Munchie Legaux had a terrible game Saturday. This much is indisputable.
Two fumbles, two interceptions, and limited successful scrambles.
"I mean I had games like that before in high school," said Legaux. "But like I said, we have to get that corrected. It starts in practice. It starts with me protecting the football with intercepts or fumbles, whatever it is. It is just a game of inches. We have to get it right."
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At this point bemoaning his singular failure benefits no one. Instead we must decide whether this is systemic or not.
Are the Cincinnati Bearcats merely suffering through the growing pains associated with installing a new quarterback or are they saddled with a perpetually inaccurate passer?
Head Coach Butch Jones would have us believe these are merely necessary growing pains. Perhaps he is right.
"This is again going through the maturation of a quarterback," said Coach Jones. "Every great quarterback I have been around they go through these phases. They are great teaching opportunities."
Before this view of Munchie completely denigrates the last game his completion percentage deserves mention. Though the frequent interceptions left a nasty taste in the mouths of UC fans Legaux did complete twenty passes.
"There were many teaching lessons," said Coach Jones. "We reviewed those today (Monday). It was not our best effort, but I think we played good football between the 20's. Any time you turn the football over it is inexcusable let alone six times and three of them were in the redzone. One took a score off the board."
The twenty completed passes represent a new career high for Louisiana's Legaux. Last season Munchie increased his career high every single game out. West Virginia (10), Rutgers (12), Syracuse (13), and then Connecticut (15).
While Coach Jones and all of Bearcat Nation endures the maturation process of both Munchie Legaux and this 125th edition of UC football it is important to recognize the advancements in Legaux's game.
Remember where he was last November. Collaros goes down and Munchie steps into a heated battle at Paul Brown Stadium against West Virginia.
"At first it was just everybody flying all over the field," said Legaux. "I just calmed down the second series."
Only one of his first five passes found friendly hands. In fact, Legaux's very first series ended abruptly with an interception. Hopefully that was not an accurate omen.
"He is a quarterback," said Kenbrell Thompkins at the time. "We aren't looking for him to be Superman. We aren't looking to change the offense or do anything different for him."
Current Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano even offered a cursory evaluation of Cincinnati's heir apparent.
"As I watched the tape, of the limited plays we have, he is an incredibly powerful guy," said Coach Schiano. "He is fast. He is elusive. Once he settled down a little bit he really threw the ball rather well. You don't go up against the West Virginia defense and do what he did. You can see that he is a very cool customer. As Coach Jones has said, 'His time is now.'"
In his first month of work Legaux favored the tight ends and Anthony McClung, then his roommate. Whereas Zach connected on the fringes of the defense the 6'5" chucker preferred to work between the hashes.
This penchant has not changed. Through two games just 29.4% of Munchie's completions found the hands of traditional wide receivers. Continuing the trend developed last fall Legaux leans on his slot outlet Anthony McClung. It helps that Ant might have the best set of hands on the team.
Legaux found some thrust working with Ralph David Abernathy IV against Pittsburgh. Danny Milligan, Shaq Washington, and Travis Kelce are other frequent recipients of Munchie passes. Rarely does Legaux connect with Kenbrell Thompkins, Alex Chisum, or Damon Julian.
To be fair Chisum was held out of the Delaware State game and Julian barely played against Pittsburgh. Still Legaux struggles to make simple passes to the sidelines. Many of his ugliest throws are to the outside of the field. Almost all of his most beautiful connections fly straight down the field to Kelce or McClung.
Maybe it is his mechanics. When Legaux looks towards the sideline he tends to drop his back shoulder, like Cincinnati Reds Outfielder Jay Bruce does on every single at-bat. Kudos to Bruce for attending Pitt-UC game though.
When Legaux drops this shoulder he throws into the ground with a nasty sidearm release reminiscent of those glitzy shortstops of yore. Until he perfects his throwing motion there is no need to get cutesy. For now options like Chris Moore, Thompkins, and Chisum remain outliers when they should be the workhorses in this Passer's Paradise we call the Cincinnati Bearcat offense.
Reaction and Leadership
Munchie Legaux is getting better. Slowly. And his teammates believe in him, which matters. And yet every week in practice Coach Jones must harp on Munchie to grab this team by its neck and guide it to the promised land.
A quarterback needs to be domineering and Munchie just doesn't lead that way. He tries. It just is not his nature. If he never becomes a vocal leader, then he has to at least exude unflappable confidence. This team needs that more than anything.
"I think we are still working on becoming a mature football team," said Coach Jones. "What do I mean by that? I didn't like our body language when things went wrong on Saturday night."
Problems will occur. Since Munchie ascended to the starting spot it was clear this season would be an adventure. When disaster strikes someone has to right the ship. That someone should be on the field, wearing a uniform rather than a paternal coach.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian, perhaps the best mind on the entire staff, has coached quarterbacks at the NFL level. He was with the Chicago Bears while they shuffled through a seemingly endless stable of quarterbacks like
"We went through Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman," said Coach Bajakian. "Previous to that we had four quarterbacks with Rex Grossman, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, and Jonathan Quinn."
While none of those guys belong amongst the All-Time greats they did start in the NFL. So when Coach Bajakian comfortably asserts that Munchie "is what we are looking for in a quarterback" that certainly has value.
Legaux is the starter. He has been the presumed '12 starter since Zach Collaros suffered the injury last November. The only healthy, legitimate quarterbacks in the program at that time were Munchie Legaux, Jordan Luallen, Stephen Weatherford, and Patrick Coyne. Brendon Kay was dealing with injury still.
Weatherford and Coyne both had some promise, but hadn't even been on campus a full year just yet.
Could Coach Jones and QB Coach Mike Bajakian groomed Coyne or Weatherford for 2012 opening day? Probably. Since they both enrolled in December 2010 there was plenty of time with the playbook.
Coyne had and has some scrambling skills which complement this particular offense well. In fact, Patrick was largely successful his junior year at Hamilton Badin High by both passing and rushing for first downs. His season-ending shoulder injury occurred on a QB draw against Woodward his senior year.
While Weatherford lacked the mobility of Collaros, Coyne, or Legaux he threw a really nice ball. With the Scout Team Weatherford routinely connected with Chris Moore and Chris Burrell. His touch was beautiful across the middle and along the sidelines. Still there is no disputing Weatherford's immaturity and self-entitled mindset. These provided very real roadblocks to his success within a program that touts team above individual.
Stephen transferred last December without many objections from the Bearcats.
Incidentally Weatherford is one of three recent QB flips to favor Cincinnati. Legaux (Colorado), Weatherford (USF), and Trenton Norvell (Marshall) all selected other schools before ultimately signing with UC.
So the choices were Coyne, Luallen, or Legaux and Munchie probably won by seniority.
He has been in the program longer and certainly presents a dual-threat option every down. Munchie's ability to outrun safeties absolutely cannot be matched. By the end of this year UC fans will witness Jordan Luallen's descent to irrelevance identical to the one he wisely avoided by transferring from Georgia Tech.
Luallen has a unique set of skills but suffers from the same shortcomings as Munchie demonstrated early in his UC career, an inability to consistently hit open receivers.
Coach Jones calls this a problem with the 'pitch and catch' game.
When the Bearcats signed and enrolled early Bennie Coney and Trenton Norvell they gave Coach Jones two more options, just not for the 2012 season.
Process of elimination reveals Munchie Legaux and Patrick Coyne to be the best options available last spring. UC picked Munchie and though Coach Jones fabricated a QB competition with Brendon Kay to spur Legaux along this decision was made long ago.
Still the slowly mounting body of work of Munchie Legaux fails to unequivocally prove that choice to be the right one.