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November 2013 Archives

Tuberville Looks To Add To Big Game Reputation

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When Whit Babcock introduced Tommy Tuberville as Cincinnati's new head coach at a quickly-arranged news conference last December, he brought up the time they spent together at Auburn and said that he was impressed with Tuberville's leadership style, family-centered values, and how he treated people.

"I was also impressed with his knack for winning the big games," said Babcock.

I thought that might be worth bringing up before the Bearcats host Louisville a week from Thursday in one of the biggest games in Nippert Stadium history.

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Tuberville has a 7-3 record in bowl games, went 7-3 vs. archrival Alabama during his years at Auburn, and has gone 6-3 in his career when facing teams ranked in the Top 5.

So what's his secret?

"I was fortunate to grow up as an assistant coach in a lot of big games and rivalry games with coaches like Dennis Erickson, Jimmy Johnson, and R.C. Slocum and the one thing that I took from all of those guys was to let the players win the game," Tuberville told me.  "Don't try to outcoach the other team.  If you try to do too much and throw too much on the wall and players are confused, you always end up with problems.  So we'll prepare them and get them ready to go, but it's going to happen between the whistles and between the lines at Nippert Stadium.  Just get out of the way and let 'em play.  There's no secret to it.  Get 'em ready to go and turn 'em loose."

Cincinnati is clearly playing its best football of the year going into the showdown against the 10-1 Cardinals.  After beating Houston on Saturday for their sixth straight win, the 9-2 Bearcats have climbed into the Top 25 for the first time this season.  That seemed hard to imagine in early October when the Bearcats walked off the field after a loss at USF with a 3-2 record.

"We were just trying to find out if we could score points, much less win football games because we were struggling on offense," said Tuberville.  "About midseason we were flopping around just trying to find an identity and we started getting a little bit better and better and guys started to make plays.  We haven't done anything different - our guys are just kind of absorbing everything that we've put in over the past year and it takes a while to do that.  I'm proud of all of the players.  The seniors have done a great job of keeping this team focused and the leadership has just been outstanding." 

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No senior has played a more important role than quarterback Brendon Kay.  During the Bearcats' six-game winning streak, Kay has averaged 330 passing yards and thrown 15 TD passes while completing 72% of his throws.

"It's remarkable - 60% is good," said Tuberville.  "You've got to give some credit to the receivers like Mekale McKay, Chris Moore, and the two little guys inside (Shaq Washington and Anthony McClung) catching everything that he throws.  But still, you've got to find the open man and get the ball there.  And people forget, he's been about 70 to 80 percent healthy for the last few games because he's been beat up.  I'm really proud of Brendon.  He came in and he was the back-up quarterback before Munchie got hurt and he struggled for a couple of games, but he's just been gangbusters for the last few weeks.

"He's the most accurate guy that I've been around, and I've been around some Heisman Trophy winners at Miami (Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta).  But none were as accurate as Brendon for such a long period of time.  He's been on target for the last five or six weeks.  He's throwing the deep ball, the short ball, the screen passes - all of those things are on target." 

While the offense has made huge strides since the USF loss, the defense has been solid in every game this season but the week two loss at Illinois.  Cincinnati is ranked fifth in the nation in rushing defense, ninth in yards allowed, and tied for ninth in points allowed.

"We're not overpowering," said Tuberville.  "We don't do anything fancy.  We've got two or three guys that are good senior leaders.  We've got a lot of first-time players, but those guys are 11 games into the season and they've gotten much better.  I think it's the overall scheme of Art Kaufman and all of his coaches pulling the trigger and saying, 'Listen.  Let's do what we do and don't do anything special and let 'em play.'  It's worked out pretty well for us."

The Bearcats are one win from reaching 10 victories for the sixth time in the last seven seasons and still have a chance to win their fifth conference title in the last six years.  Additionally, if Cincinnati beats Louisville and UCF loses one of its final two games to either USF or SMU, the Bearcats could earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

If only Bearcats had not have dropped their conference opener at USF...

"We'll take 9-and-2 after the start we had," said Tuberville.  "You can always look back and say, 'Man, what if?'  But you don't want to do that.  You want to look at where you are today and what you have in front of you."

What Tommy Tuberville has in front of him is his biggest game so far at Cincinnati.

And if you're like me, it can't get here soon enough.

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Williams Leads UC's Ground Attack into Houston

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Heading into the Houston game, UC's top rusher is junior Hosey Williams who is doing the No. 23 of Isaiah Pead proud with 491 yards.  Sharing carries with Ralph David Abernathy IV and Tion Green, Williams is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

His best game was 117 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern State, but he also ran for 90 yards against Southern Methodist, 78 against the Miami Redhawks and 70 against Purdue.

His highlight likely was the extended drive on the ground against SMU when the Bearcats were able to freeze the Mustangs offense with Williams pounding the rock.

While the Bearcats have turned to a more pass-oriented offense with Brendon Kay, Williams has still made blocks and chewed up valuable yards and minutes with his running talents.

The 5-foot-9 200-pound Williams is also from Miami, Florida and Southridge High School.
  The recent announcement of a home and home series with the Miami Hurricanes is good news for Williams and numerous Floridians on the team that will enjoy a return to the Sunshine State.

Justin Jackson adding efficiency to excitement

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Justin Jackson brought the same antics everyone has come to expect of him this season, but his latest exhibition in efficiency in Wednesday's win against Campbell showcased how he can change the UC offense. 

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CINCINNATI - At no spot on the Fifth Third Arena Floor would the basketball be safe from the grasp of Justin Jackson. 

No matter the time of the game or margin on the scoreboard, the Jackson trampoline circus could be coming your way - press row included. 

With the Bearcats cruising by 18 over the Camels in the final minutes Tuesday, Jackson stepped into a Superman leap into press row harpooning a stage director in the shoulder like a linebacker preventing a first down. He rolled onto the ground and the ball remarkably tossed back into play. 

Never has a moment existed Jackson didn't play with this energy. Third grade, middle school, high school - all the same. 

"I was the guy that fouled out in the first three minutes," he said. 

Joining Mick Cronin's team certainly didn't change his attitude. No lead can be too large and no moment too small to not take out a few lowly scribes in the name of hustle. 

"No," he said. "Not being on Mick's team." 

This behavior is nothing new for the senior from Cocoa Bearch, Fla. His penchant for blocks and dives, #MeanFace and #SlightlyLessMeanFace, doesn't surprise the masses at home. They only make the crowd cheer louder. 

After he sprinted out of the rubble behind press row Wednesday the chant from the student section whipped up one more time. 

"Justin Jackson! Justin Jackson!" 

All part of a day's work for Mr. Excitement. Perhaps what should elicit chants and cheers more than spiking a basketball off the backboard, should be the efficient post moves he's illustrated through four games this season. 

He finished the 81-62 victory with a career high in points (19) and a career low in fouls (1). Only one more rebound would have equaled a double-double. The most impressive number would be his efficiency. Jackson connected on 9 of 12 shots as a key component to the team setting a new Mick Cronin Era record of 63.2 percent shooting. 

Jackson used a left-handed baby hook, broke across the lane with the right hand and spun in toward the bucket for two. 

Nobody will be drawing comparisons to Karl Malone just yet, but every moment of competence in the post means another step toward developing the inside-out offense that could accelerate this Bearcats team from good to great. 

"Like to get to the point we can run a lot of offense through him," Cronin said. "Trust him with the basketball. One of the things I believe in is you can't ask guys to do things they haven't done before. Before we get to a certain point in our season got to get him touches in the post so he can get a comfort level in live action."

When season progresses where the Camels give way to the Cardinals, Jackson's moves won't be met with such little resistance. For now, however, the comfort in his post game offers another offensive option for a team showcasing noticeable improvements in ball movement and shot selection from a year ago. 

Even after the best statistical game of Jackson's career, Cronin insisted he should have been better. 

"He had a couple lazy plays," Cronin said. 

Rarely are Jackson and lazy mentioned in the same sentence, but the entire team drew Cronin's ire in a frustrated postgame session. The talking points stemmed from boxing out to mental lapses to lacking effort. 

That's why diving into press row in the middle of a blowout, even if that means jeopardizing health with a win already in the bag will not just be acceptable around here. 

"It's expected," Jackson said. 

