The goal was more turnovers. Cincinnati Head Football Coach Butch Jones implored his players all month to create more turnovers.
In a twisted way, Saturday they did just that.
With Chazz Anderson at the helm, replacing injured starter Zach Collaros, the Bearcats coughed up three turnovers en route to a 31-7 loss.
Syracuse scored 17 points off the three turnovers, which was more than enough points to secure the victory.
"We turned the football ball over, and part of growing up as a defense is being able to handle sudden change," said Coach Jones. "We gave up touchdowns escape for one occasion (following turnovers)."
It was the worst UC loss at Nippert Stadium in five years.
The Syracuse Orange snatched their fourth road win of the season, setting up a realistic shot at their first bowl berth since 2004.
Not one player on the SU team knows what a bowl game feels like. Cincinnati on the other hand has grown accustomed to postseason play. The four year postseason streak now appears in jeopardy.
A 3-5 record looks frustratingly poor, but it gets magnified by daunting remaining opponents.
Cincinnati must travel to West Virginia and Connecticut, while sandwiching in Rutgers and closing out the year with Pitt. Louisville, South Florida, and Syracuse were supposed to be the soft portion of the schedule, but Cincinnati finishes the trio of games 1-2.
Moments suffused with hope were scarce. The offense had trouble moving the ball.
Just two first half drives contained first downs. Anderson was able to string together a few nice passes in the second quarter. Connecting with Armon Binns and D.J. Woods he was able to muster UC's first and only touchdown drive.
"The biggest thing is they were able to get us into third and long situations," said Coach Jones. "Any time a team can get you in third and long situations they are in all drop eight coverages."
When DE Mikhail Marinovich batted down Anderson's fourth down pass, the air was sucked out of Nippert Stadium. Enthusiasm escaped like the warm air from an old house. Disenchanted fans trudged home. Hopeful fans encouraged the sputtering Cats until the end.
Like Akron, Maine, South Florida, and West Virginia before them, Cincinnati was held scoreless by Syracuse in the second half.
"Is everyone embarrassed? Absolutely," said Coach Jones. "Is everyone disappointed? Absolutely. But I am going to be honest with you. Part of being a head coach is to be prepared for these situations. There are no surprises to me and I love our kids and I am going to keep coaching them everyday along with our coaching staff."
The quarterback position remains unsettled for the time being. Collaros will get two weeks to further recover. Anderson was replaced by Brendon Kay when the game was out of hand. Kay completed 3-6 for twenty yards.
"Chazz has earned that right in practice," said Coach Jones. "Brendon has been battling an injury as well. The average Joe Public has no idea and that is why I can't say enough about our kids. We had kids out there who should have never been out on the field playing today, because of injuries."
Collaros tried his damnedest to play versus Syracuse. His progress was gradual but encouraging earlier in the week. In the end Collaros was forced to watch his team from the sidelines, helpless. Worse than losing a winnable football game is being unable to contribute at all.
Cincinnati needs Collaros back to steady the offense and limit turnovers.
Unless we start protecting the football we aren't going to win many games," said Coach Jones.
The Bearcats were unable to capitalize on Orange turnovers. Timeliness is incredibly important in both comedy and competitiveness.
The time for UC to turn the season around is drawing near.