Jan. 2, 2009
MIAMI (1:46 a.m.): Lot of raw emotion after the game. Dustin Grutza seemed like he didn’t want to leave the field. He took a long, winding route to the tunnel, hugging his teammates and savoring the moment as long as he could.
Dominick Goodman was bawling as Kerry Coombs helped him off the field.
Tony Pike had to compose himself in the locker room before he went to the postgame presser.
Connor Barwin’s voice kept cracking as he conducted interviews in the locker room.
On one hand, there was sadness. On the other, some optimism for next year. But most of all, Barwin felt like he let down the city.
“All the fans that followed us here, all the support,” Barwin said. “In our eyes, I don’t know why, but I should have had two sacks tonight. Without question, I don’t know why I didn’t make them. Hats off to (Tyrod) Taylor for making me miss. It’s hard because I want to leave everything back to what my university has given me. It’s disappointing when you feel like you don’t return the favor.”
Darren Evans, in a word, was incredible. He won the game’s MVP award with his 28-carry, 153-yard, one-touchdown performance, and was a guy UC absolutely could not stop.
Why was it so hard?
“With the quarterback, we were trying to contain him the whole time,” Lamonte Nelms said. “We couldn’t be as aggressive as we wanted to be, because we didn’t want him to get out of the pocket. We were playing and watching to make sure he wasn’t doing that, and it opens it up for (Evans) to run the gaps when we’re just trying to be behind the guy and not run one way or the other. If you run one way, Tyrod Taylor had a chance to run around on us.”
Taylor did it a bit anyway. He had 47 yards on 15 carries, and he completed 13 of 22 passes for 140 yards. Not eye-popping numbers, but he played much better than his statistics. Maybe, the Bearcats took for granted he wouldn’t be as good as Pat White. Maybe, he’s just much better than his statistics show.
“We thought he was more of a (Matt) Grothe type,” Nelms said. “He came out and surprised us. What he was capable of, it didn’t seem like it was on film. We were containing him and before we knew it, he was running around.”
Much has been made about how the UC defense is losing 10 senior starters off the team, and it’s true. But really, before this season, there were quite a few guys who weren’t getting tons of playing time. Guys like Nelms, Barwin, Torry Cornett, and Brandon Underwood either a) weren’t playing defense, b) weren’t eligible to play because they had transferred or c) weren’t exactly superstars.
So, why can’t the understudies from this season continue to play well as a defense?
“I feel like we can be anything we want to be,” said junior Andre Revels, who figures finally to take that starting middle linebacker spot for good next season. “We’re not the only team in America that’s losing seniors. We need to come in during the offseason, start winter workouts, work our butts off and get back to the promised land. This is where we’re at.”
Mike Mickens has seen the younger players, and he sees the future as pretty bright.
“It’s going to be a great future,” he said. “These young guys behind us, they can play ball too. They just had a lot of seniors in front of them. You’ll see it next year – they’re going to fly around. They’re not going to miss a beat.”
What needs improving, though, is the running game. It wasn’t all that impressive last year, and really, it wasn’t fantastic this season either.
Tonight, Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel combined for 60 yards on 13 carries, and that’s simply not enough to take pressure off Tony Pike. So I asked Goebel about the state of the running game.
“We’re all coming back next year, and Jake’s going to be a senior, (Isaiah) Pead got a lot more work this year as a freshman, and a lot of the freshmen that got redshirted are very good too,” said Goebel, who finished with 606 yards and seven touchdowns this season (Ramsey had 664 and two, respectively). “It’s going to be a very healthy competitive offseason. We’re all friends, so it makes it good. But we’re going to push each other very hard. That leadership and experience in the running game should be a lot better next year than this year.
“We need more consistency. We only have a few opportunities a game for each of us as running backs. Every time our number is called, we have to make a play. It’s easier said than done. It’s pressure, but that’s what you get as an athlete. As an athlete you have to play when your number is called. That’s what you want. You want the pressure that forces you to excel. It’s all right by me. Hopefully in the next year they’ll have more confidence in the running game where we can run it behind those big uglies a little bit more.”
Obviously, the worst game Tony Pike has played all year. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he played so badly. And he felt horrible it after the game.
“They played a little better than us tonight,” said Pike, who finished 16 of 33 for 239 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions. “Obviously, we put the defense in some tough situations with the turnovers. It’s a tribute to their defense. Their secondary made some great plays on the ball. We really haven’t seen a team like that who has safeties and corners that can break on the ball so well and make plays on the ball so well without interfering. You can watch teams on film all you want, but until you get out there and see the way they are in person, it’s a little different. The throws you make all year and were completed, they were a hair slow or a step late today. It’s a tough loss to take, but we couldn’t be more proud of the seniors we came in with. To see what they’ve done for the program and where they’ve brought it, it’s pretty amazing.”
I asked him if he thought next year would be easier for him personally. He won’t have to contend with Ben Mauk or Dustin Grutza, and he’ll clearly be the No. 1 guy going into next season.
“The biggest thing it does is make me want to work harder,” he said. “Seeing how close we got this year, you don’t want to let your team down in the offseason. We’re going to go into this offseason and give it everything we’ve got. We’re ready to put in the time in the offseason. We got a taste of it this year, and we have to defend the Big East championship next year.”
OK, that’s enough for tonight. I have some Jake Rogers stuff left over that I’ll try to put up next week (gotta tell you, I love the open locker room. It’s so much easier to get a bunch of stuff at one time). But apparently there’s a 2 a.m. brunch over at the media hotel. I think C. Trent and I are going to run over there, eat and then head right to the airport for my 6:15 a.m. flight.
Also, check me out on the Mo Egger show hosted by Ken Broo this morning on 1530 Homer. He’s supposed to call me at 9:45 a.m., where I’ll be in the Houston airport. I should be incoherent at that point with no sleep. It’s gonna be awesome.