For a guy whose found himself in the front row more than any booster, Jackson also knows what's expected in terms of courtesy. That's why he returned to the court after the game to check on the stage manager he bulldozed into the ground. 

"When I fell into the lady and my hand went through the chair (my thumb) got a little jam," he said. "I apologized to her to make sure she was OK." 

I want to hear from you! If you have any comments, questions or suggestions shoot an email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Turnovers the name of Houston game

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The Bearcats own an opportunity to turn a Dec. 5 against Louisville into a game with possible BCS implications. In order to do so, they'll need some help from UCF, but also must find a way to win on the road in Houston. 

UC used trickeration and physical domination each of the last two weeks as the medium for victory. 

This week, the path to victory will be paved in one key stat -- take care of the ball. 

No team in college football feasts off turnovers more than Houston. And when we say no team in college football, we mean no team in the recent history of college football. 

That's right, no school since 2005 has enjoyed a better turnover margin than the 2013 Houston Cougars. They are winning the turnover battle by an average of 2.2 per game. The next closest in FBS is Buffalo at plus-1.45 per game -- a full six total turnovers created less. 

Look no further when analyzing how a Houston team ranked 43rd in offense and 83rd in defense played its way to the conference title discussion in recent weeks. As two quality opponents came calling the last two weeks, the word was out. Hold on to the ball and the Cougars are beatable. 

Can the Bearcats do that? In the last two games they lost the turnover battle by an average 1.5 per game. 

Houston proved their susceptibility against both UCF and Louisville. 

Louisville and UCF only lost the turnover battle by one in their defeats of the Cougars. The Cards won by seven and Knights used a goal-line stand in the final minute to preserve a 19-14 victory. 

For Brendon Kay and company, avoiding defeat by turnover will be a test of what has been one of the few concerns amid the offensive resurgence. Despite the surgical nature of the team's offense the penchant for untimely interception and fumble have haunted them in the past. It caused their defeat at South Florida when the Bulls scored 26 points without an offensive touchdown. 

A fumble by Tion Green in the red zone nearly allowed SMU to come back two weeks ago at Nippert Stadium. 

Houston's three losses this season came by a combined 14 points. All were decided by one possession. 

Consider in those losses, their average turnover margin is plus-0.67. In their seven victories they are plus-2.86. 

Hold onto the ball, hold onto the win. 

I want to hear from you! Have any comments, questions or suggestions shoot me an email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Kilpatrick's Senior Year Off To Superb Start

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Sean Kilpatrick's first roommate at Cincinnati is now in his fourth year in the NBA.  And Lance Stephenson is off to a tremendous start averaging 14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and a team-leading 5.8 assists for the undefeated Indiana Pacers.

"We spoke the other night after the triple-double game that he had," Kilpatrick told me.  "He's been telling me how focused he's been on just winning.  That's something that's he's been harping on.  He's been trying to enhance his game by just putting the team in the best position to win."

Sean is actually about eight months older than Stephenson and seriously considered leaving school after his junior year in hopes of joining Lance in the pro ranks.  But Kilpatrick ultimately decided to return to UC for his senior season.

"It was very tough, but when you have a coaching staff like we do and you have great parents on top of that, that makes things a whole lot easier," said Kilpatrick.  "It's every kid's dream to try to go to the NBA and being able to fulfill your dreams, but I really just focus on trying to get my degree now.  That's something that will last forever - the NBA won't.  Coach has really talked to me about putting things in perspective with my life.  That's something that I really have to focus on the most, and being able to come back here for my degree and being able to accomplish what I want to accomplish with my teammates and coaches - that's what means the most to me."

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"Hopefully for him, he's going to have a tremendous season, lead his team to victories, shoot a high percentage, and have an All American-type season the way Steve Logan did his senior year," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "That was probably the last great season that was had by a guard here at UC, and that would be a tremendous way to go out for him.  I fully think that he's capable of doing it."

In Cincinnati's first four games, including two exhibitions, Kilpatrick has scored 20, 24, 22, and 21 points.  But he isn't just scoring.  After regular season wins over NC Central and NC State, Sean leads the team in assists (7) and steals (5), and has drilled 16-of-17 free throws.  He's getting to the free throw line by relentlessly driving to the basket instead of settling for three-point shots.

