Spread not synonymous with soft
College coaches are many things. Leaders. Police men. Friends. Father figures. The best are teachers.
Cincinnati Head Coach Butch Jones strives to be all these things and yet much of his job morphs into that of 'The Salesman.'
To boosters, to administration, to media, to fans, and to recruits Coach Jones must sell this abstract idea of Cincinnati Football. He must do it well.
Unfortunately, Coach Jones identified several areas of monumental concern upon accepting the Bearcat position in 2009.
"I think there was a number of areas we needed to improve upon," said Coach Jones. "I think it speaks for itself. Being able to run the football consistently and being able to stop the run on defense."
Start with run offense.
Through just five games UC has already surpassed season rushing TD totals from 2005 (10), 2006 (11), 2008 (15), and 2010 (10). You have to go back over a decade to find a UC football team rushing for 1100 yards in the non-conference portion of their schedule.
"For us to play well we have to win the battles at the line of scrimmage," said Coach Jones.
UC hiring Coach Jones from Central Michigan was viewed as a continuation of the Brian Kelly offense. While both systems carry the Spread moniker Coach Jones is quick to disassociate his offense with any feeble, weak-willed synonyms.
"One of the misnomers that comes with it is that it is a finesse offense," said Coach Jones. "We don't ever want to be regarded as a finesse offense or a finesse football program."
With senior star Isaiah Pead it appears UC is veering towards a more run-heavy offense. Last season, while frequently playing from behind, the Bearcats rushed 33.5 times per game. Thus far this edition carries 41.2 times each game.
"When you run what some people refer to is the spread offense…Every person that uses that term I would like to know really what their definition of spread offense is," said Coach Jones.
His definition is still being calcified in front of our eyes. Cincinnati players are averaging 5.34 yards per carry, dramatically better than 2010 totals.
Continuing to carry the ball this well and this often UC will topple yardage and rush attempt marks dating back to 2004. Not since Richard Hall blasted through the line has UC made running the pigskin such a habit.
After a 4-8 season the pride and the image of UC Football was on the line. Run defense, pass defense. It was all bad.
Even though the Cats have faced few legit challenges in 2011 their defense appears more stable.
"In football you have to be able to stop the run," said Coach Jones. ""It is a philosophy. It also stems in the weight room. I think our players have really taken great pride and great ownership in that. I think it is a whole mindset."
Opposing backs are averaging a measly 71.4 yards per game. Miami actually rushed for negative yardage!
It was only ten months ago Pitt tailback Dion Lewis was walking into the UC endzone for the fourth time. He crammed the ball down the Bearcat throats forty-two times.
"We really haven't had a lot of success on defense in recent years," said Coach Jones. "It is creating a standard. The expectations associated with playing great defense. I think our senior leadership with J.K. Schaffer, John Hughes, and Derek Wolfe and also Drew Frey. Plus we have a defense filled with individuals that have great pride."
Schaffer, Hughes, and Wolfe provide the interior defense for a much-maligned unit. All three are seniors with years of playing experience.
"We have a very talented defensive staff," said Coach Jones. "They are good coaches, good teachers, and good communicators. I think we are getting great leadership on that side of the ball. It stems with our front seven. I think our defensive front is playing well right now."
The defensive line is coached by Steve Stripling, linebackers by John Jancek. Kerry Coombs takes the defensive backs and Tim Banks rolls it all together. With Coach Jones these men have been teachers. They have been father figures. And because of their swift success at creating an imposing defense Coach Jones can sell this intangible thing called Cincinnati football.