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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."
Only one way to start an in-depth look at the season opener and that's with another smooth hype video from Shane Harrison and the video crew. Welcome to the new age, indeed.
Now, time to take a closer look at what will be the difference and what you need to be paying attention to as the Bearcats host Purdue in front of 35,000 at Nippert Stadium on Saturday.
1) Center of Attention. Forget quarterback, more telling to the success of this team will be the fan snapping the ball to him. With the loss of starter Dan Sprague for the season suddenly a group with five returning starters at the heart of the offense have a hole in the middle. Taking over will be 6-foot-2, 287-pound redshirt freshman Deyshawn Bond. He came out of Indianapolis Central playing guard and tackle but will now be counted on to man the middle.
And talk about being thrown into the fire. When discussing Purdue, who is the top player most everyone will mention? Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston. The 6-2, 310-pound behemoth who goes by @bnasty90 on Twitter can ruin the Bearcats day. The Boilermakers top NFL prospect will be as big of a challenge as making all the line calls for the Bond.
"I am not going to go out there intimidated by anybody," Bond said. "I am going to go out there as hard as I can. I know he's a good guy, but I'm not too bad myself. I am going to let him know my presence is there, too. So we are going to battle the whole game."
So, join a team of linemen who spent all of last year playing together, make all the protection calls and take on the other team's best player in your first collegiate game. Welcome, Mr. Bond.
"I love it," he said. "I love competition. I will go out there and do what I got to do. I don't know what he's going to do but I know I am going to get the job done when it counts."
2) Where's RDAIV? No secret exists the most electric weapon on the Bearcats will be Ralph David Abernathy IV, but he's not an everydown back. Tommy Tuberville and first-time offensive coordinator Eddie Gran spent their offseason concocting ways to work Abernathy the ball in space. How often will he line up in the backfield? How often in the slot? How often on a reverse? Regardless, a major problem of the 2012 offense was an inability to find enough touches for their top weapon.
How successful the Bearcats are at finding space for Abernathy will go a long way to deciding how successful they are scoring points. And seeing more absurd plays like this one.
3) On the Hunt. The Bearcats believe they have the best collection of linebackers in the country between Greg Blair, Nick Temple and Jeff Luc. They will have to prove it against one of the most explosive running backs in the Big Ten.
RB Akeem Hunt averaged 8.3 yards per carry last season, though in limited action. His role is expected to be expanded this year and expectations are high he will continue to be the big play threat.
Luc may come with his top linebacker recruit tag, but hasn't played in a college game in about 20 months. How will he respond? Where will his game instincts be at? One slip up in covering an edge or pursuing the correct angle and this guy can take it to the house immediately.
New Purdue coach Darrell Hazell arrives with a dedication to running the football. Consider last year at Kent State he ran it 584 times and threw it only 358. Expect Hunt to challenge the backers ability to track him to the edges. It will be the most important aspect of slowing down the Boilers.
Don't believe Hunt can hurt you in a hurry? Ask Ohio State.
4) As the QBs turn. The quarterback question followed this team every day during fall practice. Who would it be? Munchie Legaux or Brendon Kay? Injuries have hampered both and they should each play. Likely whoever has the hot hand will take the majority of the snaps in the second half. The question will be how the rhythm of the two play with the rest of the team. Tommy Tuberville doesn't believe that will be a problem, but anytime two different signal-callers enter there will be some change.
"What I am concern about is the timing difference of what we do and how we do it, the center exchange, snap count and all those things," Tuberville said. "But we really haven't had a problem, if that would have been a problem I would have made a decision earlier and said we have to go with one guy, because we're making too many false starts, fumbled snaps and those kind of things. But we really haven't had a problem and these two kids are experienced, they both will have first game jitters but it's not like your putting redshirt freshman or sophomore knowing they haven't played a lot."
5) The Tub. The excitement over Tuberville spilled over into the ticket sales as a white out record crowd is expected for the opener Saturday. How will the crowd hamper Purdue's ability to deal with adjustments under their own first-year head coach in Hazell?
