Saturday, October 09, 1999

QB has higher hopes for UC


2-2 start nice, but Kenner not satisfied

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If you had told most followers of UC football their team would be 2-2 entering Conference USA play, there would have been little dismay and even less surprise among their reactions.

UC at HOUSTON
  • Kickoff: 3:30p.m. today at Robertson Stadium (20,500), Houston.
  • Records: UC 2-2 (0-0 C-USA); Houston 2-2 (0-1).
  • Radio: WLW-AM 700.
  • Series: Houston leads 12-5 (last: 1998, UC won 44-43).
  • Line: Houston by 61/2.
  • What to watch: Houston's big-play defense has broken down opponents with nine sacks — five by defensive tackle Nikia Adderson — and 39 other tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Cougars will be challenged by a UC offense that moves quickly and doesn't let opponents make plays in the backfield.
        If you'd promised one of the wins would come against a top 25 Wisconsin team and UC would play competitively against Ohio State, they'd have taken that offer in an instant.

        Deontey Kenner, though, does not follow UC football. He leads.

        “I can't be happy with losses. I don't care who they came against,” said Kenner, the Bearcats' junior quarterback. “I wanted us to be 4-0.”

        That dream is not entirely lost for the Bearcats. They could, perhaps, reach 4-0 in Conference USA play, which opens today at 3:30 when UC (2-2) visits Houston (2-2, 0-1) at Robertson Stadium. After the Cougars come league games against UAB (Oct.16), Southern Mississippi (Oct.23) and Louisville (Nov.6).

        The Bearcats aren't really thinking along those lines, but conference play is enticing to a team whose possibilities suddenly appear greater than anything imagined before the season.

        UC was ranked by two national magazines among the bottom 10 percent of Division I programs and picked to finish near the basement in Conference USA. With the first two games against Kent and Troy State followed by the Bearcats' foray into the Big Ten, it appeared they could hope for no better than to survive Wisconsin and Ohio State with a modicum of embarrassment and injuries.

        “We've played hard. I give a lot of credit to the kids for showing the heart they have to this point,” coach Rick Minter said. “We're not the most talented guys, and we're a little injuried, but we keep scratching, clawing, battling.

        “The curse of having played well is that with a young team, expectations will rise.”

        UC football fans may be accustomed enough to dashed expectations not to presume the Bearcats are suddenly among the leading contenders for one of C-USA's three bowl bids. But neither does that appear to be out of their reach.

        The Bearcats have played sturdy defense with the exception of their tendency to surrender deep passes. UC opponents have run 252 offensive plays. Nearly 17 percent of their yardage has come on five completed passes.

        UC should have back defensive tackle Mario Monds, who missed the Ohio State game with a knee injury, but is likely to miss linemen Dan Wortman and Joe Hamilton.

        On offense, UC's spread attack installed by first-year coordinator Jimbo Fisher is considered to be part of the latest trend in college football and ranks 29th in the NCAA.

        Running back Robert Cooper, who left the Ohio State game early, is OK to play. Tackle Kirt Doolin is questionable.

        “I don't know if we're as far along as we'd like to be, but I don't know if you ever are,” Minter said. “You can only do so much, bring a team along so quickly.”

        Kenner's polish at quarterback has been perhaps the most significant reason for UC's success, but he has had help.

        Receivers Jason Collins-Baker, LeDaris Vann and Tony Smikle all have reached double figures in receptions and caught touchdown passes. They've executed the nuances of the offenses as well as Kenner. The offensive line still is improving but has done well enough to prevent him from being sacked more than once.

        “It's really a good offense,” Kenner said. “I think any quarterback would want to be in an offense like this. It's a quick-thinking offense. I don't hold the ball as long. The defense has to make quick decisions, but we make quick decisions.”

        To this point, success is coming more quickly than most around the Bearcats anticipated. That can be accelerated further within Conference USA.

        “We want to get ahead,” Kenner said. “Get out there and get known.”

       



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