The Bearcats moved to 4-3 on the season with a 37-13 win over the Connecticut Huskies at Nippert Stadium yesterday. Through the rainy weather conditions, the offense was, once again, incredibly difficult to contain and the Cincinnati defense played one of their better games of the 2015 season. It wasn't a perfect showing, but it was win the Cincinnati fans can be proud of.
Here are my takeaways from the Homecoming win.
1. Gunner Kiel Gets the Start
Junior Gunner Kiel got the start this week over freshman Hayden Moore. Based on what Tommy Tuberville has said over the past couple weeks, the decision to go with Kiel was driven by this past week's practice and, Tuberville post-game comments pending, the same will be the case this upcoming week and on.
To be fair to Moore, BYU, on the road, is a much tougher opponent than the Connecticut Huskies. Still, Kiel was fantastic this week in rainy Nippert Stadium, throwing for 327 yards and two touchdowns on 26-of-35 passing. He didn't throw any interceptions and was able to move the offense down the field well with the offense racking up 612 total yards on offense and only punting the ball three times on the day. Kiel scored on a touchdown run, but was responsible for Cincinnati's lone turnover when he was strip-sacked. Overall, it was a solid game that met the high expectations we've had for Kiel.
Again, comparing performances between Moore and Kiel in these past two weeks is wildly unfair to Moore considering the environment and circumstances. However, both players, when compared over the season, have similar stats on the season (Moore - 83/144, 1,280 yards, 57.6%, 7 TD, 5 INT, 141.4 RAT and Kiel - 96/146, 1,195 yards, 65.8%, 7 TD, 5 INT, 143.5 RAT). The slight discrepancies mostly sway towards Kiel, outside Moore's career performance against Memphis. Moore has been great when called upon and has a bright future with the Bearcats, but I really like what Kiel brings the offense. Both guys run the offense well and both can obviously sling it to any of the numerous weapons, but I feel more comfortable with Kiel back there. Kiel has always had all the physical tools and spent this past offseason improving on the mental side of the game, particularly his role as a leader on this team. I think that work has paid off in Keil's 2015 completion percentage and he seems to have a calming effect on the offense. Again, Moore has been fantastic, but I think Kiel can take this offense higher right now because of that intangible "experience" factor.
None of this means that Kiel will start the rest of the season, but if I was making the calls, I would roll with Kiel at quarterback the rest of the way. My opinion has less to do with Moore's play and more to do with, seemingly, the only real difference between the two guys; experience.
2. Three-headed Monster Runs Wild
Following a poor showing in the second half of the BYU game (2.6 yards per carry), Cincinnati got back on track in the run game behind Hosey Williams, Mike Boone and Tion Green, combining for 333 yards on the ground. Williams led the way with 140 with a incredible 10.8 yards per carry with an 84-yard long and one touchdown. Boone, also with 13 carries, gained 119 yards himself with a 9.0 yard per carry average. Green added 74 yards on 14 carries with a 5.1 average.
UConn's strength was defensively, although they were struggling in run defense heading into this week. Nonetheless, this was a very strong performance from the Bearcats rushing attack. Averaging 5.8 yards per carry as a team is always a good thing and completely deserved with how the offensive line played opening up holes.
Additionally, the passing attack still got going with Kiel passing for 327 yards. The net gain for the Bearcats in the run game was 285 yards, but outside a couple big losses (bad snaps/recoveries), Cincinnati gained 347 yards on the ground. 327 through the air and 347 on the ground? That's some balance you'd love to see week-in and week-out.
3. Defense Making Impact
After UConn's opening touchdown drive, there was a part of me that felt "here we go again..." However, after that point, the Cincinnati defense really buckled down, containing Bryant Shirreffs to a mere 87 passing yards and 90 yards rushing. Running back Arkeel Newsome scored the opening score, but finished with only 45 yards rushing. Newsome was also one of only three players to break double-digits in receiving yardage with Tyraiq Beals leading the way with 48 yards.
Even more than just the yardage totals, Cincinnati's defense made impact plays, which have been all too rare this season. Zach Edwards forced a Shirreffs' fumble with Eric Wilson recovering the loose ball. Bryce Jenkinson forced another fumble and added a sack with Silverberry Mouhon also bringing down Shirreffs. The secondary played well with Tyrell Gilbert making an outstanding play on the outside with a diving interception, following a Bearcats fumble. The Bearcats' secondary also added five pass breakups.
The defense played physical and played fast in rainy Nippert Stadium. We do need to put this in some perspective given the opponent, but UConn has been much tougher this season and Cincinnati played the game they needed to defensively. Regardless, it was an impressive performance from a unit that has lacked impact plays all season long.
For all the good, Cincinnati wasn't free of their fair share of mistakes. There was a missed field goal, a Kiel fumble and a bad snap on a punt that set the Huskies up in the redzone (Gilbert's interception came on the very next play though). Not to mention, Cincinnati committed 10 penalties for 105 yards and did allow a sack. Some of that can be attributed to the weather, but other can't be so easily tossed aside.
It's the same old story with Cincinnati this season. They won the game and we can celebrate that fact, but as we have seen, these mistakes can doom the Bearcats against better teams. If Cincinnati can have these lapses and still win by 24, what could they do without these errors?
5. Complete Game
Let my point above contradict this one. This was a complete win from each phase of the game. Mistakes aside, the offense was great, amassing 612 total yards, and the defense held UConn to 266 yards total. Special teams had lapses, but Andrew Gantz still hit 3-of-4 field goals in challenging weather conditions.
It wasn't perfect, but we got to watch Cincinnati in a game where the offense didn't need to carry the Bearcats. It was a solid win against an opponent that has played some good football this season, even if the win-loss record doesn't reflect it for the Huskies. Things aren't perfect for the Bearcats, but this is the game Cincinnati needed to play against a team of Connecticut's caliber. It shouldn't have been close and it wasn't.
Bonus: Those jerseys
Those red uniforms are absolutely awesome. I get that it's a "one-and-done" deal for Nippert and everything, but I could watch a couple more games in the red.