.
WHAT WE LEARNED
This was why the competition between Legaux and Kay was viewed as a luxury. When something happens to one, a player like Kay -- who the Bearcats seemed to be building the team around prior to training camp.
He now takes over the offense and the Bearcats move forward. They have an opportunity to get healthy and back on the right track. FCS Northwestern State comes to town Saturday (7 p.m./ESPN3) with a down Miami squad in Oxford the following week (7 p.m./ESPN3).
NSU is 2-0, but last year lost 44-6 to Tuberville's Texas Tech team in their opener despite hanging near Nevada a few weeks later in their only games playing up. Miami, on the other hand, hasn't enjoyed much success. They've been outscored 93-21 in two losses to Marshall and Kentucky in the opening weeks. Having trouble finding an identity without Zac Dysert under center.
A few weeks of wins and seeing what personnel can emerge to shore up competition among a new roster can go a long way toward hitting conference play with a full head of steam.
As for positions that need to be figured out, here are those to watch:
Defensive back: Opposite Deven Drane we've seen a revolving as well as opposite Arryn Chenault at safety. Tuberville's searching for the right fit but found myriad problems covering and Illinois exposed that Saturday allowing 312 yards passing and four touchdowns. Trenier Orr went down early in the game, so it will be on a combination of players including JuCo transfer Howard Wilder to assert themselves. There will be no shortage of passes thrown their way, including the Bearcats primary competition in Louisville if they want to win the conference title.
Receiver: UC needs to find consistency without drops in the passing game. Alex Chisum has missed both games due to injury and Tuberville is still searching for receiver to stretch the field and open up space for RDAIV in the passing game.
WHAT THEY SAID
Tommy T talked about the two calls that went against UC and went a long way toward killing the momentum the Bearcats developed in charging back to what appeared to be within four points.
The calls won't always go their way. Any discussion about those calls being the difference in the game were misplaced in his eyes -- though he would admit they had an effect. It's all about how a team reacts to those and the 99-yard drive that followed the non-TD did more damage than any call.
That will certainly be a point of emphasis going forward this week.
"Just took the air out of us," Tuberville said. "We get the ball back and that one goes against us, too. You are on the road you got to play, you can't worry about things like that. You got to go with it and make sure next time you make it no doubt."
RDAIV TOUCH WATCH
As with Week 1, will continue to monitor the touch watch of Ralph David Abernathy. Here's how OC Eddie Gran used his versatile primary weapon.
Rushes: 12 for 47 yards (3.4 per carry)
Receptions: 1 for 8 (8.5)
Returns: 3 for 71 (23.6)
TOTAL TOUCHES: 15 for 126 yards (8.4 yards per touch)
USF rebounded from their disappointing opener against McNeese State by hanging with Michigan State for a half, but still coudn't muster enough offense to pull off the upset, losing 21-6.
DEMONS IN NIPPERT
First Nippert night game of the year and it's expected to draw 30k-plus. Northwestern State would classify as a cupcake game for the Bearcats, but an important one to rebound after the trip to Champaign.
NSU is 2-0 and kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Nippert Stadium.
The injury to quarterback Munchie Legaux serves as a reminder of a need to enjoy the games and appreciate the players who play them.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Anthony McClung arrived at Cincinnati with Munchie Legaux. They became roommates first, nearly inseparable second. Almost every day they talk. McClung will head over to Legaux's house or vice versa.
Every player on this tight Bearcats team considers Legaux a brother, but McClung takes that further.
"That's really like his blood brother," Ralph David Abernathy IV said.
When McClung turned around hearing a player had been injured on a fourth quarter incomplete pass Saturday at Illinois, he couldn't believe what he witnessed.
"My heart dropped," McClung said. "That's my best friend."
McClung, a vibrant, loquacious senior, hesitated at much explanation of what he witnessed soon after.
Illinois players instantly waved and screamed for trainers, the entire UC sideline immediately moved out to gather around Legaux on one knee as all medical personnel worked the situation.
