By any measure Gunner Kiel's first season as a collegiate quarterback has been a tremendous success. He set an FBS record in his debut against Toledo and continues to have big games interspersed throughout the 2014 season. He is among the top 20 quarterbacks nationally in qb rating, yards per attempt, and touchdown passes. Gunner Kiel has been very good all year long, but he hasn't been as sharp or accurate late in the season.
Obviously there is a reason for that, the injuries. Gunner has started every game this year, becoming the first Bearcats quarterback to do so since Dustin Grutza nearly a decade ago. However Gunner hasn't finished every game, he played the first half against Memphis, SMU, South Florida and Houston. He played just one snap against Tulane before going out for the rest of the game. All told Gunner Kiel missed the equivalent of three games this season.
The main problem has been that Gunner never really recovered from the rib injury originally suffered against Ohio State, and made worse by a colossal Tank Jakes hit at the end of the first half. That rib injury has never really gone away, its become something that Gunner has had to learn to live with this season. Its a testament to the toughness of Gunner Kiel that he has managed to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns while dealing with an injury that can make simply breathing difficult.
The hope for the bowl game is that Gunner would have received plenty of treatment and been given the opportunity to rest some. He is still practicing and hasn't, to my knowledge, been held out of practice to any large extent. That is of course in contrast to Brendon Kay who was, if anything, more beat up at the end of last year than Gunner was.
Kay infamously didn't practice before the Belk Bowl last year, all of his practice reps went to a much ballyhooed transfer from Notre Dame. A guy by the name of Gunner Kiel. Kay's play against North Carolina showed that he had no taken any live reps getting ready for the bowl game. UC isn't going to make that mistake twice.
The big question for Gunner is will he be able to rediscover his touch with the deep ball, and his general command of the offense. There is no question that the revamped running game has allowed the Bearcats to not lean as heavily on Gunner as they did in the early going. But given how well Virginia Tech plays the run Gunner is going to have to make some plays down the field. Is Gunner Kiel up for the challenge?