"That's been a goal," Kilpatrick told me.  "Coach has really been harping a lot on trying to get to the foul line a lot because the hand-check foul is in play now.  I'm so much bigger than the guards that are going to be guarding me - they're going to have to foul me in some type of way.  Being able to get to that foul line will put us in a better situation."

After playing for Team USA in the World University Games in Russia last summer, Kilpatrick is looking to go to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year as a Bearcat.  But he's going to need help from teammates like Titus Rubles who's averaged 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in UC's first two games.

"It's funny because he is my roommate now," said Kilpatrick with a laugh.  "He's worked so hard.  He's deserves everything that he's getting right now.  During the summer when I came back from Team USA, he was walking to the gym at one or two o'clock in the morning.  I would ask where he was going and he was like, 'I'm going to get some shots up.'  He's worked extremely hard and that's something that I'm proud of him for.  He's one of the guys on the team that always has a chip on his shoulder, and I can compare myself to him because we look at things the exact same way."    

The 'Cats are also counting on Justin Jackson to provide some offense this year after averaging 3.8 points as a junior.

"He knows how bad we need him," Kilpatrick said.  "The 20 pounds that he put on helped us tremendously because now we're not afraid to throw the ball down to him anymore.  We know that he can score at will because he's a lot faster and more athletic than the guys that are going to be guarding him.  Being able to exploit that mismatch is something that helps us a lot."

If Kilpatrick scores as many points this year as he did as a junior, he'll finish his career as the second-leading scorer in school history behind Oscar Robertson.  But his impact on the program can't be measured on the stat sheet.

"I have like a Top 5 or Top 10 list of guys that I've coached as an assistant that I have a relationship with," said assistant coach Darren Savino.  "He's in that Top 10 in my mind as far as relationship and dealing with a guy.  But as far as a leader?  There's not a better leader that I've ever been around in all of my days as an assistant coach in 19 years of college basketball.  That's Felipe Lopez, Adrian Griffin who played in the NBA for a long time, different guys from the different schools that I've worked at.  SK is all about winning and he's all about toughness.  For Coach Cronin, that's the best thing that you can have - a guy who is your best player but he's your hardest worker and he buys in to everything that you tell him that the program and the team needs and he's all for it.  We're going to miss his scoring and his basketball stuff, but we can always replace that.  You can always get another player that can do the basketball things, but as a person and a leader, that's going to be the biggest thing that the program will miss when he's gone."

Fortunately for Bearcats fans, that day is still more than four months away.

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Shaq Washington: Transition Complete

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After catching just three passes in each of the previous two seasons, junior Shaq Washington has taken off this season with a team-high 58 grabs.

The Maple Heights product has been an integral part of the offense under Brendon Kay by catching numerous short passes and extending them into long gains with his running talent.

At Maple Heights, he was a quarterback that led his team to the Division II title game twice, losing to Winton Woods in 2009 and defeating Trotwood Madison in 2010.

He is one of several Bearcats who have made the transition from high school quarterback to another position successfully.
  Of the current roster, tight end Tyler Cogswell was once a quarterback and Jordan Luallen and Munchie Legaux played other positions before transitioning back.

From last year's team, Travis Kelce came as a quarterback and eventually made it as a NFL tight end.
  From years gone by, Chad Plummer and Brent Petrus were both quarterbacks that finished their careers as receivers.

Here's the latest, No. 19 Mr. Washington:

Brendon Kay Completing Historic Run

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In a season besieged by injuries early on, Brendon Kay found a way to not only be one of the most accurate quarterbacks in UC history but in recent history of FBS football. 

CINCINNATI - When Brendon Kay finds a rhythm, he knows a run of completions are happening. The tempo moves, the line protects, the passes connect and the ball rarely touches the ground. 

Not until the crowd clears and rubber pellets settle after games does the realization of the gaudy numbers strike him. 

Though, to refer to these numbers as gaudy, would be a misnomer. The precision of Kay and the passing game - specifically over the last four games - ranks as nearly unparalleled. Not only in UC history, but major college football history. 

Over the last four games the UC senior completed 102 of 128 passes for 1,190 yards. That's a completion percentage of 79.7. 

For reference, FBS record for completion percentage in a season is 76.8 by Colt McCoy in 2008. 

