9/17 Three P's- Pike, Place Kicking, & Prep

Bearcat Insider is back up and running (well, partly) following the Tri-State area's hurricane caliber wind storm of this past weekend and the massive blackouts that followed. The University of Cincinnati football team looked to be back at full power as well Wednesday as they prepare to take on a local rival this weekend, the Miami University Redhawks, with a new man under center- Tony Pike.

Practice Wednesday certainly got off on the wrong foot however as kickers Jake Rogers, Brandon Yingling, freshman Danny Milligan, and walk-on Josh Henderson (on his third day) connected on a combined 1-of-6 field goal tries. Surprisingly, this was actually good news for head coach Brian Kelly.

"We were 1-for-6 today. We had six kicks; we hit one out of the six. We're better, we were 0-for-6 yesterday," said the coach. "We were 1-for-6 (today), and I'm thinking by December we should hit them all."

It can be said that sarcasm is a strong suit of Kelly's, but even he couldn't keep up his upbeat attitude when talking about his team's kicking performance.

"Listen, I can be lighthearted about it right now, but the kicking game is a serious concern for me because you've got to kick field goals obviously to win football games, and we are just simply not there yet," said Kelly. "We are not at a point where I feel comfortable with our kicking game. We ran field goal (practice) three days in a row; I've never done that before. We have to continue to work on it until we get a level of consistency that I feel comfortable with, and we're just not there yet."

The kickers will practice again Thursday, on the team's off day Friday, and pre-game Saturday in order for Kelly to decide who should take the field if the Bearcats do decide to attempt their first field goal of this season against the Redhawks. Coach Kelly hopes that by then one of the four will have stepped up.

"I said to all of them, I said, ‘Listen, if you get an opportunity seize that opportunity,' and no one has seemed to figure that out yet," said Kelly. "Hopefully somebody's going to figure that out after I talk to them after practice today."

While field goal kicking is certainly an important aspect of the game, Bearcat fans and the team alike hope that the new number one quarterback, Cincinnati Reading High School's own Tony Pike, can put the team into position to come away with touchdowns, not needing a late field goal to win a game. Pike has spent the past week and a half practicing with the first team offense, and looks to be meshing with the unit well. Coach Kelly was full of praises of Pike during the team's preseason camp, and now the red shirt junior will get his chance and his first start as the quarterback for the University of Cincinnati.

"I think he's got a good knowledge base," said Kelly of Pike. "We're working really on his consistency and the type of throws he has to make. You have to make different throws in this offense. So, a big, strong-armed kid, we don't want it to be, ‘Throw it near the receiver.' Put it on the receiver. So we're working a little more on his accuracy."

One thing Kelly and the coaching staff certainly don't need to work on is Pike's arm strength. Wide receiver Marcus Barnett put it best.

"He (Pike) throws the ball hard, he has a cannon," the red shirt sophomore told us. "He will break one of your fingers if you don't catch the ball right."

"Tony's got probably the strongest arm on the football team," added wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Charley Molnar.

Pike's finger-breaking arm strength isn't what most impresses coach Kelly, however.

"I really like his demeanor more than anything else," Kelly said. "I think I said this at our press conference, that I just like the way he's handled himself. He's handled himself like a guy that is in a leadership role, and that's all I can ask for."

Kelly is confident in Pike when it comes to his physical ability as well, however.

"I'm very confidant in his ability," said Kelly. "He's got to go execute, it's like anything else. He's got the tools."

Pike making his first career start Saturday means red shirt freshman Chazz Anderson will step into the backup role. The Pickerington, Ohio native wowed onlookers during the spring season with his talent and ability to make plays outside of the pocket, but looked to move down in the depth chart as preseason camp went on. Working with the second team offense Wednesday, Anderson looked to pick up right where he left off in the spring.

"Chazz is a red shirt freshman but he's prepared to play, and if he needs to play he can help us win," said Kelly. "The real question is, ‘Who can help us win a championship?' It's not, ‘Who can help us win?' it's, ‘Who can win that championship?' Tony Pike's going to get the first shot at that."

