With the Cincinnati Bearcats up 34-3 on the UConn Huskies just five and a half minutes into the second half, big man Tommy Tuberville did what any reasonable coach would do at that time against a listless opponent; pull his starters and bring in the backups. The purpose is two-fold. Firstly, with the game squarely out of reach, Tuberville didn’t want to bring upon any unnecessary injury to any key first stringers like Brendon Kay. There was little-to-no chance UConn was going to get back in the game and as such no reason for the starters to play any longer and risk injury. Secondly, Tuberville wanted to give the backups, players who might be filling starting roles next season, some playing time to build their experience. The logic being, the more reps they earn now the better prepared they will be for next year.
All of that makes perfect sense but it’s the execution with one player in particular, a guy who might be a key cog in Cincinnati’s success or failure in 2014, that I had a beef with after this game.
Like I mentioned, with Cincinnati up several touchdowns on UConn midway through the third quarter, Tuberville pulled starting QB Brendon Kay for backup Bennie Coney. It was his first time on the field and.. well.. it didn’t go so great. After Tion Green and Jordan Luallen were stuffed on the first two downs, Coney was faced with a third and long in UC territory. Eddie Gran called in a passing play (for some reason) and Coney wound up throwing the ball right to UConn linebacker Wilbert Lee. One pass, one interception. Yikes.
But was that turnover really Coney’s fault? Why on third and long with the Bearcats up by 31 was Eddie Gran forcing his redshirt freshman quarterback to pass on third and long? Why not run the ball, punt, and get your defense who had been stifling UConn’s offense all game back on the field? Who really cares if Cincinnati picked up the first down or not? And what the hell is up with subbing out Coney for wildcat quarterback Jordan Luallen anyways? Do you not want to let your redshirt freshman quarterback the chance to get into a rhythm?
Those are the questions I have for Tommy Tuberville and Eddie Gran this morning.
Additionally, after Bennie Coney threw that interception, the coaches benched him! They brought back in Brendon Kay (still with the Bearcats up by four and a half touchdowns, by the way) and gave the rest of the snaps to Jordan Luallen. I’m really glad both of the reps those two seniors received will make them better quarterbacks when they’re not with the Bearcats in 2014. And I’m sure the immediate benching after he threw the pick really helped Coney’s psyche. Way to entrust confidence in your young quarterback, Tuberville.
About midway through the fourth quarter, the coaches finally brought Bennie Coney back into the game. On his now second pass of the game, almost a full quarter later, the young quarterback threw a 24 yard nice pass to Nate Cole sprinting across the middle of the field. But on his next snap, Coney tried to do a little too much with the football, wound up fumbling it, and it was returned by UConn linebacker Marquise Vann for a touchdown.
At that point Bennie Coney’s afternoon was done. On the day he wound up taking five offensive snaps, throwing for 24 yards, an interception, and a fumble. But it’s not those turnover numbers that bother me. That’s not unexpected with a young quarterback and extremely forgivable. But it’s the lack of playing time that I really have a grudge with and why Tommy Tuberville is in my cross hairs right now.
With the quarterback position one of the biggest question marks in 2014, why did he give his redshirt freshman, a talented but inexperienced player who has a very strong shot at being the starter that season, just five snaps in a blowout win? Even moreso, why was he being subbed in and out constantly? Coney was given zero opportunity to succeed, get into a groove, or mesh with the players around him. And that is a huge failure by Cincinnati’s coaching staff on Saturday.
Thinking long term, we have no idea what life will be like at quarterback when Brendon Kay graduates after this season. But everyone watching this team, the fans and coaches together, would have a better idea of what’s returning at quarterback if Tommy Tuberville hadn’t utilized Bennie Coney so horribly yesterday. The experience he earns now is going to go a long way to developing him as a college quarterback and growing him to the role as a leader of the Bearcats’ offense going forward. Five snaps in a blowout win over one and a half quarters of play is doing nothing to accomplish that. Coney should have been inserted as the quarterback when Kay left with UC up 34-3 and ran the offense from then on out. Anything less is criminal.
Now I’m not sure what the coaches have in mind for Coney or if they have Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel penciled in as the starting quarterback in 2014. Quite frankly, I don’t think they themselves know. But the way Tommy Tuberville and his staff handled Bennie Coney against UConn does nothing but keep that cloud of mystery hanging over that position.