It took Austen Bujnoch and his fellow University of Cincinnati offensive lineman a few days to sit down and watch a replay of last December’s Belk Bowl.
“It was kind of ugly,” said Bujnoch of the Bearcats’ 49-35 win against Duke.
Kind of ugly in that the aesthetics of the game were anything but overwhelming but what the Bearcats lacked in execution they made up for with tenacity in overcoming a 16-0 deficit in the first quarter, a stripped-down coaching staff and a Duke team seeking its first bowl victory in more than 50 years.
As new coach Tommy Tuberville opened his first spring practice on Friday, the aesthetics were secondary. Wins don’t carry over from one season to the next but attitudes do. At least that’s the expectations of Tuberville and the Bearcats for 2013.
Tuberville watched from the sidelines as then-interim coach Steve Stripling led four other holdovers from Butch Jones’ staff plus a gang of graduate assistants, injured stars wearing headsets and one husband of a football secretary command the Bearcats through a tumultuous three-week period that ended up in the program’s fifth bowl victory in seven games since 2004.
“You can’t do a lot unless you have enthusiasm and that’s the first thing I noticed in these kids,” said Tuberville. “They like to play football. They worked well in the bowl game. That’s how they won it. They didn’t play that well, they just overcame a lot of adversity. That’s what happens in bowl games a lot of times when you have some things you have to go through, you’re off for a month. They didn’t execute well but they found a way to win. The enthusiasm is what I was impressed with and their work ethic.”
Friday was the beginning of a process in which the Bearcats will learn Tuberville’s system and implement as much as possible over 15 practices through April 6. Coming off a 10-3 season – the fifth time in the last six seasons UC has won at least 10 games – the team returns a bulk of its offense while having more positions up for grabs defensively.
Bujnoch, a senior-to-be, is part of an offensive line group that returns all of its starters. Quarterbacks Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux, wide receiver Anthony McClung and running back Ralph David Abernathy IV also return. Middle linebacker Greg Blair heads the defense, which must replace six departed seniors.
Blair has dropped more than 10 pounds the past couple of months.
“I just want to play faster,” said Blair. “I had a good year last year but I feel if I was 10 pounds or 12 pounds less I could have made 10 more plays than I did. My coach talked to a scout and he said that’s one of the things that they’d want me to do in the NFL.”
That hasn’t gone unnoticed by Tuberville.
“We’ve had eight weeks of offseason, running and lifting,” said Tuberville. “A lot of guys who needed to lose weight lost weight. Blair, for instance. He was almost 265 and he’s lost 10, 12, 14 pounds. And some offensive linemen who needed to gain weight gained weight.”
Kay has the upper hand going into this spring for the quarterback job after throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns against Duke and adding another 88 yards on the ground, but Legaux started the first eight games and will get an opportunity to win the job back.
“It’s a blessing that we don’t have a freshman or sophomore quarterback out here – we do have a couple of them but we’re not counting on them being the guys in the first couple of weeks,” said Tuberville. “(Kay) and Munchie, you couldn’t ask for two better guys. They come to my office and they sit down and talk. They want to know about the quarterbacks I’ve coached before and what they can learn from their experiences. When you get quarterbacks like that want to get better and understand there are different ways to get things done. They pick your brain.”