Finally, it’s the week of Belk Bowl. Seems like eons since we saw Cincinnati hit the field. Hopefully most of you have had the time to wash bad taste from the Keg of Nails loss out of your mouth because when you step back and take a look at Cincinnati’s season, there was a lot to be excited about. UC won nine games yet again, young players like MeKale McKay and Zach Edwards gave us glimpses of their future UC stardom, and Tommy Tuberville showed he still has quite a bit left in the tank.
But as soon as we relish in those positive aspects of the 2013 season, we have to turn our attention to the North Carolina Tar Heels. So, we at Cincy on the Prowl decided to get together to review the Bearcats’ 2013 season and provide you with some initial prep for the Belk Bowl. Let’s get it going!
First up, part 1 reviewing this past regular season.
1) What are your thoughts on UC’s season?
Mike Jorgenson (@Bearnati): Good not great. I had high hopes, there wasn’t a game on this schedule that we couldn’t have won and there was only one that we shouldn’t have won (Louisville). The Illinois game was discouraging to say the least; the South Florida game was depressing. I let myself dream of a 12-0 season because the schedule was so easy but let us never forget the difficulties that come with a first year head coach. Each coach has a unique scheme and requires certain players. Butch’s players didn’t fit Tuberville’s system. Given that, 9 wins is not bad and hopefully we’ll finish with yet another 10 win season. Not to mention that our teach got roughed up this year, Tuberville has mentioned it without complaining but we dealt with far more than our fair share of injuries especially at key positions.
Ben Levin (@LevinMachine): When I look at some of the losses the Bearcats suffered this season, I am tempted to wonder what could have been. The losses to Illinois and USF were head-scratchers to say the least, but this was a really successful season for UC football when you look at the big picture. A 9-3 record under a new coaching staff is a pretty noteworthy accomplishment. It could have been much worse had the coaching staff not been willing to change. On a program level, UC football had it’s second highest average home attendance ever (behind the 2009 perfect season), and broke ground on a stadium renovation last week. Overall, it’s been a pretty good year.
Derek Mack (@damackattackkk): Initially, I thought this season could have gone two ways. I could either see the Bearcats coming together with a lot of energy knowing they were in the presence of a storied coach in Tuberville and go 11-1 or even 12-0 due to a very forgiving schedule. On the flip side, I could also see them having another mediocre season under the new coaching regime as we saw in the start of the Butch Jones era. Understandably, the former was probably a little too optimistic. However, given that many teams struggle with coaching changes (Browns fan here…) I’d say I’m pretty content with how the Bearcats ended the season. I obviously expected a better outcome for the Illinois game and was hoping for a better outcome to the Louisville game, but overall was very impressed by how resilient this team was in responding to its early identity crisis as well as how much heart they showed down the stretch. For the record, I pretend that the USF game didn’t really happen.
Spencer Tuckerman (@spncrtckrmn): I honestly want to be bummed about this season. It’s easy to look at the games we lost and think about what could have been. The USF game was such a dumb loss, and the Louisville game clearly slipped through our fingers. At the beginning of the season, I thought this team could win 11 or 12 games. Looking back, I still think we could’ve won 11 or 12 games. That aspect is tough.
However, we all know how tricky a new coach can be. Butch Jones was not pretty in his inaugural season. Not only were the Bearcats following a new leader with a new system, but their starting QB was taken out of the picture in just the second game. Combine that with the Ben Flick tragedy, and it’s too hard to be upset about 9 wins. Any of those elements could have derailed the team, but I give them credit for battling through it all and putting themselves in a position for yet another 10 win season.
Tommy Perry: Overall, I am happy with Tommy T’s first year at the helm. If you would’ve told me after the South Florida debacle that we would finish the year 9-3, I would’ve thought that you were nuts. This team really grew on me, especially the offense. I think Edddie Gran did a nice job of realizing that he had to be flexible if he wanted to be successful, and it worked out well. To be honest, 9-3 (even with an easy schedule) is probably all you could ask for under a new coaching staff. Heck, BK went 8-4 his first year and BJ went 4-8. Tommy Tuberville has the potential to add stability to this program, which is something that we desperately need in this confusing time of conference realignment. In his 18 years as a head coach, he has had more than 7 wins 12 times. He usually doesn’t go undefeated, but we don’t need him to do that for our program to be successful. This first season was a step in the right direction and I hope it continues.
Chris Bains: With nine wins to their name, I was happy with how Cincinnati performed this season. Sure the schedule was awful and the Bearcats probably never should have lost to South Florida or Illinois, but overall I was pleased with how things turned out. I mean, UC won nine games after undergoing a coaching change, dealing with the passing of one of their teammates, and using two different offenses during the season. I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
2) Who was the biggest overachiever and underachiever on the team?