These aren't just dink and dunk numbers boosters. Over this span he's tossed nine touchdowns to three interceptions with a 9.3 average yards per attempt. 

How many players this year compiled at least a 9.3 yards per attempt and even better than 70 percent completions? Two. Johnny Manziel (10.5/73) and Teddy Bridgewater (10.2/71). 

The importance of these numbers and how they correlate to success on the field certainly not lost on Kay, who spends his time away from the field completing Capstone projects for his Masters in Business Administration.  

"Definitely is (a stat that matters)," he said. "That's the way I am evaluated and grade out after games. I'm definitely worried about that. It's always on my mind but at the same time I have to make smart decisions.  As long as we are winning that is all that really matters to me. Go out there and win ballgames." 

This four-game run accentuates what quietly surfaced as one of the most efficient seasons by a UC quarterback of all time and by any FBS QB in recent years. 

On the year he's thrown for 2,008 yards and completed 74 percent of his passes at 8.7 yards per attempt. 

Only Kellen Moore in 2011 (74.3 percent) and McCoy in 2008 top his season rate. 

The turning point came in the final moments of a loss at South Florida. Opting for a four-wide spread that runs through the eyes and arm of Kay, the offense flourished. Anthony McClung returned healthy to roam the slot along with emerging junior Shaq Washington breaking open on the other side. 

Of Kay's 102 completions over the last four weeks, 61 of them have been completed to his dynamic slot receivers. 

"You can't double team both of us," said McClung, who battled a hamstring injury early in the season. "It's just overall gameplan. Coach has been calling great plays and Brendon has been throwing great balls." 

Consider how much more proficient Kay has been than any other QB in University of Cincinnati history. Looking at only a minimum of 200 passes thrown, the school leader in completion percentage is Zach Collaros at 62.4 percent. 

Kay's current career completion percentage is 69.9. 

"He usually doesn't force the ball and he is going to get it to the guy that is more open than anybody else," Tommy Tuberville said. "But I'm proud of Brendon, his percentage of completion is outstanding he usually makes all the good reads." 

Precision will be necessary if the Bearcats hope to make a push at the American conference title. The next two weeks play to his strength. This weekend Rutgers will boast the No. 11 rushing defense in the country but a passing defense ranked 119 out of 125. 

A week later a trip to Houston will mean confronting a defense that ranks 93rd in completion percentage allowed. 

The road to setting up a potential showdown with Louisville to challenge conference undefeated UCF rides on the accuracy of Brendon Kay. The Bearcats - or by the numbers almost any team in FBS history - couldn't ask for a better scenario. 

UC Hall of Fame Ceremony

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By: Scott Springer

The Kingsgate Marriott was the host to Bearcat royalty Oct. 28 as the Legion of Excellence had their gathering and inductees into the James P. Kelly Athletic Hall of Fame were announced.

Among those going in were former Naismith Player of the Year Kenyon Martin and former UC quarterback Gino Guidugli.
  I was fortunate to cover the entire careers of both.

As for Martin, I first saw him in an AAU game at UC when he was a "man among boys" swatting shots down.
  He grew from a player that was somewhat shy around the media to a well-spoken senior by the time he left.

Sadly, I was in Memphis the afternoon he broke his leg and stood next to his locker after UC's conference tournament loss afterward when he knew his season was over.
  For a lesson in heart and soul, search for the UC/DePaul game in Chicago in 2000 and watch the final 10 minutes.  I watched him live while covering Reds spring training in Sarasota and it still stands as one of the more improbable finishes ever.

As for Gino Guidugli, he easily is my favorite Bearcat from doing 14 years of football radio.
  From entering the game against Army in the second quarter in 2001 and pulling it out in his first college action, to walking off the field with him in Fort Worth in 2004 with his MVP trophy, he provided Bearcat fans with several memorable games.

Gino Guidugli's accomplishments were the building blocks for where the program stands now. Given a supporting cast, I would bet the ranch on him anytime in the final minutes of a game.
  Had he had access to some of the offenses that came after his career, it's hard to say what kind of numbers he would've posted.

Gino Guidugli in Brian Kelly's UC offense would probably have knocked out several lights in the scoreboard.
  I also was able to cover Ben Guidugli who continued the tradition of his brother in being a pleasurable interview.

