Saturday’s game against Louisville will be J.K. Schaffer’s fourth and last as a Bearcat, but redshirt sophomore Jordan Stepp didn’t get his first taste of the heated rivalry until just last season. Nevertheless, both UC defenders feel passionately about the “Keg of Nails” game.
The Keg of Nails trophy pictured in the middle of Cincinnati's back to back Big East Championship trophies.
“I’m used to seeing the Keg, and I don’t want to give it up,” said Schaffer. “This is always a big game, and I can’t wait for it to get started.”
Stepp was also excited about the match-up.
“I really don’t like Louisville at all,” he said. “I got my first extended playing time last year against them, and I’m looking forward to continuing that on Saturday.”
Saturday’s league game at Paul Brown Stadium will be the 51st time Louisville and Cincinnati have faced each other on the gridiron, and that contest will move the Cardinals into sole possession of second place as UC’s longest rivalry. Louisville had been tied with Ohio University even though the OU/UC series hasn’t been played since 1981. Of course, Miami (OH) is easily Cincinnati’s longest series with 116 games, but unlike that series, the Bearcats lead the Cardinals 29-20-1.
Because of Cincinnati’s three game winning streak against the Cards, both Stepp and Schaffer have always been able to see the Keg of Nails any time they wanted. They’d like to keep it that way.
Schaffer easily leads the Bearcats on defense this season with 35 tackles, (Cam Cheatham is second with 27) and Stepp is the most productive UC player off the bench with 14 stops in his five games. Schaffer talked about the importance the Indiana sophomore has played in the improvement of UC’s defense.
“Jordan has given us a big lift because he can come into the game and play either defensive tackle spot. He can give John (Hughes) or Derek (Wolfe) a rest. He would be starting at a lot of other schools.”
Stepp battled foot problems earlier in his career, but his continued health is extremely important for the Bearcats because of his ability to play nose tackle even though he is considered short at slightly under 6-foot-1 inches tall. The sophomore uses his lack of height as motivation.
“Because people have always criticized my height, I’m out to prove myself every game,” said Stepp.
Schaffer can probably relate to those criticisms since many believe he is somewhat short for a BCS linebacker at 6-foot-1, but the senior captain also knows there are other important factors a competitor can control to make him a better player.
“Jordan is one of the strongest guys on the team,” he said. “He’s always done a great job in the weight room.”
As these two Bearcats finished Saturday’s practice at Paul Brown Stadium, they looked into the seats and were asked about the importance of getting the UC student body from the Clifton Heights campus to the downtown area.
“We love coming onto the field and seeing all of them going crazy,” said Stepp.
“Yeah, we want as many of them as we can get down here on Saturday,” said Schaffer. “They do a great job.”
If the Bearcats can extend their winning streak on Saturday, it will tie their four straight wins from 1984 to 1987.