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Brendon Kay is enjoying the best run of his career as the offense changed to fit his style.
CINCINNATI - In late July, Brendon Kay hovered 30,000 feet above the ground flying on his way back from the Manning Passing Camp in Thibodaux, La.
Staring out the window of the plane it's hard not to think about all the skills acquired over the course of the week and how it can apply to a sixth year of eligibility and opportunity Kay waited for his entire life.
Yet, a two-month blur of injuries, ugly losses, a fight for his job and offensive growing pains left that opportunity as a distant memory and uncertain future.
In the aftermath of a tragedy outside Oxford and gutcheck defeat in Tampa the Brendon Kay who Bearcats pinned hopes of the 2013 offense on emerged, one spiral at a time - the latest tossing four touchdowns in Saturday's 41-16 victory against Connecticut.
Kay and the Bearcats offense have hit the stride Kay daydreamed about this offeseason. Finally. Few thought the offensive identity would take this long, but without doubt it's been established. It wears No. 11.
"You hope it doesn't (take this long)," said Kay after throwing for 300 yards and the four scores. "It's tough with all the coaching changes. There's going to be ups and downs regardless with all the stuff. It's just part or the process."
Tommy Tuberville described Kay's game Saturday as "gutty." A great place to start for a quarterback playing through a multitude of ailments and barely practicing. Through the pain, Kay returned to the same efficiency and execution showcased during his impressive run to close out the 2012 season. For those final five games he threw 10 touchdowns to just two picks to go with 1,282 yards over the final five games.
Since the disastrous first half at South Florida Kay's last 10 quarters have been the best run of his career. He's hit 60 of 79 passes for 717 yards. That's an absurd 76 percent completion rate. In the meantime he's thrown nine touchdowns to one interception.
Not a bad run. Oh yeah, that's for an offense who scored 93 points in the process.
Much of that stems from being willing to crumble up the original offensive philosophy and throw it in the trash. The idea of playing power football need to go. It wasn't working, the time came to play into Kay's strengths and spread the passing game. So, slot receivers Anthony McClung and Shaq Washington began running the slot with Chris Moore and emerging transfer Mekale McKay taking the top off.
It changed the game. Mostly because Kay's proven more than capable to do so.
"We had to find something that will open it up," Tuberville said. "By spreading out it got a guy out of the box, made them play a little bit more zone coverage and Brendon is very accurate. Just happened to start clicking for us."
Saturday's click started with the first snap. All week offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and Kay talked about throwing a bomb to open the game. Only one problem, during the entire week of practice Kay couldn't throw one. It hurt to much.
Dropping back off a play action he stood in the pocket and nobody quite knew what to expect. Not a problem, though. Kay delivered a perfect deep ball that hit Mekale McKay in stride for a 56-yard gain. If UC looked to send a message and set a tone, both were accomplished.
"I didn't throw it all week because I couldn't really throw a long ball," Kay said. "I had the adrenaline going at the beginning of the game."
Kay and the Bearcats never looked back. He connected on five passes of at least 40 yards entering the game, he added two more with the bomb to McKay and another 41-yard bullet to tight end Blake Annen rumbling down the right sideline for a touchdown.
A plot twist in the Brendon Kay saga wouldn't be right without fighting through injuries. Tuberville will demand Kay take nearly all of the 10-day break off before heading to Memphis to play the Tigers.
The quarterback describes himself as "banged up." Don't expect a player who missed years at a time with injuries to let a banged up body keep him from this opportunity. Specifically the way he's play now.
When flying above clouds before the season, allowing injuries to curtail his season wasn't a part of the vision.
"I am going to play and the team knows I am going to play," Kay said. "As long as I can walk I am going to be out there."
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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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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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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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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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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.
I want to hear from you! Shoot any comments, questions or tell me what you learned about UC football by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Brendon Kay connected on four passes that traveled at least 35 yards in the air Saturday night and reminded everyone how explosive the offense can be on his watch.
CINCINNATI -- On this night, when if not for the a pitchfork splitting the state of Louisiana on the Demons logo, nobody would know where Northwestern State is located, the final score would matter little.
What would move the needle on Tommy Tuberville's barometer of the UC football program would be players proving capable of making plays that win conference games, conference championships.
In the case of Saturday night's 66-9 victory, the proving should be classified more as a reminder.
Brendon Kay - and more precisely the accurate deep ball stemming from his right arm - brings a weapon all teams in the American must prepare for.
Coverage didn't always blanket downfield receivers. And for that matter, pressure rarely fell around the senior's feet. Yet, from the moment Kay planted on his drop and floated his soft spiral no execution appeared more impressive or aesthetic.
"It's not really anything I think about before the play," Kay said. "It's just go out there and do it."
Utilizing his natural instincts, Kay completed four passes that hung longer than 35 yards in the air and all landed perfectly in the hands of the intended target. And in stride, for good measure.
The bombs arrive in different shapes and sizes. Finding the time and place for all makes the difference.
"It's just a feel for the game," Kay said. "Been doing it my whole life. Certain receivers I put more air under it and let them run to it. If it's pretty open you want to put it on him. Just let him make the catch and run with it."
The first Saturday, an intent strike to tight end Blake Annen breaking open between the seams for an eventual 49-yard gain arrived on him like a pregame parachuter careening around the scoreboard.
The second came hung in front of transfer Mekale McKay long enough for him to hold off the defender draped behind him on a broken play for a contested catch.
The last two were the types of throws that make writers like myself consult the thesaurus for adjectives. No other choice, really, when a pass holds high in the air, softly spiraling against the backdrop of a black-clad upper deck at Nippert then landing in the ideal spot for Max Morrison to accept without slowing.
Pick which one you prefer: Exquisite, stunning, angelic, pulchritudinous. (For the record have no idea what pulchritudinous means, but sure rolls off the tongue).
The first bomb to Morrison covered 46 yards to set up an Anthony McClung spinning touchdown.
"I felt the DB right there on my hip and Brendon put the ball exactly where it needed to be," Morrison said. "He was right there with me when I caught it. If it weren't for the great ball from Brendon it might not have turned out the way it did."
The second came as Morrison broke open down the sideline for 41 yards and an easy touchdown to close out a spectacular night.
"Nothing was there but the ball and me," Morrison continued.
Kay finished 12 of 14 for 277 yards while tying a career high with four touchdowns. His final passer rating of 346.2 ranked better than any quarterback in a UC game since the mid-2000s renaissance. It wasn't close.
How Kay can change the game for the Bearcats entering conference play in three weeks will be by stretching the defense with his accuracy deep. Keeping the safeties out of the box allows more one-on-one matchups up front to keep Ralph David Abernathy IV and company in space.
That, according to Tuberville, serves as the key in the chain reaction to moving the ball consistently in this type of attack. From there forward, his next level in throwing the deep ball will be knowing when not to throw. There Tuberville came away particularly impressed in his play.
"He didn't throw the ball up for grabs," Tuberville said. "There was a couple of times he could have chucked it down the field but he tucked it and ran it. He's learning. He's got a lot more to learn about playing quarterback in this type of offense, a pro-style offense, where your running game has to be No. 1 and passing game work off of that."
As for if Kay believes the deep ball is his primary weapon, he wouldn't go so far.
"I'm going to do whatever is called," Kay said. "If it's called on me to throw the ball deep I'm going to do that. If I have to stay across the middle, short game, quick game, whatever it is I am going to go out there and do my job."
In the end, the bomb is one of many ways to do his job. But having it in the arsenal can change the look of the conference chase. And for UC, that's a pulchritudinous thing.
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