Cincinnati emerges with 5 straight wins
Asked about his recent penchant for trick plays, Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville made a fist and shook it a few times, acting as though he was about to shoot some dice.
''When you're on a roll, you just keep going,'' he said on Tuesday.
His team is on quite a roll as the season winds down, winning five in a row with two important games ahead that will help decide the first American Athletic Conference title.
The Bearcats (8-2, 5-1) play at Houston (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday. Following a bye weekend, they finish the regular season with a Thursday night game at Nippert Stadium against Louisville (9-1, 5-1).
Cincinnati and Louisville are tied for second behind Central Florida (8-1, 5-0), which finishes the season with games against Rutgers, South Florida and Southern Methodist.
Nobody's playing better lately than Cincinnati, which put together its most complete game at Rutgers for a 52-17 victory last Saturday. The Bearcats used every sort of trick play while pulling ahead 38-7 by halftime.
''We came out of the chute on the road and that's about as good as you can play in the first quarter,'' Tuberville said. ''I haven't been around that many teams that way that just built confidence.
''On every play we made something happen, whether it's offense, defense or the kicking game. We caught them by surprise a little bit by how physical we were.''
Shocked them with the trick plays, too.
The Bearcats have a bunch of them in the playbook, but haven't used very many during the season.
On Saturday, they recovered an onside kick, got a first down off a fake punt and ran several reverses. On one reverse, receiver Shaq Washington threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chris Moore.
''It gets the team going,'' quarterback Brendon Kay said. ''You get to have a little fun, and in practice we're practicing it. A lot of those plays we've run since (summer) camp. We've got a bunch in our back pocket. We decided on those for that week. It gets the guys fired up.''
It's not all tricks. The Bearcats are eighth in total defense in the FBS, and Kay leads an offense that has found its stride in the past five games.
Kay, a sixth-year senior known for his accurate throws, developed a sore shoulder during summer camp. Munchie Legaux, who is more of a dual-threat quarterback, took over at the start. The offense was adapted to feature Legaux's strengths, but he tore up a knee during the second game.
Kay returned even though his shoulder was still sore and limited his practice time. The Bearcats had to readjust their offense, eventually going to more of a spread passing game.
''And after that, it has been all downhill,'' Tuberville said. ''We have been on a run and scoring touchdowns and catching balls. It is fun to stand on the sidelines and watch our offense work. He finds the open receiver and we catch the ball. It's very seldom that we drop a ball.''
Kay went 24 of 38 for a career-high 405 yards and four touchdowns against Rutgers. He's thrown four TD passes in a game three times this season. In the past 21 quarters running a spread offense, Kay has completed 76 percent of his throws for 1,740 yards and 15 touchdowns.
''Our offense the past two months - it has been unimaginable how much better we have gotten just because all of the pieces are working,'' Tuberville said.
The Bearcats won at least a share of four of the last five Big East football titles. They're playing their best as their first season in the AAC wraps up.
''As long as we keep getting better every week we'll be fine,'' Kay said. ''I think we've hit that stride where we've continued to do more and more things every week.''
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay