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