Freshman Zach Edwards arrived this year as a transitioning former receiver challenged by his first college experience but he's quickly emerged as the lone true freshman starter in his class.
CINCINNATI - For one play, for one brief moment, the turf of Nippert Stadium surrounded by 32,000-plus fans felt like an average Friday night in Middletown for Zach Edwards.
The Bearcats freshman safety spotted a P.J. Walker pass floating deep into the secondary toward a Temple receiver and instincts from years of tracking down touchdown passes as a receiver for the Middies at Barnitz Stadium took over.
Edwards added safety to his receiver repertoire only one year ago during his senior season, but when opportunities like his interception to help put away the Owls Friday night present themselves, drawing a distinction between offense and defense blurs. .
"It did feel like high school. I went up for the ball just like a receiver, just like high school," Edwards said. "Football is football."
And Edwards owns the instincts to play it, no matter the position. That's why he's emerged as the only true freshman starter on the Bearcats depth chart. For a team craving production in the secondary, Edwards earned it. He leads the team with two interceptions following his second-quarter pick that eventually provided a lead the Bearcats wouldn't relinquish in beating the Owls.
No play more typified playmaking the 5-11, 186-pound Edwards provides as the third safety in spread defense packages than this one.
"That wasn't his guy they were throwing to and he made up ground flipping his hips and covering ground with his long legs intercepting the pass," Tommy Tuberville said. "It's good to know he's going to be back for three years. A safety you can count on playing the middle."
The surprise comes in Edwards touching the field so soon. Few expected this inexperienced converted wide receiver from Middletown to be a factor, or even much more than a difficult redshirt decision upon his arrival. Yet, he caught coaches eyes in the spring and preseason, including a scrimmage where he hauled in two interceptions.
Suddenly, the expectation changed.
"Right after spring ball when we had the break (defensive backs coach Steven Clinkscale) and coach Tuberville both sat me down and said I was going to be in the rotation, I'd be fighting for a starting position," he said. "That right that made me aware I might have to play and start and I'm going to have to get on my game."
Inserted as a starter for the first time against Northwestern State Edwards grabbed his first career interception. The last two weeks he returned to the same spot in the starting lineup and continues to earn the trust of coaches and teammates alike.
He's now fifth on the team in tackles (21) and has a pass breakup and forced fumble to go with his two picks.
"I've always been in a position where we are going to play our best players and the guys that are doing all the things right on and off the field," Clinkscale said. "It's not my first time starting true freshman. I am not scared at all to do it and Zach kind of helps that because he's a lot more mature then your usual freshman and handles the responsibility very well."
Not without criticism, of course. Every Tuesday Tuberville and company challenge Edwards with tackling drills on the sled and perfecting pursuit angles. As with many receivers, he's still adapting to physicality and the tendency to always attempt the big play.
Clinkscale preaches not being afraid to execute the job and pass on the highlight interception attempt. All will come with time, but Edwards owns plenty of it.
"He's got a lot to learn, he makes a lot of mistakes in the game," Tuberville said. "Through the first six games I've been very surprised how he's picked up what we are doing."
After each game, the first conversation goes to his mother and a second usually to close friend and former Middletown teammate Cody Quinn, a sophomore corner at Kentucky.
At home games mom talks near the field, if away a phone call will suffice. Originally, the excitement would span on and on as the two relived his opportunities. Now, they've drawn a little shorter each week as his playmaking shifts from surprising to standard.
Still hard to believe this former receiver from Middletown broke out as the current star of this freshmen class, but with every play like the one against Temple, his arrival becomes more believable.
"It's been a wild ride," Edwards said. "It's a lot of hard work put into it. I knew it would be hard picking it up, only played one year as a safety so I knew it was going to be hard. I just kept pushing and keeping the faith I could do it."
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By: Scott Springer
University of Cincinnati junior linebacker Nick Temple
was hovering around the Tuesday barbecue in the Bob Goin Team Room, so I pulled
No. 43 aside for a few questions.
Besides, how often can you interview someone with the
same last name as your opponent? It's
not like we have a Charlie Rutgers on the squad or even a Matt Houston (I
believe that was a TV series in the 80s).
