Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Bearcats embrace underdog role
By Brian Bennett
Cincinnati linebacker JK Schaffer is looking on the bright side of his team's 1-2 start.
"Our team is not used to losing, but we are a team used to having a chip on our shoulder," Schaffer said. "This is making that even stronger now.
"We've always been the underdog, and now we're a huge underdog. I think that always gives teams motivation."
JK Schaffer and the Bearcats are out to prove their critics wrong.
It's hard to play the underdog card when you go 12-0 or 11-2, as the Bearcats did in the past two seasons. But now that role really fits the team as it prepares to welcome No. 8 Oklahoma into Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET).
Cincinnati has lost its two games against unranked FBS opponents -- Fresno State and NC State -- by a combined 25 points. Once a dominating offense, the Bearcats rank seventh in the Big East in scoring and total offense and last in rushing. The defense allowed 58 points in those two losses to FBS teams and now must deal with an explosive Sooners attack.
What once looked like the first possible statement game of the Butch Jones era now appears to be a heavy mismatch. Jones spent the past several days making sure the players were still on board with him. He met with several individually to make sure they weren't hanging their heads.
"They're not used to losing, I'm not used to losing and my coaching staff is not used to losing," he said. "This is where your will is tested, your belief system. Our team has been unwavering."
Jones said the team's biggest problems are what he calls "drive-killers." Things like dropped passes, botched quarterback exchanges, turnovers and penalties. On defense, tackling has been an issue.
"We're not searching for excuses or alibis but for reasons," he said. "There are individuals on this team going through emotions they haven't experienced in a number of years. We have to take great strides, but they are all things we can control."
A lack of depth that was exacerbated by injuries and other preseason problems has left the Bearcats vulnerable. Jones said nose tackle Derek Wolfe, for instance, played over 80 snaps at NC State. The team will be without standout tight end Ben Guidugli this week because of injury.
Jones, though, says he remains upbeat about this season. He likens this to his first year at Central Michigan in 2007. The Chippewas started out 1-3, including a 30-point loss at home to North Dakota State. But then they rebounded to win seven of their final nine regular-season games to claim the MAC championship.
"I've had about 30 kids from CMU call me and say, 'Remember that turning point, coach?'" Jones said.
That turning point might not come this week against a powerful opponent. But Cincinnati is embracing its underdog status against Oklahoma.
"We really want to get out there and prove people wrong," Schaffer said. "To the people who've lost hope and think we're not going to do anything this year, we want to show them we're still around and have a lot of football left to play."