It was a thrill and a half for me again be around guys that I covered in the peak of my career and it was fun seeing again so many folks that I don't get to see as much any more.

Process begins for fast-tracked freshmen

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The anticipated debut of a highly-regarded freshman class came with the standard nerves as Mick Cronin searches for the best ways to utilize his new toys. 

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Every season presents a new puzzle for college coaches. Mick Cronin is no different. Only, this year's puzzle comes with three unique freshman pieces. Pieces essential for success. The challenge comes in finding the way Jermaine Lawrence, Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson fit into the Bearcats big picture without truly knowing their shape yet. 

One method exists to figure out their strengths and weaknesses and how ready they are to help the 2013-14 edition of the Bearcats: Play them, review tape, repeat. 

Hence, the conundrum. 

"The key is to get them out there without losing," Cronin said following UC's season-opening 64-51 win against North Carolina Central on Friday. 

Easier said than done at times. Nervousness and apprehension on the court come as standard in the freshmen adjustment process as learning where class buildings are located. For these 19-year-olds, pulling the trigger on shots or risky passes came without thought in high school. They were rarely challenged. Cronin fuming with arms crossed didn't await during their free and easy days as the superstar. 

When games count and lights flip on inside Fifth Third Arena, the pressure changes. 

"There's a great deal of pressure when first coming out," said junior Jermaine Sanders, who scored a career high 13 points Friday. "You have to be ready and focused. I remember being nervous, and not being ready to shoot. Just the adrenaline of the game and the big crowd."

Lawrence, Caupain and Johnson combined for 39 minutes Friday - many of them during tense final stretch as NCC cut a double-digit lead to as little as five. They also combined on 1 of 12 shooting. 

Expecting a Dontonio Wingfield debut (30 points, 12 rebounds) would be unrealistic. For Johnson, who grew up dreaming of wearing a Bearcats jersey or Caupain and Lawrence whose high school performance categorizes their debuts as highly anticipated, meshing confidently in an environment filled with seniors and juniors with 60-plus games under their belt will take time. 

In Cronin's eyes, all were nervous, all will be fine. 

The infusion of these freshmen into the rotation won't happen smoothly in fledgling games of their career, but need to happen fast. North Carolina Central left Friday night, but big brother N.C. State arrives Tuesday in an early impact game on UC's non-conference slate. 

Nobody understands the urgency more than senior team leader Sean Kilpatrick, searching for help carrying the offensive load but can only receive assistance from Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker these days via text. 

"It's kind of hard to pull them to the senior's levels due to the fact they are new to this," Kilpatrick said. "In order for us to win, we need them to win. There is not a player on this team that we don't need. That's something we actually have to continue to keep working on with these young guys because it's not the exhibition games no more. The running starts now."

Once the rust of the first half chipped away to relaxing, Lawrence found a glimpse of comfort against NCC. After contributing the first freshman points late in the first half he drove with confidence the next play. Thus will be the process in the development. Quality plays grow confidence and another sliver of instinct peels back for all to see. 

"When he scored it was a relief because we are not used to seeing that," Kilpatrick said. "When we are able to see when he's not playing like a freshman, playing like an older guy with the rip throughs, that helps us because we need more help on the scoring side."

Caupain tallied 13 minutes in relief of Ge'Lawn Guyn which Cronin dubbed "solid." The coach left happiest with a pull-up jumper he shot in the second half even though it didn't fall, the first show of offensive confidence arrived.

"He's got talent, he's got to play with courage," Cronin said. 

Johnson didn't experience such problems. Of the three, he displayed the most confidence. When the Bearcats lead trimmed to single digits late, Johnson caught a pass at the 3-point line and fired off as if a senior on a heat check. For these 19-year-olds feeling the regular season pressure for the first time the moment not being too big for them counts as much as the sound of swish. 

Relaxation will develop. Anxiety will fade. For the sake of UC's non-conference success, Cronin hopes sooner rather than later. When it does, these freshmen will be called upon.

"Round here we don't care what grade you are in, that doens't matter," Cronin said."Anybody that's got a jersey, the guys that play the best and give us the most chance to win are going to play the most."

