(UC/Joseph Fuqua II)
I’m not in the business of recapping a game everyone saw. If you want the rundown, check here. I’ll just jump right into positives and negatives.
- Holy cow, that defense. Where did that come from? Forget the yardage, football has always been about bending without breaking. The Bearcats defense did a lot of bending on Thursday night, but rarely broke. With 12 minutes left in the game, they had the nation’s #6 team held to TWELVE points. Last year’s defense would’ve gotten absolutely torn limb from limb by this Houston team.
- More forced turnovers. This is one of the biggest things last year’s team was lacking. If your defense is struggling and giving up yards on a long drive, you can totally redeem yourself with a turnover. We didn’t do it last year. Last night we did, and it kept us in the ballgame with a Top 10 team. Going into the game, I figured we’d have a really good shot to win if we could be opportunistic on defense, and we were.
- Antonio Kinard is a machine. That’s it.
- Honestly, I thought Hayden Moore played pretty well… at least for most of the night. Was it an impressive outing, in total? No. Am I ready to bench a guy who’s putting up good numbers after he struggled against one of the best defenses in the country? Absolutely not. Hayden made a lot of tough throws to move the chains on Thursday, despite the fact that he was constantly in 3rd-and-long situations, it felt like.
- The receivers continue to impress. There was some worry about how the Bearcats would look without that elite WR class that left after last season. They look alright to me. Nate Cole is the veteran we need, Devin Gray is living up to his billing as a big play-maker, Avery Johnson continues to be a reliable target, and Khalil Lewis gives you an extra option while also being a home run threat.
- THIS PLAY!
- The student section was unreal. Just a hair over 40,000 showed up last night, and nearly 20% of those fans were students. 7,813 was a student section record for Nippert, and it felt like it. I’ve seen a lot of games in Clifton, but I’ve never felt the student section quite like that. Better than Louisville 2013 and Miami (FL) 2015, which were two of my favorite nights at Nippert.
- The offense. For how much we continue to rip on the Eddie Gran offense, at least he seemed to play the cards he was dealt. When the only thing working against Memphis last year was the pass, he said “Heck, let’s just let the freshman throw it every single play.” I understand that you make a game plan going in and that you’d love to stick with that. However, sometimes the opposing defense makes the game plan for you. The Bearcats were simply not going to run the football last night. After a miraculous 10-yard scamper from Mike Boone late in the fourth quarter, the rushing attack finished with a combined 20 carries for 43 yards. Rushing 20 times for 2.2 yards per carry is irresponsible play-calling. The Bearcats lost the time of possession battle badly, holding the ball for fewer than 22 minutes. If that isn’t bad enough, we seemed to spend half that time futilely running for one yard. Everyone watching the game could see that there would be no running game. The passing game, meanwhile, was having a good bit of success, despite the bad situations the running game kept putting the Bearcats in. Sometimes you gotta scrap the game plan when a better one becomes available. Should’ve done it last night.
- The offense is worse than our defense. Two pick sixes, a safety, and a field goal that wasn’t taken. That’s 19 points our offense coughed up. You will never beat a Top 10 team doing that.
- The predictable fan reaction. Really, guys? You’ve watched all that has happened since the beginning of 2013 and coming up short against #6 Houston is where you draw the line in the Tuberville tenure? Look, I’m not about to draft up a contract extension, but at least reserve your outrage for a time when he does something he’s not supposed to do, like show up completely unprepared for a bowl game or raise the white flag in a marquee out-of-conference game against BYU. You can’t call for Tuberville’s head after every loss. He did a great job against Purdue, and had us in Thursday’s game all the way into the fourth quarter.
- The press conference. I need to stop watching these. Have you ever seen Tuberville accept responsibility for anything? It’s one of the reasons I love Mick Cronin’s leadership. Mick is really tough on his guys and holds them accountable, but he accepts responsibility for his mistakes and very rarely calls out a player in a press conference. For Tuberville to open the press conference saying the defense played well enough to win but the QBs made bad decisions is insane. At the time of Hayden Moore’s first interception, the Bearcats trailed 19–16. You know why we weren’t already winning at that point? We simply gave away three points by refusing to kick a field goal, and then we called a running play on our own one-yard line to give up a safety. The score easily should’ve been 20–17 in favor of UC at that point, considering we would’ve kicked a PAT after Nate Cole’s TD catch. I’m not saying the players were blameless last night, and certainly Hayden Moore’s interception when trailing by three points was huge, but it would’ve been refreshing to see Tuberville do something other than throw his own players under the bus. Again. “We practiced well. We prepared well. Our guys were ready to play…We just didn’t have enough to beat a very good football team.” Translation: Don’t blame me.
Overall, I’m not anywhere near to jumping off a bridge after that game. Through three games, this team, especially its defense, is much better than I anticipated. We’ve got some things to work on, to be sure, but if we play with the intensity of the Purdue and Houston games, we’re gonna do a lot of winning this season. The Battle for the Victory Bell is just around the corner, which is always fun. I’m having a hard time feeling down. Go Bearcats.