Most Bearcat fans remember Nick most for his defensive
touchdown in the Belk Bowl that sealed the game. As I said to him in this video, if Nick
Temple scores, UC wins.
Here's the fine product from Indianapolis Warren Central
who's such a good interview, he even helps me out when I briefly lose my train
of thought at the end. (Hey, I have my brief derailments every now and then.)
Here's to a good showing from "Nick at Nite":
An opportunity arises Friday for the struggling Bearcats offense to find itself and gain much needed momentum against Temple.
In frustrating aftermath of the loss in Tampa questions needed to asked and tough answers given along the flight back to Cincinnati. Yet, even on a day where 14 points were given away and the offensive line struggled to keep Brendon Kay not only upright but breathing, a bit of a breakthrough occurred.
Under the guidance of personnel changes and urgency an offense which went scoreless in six of the previous eight quarters against FBS competition showed a burst of potential that nearly salvaged last Saturday.
UC ran off three consecutive double-digit play drives for a total of 214 yards, two of which ended in touchdowns. Confidence, precision and purpose entered the equation consistently for the first time since the opener against Purdue.
Those drives may go down as a late, failed comeback in the grand scheme of a frustrating season or could be viewed as the jumping off point of an offense finding itself. Friday night against Temple will go a long way to directing the pendulum.
"We started flowing," said Kay. "Started doing what we can do, what we are capable of doing. We just have to continue that onto this week and the rest of the season."
The flow stemmed from nobody in red and black halting it. Kay credited spreading the ball and tempo for the difference late in the game.
On half of the first eight drives of the USF game a turnover or missed field goal killed any momentum. When not acting as their own worst enemy, the Bearcats offense can be pretty spectacular. Case in point the conclusion of Saturday's game.
"I don't want to say we gave it away, but we kicked it away," Tommy Tuberville said. "We weren't able to be productive. If you look at our stats and the things that we're doing, it looks like we're playing pretty good football until you get to one area of turnovers and the miscellaneous parts for having turnovers for touchdowns."
UC ranks in the top third of the NCAA in total offense and throwing for 253 yards per game. They rank in the top third in third-down conversion rate and time of possession. Yet, tied for 97th in turnover margin negates them all.
This week arrives a Temple team ranked 122 out of 125 in total yards allowed per game. Every opponent scored at least 22 points. Fordham racked up 520 yards in a 30-29 win against the Owls.
A struggling defense facing the Bearcats inside Nippert Stadium for the first time in a month presents a glaring opportunity for this offense to get well, to transfer the final three drives against USF into a trend and not a blip.
Finding identity and gaining confidence needs to happen now because the offensive road grows more challenging the rest of the season.
Here are the current total defense rankings of the remaining opponents:
- UConn: 52
- Memphis: 15
- SMU: 101
- Rutgers: 51
- Houston: 74
- Louisville: 3
Not exactly the '85 Bears, but the time is now to start the ball rolling if momentum is going to carry this team in the conference title picture.
"We have to be a lot more productive and consistent at moving the ball down the field on long drives and scoring on long drives," Tuberville said. "You like to score in four or five plays, but there's going to be some games where you are going to have to make 8-12 play drives and punch the ball in the end zone and keep you're defense off the field. This hasn't been the fact in the last few games."
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In the immediate aftermath of a disappointing 26-20
loss at USF on Saturday, head coach Tommy Tuberville sounded exasperated in our
radio postgame interview with sideline reporter Tom Gelehrter.
"You can't give away 14 points on the road and win -
I don't care who you're playing," said Tuberville on 700 WLW. "We knocked their running back out, we
knocked their quarterback out and we still struggled."
The Bulls entered the game 0-4 and lost quarterback
Steven Bench after one pass. They lost the
nation's 10th-leading rusher, Marcus Shaw, after 9 carries. But USF didn't need an offensive touchdown
against UC, scoring on a 75-yard TD return of a blocked field goal and a
10-yard fumble return.
"You just can't do that," said Tuberville. "I don't care how many games they've won or
how they're playing; we gave them all the incentive they needed. When you're playing on the road, we just
opened up a can of whoop-tail when we gave them 14 points."