I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Luallen cherishing final opportunity

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Quarterback Jordan Luallen emerged as a burst of energy offensively in recent weeks and created a special conclusion to a circuitous college career. 

CINCINNATI - Jordan Luallen can easily be spotted on the sideline. Screaming, jumping and trash-talking. Hugging, waving and high-fiving. 

His excitement level could only be matched by the mascot, maybe. Coach's attempted to calm him down in the past, but with little effectiveness. Players don't bother. 

"I think people try to at first but then realize I am just kind of in my own zone," Luallen said. 

After a touchdown run at Memphis Luallen offered a shush to the crowd. 

"I don't know what I was thinking," he said. "It just happened." 

Luallen's intensity explosion doesn't stem from crushing Five-Hour Energys in the locker room or a last-minute weight-room party pump. Enthusiasm begins the business of affecting the game in any way possible. 

"That's just my personality, too," he said. "I want to be very involved in everything. Whether it's me playing or cheering on my teammates I feel a very big part of this team and this program. I put a lot of time and effort into it. Regardless of whether I am going to play or not that's just who I am."

Lately, his sideline persona took on a different feel. 

For a player who transferred schools, dropped weight, added weight, evolved as a leader and unselfishly learned five different positions in hopes of an opportunity to help the team win on the field, Luallen treats Saturdays like they have been half a decade of unrecognized labor in the making. 

Because that's what they are. 

Luallen exited Center Grove High School (Ind.) expecting make an impact as the No. 22 ranked quarterback in the country by ESPN.com. His reputation began with running skills as a quarterback, so he headed to Georgia Tech with their triple-option offense. He'd eventually transfer to UC eventually playing quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, tight end and fullback. 

He'd experience brief flashes of opportunity, but for the most part relegated to head cheerleader duty again this year as a tight end/fullback on a spread attack. That is, until the last three weeks. 

Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran inserted a wildcat package into the offense with Luallen at the helm spelling Brendon Kay. Experiment evolved into effectiveness instantaneously. Over the last three games he's rushed 27 times for 151 yards at 5.6 yards per carry. Only Tion Green has rushed for more yards over that span (153). 

Luallen also hit 5 of 6 passes for 72 yards. He's contributed a touchdown (one rushing, one passing) in each of the last two games. 

"For all the stuff I have gone through, all the position changes, I don't know for everyone else but it means a little bit more to me," Luallen said. "A lot of these guys, some of my teammates, have been able to be successful since Day 1. I've had to work five years to be able to get consistent playing time for three games."

The firebrand off the field assumed the same role on it. 

"He's always a spark," linebacker Greg Blair said. "He's always being vocal when we need a spark being a crazy dude on the sideline." 

Saturday against SMU Luallen will take the field for Senior Day ceremonies as one of the most under appreciated models of what made Universtiy of Cincinnati football a household name. 

The AFCA named Luallen to their 22-member All-Good Works team in September. He was the first Bearcats player to receive the honor. A regular in the community, member of the 2012 Big East All-Academic team and a player whose taken mission trips to Nicaragua and other countries, he's developed a full-circle education beyond football. 

You can find Luallen hours before kickoff leading the team prayer at midfield. You'll find him this summer collecting his Masters and - he hopes -- beginning his career as a strength coach. He and his girlfriend even hope to one day adopt a child from Haiti. 

There's college athletes who do everything right and then there's Luallen. Only, many role models aren't rewarded with more than a pat on the back and excellence in leadership award. Until three weeks ago Luallen stood in the express lane for the same fate. His time on the field Saturday would end with hugs for his parents following pregame ceremonies. 

Instead, Luallen takes on the role of offensive spark in the Bearcats critical final month run toward a possible American title. His path to this moment weaved circuitously and with a pit stop at two schools and five positions but concludes the way he hoped from the beginning: Making plays as a college quarterback. 

"It's definitely not anything I expected," Luallen said. "Kind of brought everything full circle, so that has been kind of cool being able to end my career where everything started. It wouldn't feel as good now if I hadn't gone through what I've gone through. Had I done this from the beginning, yeah, it would be cool. But it definitely wouldn't be nearly as satisfying for me to end my football career having some success." 

