Bearcats Return to Nippert With 52-10 Victory
Sept. 6, 2015

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By Bill Koch
GoBEARCATS.com

CINCINNATI -- Having already waited 640 days to get back into their beloved Nippert Stadium home, a thunderstorm forced the University of Cincinnati Bearcats to wait an additional two hours and 20 minutes Saturday night before they could run onto the field to play a game there for the first time since Dec. 5, 2013.

"It was kind of rough," said quarterback Gunner Kiel, "because we came out and stretched and we were ready to go."

Fortunately for UC, head coach Tommy Tuberville knew just what to do.

"I've had good success eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during the break," Tuberville said. "We beat Oklahoma one year and we just stayed in the dressing room and we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In my dressing room, we played country and western music. In their dressing room they played hip-hop or whatever they play, rap. And then we went out and beat a top 10 team and we were three-touchdown underdogs. So I'm 2-0 eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

A crowd of 39,095 - an on-campus record - turned out to witness UC's return to the stadium that opened in 1924. What they saw only remotely resembled the old place, which has been renovated at a cost of $86 million, with premium seating that has increased capacity from 35,000 to 40,000, and other improved fan amenities. UC played at Paul Brown Stadium last fall while Nippert was under construction.

The players fulfilled their part of the celebration by blowing past Football Bowl Championship member Alabama A&M, 52-10, for their 12th straight opening victory at Nippert, dating to 2001.

"I really thought the noise stayed in pretty well," Tuberville said of the new Nippert. "A lot of the noise comes from your students. They came, they left and then they came back. I appreciate them coming. The stadium looked nice. It was fun to come out and see the new facility with a lot of people in it."

Once the Bearcats hit the field at 8:45 p.m., they didn't wait long to christen their new digs with a touchdown.

After the defense forced a three-and-out on the first series, Kiel led the Bearcats on an 8-play, 58-yard touchdown drive that began with a 20-yard pass to Shaq Washington and ended with Johnny Holton catching a 6-yard TD pass, his sixth career touchdown reception. It took the Bearcats only 2:47 to score on their first possession of the season.

"We showed so much tempo and we were playing so fast," Kiel said. "That's how we want to play. We want to play like that every drive, no mistakes, just complete the ball, get first downs, drive the field. And we did that."

After that quick and crisp opening drive, the Bearcats turned the ball over on a Kiel fumble and had a Sam Geraci punt blocked. The Bulldogs scored on a 5-play drive with DeWayne Ballard hitting Tevin McKenzie on a 12-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 7-7 with 5:55 to play in the first quarter.

They didn't score again until the 5:15 mark of the fourth quarter when Cesar Diaz-Ramon kicked a 28-yard field goal. By then, UC had scored 45 unanswered points.

The Bearcats took a 14-7 lead on a 6-yard touchdown run by Hosey Williams and increased the lead to 21-7 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Mike Boone with 9:25 left in the second quarter. They increased the lead to 28-7 on a 47-yard touchdown pass from Kiel to Holton late in the half.

Kiel completed 18 of 22 passes in the first half for 233 yards and two touchdowns, then called it a night. Ten different receivers caught passes for UC, led by Washington with seven catches for 69 yards, and Holton, who caught three passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns.

"I thought he did well," Tuberville said of Kiel. "He missed a couple protections. He got sacked one time and the ball slipped out of his hand on the fumble. He was ready to play. He was little bit nervous coming in. He knew that he's the guy now. He kept pacing the halls as the lightning was popping. It was good to get that behind him and let him settle down a little bit."

Freshman quarterback Hayden Moore made his first career appearance with 3:14 left in the first half and recorded his first completion with a 35-yard pass to Max Morrison. Boone scored from one yard out and the Bearcats took a 35-7 lead into halftime. Moore finished with eight completions in 14 attempts for 107 yards.

The Bearcats scored 28 points in the second quarter, the most by a UC team in one quarter since they scored 35 vs. Akron on Sept. 17, 2011.

The UC defense, an area of concern entering the season, limited the Bulldogs to 246 yards while the Bearcats were rolling up 636.

"I feel the defense played all right," said defensive end Silverberry Mouhon. "We have some areas where we've got to get worked on, but it's the first game."

Tuberville was encouraged by a running attack that gained 296 yards. Tion Green led the way with 127 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. Williams carried 18 times for 95 yards and one touchdown. And Boone had 13 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

"That was great to come out and show that we can run the ball because they talk a lot about our receivers," Boone said. "Everybody knows we can pass the ball. When we come out and make a statement in the run game, that means a lot."

The Bearcats will receive a much more difficult test next week when they take on Temple, a 27-10 winner over Penn State on Saturday.

"I called it," Kiel said. "I was telling guys that Temple is the real deal. It's gonna be a tough week for us. We're gonna have to prepare like champions and get ready for a hard-nosed football game."

Bill Koch covered UC Athletics for 27 years - 15 at The Cincinnati Post and 12 at The Cincinnati Enquirer - before joining the staff of GoBEARCATS.com in January, 2015 as featured columnist. Follow him on Twitter @bkoch.