No more Bad News Bearcats

For weeks Tommy Tuberville called his team 'The Bad News Bearcats', but no more.

Aaron Doster/Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — Call it tough love on Tommy Tuberville’s part. Coaches have to know how to push the buttons of players to get something out of them. Tuberville have been pushing everything he knows to get something — anything — out of a defense that has been one of the nation’s worst this season.

He’s publicly called "The Bad News Bearcats."

It all had little effect through the first five games but the Bearcats have shown signs of life the last two weeks, including their best performance of the season in Friday night’s 34-17 win against South Florida. UC held the run-first Bulls to 42 yards on the ground and just 281 yards total in winning its second game in a row and improving to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the American Athletic Conference.

"I’ve coached defense all my life and it was gawd awful for a few games but we played some good teams and I challenged them," said Tuberville. "If you want me to quit saying that, you prove me wrong. So I won’t call them ‘The Bad News Bearcats’ this week."

The Bearcats gave up an average of 573.6 yards a game through the first five games, including nearly 2,000 yards and 146 points in three consecutive losses to Ohio State, Memphis and Miami (Fla.) but have held Southern Methodist and South Florida to less than 300 yards the last two weeks.

Holding down SMU is one thing; the Mustangs have scored just 39 points in six games this season. While South Florida is far from being an offensive juggernaut the Bulls were able to overcome a 20-point halftime deficit last week at Tulsa and earn a 38-30 win on the road.

Aside from two coverage breakdowns in the fourth quarter that resulted in touchdown passes of 67 and 38 yards, the Bearcats stifled the Bulls. Out of 14 possessions, South Florida punted seven times. UC had forced just 20 punts in the first six games. The Bearcats also forced four takeaways, giving them eight in the last two games.

Cornerback Howard Wilder made his second interception of the season on the third play of the game, a turnover that led to an 84-yard touchdown drive by the offense. Freshman cornerback Linden Stephens made his first career interception in the second quarter. Linebacker Jeff Luc recovered two fumbles, one caused by defensive end Terrell Hartsfield and the other by defensive tackle Cameron Beard.

"(Tuberville) challenged us big-time," said Hartsfield, a senior who was credited with five tackles, two for loss, one sack and a pass breakup. "It all starts in practice. You practice hard, you hit hard, you play hard. You practice like you play… We lost three back-to-back and that’s a horrible feeling. We do not want to feel that feeling again."

Of the numerous problems the Bearcats had defensively earlier in the season, tackling was at the top of the list. If they were in position to make a stop at the point of attack, rarely did they make it. More often, however, teams were getting to the outside on runs without much opposition.

Injuries have forced Tuberville to play a lot more freshmen and inexperienced players than he would prefer. Stephens is an example. Those players are starting to show they’ve learning.

"They took advantage of our corners; we were very young," said Tuberville of the previous games. "They got a lot of outside runs and we didn’t support very well. But we’re maturing as we go along. It was good to win on the road last week and it’s great to win tonight. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew we were going to get a heck of a game from South Florida but we were going to take the run away. We lined up to take the run away.

"It was fun to watch. That’s how you play defense. We needed a game like that against a team that had scored some points to give us some confidence."