Most importantly, not only will Tuberville be leading this team on the field for the first time but Gran will be calling his first game as a coordinator. Not knowing how certain players will react to the big stage and taking on calling games for the first time will be an intriguing adjustment. Going against a team dealing with similar issues turned out to be a major advantage for Saturday. Although, it leaves both sides as in the dark about what to expect as you can imagine. Few games will be more decided by in-game adjustments as this one.
UC sure would like its opener to look a lot like last year's against Pittsburgh.
Welcome back, college football. Welcome back, Nippert Stadium.
Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux will both play quarterback in Saturday's opener against Purdue, but only because Tommy Tuberville knows they can handle the challenge.
CINCINNATI -- Maybe the situation would be different. Maybe in a different program, maybe with two different quarterbacks, maybe with a different history.
Maybe elsewhere running two quarterbacks on to the field for a sold out opener against Big Ten opponent Purdue would elicit concern from a coaching staff and his competing signal-callers. Just not here. Not at Cincinnati. Not with seniors Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux.
Both quarterbacks will play Saturday and the official starter has yet to be announced by head coach Tommy Tuberville. The new coach prefer to have a starter, but as the situation evolved amid bumps and bruises this spring it became apparent pulling off the double duty would be the best option for now.
That's primarily because of the two he's asked to pull it off.
"These two kids are experienced, they both will have first game jitters but it's not like your putting a redshirt freshman or sophomore knowing they haven't played a lot," Tuberville said. "Their maturity has really played a role in how we have handled this."
For Legaux, few better understand the fragility of playing quarterback in college football. The same kid who suddenly stepped in for Zach Collaros to secure a shared Big East title the final four regular season games of 2011 then endured the humility of being pulled as a teammate salvaged another conference title share last year.
The change in Legaux today compared with a year ago stretches far beyond his shaved dreadlocks. Last year's experience altered his perspective and even through dark moments invigorated his attitude.
"It was an eye-opener," Legaux said. "Shows you its a competition, your spot can be taken any day. I was already a humble guy before that but it humbled me more. Be ready. Always stay off your heels, always be prepared, always take advantage of your opportunity and never let up. I learned a lot those last four weeks."
Tuberville vetted Legaux like a presidential candidate upon arriving in Clifton. He probed coaches, staffers, really anyone with information on how the former starter reacted to the Kay benching. As questions sprayed at Legaux from his new coach, unearthed was a player thrilled for the success Kay enjoyed even if distraught the change came at his expense.
Meanwhile, Legaux only needed one question to learn what he needed to know from Tuberville.
"When I had my sit down with Coach Tub during Spring I just had one question for him about the quarterback position, was it open?" Legaux said. "He was like, 'It's an open competition.' That was all I needed to hear. I didn't care if he was the first one, I was the second one, 1a or 1b had it listed I just wanted to know if it was an open competition, that's what he said and I took it and ran with it."
Despite what most would consider to be an awkward situations, Legaux and Kay remain friends. Conversation rarely moves to the competition, rather both support the other in every way possible and prepare to live whatever role coach decides.
Anybody who believes Kay could struggle with an unsure quarterbacks situation, didn't pay attention to the entire 2012 season where nearly every week the second half of the season he stood on call in case Butch Jones decided to give him a shot.
And anybody who believes Kay can't deal with discomfort playing the game of football hasn't a second of his injury-plagued career where he's constantly practiced through pain of a wide variety of ailments. That will likely be the case Saturday, but no mind. He's played through pain before and will do it again.
"Oh, it's not one thing it's another," Kay said. "Overall my time here just really makes you appreciate everything and how it can be taken away so quickly. Full-go at camp and then something quick happens and there is really nothing you can do. You just have to go rehab it, take care of it and be ready to go."
Kay referred to sharing time as "not the ideal situation" but should be considered a standard situation at UC. Dating back to beginning of the Brian Kelly era in 2007, two quarterbacks have started at least one game every year. In four of six years, the backup tossed more than 100 passes.
