Ok, so Cincinnati probably beat Miami the moment Butch Jones starting recruiting. That argument could be made, but the players who brought UC back from a 6-0 deficit were all defensive backs.
Cam Cheatham started the momentum swing midway through the first quarter with a lengthy interception return for touchdown. Prior to Cam's astute pouncing Miami was methodically driving towards their second score.
Two Miami turnovers later the red-clad sideline featured a series of slumped shoulders and forlorn stares. Their opportunity to knock off neighboring cousin had likely ended. Their lead evaporated, the momentum departed the RedHawks sauntered into the locker room with minimal hope.
"I don't know if it turned the game around, but we just needed a spark and big time players make big time plays and it is just a blessing that I was able to make a play like that and spark the team," said Cam Cheatham.
Without Cheatham's interception Miami just might have snagged a 13-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
"Cheat, he is a leader," said starting safety Arryn Chenault. "He gets us going everyday in practice and that interception was huge. That turned all the momentum around. Before that I think they went up 6-0 and the opening drives we was kind of shocked a little bit. Cheat being a big game player, a baller made a big play for us. It turned the game around."
While Cheatham made the play of the game, Chenault was probably the most impressive player.
A junior out of Fairfield High School Arryn earned his starting spot during camp. Safety Coach Mark Elder loved the way Chenault consistently read his keys perfectly.
Three minutes into the game Chenault already had three tackles.
The fun didn't stop there. As Miami's quarterback attempted to settle into a rhythm a fiery Chenault crashed into Dysert's intended receiver as the football arrived.
"It was third or second down, one of the two," said Chenault. "They love to run the drive concept so I just saw the under dude go under and I saw the top dude come in. I knew I had a 'BLAM' shot and once I hit him I heard the crowd go loud and I saw Deven (Drane) go down the field."
Love that Chenault calls it a BLAM shot. He was attacking the receivers all game. The junior gives UC a more physical safety solution than Wesley Richardson ever did. As soon as UC collected this second interception the game was essentially over.
"I didn't even know what happened," said Chenault. "I just hit him and got up and I saw him running. We celebrated from there. It was just a party."
After that play UC had the crowd, the confidence, and more talent.
Minutes later Chenault recovered a fumble forced by Camaron Beard.
Chenault and Cam made the difference when it mattered. The score wound up being lopsided, but there was fear on the UC sideline after Miami scored.
Confident seniors are needed most when the situation is more dire. Credit to Cam with making an enormous play.
"We go out there as DB's and we know the persona," said Chenault. "People think they can pass on us so we go out there with a chip on our shoulder and we are trying to prove to everybody…not necessarily prove to everybody but just do what we do and make plays. People before us made plays like Haruki (Nakamura), (Mike) Mick, D-Lo so we are just trying to make our mark in this program."
Frankly the defensive backs earned their reputation back in 2010. We all saw how terrible current seniors like Reuben Johnson, Camerron Cheatham, Drew Frey, and departed Wesley Richardson were.
"I have been here when it was rough times as a DB," said Cheatham.
Seven teams scored 30 or more points than Cincinnati in 2010, many of them succeeding through the air.
Remember Faron Hornes taking B.J. Daniels' pass 70 yards in Nippert Stadium?
How about Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin both recording two touchdowns each at Morgantown? Or Pittsburgh completing pass after pass in the snow on the season's final day?
For the most the group is composed of the same guys. The same guys who were getting burnt weekly are now stifling proven passers each Saturday. Frey is revered by the coaching staff and Cam is considered the best cover man in the program.
Everyone improves, but how many college athletes make the leaps Frey and Cheatham did?
It was painful and not it isn't.
"For us to come out here and be a strong point on the team, that just shows the hard work we put in," said Cheatham. "Those guys, Me, Drane, Battle, Drew, Chenault, Aaron Roberson, Chris Williams we have put in a lot of work."
Sharing the shine
With a fumble recovery and multiple interceptions to their credit UC defensive backs could rightly gloated late Saturday evening.
Instead they spoke of their bigger teammates glowingly.
"And our D-line is giving a great rush," said Chenault. "Our D-line is unbelievable. I only have to defend cats 3,4 seconds."
Cheatham agreed with Chenault even though their interviews took place forty feet apart. Neither were prompted to discuss the D-line at all.
"The D-line does a great job," said Cheatham. "They give pressure. We know, as long as we hold it for a little while, the D-line is going to get there. John Williams, Jordan Stepp, all those guys. Any D-lineman we know they are going to get there. We just have to hold it down for a little while."
Doing the dirty work
Running onto the field to fireworks and fight songs is easy. Anyone could sign up for that gig. The tough yet necessary portion comes days earlier when no one is watching.
Chenault, for example, began studying for Miami mere hours after defeating Virginia Tech. He didn't know it would pay off so handsomely, but he grinded.
"After Virginia Tech I came in Sunday and watched my game film of Virginia Tech and then I started studying Nick Harwell and Dysert," said Chenault. "I am doing my homework on both of them. I knew exactly where he was going with the ball and what his tendencies were. I really like to watch film and study tendencies and route concepts."
A smart guy Chenault uses his film sessions efficiently. By learning tendencies he gives himself that coveted edge. When Chenault arrives seconds before his teammates it might just be because he anticipated the play, saw the play two days earlier and 'felt' the future.
"Really it is just studying film," said Chenault. "I am in the film room everyday. Coach Elder really harps on me about being in the room, making sure I am the quarterback of the defense. I can read keys. That is my thing. I am really good at that."
Cincinnati has some grisly veterans on the back end and if they manage to keep them all healthy it should be a great year.
Drane, Cheatham, Dominique Battle, Frey, and Chenault have all missed time with injuries this fall. Battle appears to be ok, but the cornerback position is particularly lean after Cam/Drane leave the field.
True freshman Leviticus Payne and redshirt freshman Trenier Orr are not ready to handle everything just yet.
At the same time Chenault was not worried when both he and Frey were AWOL in Washington D.C. Their injuries limited their participation and two backup safeties found playing time.
"It was Battle and Malcolm (Murray)," recalls Chenault. "It was alright. I wanted to get back in there and help the team, but we are deep on the back end. I believe we are deep. Trusting those guys when they went in I knew we weren't going to skip. It wasn't going to skip. We didn't miss a heartbeat so we just kept going."