Following back-to-back losses at Toledo and at Louisville, the question arose this week as to whether or not Cincinnati Bearcats’ head coach Butch Jones would stick with quarterback Munchie Legaux for another week despite his sporadic play.
His answer to that question was, in a word, yes.
But on Saturday Jones, despite starting Legaux at quarterback yet again, offered up a little help to his senior signal caller in the form of a three-pronged attack as they entered a must-win game against conference foe Syracuse on Saturday afternoon.
In all, three quarterbacks found time under center for the Bearcats on Saturday, and the strategy paid off as Cincinnati knocked off Syracuse 35-24 behind an excellent second half effort.
“I think we’re starting to see the character of our football team.,” said Bearcats’ head coach Butch Jones. “That’s a very good Syracuse football team.
The game got off to a quick start for the Bearcats when Syracuse lost control of the ball on the opening kickoff, allowing Cincinnati to take over at the 28-yard line and seize early control of the game.
What ensued was a 4-play, 28-yard drive covering 28 yards that was capped off by a 5-yard George Winn touchdown run.
The two offenses would trade scoreless possessions before Bearcat return man Anthony McClung evened up the mistakes and muffed a Syracuse punt inside of the 15-yard line.
The Orange recovered, took possession, and quickly even things up at seven on a Ryan Nassib touchdown run from less than a yard out.
After Syracuse took the lead with a field goal on their next possession, the Bearcats got back to business, using what will arguably go down as the play call of the year to shock the Syracuse defense.
On fourth down and one from the Syracuse 37-yard line, Munchie Legaux handed the ball off the running back George Winn who bulled forward to the line of scrimmage, stopping just in time to throw a left-handed jump pass to an uncovered Travis Kelce who scampered 37 yards to pay dirt.
After a blocked field goal put a stop to the next Syracuse drive, the Bearcats quickly moved back inside the Syracuse 15-yard line, appearing in complete control of the game before a Ralph David Abernathy IV fumble left the Bearcats empty-handed.
The move paid off for Butch Jones and the Bearcats. With his entrance, Kay brought with a renewed since of excitement noticeable on the Bearcat sideline.
Kay made his first appearance of the game with the Bearcats trailing 24-21 but in prime possession after Syracuse turned the ball over deep in their own territory.
Kay made an instant impact, completing all three of his passes on the drive including a 13-yard throwback screen to Travis Kelce to the put the Bearcats back on top for good.
The Bearcats added another touchdown on their very next drive, which covered 47 yards on four plays – all runs – and ended in a 2-yard George Winn touchdown run.
Kay completed all three of his passes in relief, tallying 32 total yards including a 13-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce late in third quarter that gave the Bearcats the lead. The touchdown throw was the first of Kay’s career.
After the game, head coach Butch Jones discussed his decision to replace Legaux late in the third quarter of the game.
“Brendon has been working working, working,” said Jones after the game. “I thought he deserved an opportunity. We’ll go back and look at the film and see where we are and let them battle it out in practice. Both of them are very capable.”
“The biggest thing for me, in terms of the character of a football team, was that the first person to greet Brendon Kay on the sidelines after he threw his first touchdown pass,” he continued.
Kay also spoke to the opportunity he was given today.
“You know your number is going to get called,” said Kay. “You know how much work you’ve put in. You just have to get in there and calm yourself and complete a couple of nice, easy, passes. Everyone on the team believed in me from the start and that helped.”
Bearcat running back George Winn, who carried 30 times for 168 yards and three touchdowns – all career highs – and three touchdowns on the afternoon, also threw his name into consideration for the starting quarterback job.
His left-handed jump pass to Travis Kelce on fourth down and one in the second quarter went for 37 yards and a go-ahead touchdown.
Travis Kelce turned in one of the best performances of his career and led all receivers with 77 yards and 2 touchdowns on 4 catches.
“Travis Kelce has turned around more than anyone has in our football program,” said Butch Jones after the game. “Maybe Travis Kelce has turned more than any player I’ve ever coached, even in terms of how Antonio Brown turned around.”
Kelce spoke to his increased role with the team.
“I’m a senior so I’ve just taken it upon myself to step up and lead this team with Walt not being out there,” said Kelce. “This is what the team needs out me. I’m doing everything I can to go out there and lead.”
Anthony McClung also added 5 catches for 75 yards.
Saturday’s win over Syracuse marked the sixth time this season the Bearcat offense has compiled at least 400 yards. It also marked the fifth time of the year the running game eclipsed the 200-yard mark.