- 2007: Dustin Grutza started two games in place of Ben Mauk
- 2008: Grutza opened season as starter, Tony Pike took over two weeks in
- 2009: Zach Collaros took over for injured Pike for four games
- 2010: Chazz Anderson started one game in place of Collaros against Syracuse
- 2011: Legaux started final four regular season games for injured Collaros
- 2012: Legaux pulled for Kay, who started final five games
Maturity and experience allow Tuberville to deal his QB card by feel Saturday against Purdue. The primary concern comes in the consistent details of presence under center and inside the huddle.
"What I am concern about is the timing difference of what we do and how we do it, the center exchange, snap count and all those things," Tuberville said. "But we really haven't had a problem, if that would have been a problem I would have made a decision earlier and said we have to go with one guy."
That's not the case here. Not at UC. Not this year. Not with these two.
I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or suggestions regarding UC football to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Happy Game Week, everybody.
This Saturday, noon, Nippert Stadium. UC. Purdue. White Out. Sell out.
You've waited a long time for this, so let's soak in the fact we are finally talking about football players making football plays in a football game on a football field.
On that note, how about the 2012 highlight video to amp you up.
Let's eat ...
--- There will be a sell out at Nippert Stadium as clearly the excitement over the Tommy Tuberville era coupled with a challenging regional opponent connected with the fan base in ways you could only hope for as a department. Whit Babcock discussed Tuberville and the football program in this piece by Bill Koch on Sunday. As always, well done by Bill, but one quote from Whit stood out to me.
"I didn't have the sense that it would be so well received," Babcock said. "I didn't think people would criticize it, but it made a lot of our fan base happy in a way that it happened quickly and an established coach came in. The morale and uplifting of Cincinnati fans and alumni, that made me really happy, not for my ego, but I thought, you know what, these people have had coaches leave and walk out and people seemed to hold their head a little higher. That was one of my favorite moments.
"Now you have to keep this in perspective. He's going to have to win games and run the program the right way, so the honeymoon is about to be over. I have great faith in him to do it."
Moral of the story: Love you, Tubs. So far, so good. But you have to win just like everyone else.
--- One of the most difficult tasks to overcome for coaches in their first year is building the comfort level with players who have won in previous systems. Typically, you see the biggest jump in the second/third seasons when the new players know what to expect from their new coach.
With so much transition in the sport, you see it every year. It takes time for these coaches to have their program and understand how these new players will react when the lights come on.
Tuberville will fight that Saturday. Luckily, across the field, so will new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell.
Look at last year. Here are all the coaches who took over programs who enjoyed better than .500 seasons the year before and how they fared.
|John L. Smith, Arkansas||11 and 2||4 and 8||-6 Â½|
|Gus Malzahn, Arkansas St.||10 and 3||10 and 3||None|
|Tony Levine, Houston||13 and 1||5 and 7||-7|
|Tim Beckman, Illinois||7 and 6||2 and 10||-4 1/2|
|Larry Fedora, UNC|| 7 and 6||8 and 4||1 1/2|
|Bill O'Brien, Penn St.||9 and 4||8 and 4||-0.5|
|Kyle Flood, Rutgers||9 and 4||9 and 4||None|
|Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss||12 and 2||0 and 12||-11|
|Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M||7 and 6||11 and 2||4|
|Matt Campbell, Toledo||9 and 4||9 and 4||None|
Of the 10 coaches who took over new programs next year half of them equaled the win percentage of the previous year or increased it. And really, if not for Penn State being locked out of a bowl game Bill O'Brien would have made it 6 of 10.
The significant drop offs such as epic fail at Southern Miss and falloff at Houston following departure of Kevin Sumlin draw headlines, but as a whole first year coaches last year showed and ability to post wins on the board.