I want to hear from you! Shoot me an comments, questions or suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Three Minutes with Silverberry Mouhon

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He may not quite have the following of "Hingle McCringleberry" or "Fudge" of Key and Peele East/West College Bowl fame, but UC's Silverberry Mouhon does have many appreciative fans.

The sophomore from Norcross, Georgia is the Bearcats' sack leader and leads the defensive line in tackles.
  No. 92 is a constant presence at 6-foot-4 and 248 pounds from his defensive end position and hopes to spend considerable time in the SMU backfield this Saturday.

Mouhon was the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year in his redshirt year of 2011 and will join all of the defensive ends returning next year as none of them are seniors. (UC will lose defensive tackles Mitch Meador, Adam Dempsey, Jordan Stepp and Marques Aiken.)

Here is the man with the best name in college football as we spoke just outside of the Bob Goin Team Room in the Lindner Center.

Judgement Month Starts Saturday

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A run to 6-2 will only be remembered as the appetizer to a meaty four-week main course for the 2013 Bearcats. 

CINCINNATI -- Before this season began, little could be predicated about how it would unfurl. New coach, new system, new league, heck, even new turf. 

Amid the months of transition and scrambling, one fact could be prognosticated fairly easy. The season would be judged by the month of November. 

Non-conference wins against Purdue and Miami were nice for bragging rights and testing who will respond under bright lights. The first four four games of conference play would assure the Bearcats could improve against inferior competition. 

The running through the dregs of the new American conference saw the last five games come against teams who currently own a 4-35 record. Only Memphis entered the game with a victory. 

Those days are gone.  

Beginning Saturday against SMU this final stretch will determine how the 2013 Bearcats are remembered, success or failure. The final four opponents are a combined 22-9 overall and 11-4 in conference. 

SMU, Houston, Rutgers and Louisville all hover around the top of the conference standings. 

Do the 6-2, 3-1 Bearcats belong alongside them? The record would infer yes, but we really don't know how good the Bearcats are because they've rarely been forced to be. 

"I am excited to show the world who we are, what we do," senior Jordan Stepp said. "I feel like the last few weeks we put a few full team games out on the field."

The schedule couldn't break much better for a new year coach installing two new systems and personnel adjusting to them. Eight games in, Tommy Tuberville and his players understand what they do best and learned the hard way twice what they must avoid. 

Finding a way to motivate players through a 4-35 proves a challenge. Tuberville can't hide the standings. He can't hide the ESPN bottom line. Kids know the deal, they research the scores. Yet, even a team whose struggled can pull an upset if the energy level doesn't match. 

Just ask USF. 

"It's going to be tougher," Tuberville said. "I told our team we can't play like we have been playing. We shoot ourselves in the foot we won't win a game the week we do that." 

Not against these offenses. Sure, the Bearcats are ranked as the No. 4 defense in the country right now. Those stats can't be argued, but placed against perspective of competition lack bite. Keep in mind, there are only 125 teams in the FBS.

TeamOffense Rank
Purdue122
Illinois70
Miami (OH)124
USF123
Temple91
UConn119
Memphis107
  
SMU19
Rutgers72
Houston21
Louisville16

Three of the final four opponents rank in the Top 25 of national offenses. If the Bearcats defense wants to be recognized as one of the premier groups in the country, the time has come to prove it. 

"We always come with that mentality we have to showcase we are the best defense in the nation regardless of what we are ranked," Blair said. "That's why I say that we always have something to prove until we are the No. 1 defense in the nation." 

The beauty of this setup, all UC wants is within reach. Conference title, defining win, BCS bowl - a clean sweep of the final four games could likely deliver all three. They'd need only a single loss by UCF to share the title. The Knights still have Houston and SMU on the schedule. 

Of course, it would mean a sweep of arguably four of the five best teams in the conference. Turning this closing run into a defining one will assure nobody claims the Bearcats didn't earn the position. 

The schedule layout allowed Cincinnati to fade as a forgotten team in this title race, an unfamiliar role for a program who at least shared four of the last five conference titles. All the injuries, upsets and transitions are in the past now.

Time for this season to be judged. 

"It's how you finish," Stepp said. "It's one of the strong suits of not only this football team but the players, the teams of the past. It's kind of in our DNA." 

I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.