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The Bearcats Will Need A Big Game From Gunner Kiel

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Gunner Kiel has been in and out of the lineup for most of the last month. It has been a month since he completed a game from start to finish. In that stretch he has looked like a guy who has been battling injury issues, consistency and the impossible standard that he set for himself right out of the gate.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Gunner Kiel is still on pace to shatter UC's single season records of passing yards,* and passing touchdowns. But he hasn't had one of those games that make you mutter wow under your breath since the start of the season. It's not that Gunner has been bad, but he has been fractionally off for the last month or so. The ongoing rib issues are obviously the primary source of the problem, but there is something else to it as well.

*he needs a little bit under 1,500 yards which he would probably get with a bowl game

The best thing about Gunner is that he always wants to make that big splashy play down the field. He has the arm strength and he has the receivers who can make plays in individual battles against anyone foolish enough to leave their corners on that island with Mekale McKay or Chris Moore. Where the growth has to come, and where it is coming slowly is how he reacts to defenses that are designed to do nothing but take away his deep shots.

East Carolina is a team that is going to test Gunner on this tonight. The Pirates are not good defensively against the pass, far from it. But what they do well is prevent the big splashy plays that the Bearcats feasted on early in the season. They force offenses to be methodical and work the ball down the field piece by piece. That is not the Bearcats strong suit, or at least it hasn't been for most of the year.

Mike Boon and Rod Moore have a good chance to change that equation, and force defenses to try a different tactic to slow the Bearcats down. UC has run for an average of 260 yards per game on 5.9 yards per carry over the last three games. The Bearcats don't need to keep exploding with big plays on the ground against the Pirates for the offense to have success. They simply need to be effective enough running the football so that ECU has to think about dropping a safety into the box to stop that UC running game. If UC can get to that point then they are playing with house money because the Bearcats receivers against three deep defenders is a smart bet, an asymmetrical bet.

Mind you the success of those plays is predicated on Gunner Kiel regaining his September form thanks to his week off. I have heard rumblings that he has done just that, but Tubs is still not making a public choice in the Munchie vs. Gunner debate. Logic says it will be Gunner who is, in Tubs own words, as healthy as he has been since the start of the season. To beat the Pirates the Bearcats will need him to be just as sharp.