There's certainly no hope lost among the Bearcat's players and coaching staff when it comes to playing with and adjusting to Pike following the likely season-ending injury of former starter, senior Dustin Grutza.

"There's no question about it, I think Tony has done a great job," said running backs coach Tim Hinton. "I think our kids understand that football is won as a team game. You have to have all 11 playing correctly at all times, and when you have a little bit of a changeover you rally behind the guy you put in there and you do your job just a little bit better and a little bit sharper, and you make everybody a little bit better around you."

Coach Hinton has done everything he can during practice this week in order to prepare his running backs for work with a new starter under center.

"We have to adapt," Hinton said. "It's funny I just talked to my guys today about, you know, it's our job to be perfect so our quarterback feels no discomfort in anything he's doing from our end. Whether it's a quarterback/running back exchange, whether it's an alignment issue, a motion issue, whatever that may be it's really my guys' responsibility to make that quarterback feel comfortable at his position."

Quarterbacks coach Greg Forest isn't worried a bit either with Pike taking over the starting job after watching him practice the past week and a half.

"I think Tony stepped up (this week), he realizes this is his turn and we're leaning on him, the team's counting on him, and I think he's done a really good job paying attention to details," said Forest. "He's throwing the ball extremely well; he's paid attention to all the film study stuff. I think he understands now that it's his turn and it's his team and he's got to lead them."

Cincinnati's first bye week of the season couldn't have come at a better time for the team, as having last weekend off allowed for an extra week of practice before Pike's first start as the team's QB.

"Anytime you have an extra week of practice, especially when you've got to get another quarterback ready, it always helps," said Forest.

The off week also allowed for Kelly and the coaching staff to determine what went wrong in the team's 52-26 loss to the now-number two-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman two Saturdays ago.

"The first thing you look at is yourself; you evaluate what you did and how you did it. We self corrected for probably two days, that was what we worked on, some structure issues relative to our schemes offensively, defensively, and then some personnel," said coach Kelly. "We looked at the personnel and made sure they're in the right place. We learn about our weaknesses in that time, and hopefully come back with a stronger football team."

"I think the most important thing for me in terms of what I want to see is how our defense responds, there's no question," said Kelly on what he wants to see from his team Saturday against Miami. "There's 11 seniors on that team, I expect them to respond favorably. We're playing a good team that runs a very good offense, we're anxious to see how we respond. I think they're all pretty much on the same page that, you know, clearly we didn't show our best defensively (against Oklahoma). We did some good things offensively, but we have to maintain that on the offensive side of the ball. I want to put it all together. I want to play well on both sides of the ball, and we didn't do that consistently. That would be what I'm looking for, and I think our kids understand that."

On a running game note, Delbert Ferguson was seen lining up and practicing with the first team offense at running back, sharing the backfield with Jacob Ramsey. While this has been seen in practice since preseason camp, coach Hinton commented today on why Ferguson, who is currently listed as a linebacker, could continue to get more looks at running back.

"The one thing about Delbert is that he has an opportunity, being a running back for a long period of time when he first got on campus, that he understands a lot of the offensive scheme," said Hinton. "He has an opportunity to get on the field probably for a few more plays and a few more reps in some of the things that we're asking him to do in some of our packages. Delbert's a very capable runner, he's a very capable at receiving out of that backfield, he's a very capable blocking guy, and he shows good toughness and he's just a guy that's got to continue to find his role for this football team."

In Saturday night's 113th "Battle For the Victory Bell" against Miami University, coach Kelly will be going for his 150th collegiate career coaching victory. Cincinnati has won the past two match ups and three of the last four, including last season's 47-10 Bearcat win in Oxford. Miami still holds a 59-46-7 lead in what is the oldest non-conference rivalry in all of college football. But for coach Kelly, only one thing matters- getting a W.

"Well we need a win, regardless if it was Miami or St. X we need to beat whoever we play, and we might have problems with St. X they're good again this year," said Kelly of the successful local high school program. "But we really need to win a football game. Yeah it's great the tradition of (playing Miami) and I love the tradition of the game, but this is really about we need to get a win."

Kickoff is set for 7:30 Saturday night at Nippert Stadium. A near (if not full) sellout should be expected.

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