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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