Combine those touchdowns with four field goals and
it was enough to beat a Cincinnati offense that sputtered to gain 162 yards in
the first three quarters before erupting for 188 yards and a pair of TD passes
in the fourth.
We had 86 yards of offense in the first half," said
Tuberville. "You're not going to win any
games - I mean any games - if you don't play better than that on offense.
"We're going to have to get much better to have the
opportunity to win games. We have to get
physical and we have to block somebody.
That's the number one thing that we have to get better at. We're not doing a great job at the point of
attack in our running game."
That was especially telling during a key sequence
midway through the third quarter. The
Bearcats had a second-and-one at the USF 9-yard line and could not pick up the
necessary yard on three running plays.
"You've got to be able to get a yard," said
Tuberville. "We had them coming through
gaps and we were turning people loose.
We made some changes on the offensive line during the game and got a
little bit better, but we have to be more physical up front. If you can't get a yard in three downs then
something is wrong."
Brendon Kay gave Cincinnati a chance to rally from a
26-6 deficit by going 11-for-14 with 145 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth
"I'm proud of Brendon," said Tuberville. "I didn't think he'd play in the second
half. He took a late hit and really got
bruised up in the sternum. We thought
about pulling him out, but he wanted to play and he played his heart out in the
"He played his tail off. He ran for his life, he threw on the run, and
we're just not giving him much protection.
And we have to be able to run the ball a little bit better."
And while the Bearcats struggles on offense began up
front, Coach Tuberville says the responsibility for the loss begins with him.
"We have to do a better job of coaching," he said.
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The lessons that stem from this weekend's loss to South Florida didn't go down smooth and are difficult to handle for the Bearcats. Playing a USF team that was winless by an average margin of 23.5 points doesn't lend itself well to a happy film review.
Still, let's take a deep breath and dive in.
1) Brendon Kay is healthy. Kay took more shots than Stephen Curry Saturday night. Tommy Tuberville admitted doctors wanted to take him out for the second half after taking a brutal shot to the sternum.
"He couldn't hardly breathe," Tuberville said. "A gutsy effort."
Kay fought through the pain and mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter.
With so many questions about the health of the Bearcats quarterback early in the year, it's clear he can play through whatever pain and has the ability to take punishment and keep playing.
That said ...
2) The offense line must find answers. USF had one of the most athletic defensive lines in the conference and the Bearcats knew that, but they couldn't contain them and allowed pressure all night.
"We couldn't block anybody," Tuberville said. "They just lined up and whipped us."
Tuberville went on to say there's "not much leadership on the offensive line."
An interesting reality he faces from a group that prior to the season was looked to be what these Bearcats would hang their hat on. They returned all five starters and these were linemen who excelled in 2012 blowing up holes for the running game and protecting the passer.
The loss of center Dan Sprague at Higher Ground left a mark where they are still searching for answers at this point. With so much onus placed on the center to make the proper calls and have all the proper adjustments that position can have a ripple effect unlike few others on the field. That seemed apparent Saturday.
3) The Bearcats can still walk into a stadium every week and know with this defense they have a fighting chance. Despite giving up 14 points in turnovers for scores, UC held USF without a touchdown and continually gave the offense a chance to make a comeback.
They held USF to four consecutive three-and-outs as Kay and company started to gain steam.
Those UC linebackers are living up to the hype. Nick Temple led the team in tackles including a 7-yard sack. Jeff Luc had a tackle for loss, forced fumble and fumble recovery. Greg Blair added seven tackles and a forced fumble of his own.
When teams face the Bearcats, they know they need an answer for these three linebackers. Few have.
4) Mekale McKay offering a bright future. With each game he's made more and more big plays. Showing up just before the season it took time for him to grow comfortable inside the offense, but he's figuring it out now. He caught two passes and both were for touchdowns.
His big body and athleticism are a nightmare for opposing DBs. Especially in the red zone you can see how Kay likes to give McKay a chance to make a play.
5) Temple gives an opportunity to get healthy. UC shouldn't be taking anybody for granted after what happened in Tampa, but if there were a team they could take for granted right now it would be Temple. The Owls are 0-5 after a 30-7 drubbing given by Louisville this weekend. That includes losses to Fordham and Idaho.
Friday night at Nippert should be an opportunity to create some positive momentum.
