I don’t know (and actually seriously doubt) if they played the old Bachman-Turner Overdrive standard “Takin’ Care of Business” on Friday night at Nippert Stadium, but it would have squared with what was going on down on the field. The UC Bearcats averted any post-Rutgers letdown with a workman-like 27-10 victory over the struggling South Florida Bulls.
The coaches moved the emphasis all week to rallying around the idea of getting win No. 8 on the season, and that focus appeared to pay off. These were the same high-effort Bearcats we have gotten to know this season, and this win matched the style of previous triumphs. It would have been a shame to have it any other way on Senior Night.
This was a night when a team had a lot more to lose than to win, but UC avoided that fate against a team that, while ugly in overall record, was not incapable of causing some trouble. The Bulls were lopsided losers a week ago to the Miami Hurricanes, but in the three weeks prior, had scared both Louisville (a 27-25 loss) and Syracuse (a 37-36 loss) before beating UConn, 13-6.
On to the usual rundown of what I saw, what I thought I saw and what the TV broadcast showed to be the actual facts …
Adding Up: As Tim indicated in his “Tim’s Tidbits” piece, getting win No. 8 on the year Friday marked the sixth time in the last seven seasons that UC has reached the 8-win mark.
Take it a step farther, though, and you can see why historically these are halcyon times for the UC program. With two games remaining, opportunities for a 9- or 10-win season are still available. If they reach nine wins, it would be only the 10th time in the 125-year history of the program. Win out and reach 10, it would be only the sixth time that has happened in program history – with a remarkable four of those other occasions coming in the previous five years.
March to History: George Winn’s rushing night of 119 yards and two TDs continued to move the senior running back deeper into the UC record book. He now has 1,134 rushing yards this season, pushing him past Reggie Taylor’s 1,112 yards in 1985 for 10th best rushing season all-time at UC.
Winn’s rushing TDs also upped his season total to 11, putting him into a tie for fifth place for most in a season all-time with five other former Bearcats. If he’s to earn the UC single-season rushing record, he’ll need to average 113.5 yards per game in UC’s final two games. That won’t be easy, with upcoming UConn having the top-ranked rushing defense in the league.
Also, just for added good measure, Winn was credited last night with two more special teams tackles.
Winning Perspective: Butch Jones made a point in his post-game comments that he often makes when he said that the game pivoted around “the four-to-six plays individuals don’t see.” Obviously, he doesn’t mean that people didn’t see them, but rather that they don’t readily appreciate their significance.
Jones was specifically pointing to the tremendous 65-yard punt from Pat O’Donnell at the end of UC’s first drive, which pinned USF back at its own 5-yard line. Four plays later, Demetrius Murray fumbled the ball and it was recovered by UC’s Dan Giordano at the Bulls’ 19-yard line, setting up UC’s first score of the night.
That was really the only sudden-change play of consequence on the night, though, as there were no interceptions in the game and, even though USF would fumble six more times on the night, it wasn’t until a strong play in pursuit by Silverberry Mouhon forced another Bulls fumble with 1:46 left in the game that another turnover was added to the stats by either side. Add on top of that that total yardage was fairly even, favoring UC 372-306, as were first downs, favoring USF 22-18, and how exactly do you arrive at a 17-point winning margin?
The answer was in those plays that Butch was pointing to. UC carved out a significant edge in yards-gained -per-play, with a 5.6 average to 4.0 for the Bulls. That came in combination with a major edge in field position. UC’s average position in starting its drive on the night was its own 34-yard line, which compares to USF starting its drives on average from its own 18. Accumulated over the course of a game, those things make a sizable difference.
1,420 Football Fields: That’s the cumulative total covered by punts launched by UC punters over the last five seasons, through last night’s seven-punt night for O’Donnell. It’s a lot of yards, and it highlights just how outstanding the punting has been over that span.
Is there a team over the last five years that can top UC’s overall average of 43.0 yards per kick? (It’s actually 42.98 if you want to be picky about it.)
First came All-American punter Kevin Huber, who kicked in the 2008 and ’09 seasons. Then came a season of Jake Rogers as the primary punter, with redshirt freshman O’Donnell also punting seven times. Then has been the last two years of O’Donnell as the primary punter, including last year’s first-team all-Big East season.
When you point to Bearcat success over this recent span, it’s easy to overlook punting, but it has played a key role.
A Record for Kelce: While speaking in terms of season superlatives, a UC senior recorded another one Friday night when Travis Kelce came up with seven catches for 58 yards. It was not only a career-best night for Kelce in terms of number of receptions, it pushed him to 530 receiving yards overall on the season. That surpassed the previous record for best season for a UC tight end, set by Joe Koynock with 496 yards in 1990.
A Senior Sequel: It was Senior Night all over again for UC defensive tackle John Williams. He was among the 24 players honored by UC on Friday, and the now-grad student went through the same ritual a year ago at Central Michigan, where he played his first four years of college football.
Williams had another night where his high-motor style of play made an impact for UC’s defense. He was credited with six tackles overall. The wire story about Friday’s game stated that the fumble by USF’s Murray that set up UC’s first score was unforced, but the replay shows that really wasn’t true. It was tremendous penetration by Williams into the backfield which blew the play up, and Murray stumbled as he tried to escape from Williams’ clutches. It was during the course of the stumble that he lost control of the ball.
Fellow senior defensive lineman Dan Giordano had one of his top games as a Bearcat on Senior Night, as well. Giordano was second on the team with seven stops, including credit for a half of a sack, two quarterback hurries and one pass batted down. Leading the way for UC’s defense was again linebacker Greg Blair with 14 tackles. It was the seventh time this year Blair finished in double-figures in tackles for a game, putting him tied with Rutgers’ All-American candidate and reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Green with 115 tackles and a 10.5 tackle-per-game average.
The 10-Week Grind: Everyone knew the two early byes leading to 10 games in 10 weeks to end the year would physically test the Bearcats. Butch Jones alluded to this after the game when he applauded the new faces who have had to step in where others have gotten dinged up, saying they had raised their games to the same standard as the defense had been playing at previously.
Foremost on that list in terms of productivity Friday night was probably redshirt sophomore defensive back Adrian Witty. He had the biggest game of his young Bearcat career with three tackles overall, including two sacks off of blitz packages and one forced fumble. A formidable hitter despite his 5-10 and 182-pound frame, Witty also was credited with another hit on the quarterback, along with two pass breakups on the night.
Going even younger, true freshman safety Kevin Brown also had three tackles on the night as he continues to record quality minutes at the back of the secondary. Junior college transfer Elijay Shuler is also increasing his impact game-by-game, as he was credited with three tackles Friday night.