Cincinnati Football: Kiel Shines In Glimpse Of What Could’ve Been A Championship Season

Oct 22, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel (11) celebrates throwing a touchdown pass against the East Carolina Pirates in the second half at Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats won 31-19. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 22, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel (11) celebrates throwing a touchdown pass against the East Carolina Pirates in the second half at Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats won 31-19. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Gunner Kiel slung it for 348 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 turnovers as the Bearcats beat ECU.  It’s frustrating to think about what could’ve been if Kiel had been the starter from day one.

Making his first start since December of last year, 5th-year senior Gunner Kiel was impressively effective, leading the Cincinnati Bearcats to a 31-19 victory of the East Carolina Pirates.  The win was the Bearcats’ first conference win of the year in the AAC.  UC now stands at 1-3 in league play, still virtually eliminated from contention for a division title.

Kiel gave Cincinnati football fans a glimpse of what this season could have been, had head coach Tommy Tuberville made the right decision from day one at the onset of the season.  Gunner completed 23-of-40 passes (58%), which is slightly lower than his usual accuracy (65.2% last year), but was otherwise very sharp.  You could tell that Kiel wasn’t quite in sync with his receivers on a handful of throws, but 58% is a great number while shaking off a year’s worth of rust.

Otherwise, Gunner was fantastic – a monumental improvement over the play of UC’s two young quarterbacks who had played over him up to this point.  Kiel threw for 348 yards and 4 TDs (3 of them to Khalil Lewis, who had a breakout game), but most importantly committed zero turnovers of any kind, and made much better decisions than what we’ve see from Hayden Moore and Ross Trail.  Kiel did a great job of putting the ball where only his receivers could catch it on high-risk throws (that was a classic Madden-ism back in the day).  While we’ve seen Moore and Trail float balls toward the sidelines on out routes that have turned into interceptions and multiple pick-sixes, Kiel’s misses near the sidelines ended up in the bench or bouncing off the turf – no interception possible.

Kiel also took zero sacks (although part of that may have had to do with ECU’s poor pass rush), and placed several throws perfectly for big plays and big conversions.  It baffles me that Tommy Tuberville kept on saying that Kiel wasn’t playing because he missed spring practice and didn’t know or fit well in the offense.  It looked to me like he ran Zac Tayor’s offense to perfection.  Or at least far better than Moore or Trail have this year.

His deep balls were right on the money (which has actually been a struggle for Kiel in the past), he placed screens and short throws so that receivers could run after the catch (his pump fake right then delivery to Mike Boone on the left was flawless), and Kiel’s strengths open up so much more of the field for the passing game (for instance, the 3rd-and-7 play late in the game that iced the win).  With More or Trail, UC probably has to call a short out route, but Kiel brings the confidence and experience to throw a TD to the end zone and clinch the game.

It really makes you wonder why this move wasn’t made much earlier in the season.  When it was announced last week that Kiel would start, I said that the move was “Three Losses Too Late.”  Had Kiel been made the started after Hayden Moore initially suffered his ankle injury against Houston, I believe that the Bearcats would be in position to win the American Conference this year.  The losses against USF and UConn could’ve been avoided, and with USF’s loss to Temple on Friday, the division would belong to UC.

Yes, it’s easy to second guess any coaching decision, but it really is easy to second guess this one.  Head coach Tommy Tuberville is even second guessing himself right now.  In his post-game press conference, Tubs said, “I know everybody’s going to say ‘I told you so.’ I’ll take that. I’m proud of Gunner.”  He went on to say, “I’d like for (Kiel) to win the next 5, so everybody can point at me and say, ‘Why didn’t we play him the first 6 games?‘”  Earth to Tommy: everyone’s already saying that.  We’ve been saying since August when you named Moore the opening night starter.

What bugs me even more about the Tuberville regime is more evidence that he’s not in control of this program, and will do anything he can to pass the buck of big responsibilities and decisions on to somebody else.  Last week on his radio show, Tubs said that it was offensive coordinator Zac Taylor, not himself, who made the decision to start Kiel against ECU (see “Three Losses Too Late” link above).  After the game, he admitted that the team’s seniors spoke up in a seniors-only meeting after the loss to UConn and told Tuberville that they wanted Gunner.

Tubs said that safety Zach Edwards spoke up first, saying, “We want Gunner to play.”  Tuberville responded, “So do I… I’m not going to give anybody a starting spot. I told the seniors we’ll give him his chance.”  Earth to Tommy: You’re the head coach.  You make $2.2 Million a year to be the head coach.  You’re the one who is supposed to give somebody a starting spot.  That’s your job.  It shouldn’t take the offensive coordinator and the seniors (whose final year you’re ruining) to come to you to request a change at quarterback, the most important position on the field.  I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Tuberville just plain doesn’t care enough to make big decisions about our football team.

But at any rate, there’s reason to be encouraged if you’re a Bearcat fan.  The ‘Cats finally won, the #GunShow is back, and hopefully UC is back on track to make a bowl game (even if Tuberville will lose it in embarrassing fashion, as per the usual).  Hopefully this will bring some excitement back to Nippert for the two remaining home games.

PS – to everybody who left Nippert way too early in a one-score game on Saturday night, shame on you.  Especially the Ruckus.  There were probably less than 200 students still at the game with the score at 24-19 late in the 4th quarter.  “Fight to the finish” doesn’t mean head for Murphy’s Pub at halftime, jabronis.  Absoutely shameful from a “sold out” student section.