Brendon Kay is a veteran at senior day. He's been through it once already.
The Bearcats quarterback went onto the field for the senior day game last season at Nippert Stadium, honored for his five injury-filled seasons. After the season, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility because he'd missed so much time.
He gets to be honored again Saturday when the Bearcats (6-2, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) host Southern Methodist (3-4, 2-1).
"It's actually my second senior day," Kay said. "But it's definitely been a long road. It's turned me into who I am today. I have no regrets."
The Bearcats will be trying for their fourth straight win and a chance to stay in the the AAC race. They've hung around this long in part because they've played the league's bottom dwellers on offense. That ends when they line up against multi-threat quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who leads the nation in total offense with 408.3 yards per game. That's more yards by himself than than 55 teams in the FBS.
The Mustangs are refreshed coming off a bye. The Bearcats have had nine days off since a 34-21 win at Memphis on a Wednesday night, so both teams are fully recovered.
"We had a lot of guys that wouldn't have played last weekend if we had a game," SMU coach June Jones said. "So it gave us a chance to get a little bit healthier."
Five things to watch on Saturday at Nippert Stadium:
KAY'S (SECOND) BIG DAY: He's not only experienced at the senior day festivities, but at playing through injury. This season, he's had a sore shoulder that forced him into a backup role for the first two games. He's also had a bruised chest and took a hit to the midsection that briefly knocked him out of the win at Memphis.
The extra time off after the last game helped. Kay has been a key to the Bearcats' surge, throwing for 1,131 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions in the last four games.
"Brendon was probably 75-80 percent going into the game last week and played pretty well," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Played pretty well, made some mistakes, got beat up a little bit. But to this point now, he's close to the point of being where he was at the beginning of the season."
AIN'T SEEN NOTHING LIKE GILBERT: The Bearcats' defense ranks fourth nationally in yards allowed, giving up 280 a game. It held Memphis to 58 yards in the first half. But it hasn't had to face anyone like Gilbert, who is coming off his best game yet.
The senior quarterback rallied the Mustangs from a 21-point deficit to a 59-49 win over Temple in the last game, giving them their first set of back-to-back wins this season. Gilbert set school records for total yards (635) yards passing (538).
"We can't just go out and be a vanilla offense and defense and think that you're going to win this game," Tuberville said. "There is a lot of coaching that goes on to a game like this in terms of getting guys lined up in different areas and disguising coverages and giving a different look."
STRONG FINISH: The Mustangs are trying to gain some traction in a disappointing season. The Bearcats are still in the race heading into the toughest stretch of their season in the first-year conference. They won at least a share of the title in four of their last five seasons in the Big East.
"It's how you finish," Cincinnati defensive tackle Jordan Stepp said. "And I think that's one of the strong suits of not only this football team but the players, the teams of the past. It's carved into our DNA."
MUSTANGS HANGING IN THERE: No matter how far they get behind, the Mustangs have shown great resilience. They overcame that deficit to beat Temple, and came from behind earlier in the season before losing to Rutgers 55-52 in triple overtime.
"Being behind 28-7 last week and scoring 59 points is a positive," Jones said. "Then being down almost same score against Rutgers and taking it to triple overtime, those things tell you your team has character and is still playing."
JUNE AND TOMMY: Despite their Texas ties, Jones and Tuberville have never coached against each other.
"When he was at Texas Tech, we didn't play him," Jones said. "I've watched his teams. It seems we always have his teams on film. We haven't competed against each other, other than on the golf course."
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