Big East : Strong leadership aids Cincinnati in 2nd year under Jones

first_img Published on October 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Ryne: [email protected] Facebook Twitter Google+ Butch Jones opened spring practice last March with a simple message for his Cincinnati team. The head coach told his players the 2011 season would be defined by how they handled adversity.After going 4-8 last year, the players knew all about adversity. And this year, with that experience fresh in their minds, they were ready to overcome the challenges thrown their way.‘They say adversity’s the greatest teacher of life lessons, but if it’s so great how come nobody wants to experience it?’ Jones said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference Oct. 17. ‘And we suffered through that last year, and I think we found out a lot about ourselves. I think a lot of leadership was born that way.’Cincinnati emerged from its forgettable 2010 campaign as a different team, reborn after an offseason focused on developing leadership and restoring pride in the program. The Bearcats had won two straight Big East titles under former head coach Brian Kelly — who bolted for the same position at Notre Dame — but dropped to seventh place in the conference in Jones’ first season at the helm. This year, Jones has No. 24 Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0 Big East) believing in his system, and his team grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big East heading into its bye week.The Bearcats impressive start can be attributed in part to an improved defense that ranked last in the conference in turnover margin and scoring defense in 2010. Cincinnati is currently tops in the league in turnover margin and third in scoring defense. For Jones, that turnaround coupled with the team’s high-powered offense — which ranks 11th nationally in scoring — has proven to be the ‘formula for winning’ for UC.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textJones said that efficiency on offense and defense has been the difference from last year to this year.‘I think first and foremost, it starts with being a team, so far, that hasn’t hurt itself and beat itself,’ Jones said. ‘And we’ve done a good job at taking care of the football, so we’re not turning the football over, and then we’re forcing turnovers on defense.’The change has also been a result of increased leadership for Cincinnati. The players spent time learning about leadership in a peer intervention program during the offseason, and Jones said everyone from freshmen to seniors is now stepping up.And it shows.South Florida head coach Skip Holtz noticed a difference in the Bearcats from last season on film as he prepared for last Saturday’s game. Holtz saw a Cincinnati team playing with great energy and enthusiasm.‘When a guy makes a play and the way that they’re celebrating together as a team, they’ve really bought in,’ Holtz said in the teleconference Oct. 17. ‘And that’s why I said I think Butch has done a really nice job with this team because they’ve bought in.’With that newfound energy and the same talented players leading the way, Cincinnati has regained its status as a top team in the conference.Charlie Strong and Louisville were the first in the Big East to take on the new and improved Bearcats. The Cardinals jumped out to 16-7 lead at halftime, but Cincinnati came to life in the second half.Bearcats running back Isaiah Pead — who Jones said can take it the distance on every carry — broke off a 50-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to put UC ahead, and the defense shut out Louisville in the second half to secure a 25-16 win.For Strong, the balanced Cincinnati offense led by Pead and quarterback Zach Collaros is tough to keep off the scoreboard. And against the Cardinals on Oct. 15, it was Pead who left his mark.‘We weren’t able to contain him. He ended up with over 100 yards rushing, he got a 50-yard run on us,’ Strong, the Louisville head coach, said in the teleconference Oct. 17. ‘But Pead is an outstanding back and he’s just a workhorse, and the longer the game goes, the stronger he gets.’Against USF last Saturday, Cincinnati’s fate rested on the arm of its quarterback, Collaros. The offense took the field down 34-30 with 1:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, needing to go 70 yards and score a touchdown for the win.Jones said in Monday’s teleconference that his players stayed calm and confident on the sidelines after the Bulls went ahead. With the leadership the team developed in the offseason, the response was exactly what he expected.The head coach said there was no doubt among his players that they would come out on top. And Collaros made sure of that. The quarterback led the Bearcats down the field, capping it off with a 2-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds left to seal the win.Cincinnati is now the lone unbeaten team in conference play and in control of its own destiny. But Jones knows the season is far from over. If his team wants to take back the Big East crown, it has to stay hungry every game and prepared for any adversity that arises along the way.Said Jones: ‘The team that stays injury-free and can focus one week at a time and be able to manage their adversities is going to be the team that wins the conference championship.’[email protected]center_img Commentslast_img read more