MJ: Overachiever = Brendan Kay. The guy got an extra year of eligibility, didn’t make starter. Got called on after Munchie went down and put up great numbers all season. Not to mention the severe beating he took all season, the guy showed toughness beyond anything I’ve ever seen from a QB, maybe any other UC player.
Underachiever = I assume other people will pick Tony Miliano but just to make things interesting I’ll pick Ralph David Abernathy IV. I love RDAIV but this season was a disappointment. Part of it might have been the game plan, which is well out of his hands, but I got so tired of seeing him run up the gut for no yards. Not only did he not establish the run game like we’d all hoped but he didn’t blow anyone away on special teams either. I’m not giving up on him and he certainly shouldn’t be embarrassed about this season, he played hard for sure and the team did well enough.
BL: Biggest Overachiever: CB Howard Wilder – Wilder did a great job at corner this year, despite being a first-year D-I player. The JuCo transfer anchored one corner position, starting the last nine games of the season and intercepting two passes. Wilder’s play late in the season was especially key with Senior CB Deven “Dreadlock” Drane struggling with injuries.
Biggest Co-Underachievers – K Tony Miliano and RB Hosey Williams. We all know that Miliano had a terrible year, going 6-of-15 (40%) with a long of 44. I’m not going to kick Tony while he’s down. I hope he can come back strong for the Belk Bowl and into his 5th year senior year. Williams was supposed to be the “smash” to RDA IV’s “dash” this season in the UC backfield. That did not really even come close to happening. Williams was a big part of the win over Houston, but very unimpressive other than that. If I had to decide, I would put him behind Tion Green on the RB depth chart going into next season. RDA IV and Green are both back, so that makes Williams a third-stringer.
DM: Overachiever: A lot of people are going to say Brendon Kay, and deservedly so. However, I think the biggest surprise this season to me was the performance of Shaq Washington. I’m pretty sure we all knew that Anthony McClung would follow up his great season last year with another stellar season as a senior, but I’m sure little expected Washington to have more catches than McClung or become such a threat in the passing game. As a junior this season, he’s already put up more reception yards than McClung in his junior season last year. I’m excited to see what this kid can do in the Belk Bowl and further down the line in his senior season.
Underachiever: Without a doubt, Tony Miliano. Don’t get me started. He’s 6 for 15 on the season. I couldn’t even watch when he attempted the kick to put it into OT against Louisville. It’s that bad.
ST: My overachiever award goes to Shaq Washington. Man, I love that kid. Back in August, how many people thought that the 5’9″ high school QB from Cleveland would be leading Tuberville’s offense in receptions? While he didn’t pull in many touchdown passes, he had an incredible impact on each game, racking up 10 catch outings like it was his job. The regular season just finished, and I’m already excited to see what Shaq can do in 2014.
My underachiever is going to be a tie. Tony Miliano and Ralph David Abernathy IV were both disappointing to watch this year. I’ll start with Miliano, because he probably frustrated me the most. The worst part about this nightmare season was that we know he’s better than this. I don’t know if he just psyched himself out or what, but Tony went from a very capable kicker hitting 77% of his field goals, to an absolute disaster in one season. I do give him credit for knocking down an incredibly high pressure kick against the Cardinals to send it to OT.
My issue with RDAIV largely has to do with the opportunities he was given. Granted, he had a very forgettable season regardless of play calling, but it just seemed like he never really found his niche, which is strange to me. After the 2012 season, Abernathy had his role clearly laid out. When Tuberville stepped in, it was like he had never seen RDAIV, and had no idea how to use him. One glance at a game tape from 2012 would’ve shown how lethal RDAIV is in open space. I’m glad we get one more year with him, because this year would’ve been a really disappointing finale.
TP: Biggest overachiever=Hosey Williams. The obvious choice is Brendon Kay, but I had pretty high expectations for him after watching him play well down the stretch last year. Our running game was a big unknown after we lost George Winn, and while runningback by committee worked well this year, Williams really stood out in my mind. It seems like every time he touched the ball, something good would happen. He runs with power and strength, which works great with our pretty solid and experienced o-line. He averaged 5 yards and carry and 5 yards a catch, not too shabby for a first year player (albeit, he was a JUCO).
Underachiever=Tony Miliano. After starting out the year on the Lou Groza award watch list, Miliano has had a horrendous year. Every time he kicks, even if it is a chip shot, I have to pray that he makes it. The blame doesn’t all fall on him, as he had a few tough snaps and holds, but his performance was pretty bad. I’ve never been a big fan of his, and this year made me really dread watching the adventurous kicker.