As seconds turned into minutes, dead silence hung over 43,031 inside Zuppke Field.
"It's just a horrible, horrible scene," linebacker Greg Blair said. "Just seeing him squirm around in pain, that was one of the worst things I've ever seen."
Those injuries are discussed, replayed and prayed about on a regular basis in this sport. In this brutal game, physical pain comes with the territory.
But it's different when it's your brother.
It's different when it's your best friend.
"I had to leave," McClung said. "I couldn't continue to watch that. I couldn't do it."
Minutes earlier different emotions blanketed the visitor sideline. Frustration, anxiety and tension surrounded the Bearcats one week after building lofty expectations one touchdown at a time in the 35-point blowout against Purdue. Now, those deflated at the same interval seven days later.
Then with one play, one pass, one hit, the true reality of the game we watch and these kids play appears directly in front of us - hanging unattached.
It is just a game.
In that moment, the issues with a defense that allowed 522 yards and the most points since 2011 meant nothing. An offense that committed five false start penalties and referees who controversially overturned a possible touchdown on the goal line evaporated.
The reality of the human condition and true perspective behind why this game necessitates perspective drove off on the back of a cart, leg extensively wrapped, towel draped over face en route to an overnight stay at Carle Foundation Hospital.
"It went from me thinking about man, we could still win this game to, 'Dang, what if that was me? That could have been me,'" Blair said. "Your whole mindset just changes from trying to win a game to wondering how long he's going to be out, can he play again? It just humbles you. Every game you have to play every play like it's your last. We know we play a dangerous sport but it hurts when we see one of our brothers go down like that."
This is Legaux's senior season. One in which his enthusiasm lifted UC out of Higher Ground and past Purdue. The same player pulled last season for Kay only needed to be told he'd have an opportunity when Tommy Tuberville took over. From then, all he did was play. That's all he wanted to do.
Though often an object of fan criticism, the humble kid with the creole drawl and unique name only wanted a chance to show he could grow, to show he could be better than mistakes made in the past.
He just wanted to play football.
So, he did, without complaint and eventually took over the starting quarterback job by surprise. Even on this day, he sparked the Bearcats by running four plays in a row because other methods proved ineffective. His team needed to pop off the mat of a 21-point deficit and he was the leader.
He'd later take off outside on fourth-and-goal down 11 and see two linebackers awaiting him at the end zone. The skinny speedster lowered his head and attempted to bury through. It appeared he made it, but that tough call would be far from his mind hours later.
As football games unfold, they are given the utmost importance and draw criticism from every angle. With so much money, time and energy invested, those come with the territory. Yet, often Twitter belittles 20-year-olds with families, friends and a desire to better themselves 140-characters at a time.
Passion of a fan base too often crosses the line between spirit and sickness. Few experienced that more than Legaux. And by association, McClung.
"That comes with being the quarterback, when you win they are going to praise you; when you lose it's basically your fault," McClung said. "He doesn't pay attention to any of what happens in the media, he just goes out and plays football. That's what he's here to do. He's a quarterback. He likes playing under pressure. He showed that."
He didn't care. He only wanted to play. Thus, what made the scene Saturday such a difficult reality.
The support of coaches, players and staff provided a glimpse of what's made the Bearcats successful over the last five years, on and off the field. The tight-knit unit has made a living overcoming recruiting stars and high-profile opponents with team chemistry.
They believe going forward its what will help them push through a day where the loss to Illinois now seemed a footnote.
"He was our starting quarterback," Abernathy said. "That's our brother. We are family. We are just so close as a team, as a unit. It's sad to see something like that happen. If he's out for the season we will dedicate this season to him."
I want to hear from you! Send any comments, questions or suggestions about Bearcats football to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
The Bearcats moved against the grain of college football's pace obsession to churn out one of their most dominating performances in recent history and aren't afraid to slow down as new pieces settle in.
CINCINNATI - In the trendy hyperspace of college offense, every new coach arrives preaching speed and uptempo. Think you know fast, time to go faster.