6) SMU churned out the play of the year in college football as far as I'm concerned. I learned two-point conversions can, in fact, feature 40-yard passes.
The Bearcats are still dealing with the death of teammate Ben Flick but rallying together as they hope the first game back this weekend against South Florida can help everyone start to move on.
CINCINNATI -- The scene inside a college football locker room - specifically the Cincinnati Bearcats football locker room - teeters more toward Animal House than workplace.
A collection of 100-plus teenagers and 20-somethings turn daily duty into a festival of fun. Jokes and games, shouting and posturing, never a dull moment when the doors on the second floor of the Linder Center fly open.
That is, until a week and a half ago. One day after the news broke freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick lost his life in a car accident, the players returned to the locker room that Sunday.
"I will always remember that," senior lineman Austen Bujnoch said. "It was the most eerie thing."
Walking through the doors and toward his locker, Bujnoch and his teammates went through the normal routine.
Dress, lift, practice, shower.
Only, nobody spoke. Silence. Grief replaced gags. Shock replaced shouts.
"It was the first time we've ever heard that locker room completely silent," Brendon Kay said. "It was a weird feeling."
Unsure how to act or what to say, this group of optimistic young kids were forced to grow up in an instant and, thankfully for them, do so together.
"That was the closest death I've ever had, so it was kind of hard to deal with," Bujnoch said. "We never forget, but we have to move on."
They do so in gameplanning for South Florida. Conference season stands in clear focus on the horizon. Assessing how to slow an athletic defensive line and spark an offense stagnant two weeks ago against Miami fills a portion of the space previously held by sadness for a fallen teammate.
On the field, the game will be changing for the Bearcats. Tommy Tuberville plans alterations to a roster he spent the non-conference season evaluating. Learning season ended in Oxford. The rotations are trimmed and those who haven't produced will spend time watching from the sidelines with every conference victory a valuable commodity and stepping stone toward the BCS goal.
With life and the season moving on, there's no time for the Bearcats to wallow. Tuberville spent much time lately in the Intensive Care Unit and around hospitals. He quickly found out choosing coaching was a blessing for him because handling the daily view around those rooms requires a special type of person. Along the way, he's learned about helping kids deal with death while holding on to another, as Mark Barr is still in critical condition from the accident.
The key, Tuberville gathered, involves returning to typical. Hopping on a plane and strapping on the road jersey again will help tremendously.
"I think getting back playing and competing will help," Tuberville said. "It's a different situation than I've ever been in; I have not known how to handle it. There is no right or wrong way, it's just that you hear the old adage, time heals all. So we'll just have to keep working at it and try to keep them as focused as we can, and remind them that this is a more serious situation than just a football game, what's going on over at that hospital."
Flick's locker will always be there and the No. 77 decal will always grace the Bearcats helmet during a season they've dedicated to him.
Yet, with each play, each plan, each practice, the pendulum swings closer to normalcy, though it may never truly return to the middle.
Each time the locker room door swings open, the decibel level rises a little more.
"That's the best coming in seeing your brothers every day, crack some jokes, get back in the swing of things," Bujnoch said. "Seeing Ben's locker always will affect me but he'd want us to have fun, he'd want us to go out there and win. He wouldn't want us worrying about him - so (winning and having fun) is what we are going to do."
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First-year tight ends coach Tyson Helton leads a talented
group of players that will be looking to find the endzone at Raymond James
Stadium in Tampa Saturday night.
Senior Blake Annen leads the group, followed by freshman
DJ Dowdy. In the future, Travis Johnson
(who is from Tampa's Jesuit High School) and Tyler Cogswell will be looking for
passes along with junior Josh Russ.
I tracked down Coach Helton in the football office at the
Lindner Center and spoke to him about his players, the USF game and his
For those that don't know, Clay Helton is Southern Cal's
offensive coordinator and will call plays now with the dismissal of Lane
Kiffin. Clay and Tyson's father, Kim Helton is a coaching veteran who actually
coached in the Tampa Bay area years go with the Buccaneers.
UC fans may remember him more from his days as head coach
of the University of Houston from the old Conference USA/Rick Minter days.
Here's Tyson who will likely make a fine head coach
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."
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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.