CB: My overachiever is Zach Edwards. Kid came out of no where to lead all defensive backs in tackles (63) and tackles for loss (2.5). He also had the second most interceptions on the team. Considering he’s just a freshman, the future is very, very bright for Edwards. My underachiever is Jeff Luc. I expected far more out of him this season but the transfer from Florida State just looked slow out there. Maybe he’s more adept to middle linebacker than outside linebacker but I just never got the feeling he felt comfortable on the field. Hopefully he has a strong bowl game leading up to his senior campaign.
3) What was the best and worst moment of the season?
MJ: Best moment would have to be that 97 yard drive against SMU. The game was turning into a shootout but Tuberville and Gran came out and took a commanding lead and then had a methodical drive down the whole field and ended with a touchdown. Complete power move and used a lot of time and really secured the victory in the game.
Worst moment has to be the touchdown we were denied at Illinois. The game might have come back in reach had we not gotten the shaft there (that even the Big 10 confessed to). Can’t blame the whole game on that play but at the same time you wonder what might have happened.
BL: Worst moment – The entire South Florida game. I got to my seat at Raymond James stadium just in time to see USF return that blocked Miliano FG for a score early in the first quarter, and deep in my gut, I just knew it was going to be that kind of night. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I’m almost to the point of repressing the memories of that night.
Best moment – Trick plays against Rutgers. I don’t think I stopped smiling for three or four days. The video is self-explanatory. http://www.youtube.com/watch?
DM: I’m going to have to say the best moment of the season was the 72 yard drive TD drive midway through the 4th quarter against Louisville to respond to their TD on their previous drive. After outplaying them for nearly 2 quarters, it really took the wind out of Nippert to have Louisville come back on top in the 4th. The game wasn’t over though. It was one of those situations where everyone knew a big play was coming. It was really an eery feeling that reminded me a lot of the moments before the George Winn kickoff return in the Liberty Bowl. Brendon Kay connected to Mekale McKay for 57 yards then RDA4 split the D to take it in for the TD. 2 plays. 72 yards. Against Louisville. In Nippert. It was something indescribable.
I think many associate “worsts” of a season with interceptions, or blown game-winning drives, or losses against winnable teams. But for me, the worst moments of the season were more than just a Wins/Loss column. I would have to say the loss of Ben Flick and the injuries sustained by Mark Barr following the Miami game were the lowest moments of the season. A loss in a game is easily forgotten in hindsight. The same cannot be said to a member of the Bearcat family. It’s something the supersedes the football field. It’s been said a thousand times, but I wish the best to the family of Ben Flick and to the continued recovery of Mark Barr.
ST: The best moment of 2013 would have to be the entire Rutgers game, if I can be vague. The Bearcats were fresh off a less-than-reassuring win against SMU, and were on the road against a team that always gives them trouble. Rutgers represented the first of three huge tests to close the season, and a lot of fans were unsure of what to expect when the Bearcats faced a team with more talent than they’d seen in the early going.
Any doubt was removed after a dream-like first half that ended in a 38-7 Bearcat lead. It was a circus. Brendon Kay was working with incredible efficiency, and Tuberville was pulling out every crazy trick play, and they were all working. After that game, I felt like the ‘Cats could’ve hung with any team in the country.
Unfortunately, it was one of those years where there are plenty of heartbreaking moments to choose from. Munchie going down in Illinois. The tragic passing of Ben Flick. Absolutely giving away a win in South Florida. However, fresh in my mouth is the taste of that Louisville game. It was a huge one. Despite near-freezing temperatures and plenty of rain, the student section was absolutely unhinged for the duration. To watch that game slip away from the front row in the south endzone is something that I unfortunately won’t be able to forget.
TP: Best-Watching us thoroughly destroy Rutgers. Nothing went wrong for us that day, and it was nice to crush a team that doesn’t deserve to move to a better conference. It was also nice to get revenge, as we didn’t play very well against them last year.
Worst-Our GOFBW handed to us by Illinois. The coaching in this game drove me insane, as we kept running Abernathy straight up the middle and Tommy T thought he was Tony La Russa with his constant subbing between Kay and Legaux. The whole game was just a series of unfortunate events, nothing went right for us.
CB: The best moment was Cincinnati’s obliteration of Rutgers. After scoring just six points in their two previous games against the Scarlet Knights, UC completely dismantled them on both sides of the ball. It was refreshing to see. The worst moment for me is a tie between the entire USF game and Munchie Legaux’s touchdown-non-touchdown against Illinois.