By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
You don't have to be a football coach to understand the most basic skill associated with the sport. As University of Cincinnati coach Rick Minter says, "Possession of the ball is ten-tenths of the law in football."
But at UC this season, nothing has been more difficult than holding onto the ball.
According to Minter, the Bearcats dropped eight passes in Saturday's 42-37 loss at Miami. They also fumbled five times and lost four of them. For the season, they have fumbled 18 times in four games and lost 12 of them.
"It's a confidence crisis more than a lack of concentration," Minter said Monday. "It's like the golfer who gets that hitch in his swing. What gets him out of it?"
UC (3-1, 1-0 in Conference USA) plays Southern Miss (2-2, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Nippert Stadium in the first of four straight conference games.
UC has won its last six C-USA games. Its last conference loss was against Southern Miss on Oct. 19 of last year.
Surprisingly, one of the worst offenders in the dropped passes category has been junior George Murray, the receiver with the most experience. Murray dropped four passes against Miami, and is as baffled by it as Minter is.
"It's a real shock to me," Murray said. "I haven't had this problem before."
In the past, Minter has resorted to making a player carry a football around campus to emphasize how important it is to hold onto it during a game. In fact, Murray was forced to do it as a freshman.
"You don't like to walk around with a football because all the students look at you thinking you're a dumb jock," Murray said. "You kind of break that habit so you won't have to walk around with the football."
Murray says no such drastic measures are necessary this time. He knows what the problem is.
"We've been trying to make easy catches by catching the ball with our bodies," Murray said, "not looking it in and catching it with our hands. That's what's been leading to most of the drops. This week we're going to work on catching everything with our hands no matter where it is and break the habit."
Minter is clearly losing patience. Frustrated with the drops, he briefly used kick returner Thaddeus Lewis - who later committed a costly fumble of his own - at wide receiver. He also gave more playing time to freshmen Mike Daniels - the former Princeton High star quarterback - and Bill Poland.
Poland caught the first pass of his college career and Daniels took a screen pass for 33 yards.
NOTES: Richard Hall, the Wyoming High grad who accounted for 222 yards (161 rushing, 61 receiving) against Miami, was named C-USA offensive player of the week. ... UC is offering a two-for-one ticket deal for the first 3,000 tickets sold for Saturday's game against Southern Miss.
UC vs. Southern Miss
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Nippert Stadium.
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
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