Here is a look at the results from the 2011 season under the same circumstances:
|Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut||8 and 5||5 and 7||-2 1/2|
|Will Muschamp, Florida||8 and 5||7 and 6||-1|
|Randy Edsall, Maryland||9 and 4||2 and 10||-6 1/2|
|Al Golden, Miami||7 and 6||6 and 6||- 1/2|
|Brady Hoke, Michigan||7 and 6||11 and 2||4 |
|Everett Withers (I), UNC||8 and 5||7 and 6||-1|
|Dave Doeren, Northern Ill.||11 and 3||11 and 3||None|
|Luke Fickell (I), OSU||12 and 1||6 and 7||-6|
|Todd Graham, Pitt||8 and 5||6 and 7||-2|
|Rocky Long, San Diego St.||9 and 4||8 and 5||-1|
|David Shaw, Stanford||12 and 1||11 and 2||-1|
|Steve Addazio, Temple||8 and 4||9 and 4||Â½|
|Bill Blankenship, Tulsa||10 and 3||8 and 5||-2|
|Dan Holgorsen, WVU||9 and 4||10 and 3||1|
Most notably, four of the 15 coaches guided their teams to double-digit victories in the first year with the new team. That's substantial and more than anything proves success immediately is attainable. Even though, 10 coaches trended in the wrong direction only Luke Fickell amid the Ohio State disaster (an impossible situation) and Randy Edsall at Maryland (just bad coaching) were more than two wins in the wrong direction.
So, in the past two years, 25 teams have inherited new coaches on a team that finished the previous year over .500:
- 60 percent decreased win total
- 24 percent finished with double-digit wins
- 20 percent slid at least 5 games in the wrong direction
- 20 percent increased win total
- 16 percent stayed the same
The bottom line of all these numbers are this: Improving with a team already used to winning fights the odds. Yet, many have made the jump without much problem. As in any coaching subset, there will be outliers, but most end up right around the same spot they were the previous year.
--- In case you didn't see it,
ESPN did add an AAC blog after it appeared the dissolution of the Big East blog might leave you without extra fodder. Not expecting anything groundbreaking there, but here's their season preview of the Bearcats.
--- Pat Forde with Yahoo
! on Tommy Tuberville
, his golf cart, moving past Texas Tech and being the centerpiece of The American. Great piece.
--- Randomness ...
--- Only one song really fits as we start up the first game week of the season. New jam from Robert Randolph and the Family Band, which you should know if you don't. Everybody get amped up. Have a great day.
Howard Wilder covered the United States in search of a place to play FBS football and finally found a home in Cincinnati.
WEST HARRISON, Ind. - For the last three years, Howard Wilder always focused one eye on the football field and one eye on the stands. Whenever he took the field, wherever he took the field, a coach at the next level watched with thoughts of pulling him away.
Wilder rose as a top defensive back prospect in Washington, D.C., before being pulled across country to College of the Canyons Community College near Los Angeles. After a year there, he transferred across town to Pierce Community College. At every step, with every sensational play, a flock of coaches followed hoping to enlist his services.
He eventually landed in Cincinnati this July. After years of unpacking boxes only to know they would soon be filled again, Wilder can finally relax.
"I feel like I am at home," he said. "This is my last step now. Ain't no more moving around after this. It's a big relief. Now I don't have to think about all these schools coming, all for me, me visiting there, all that and making a decision. I can just stay here, work on my technique, work on my craft and get better with the fam. Get better with the Bearcats."
Plus, his arrival instantly made the Bearcats better. Tommy Tuberville searched for help at corner and found it in 5-foot-11, 180-pound Wilder. On a depth chart which changes in confluence with the sun rising, he's worked his way to the starting cornerback spot opposite Deven Drane.
His scouting report will open lauding his speed, but ask Wilder and he'll quickly summon his swagger. The trash-talking, head-bobbing kid from inside the I-495 belt in D.C., arrives with a belief in himself necessary to man the outside island.
"I'm a playmaker," he said. "I just like locking up receivers, talking trash and playing the ball, go to get the ball.
