April 2, 2017
By Bill Koch
CINCINNATI – The cold grey weather made it feel more like late fall than early spring, so it wasn’t difficult for the 2,000-plus fans who showed up to The Pit at Elder High School on Saturday morning to make believe it was football season as they got their first look at the University of Cincinnati football team under head coach Luke Fickell.
What they saw was a UC team whose offense looked a lot sharper than it did a week ago when the Bearcats played under scrimmage conditions at the Sheakley Athletics Center on campus. Under the scoring system created for this scrimmage, the UC offense outscored the defense, 71-61.
“Last week we had some problems on a few things,” said junior quarterback Hayden Moore. “We cleaned those up this week. We’ve been running mostly the same plays and we’ve been critiquing those same plays, so everybody’s really getting to know what they have to do. It showed a little bit today.”
Senior tight end Tyler Cogswell also saw a marked difference after an additional week of practice. With two weeks left in spring practice, the players are starting to get a more intricate grasp of the offense they’ll be running this fall.
“I want to say we had more energy,” Cogswell said. “But I think more throughout the week we really harped on the little things, whether it was reading one guy, sharpening up routes and hitting holes, and then making our blocks. The defense started twisting on us a lot last week. Once we started picking up the blitzes a little more and getting used to it, I think that’s why it got better.”
That’s not to say the offense that struggled so mightily to score last year is finely tuned and ready to go. There’s still a lot of work to do between now and the Aug. 31 season opener against Austin Peay, and even more before the Bearcats hit the road to face Michigan nine days later.
Most importantly, Fickell and his staff still have to settle on a starting quarterback.
But there’s plenty of time for that. For now, Fickell is looking for steady progress and he saw that on Saturday in a crisper, more confident offensive unit.
“I still want to see a little bit more of the tempo and a little bit faster pace on some things,” Fickell said. “I don’t just mean the plays, but just getting in and out of things, getting back to the line of scrimmage, putting more pressure on the defense. But for sure, the ability of the quarterbacks to understand more and to understand what the expectations are, I think, you saw them have the ability to make some plays.”
The practice itself was only part of the story. Fickell was also looking for a change of scenery for his team while at the same time projecting out into the community to promote the program. Going to Elder’s stadium was the perfect starting point for what he hopes will be a series of such visits to local high schools over the years.
A number of former UC players who prepped at Elder were on hand, including Austen Bujnoch, now a member of the UC coaching staff, Craig and Collin Carey, Tony Carvitti, Tony Miliano, Corey Mason, Digger Bujnoch and Kevin Hyland.
“It was good to be able to travel to replicate what we’re going to do during the season,” Moore said. “I’m sure that’s what they wanted to do. So this morning we did what I think we’re going to do on normal game days.
“It was good to be able to come on buses and not think about anything but playing the game. The past scrimmage was kind of like a practice. Coming to a foreign place and doing a scrimmage like that really felt more like a game.”
Fickell, a former Ohio State defensive coordinator who played at DeSales High School in Columbus, knows all about what Ohio high school football has to offer as a fertile recruiting area, which he’s determined to tap into more successfully than the previous UC coaching staff was able to.
“For our guys to come out and see people around and see some excitement behind the program and the things that they’re doing, it meant a lot to a lot of us,” Fickell said.
“It does a lot for our program. It gives us the opportunity to challenge and do some different things as a team too. If we can move this thing around and generate some more excitement…and our guys love this stuff too, to see people out there, whether it’s their family or other people. That’s what football’s all about. You’ve got to create momentum. You’ve got to create energy and there’s all different kinds of ways to do it.”
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.