Sprint to the line, run the play, run another, breathing optional.
Each new guru promises to run more plays than ever before. Eighty per game. Ninety. Heck, 100 per game. An obsession to recreate the rise of Oregon filters into every corner of college football and now even flowed down the Delaware River to the NFL.
In a world where anyone not preaching speed appears destined to be left behind, Tommy Tuberville and Eddie Gran pumped the brakes on Saturday. Even without a huddle, the Bearcats methodically ran play after play at their own calculated pace. No sprinting to the line, no race to outsnap the opponent.
They slowed down. And imagine that, blew out Purdue by making fewer mistakes. Ordinarily, the fact taking time leads to fewer errors wouldn't be groundbreaking analysis. In this era of college football, it sounds like a jukebox record scratch.
"We said let's slow it down and play good technique and see if we can get the job done," Tuberville said. "I like going fast and there is reasons for that but you have to have the ability to do both and I think sometimes you can shoot yourself in the foot saying were a fast team and were going to go fast."
Fast for the sake of fast and at the expense of efficient only means less rest for the defense. On a day when the field temperature blazed somewhere between 120 degrees and eggs over easy, ripping valuable rest time from the defense made little sense. Nor did taking valuable thought process time from a team in its first game under a new offense.
Time of possession may be an overrated stat - as any Brian Kelly era Bearcats fan can attest - but on a day like Saturday holding the ball eight more minutes during the smoking hot second half made a drastic difference. UC wore the Boilermakers into submission not by outrunning them rather outexecuting them.
UC committed just two penalties all day and none until late in the third quarter on a day where new coaches, new offense and overwhelming temperatures challenged every centimeter of the brain dedicated to focus.
Actually, the one time the Bearcats decided to up the tempo was when the first penalty occurred. That didn't last long per Tuberville's directive.
Gran emphasized the Bearcats desire is not to slow down rather have the option to execute whichever fits the moment.
"To me it's about the game," he said. "How is the game going? How many plays has the defense been on the field? One thing I learned from coach over the years when we were in the SEC if your defense is out on the field for 10 plays the last thing you want to do is go fast and go three-and-out. You have to do whatever you can to get a first down and keep your defense off the field."
UC converted 9 of 15 third downs against the Boilermakers and much of that came on the arm of Munchie Legaux. His 65 percent completion rate ranked as his best at UC against an FBS opponent. Much thanks goes to working on his accuracy with coach Darin Hinshaw, some to Legaux's adjustments to his long throwing motion. Some just comes with the territory of growing as a senior QB.
Yet, the decision to slow down and process the outlook at the line of scrimmage rather than dedicating every ounce of energy toward seeing how fast the play can run allowed Legaux to anticipate reads consistently.
"We want to go fast, too, at times," Legaux said. "(Slowing down) helps you out a lot to read the coverages more post and presnap, get everyone set and aligned on the same page. It helps out a lot with communication as far through the whole offensive line and out to the receivers and running backs in the backfield."
As the players and coaches grow in comfort of the new offense, the tempo will increase. If the situation arises to speed up, Gran plans to churn out plays with the best of the new era offenses. The advantages of keeping the defense from substituting and dictating plays instead of being dictated to can't be denied.
Many days, though, specifically when overwhelming teams with the offensive line and long, draining drives, the Bearcats will continue to worry more about relaxing then racing.
"There is a lot to do when you're trying to go fast you just don't say get up there and let's go," Tuberville said. "There is a huge process and you have to understand really what you're doing and you have to have experience. As we continue on in the season we will tend to go faster at times.
"We're going to take it slow until we know what we are doing."
By taking it slow, however, they sure look like they do.
The Tommy Tuberville era at Cincinnati is off to a
spectacular start. And if you attended
the game and were impressed by UC's new head coach, you'll be happy to know that
Tommy and his wife Suzanne were impressed with you.