It's just playing with swag."
Tuberville soaked up Wilder's swag, despite only two weeks of practice.
"Howard has done good," Tuberville said. "He is going to be a hit and miss there because of experience but he's got speed. He can flip his hips well. He backpedals well. He competes. The thing about corner, the most important thing is knowing sooner or later you are going to get beat. And can you forget about it and go to the next play?"
The latest play for Wilder involved flipping his verbal commitment to USF and stiff-arming schools such as Wisconsin, Kentucky, Missouri, Rutgers and Arizona State.
Coaches can thank last year's JuCo standout Damon Julian for helping deliver him. The two crossed paths as Wilder arrived at Pierce while Julian took off for UC. When it came time to find a home, Wilder watched Julian slide into the end zone for a touchdown against Virginia Tech and saw the possibilities. As the two spoke, Julian sold the product the rest of the way.
More than playing time, location or atmosphere, Wilder sought stability. The years of wandering in search of a permanent home drained him.
"It weighed on me a lot," he said. "Every time I turned around it was a new team, new coach coming at me. I like where I took my choice and I like where I am right now."
Wilder still finds himself figuring out this new home. He's not a fan of Skyline and in search of a great steak joint. Pretty much everywhere he seeks comfort in new surroundings. Everywhere except between the lines. Those always feel comfortable for him. They represent the closest thing to home he's known.
"You got to be comfortable as a DB," Wilder said. "You are already in your backpedal all the time and you got a receiver running full speed. Just be comfortable and be patient."
Finally, he can do both.
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or idea about the 2013 Bearcats football team to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
After taking in the second scrimmage of the Bearcats training camp and barreling toward an opener now less than two weeks away, here are five observations of where UC stands for Purdue on Aug. 31.
1) Greg Blair looks every bit one of the top defensive players in The American. Blair, a first-team All-Big East selection last year, lost weight this offseason. After every spring practice there would be Blair running afterward until his shirt sweated into a darker shade of black. It shows. He's moving faster and consistently broached the backfield Saturday. On one play he bolted from the middle to sniff out an RDA screen before the RB could even reach the line. He looked explosive.
Defensive Player of the Year in the conference is not out of the question.
2) The Bearcats need a receiver to play big. UC lacks the dominant, tall wide receiver to serve as a long target on the outside. That onus for now looks to fall on to Alex Chisum (6-3) and Chris Moore (6-1). They both recorded touchdowns Saturday with Chisum catching a 25-yard back-shoulder pass from Munchie Legaux. The reception came on tight coverage from Deven Drane. Chisum faded into a sophomore slump last year but looks invigorated as a junior. If you need to know about Chris Moore, just read this story I wrote on him last week. He caught the offense's first TD of the scrimmage Saturday beating his man deep. This team needs someone to stretch the field with RDA and Anthony McClung running underneath. Without a 6-6 speedster to track down bombs, these two appear ready to lead the way.
3) Hosey Williams could be a threat at RB. He's only 5-9, but weighs in at 200 pounds and runs like a bowling ball, powerful and low to the ground. As the team looks for depth behind RDA, Williams could hold his own. He did a nice job picking up a blitz from Blair on Saturday before breaking the game's lone long run. He sliced through the middle of the line and broke free for a 25-yard score. He also did a nice job bouncing a run outside after being stopped up in the middle. The running backs didn't show much Saturday, but Williams looked the best.
4) The QB battle is closer than originally thought. Those were the words of Tommy Tuberville. He's kept the QB derby open, but under the knowledge that Kay had been ahead of Munchie since midway through spring. Now, with the shoulder soreness he experienced which limited his snaps on Saturday Tuberville opened the idea that this could be pushing him to a position where they must go forward with Munchie.
"It's going to be a lot closer than what people think," Tuberville said. "We will see what happens with Brendon, see when he can come back. But if he can't come back soon we will make Munchie our starting quarterback because we have got to start gameplanning here in a few days."
5) Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay looks nice for 2014. When the third-string team ran plays Saturday, transfers Kiel and McKay showed a nice connection with each other, including a touchdown pass in a red zone attempt. Kiel shows nice touch on his passes and with the 6-6 frame on the former Arkansas WR, he's the perfect target to take advantage. So much can happen between now and opening day next year, but that could be a combo to watch for the future.
I want to hear from you! Shoot me your comments, questions and suggestions regarding UC football as they approach the opener against Purdue at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Sophomore Chris Moore showed ripples of greatness last season and his relationship with Brendon Kay could be the reason those become a tidal wave in 2013.
WEST HARRISON, Ind. - Down the hall of the seventh floor football offices at the Lindner Center the window behind the desk of Tommy Tuberville peers over the stands and onto the field at Nippert Stadium.
During long days of summer kicking his boots up on the desk or making phone calls, he would spin around and glance to the home of Cincinnati football. More times than not, he'd twist his neck and see quarterback Brendon Kay and sophomore wideout Chris Moore, throwing and running routes.
They weren't often alone, but they were always part of the group.
"They worked a lot in the summer together," he said. "They all did, but those two I would see them out there in the summer through my office window throwing all the time."
Occasionally the two would mutually agree to take a day off of the player-organized sessions. Kay's arm and Moore's legs aren't robotic, those days were few and far between. They had to be. In the game of evolving into a much-needed deep threat at wide receiver for the Bearcats, off days can't be afforded.
"We are all hungry," Moore said. "I feel like we want to go undefeated first of all and want to win the conference outright. Every day we had to work. I don't think there was a day I had to get him going. We had that hunger."
The hunger mixes with an established trust. Moore and Kay rose up last season after spending the majority of days working together with the second string during practice. As Kay emerged as the starting quarterback against Temple so did Moore surface in the rotation at wide receiver.
It took minimal time for the two to show off their signature play. Moore made a living in at Tampa Jefferson high school running deep and hauling in bombs from his quarterback on the way to the school's first state title. The big arm and deep accuracy became a perfect match.
In the third quarter against the Owls, Moore gained a step on the defense and Kay placed the bomb perfectly in his hands for a 65-yard touchdown. In the Belk Bowl, the two repeated the act to gain the lead in the fourth quarter of the Belk Bowl.
"Same thing, just on the other side," Moore said. "The one for Temple that is my favorite play. All I had to do was run, I just ran past the dude and that was an easy six points."
He made the most of limited opportunity, he only caught four passes on the year and two of those came from Kay, both going to the house. The trend rolled over to the first of 2013 when he opened up the first scrimmage catching a 75-yard bomb from his workout partner.
"We've done it since last year in the summer," he said. "When you have that connection you just keep doing it."
Moore finds himself in the mix with another 10 receivers for a spot in Tuberville's receiver rotation. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds coaches need Moore to perfect using his body to shield smaller defensive backs. He learned from the best spending portions of the offseason watching Larry Fitzgerald college highlight tapes.
Fitting that mold would plug a hole in this offense.
"Chris is going to be a guy we are going to depend on," wide receiver coach Blake Rolan said. "He's got to be our playmaker. He's got really strong hands, he's fast, he can run all day."
The redshirt sophomore broke his collarbone in his state title game in high school and the other collarbone at Higher Ground his freshman year to force a redshirt. Both came extending for catches. Injures won't change his mantra of sacrificing body for brilliance.
"If the ball is up in the air I've got to go get it," he said. "I think I make the catches that are harder to make. Deep balls and a catch difficult to make I can make those."
He'll need to make more than two this year, but if the peak at his connection with Kay last year and summer dedication are any indication, Moore plays are coming. Even if the lights go out.
"I have caught in the dark with him before," Moore said. "That's just trusting him. I trust he is going to put the ball in a spot where I can get it and he trusts that I can get open and catch the ball if he puts it there."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or suggestions about Tommy Tuberville and the 2013 Bearcats prospects at email@example.com.