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All Access: UCONN Part 1

Last week for the Connecticut game BearcatLair.com got an all-access pass to observe what goes on behind the scenes as the UC coaching staff prepared for the Huskies. Here is part 1 of our 4 part series on what we observed leading up to Cincinnati's 35-27 win over Connecticut

Butch Jones

When the 2011 UC football schedule was released last spring, it’s doubtful anyone circled the UConn game on December 3 as one of great importance, but a win against the Huskies means the Bearcats will have their third Big East championship in the last four years. Because of the magnitude of the game, Bearcat Lair asked for and received permission to chronicle the preparation that leads up to the big event.

Sunday, November 27

For the UC coaches, game preparation began on Sunday morning with about eight or nine hours of film study. The coaches’ first task was to break down film of their position players from Saturday’s win at Syracuse so they critiqued everyone’s performance. Then they focused on preparing a scouting report for UConn. With a weekly staff meeting scheduled for noon on Monday, the UC staff had less than 24 hours to enjoy Saturday’s big win against the Orange.

For the defensive coaches, everyone has a specialty when preparing for the next opponent. Coach Banks focuses on third down, Coach Stripling on the run game, Coach Coombs on the passing game and Coach Jancek with the field zones.

Monday, November 28

Game preparation went into full swing on Monday morning as the offensive staff met in one room while the defensive coaches congregated right next door. My day officially started at 8 a.m. by attending a meeting with the defensive staff.

The primary goal of the morning meeting was to decide how the Bearcats will defend first and second down against the Huskies. Strategies for third and fourth down situations will be done on Tuesday.

Coach Banks facilitated the defensive meeting, but every coach had considerable input. The staff discussed personnel groupings, the percentage of run versus pass plays and much more before they started looking at any UConn film as a group.

During a break, Coach Jones popped into the defensive meeting for a few minutes, but he spent the lion’s share of his time with the offensive coaches.

At one point, the offensive coaches could be heard laughing next door. Coach Stripling quipped, “You hear that, Tim? Those guys over there are having fun.”

That comment prompted Coach Jancek to joke, “Yeah. If things don’t work out for them, they can punt. When things don’t work out for us, the other team is kicking an extra point.”

The film session temporarily stopped as the coaches discussed how UConn’s offense will most likely attack them. By now we are three hours into the morning meeting.

Coach Stripling took a quick look at his email, and he received twenty-seven messages since the start of the meeting.

During the second break, some UC players stopped by to see the staff. Starting strong safety Drew Frey was the first. Because Frey has a demanding academic load, he had to miss some position meetings later in the day, but the redshirt junior has already watched film and read Coach Coombs notes about his performance from Saturday at Syracuse. Frey also shares that he was a little uptight about a big presentation he’ll be giving later in the day for one of his classes.

Maalik Bomar, Derek Wolfe, Trenier Orr and Nick Temple also visited with their coaches. Despite having a car, Wolfe walks to and from campus to save money on gas and parking while Orr showed off a fancy pair of sneakers that cost him $180. It’s obvious that even though every player is on a full scholarship, not everyone is in the same financial situation.

Coach Jones went out of his way to speak with each of his players.

The morning meetings ended about noon.

There was a team meeting scheduled on the second floor of the Lindner Building at 1:30, but every Bearcat was in attendance at 1:20 so the meeting starts ten minutes early. Players know that merely being on-time for a meeting isn’t good enough. They need to be early. It’s part of their discipline.

In the team meeting, Coach Jones talked about some of the challenges UConn will present and told his players not to be concerned with Thursday’s game between WVU and USF. He told them there is only one game that matters, and that is Saturday’s game with UConn since it determines whether or not the Bearcats will be Big East champions for the third time in four years.

The team meeting was high spirited as a number of players got recognized for their outstanding play against Syracuse, but there’s also some cajoling and some teasing. Jordan Luallen was asked to try and stay on his feet while Ralph David Abernathy IV was reminded that Coach Coombs was running step for step with him before the Syracuse “kicker” caught and tackled him on the second half kickoff return. Both Bearcats took the teasing quite well, and it’s clear this is a tight knit group.

It was mentioned that the Bearcats haven’t had a “real” home game in 71 days, and they’re reminded of the need to play well at their beloved Nippert Stadium.

During the team meeting, special teams play was discussed and evaluated on the big screens. Coach Elder handled the part about punt returns and had the line of the day. Elder was coaching up some of his guys, but when he got to Isaiah Pead and his punt returns, he simply said, “Pead, you can go wherever you want.”

The comment brought a howl from everyone in attendance.

The team meeting lasted almost exactly an hour.

Next, players reported to position meetings to review film from Saturday’s game. I was with the defensive backs, and that session lasted almost an hour before the position groups were sent to the weight room for a 45 minute workout starting at 3:30.

At that point I went back to the football offices to start writing this piece when I saw Coach Banks sitting alone in the meeting room watching even more film.

Normally there is a “walk through” on Monday’s, but that was cancelled this week to help save the players’ legs.

After the 3:30 weight room session, players returned to their position meetings with their coaches to start looking at film of UConn.

While sitting with Coach Banks as he watched more film, John Widecan, director of football operations, poked his head into the room to tell Banks that of the thirteen questionable plays the Bearcats submitted to the league office from the Syracuse game, eleven were confirmed as errors by the officials.

At 5:45, the defensive staff reconvened to continue their discussion on how to stop the Huskies on first and second downs. I finally left at 7 o’clock making it an eleven hour day, but the coaches expect to be meeting until 9 or 10 o’clock tonight.

The meetings will start again on Tuesday morning.

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