"My wife's been to a lot of tailgates over the years
and she said that was the best she's even been to," said Coach Tuberville.
A record crowd of 36,007 packed 98-year old Nippert
Stadium, breaking the old attendance mark by 901 fans.
"I want to thank our fans for coming out because
they were very supportive," Tuberville told me.
"They got behind the team from the beginning to the end. We need to keep it going like that. As I've said before, we're all in this
together. If we want to keep making this
program better and better and take it to another level, it's going to have to
start not on the football field but in the stands and work down to the
field. We're going to try to do our
part, but we need the help of everybody out there. We got off to a great start."
It was such an impressive performance that it was
easy to forget that after opening each of the past two seasons with a touchdown
on the first play from scrimmage, the first offensive snap this year resulted
in a Munchie Legaux interception off a deflected pass.
"I told Eddie Gran that I was going to have a
football printed up of his first play ever as an offensive coordinator - an interception,"
joked Tuberville. "I didn't say anything
to Munchie because it wasn't his fault.
We're supposed to cut those offensive lineman and keep their hands
down. He was throwing to the right guy, the
guy was open, and the timing was good.
They made a good play. I was
proud of Munchie bouncing back and playing well the rest of the time until his
last play when he threw another interception.
Munchie is going to make mistakes - they're all going to make mistakes -
but they have to bounce back and forget about the last play. That's what we've been preaching."
While Munchie directed the Bearcats to a 42-7 win,
the Cincinnati defense made life so miserable for Purdue quarterback Rob Henry
that he opted
to quit Twitter.
In all, 66 players saw action in the opener, including
11 offensive linemen. I found it telling
that the Bearcats rarely looked disorganized no matter who was on the field,
and didn't commit a penalty until midway through the third quarter.
"It was awfully hot - about 130 degrees on that turf
and I don't care how good of shape you're in, it's hard to focus as long as you
need to focus," said Tuberville. "Our
assignments were very good; we only had a couple of penalties, and that's hard
to do in the first game regardless of the weather. When you have first-game jitters you tend to
make a lot of mistakes, but I was proud of the entire team.
"They paid a price this summer in two-a-days by
running and doing all of our (post-practice conditioning) drills. Joe Walker, our strength coach, and all four
of his assistants have done a bang-up job of knowing how hard to push them but when
to pull back. The strength and
conditioning coaches had a plan for them starting back in the summer of getting
ready for this first game and it worked.
Our guys were awfully proud of that, so they all stood up in the locker
room and gave them a standing ovation."
I don't know about you, but I can't wait until next
forget to listen to my daily Bearcat Reports with Coach Tuberville, Monday
through Friday at 11:55 on ESPN 1530.
And I hope to see you on Thursday night for Coach Tuberville's weekly
radio show from 8-to-9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.
I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1
Every Monday this football season I will take a look back at the weekend that was surrounding the UC football program and all affects it. Nothing teaches us more than the first few days of the season and, wow, did we ever learn about the excitement level that should be surrounding the Bearcats.
Let's eat ...
Nobody that watched Purdue on Saturday can pretend they looked like a team who will contend for the Big Ten title this year, or do anything other than fight to avoid the cellar of the conference. Yet, let's not pretend this was Austin Peay arriving at Nippert Stadium on Saturday.
Remember, Purdue went to a bowl game last year, won their final three regular season games and took Ohio State to overtime in the Horseshoe. They are coached by Darrell Hazell, whose Kent State team went 11-2 last year and was a double OT loss away from possibly heading to a BCS Bowl.
The Boilermakers have been to a bowl game each of the last two seasons.
I went looking for the worst opening game loss by a Big Ten team and went back as far as ESPN's records tracked (2004) without seeing a single one worse than the 35-point drubbing. It's the worst opening week loss by Purdue since Michigan State thumped them in 1996.
By any angle, this was one impressive beatdown.
Munchie Legaux earned the start and Brendon Kay was "90 percent" health-wise.
Hard to argue with what Legaux churned out, looking as relaxed and in control as at any time during his UC career.
He finished 13 of 20 for 145 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. That's a 65 percent completion rate.
Consider this: That's the best completion rate by Legaux against an FBS school in this his 10th career opportunity. Last year, he only crossed 50 percent completion against FBS team's one time (56.5 against Miami).
You only need to look at one play to see the evolution of Legaux. The touchown pass to Blake Annen? No. The touchdown burst up the middle? Nope, seen it before. The play was a 15-yard deep out completed to Jeremy Graves right along the sideline. It was a professional throw that hit Graves perfectly in stride to tap his feet in bounds. It also marked a string of six consecutive completions.
I can't remember seeing Legaux making that throw before. And I certainly can't remember him running off six consecutive completions in a row.
The #MunchieForHeisman hashtag doesn't need to be marketed just yet, but he clearly looked like a different QB than we'd seen the last two years.
Have to say UC video guy Shane Harrison routinely cranks out great stuff, but I thought the team entrance hype video, put together by Old Hat Creative in Norman, Okla., was among the best I've ever seen. You have to love the GoPro on the helmet as the team ran out, too. Just a cool effect for the fans.
WHAT THEY SAID
Tommy T unveiled a few interesting observations following Saturday's win. He seemed legitimately surprised at how well the team played. Sure, he expected/hoped to come out and play well, but I don't think even he could expect a brutally efficient disposal of a Big Ten squad.
The looked organized and disciplined. They didn't commit a single penalty until midway through the third quarter and only had two for 10 yards on the game. The team was clearly better conditioned than Purdue with multiple players telling me they could tell the Boilermakers were tired in the third quarter.
That came as direct result of UC rotating so many players. Granted, many reserves came in late in the game, but 67 (!) Bearcats played in the game. Compare that to 56 for Purdue.
"Really proud of our strength coaches," Tuberville said. "Our players just gave them a standing ovation. Very concerned about going into this game because we didn't let off of them until about three days ago. We grinded them."
The QB competition could go on as the season does. He didn't commit to even naming a starter for next week against Illinois. It can depend on the personnel they are facing as much as how the QB plays in the previous game and practice. Regardless, know whoever he goes with will not have to worry about the other player rotating into stealing series from them.
"We are not going to go out there and go series by series," Tuberville said. "I'm not going to do that. Whoever starts, it's his ball. We will just have them compete every week and see where we go."
RDAIV TOUCH WATCH
Spent much of Saturday monitoring the touch count of RDAIV and where they come from. Here's how OC Eddie Gran used his versatile primary weapon.
Rushes: 15 for 52 yards (3.5 per carry)
Receptions: 2 for 17 (8.5)
Returns: 1 for 22
TOTAL TOUCHES: 18 for 91 yards
While UC made a splash in its American Athletic Conference debut, that can't be said for the majority of the conference.
Houston (62-13 vs. Southern), UCF (38-7 vs. Akron) were the other conference teams to win this weekend. Well, them and one other ...
Louisville appears ready to make their run. By any angle an impressive debut in the 49-7
win against my alma mater OU. The Bobcats no slouch with Tyler Tettleton back for an emerging program and Louisville made it look like the Brian Knorr era. Cardinals and UC hold a significant edge at the top of the AAC power rankings after one week.
Illinois broke a nine-game losing streak but narrowly avoided being upended by FCS Southern Illinois. They proved they can throw the heck out of it with 416 yards in the air for QB Nathan Scheelhase, but not much else went well for the Illini.
Scheelhase was sacked five times, allowed 407 total yards and nearly blew a 22-point third quarter lead. SIU couldn't convert from the 3-yard line in a drive that could have set up a game-tying two-point conversion attempt.
A three-point loss against Purdue last year was the only game during their nine-game losing streak not decided by at least two touchdowns.
The Bearcats play at noon eastern time (ESPN2) in Champaign, Ill, on Saturday. For those who are wondering, it's only about a 3 1/2-hour drive from downtown.