Last night's game was an absolute thriller. Lead changes, offensive output, a couple turnovers, a hint of controversy and some incredible quarterback play with a storyline. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, they ended up on the losing end of one of the more entertaining football games you'll see this season, falling 53-46. Now that we have had an opportunity to take a deep breath, let's revisit the game.
1. Hayden Moore
I think you can only begin the discussion with Hayden Moore. The redshirt freshman was incredible. Despite his game-ending interception on the final play, you have to come away incredibly impressed with Moore's play. Sure, he threw the ball 53 times, completed 31 of those passes and threw for 557 yards, four touchdowns and two picks. Those numbers are gaudy and something you rarely see outside the dynasty you started on Madden.
Neither defense was really serviceable last night, but that shouldn't take away from Moore's play because it was just as much how he did it as it was what he did. Moore came into the game after a huge hit on Gunner Kiel took the junior out of the game, in a hostile environment, on national television. Moore looked a little shellshocked early, missing some throws and panicking a little in the pocket, but as Moore settled in, the Cincinnati offense took off in a way we haven't seen them play the entire season. Moore was poised in the pocket. He commanded the offense and made all the throws he needed to make, helping the receivers tear apart the Memphis secondary with good accuracy and a cool, calm demeanor.
I found myself watching, expecting the "freshman moment" to creep in, but it just wasn't happening. While the offensive line kept Moore mostly clean, Moore did a great job of not letting the pressure get to him. He stepped into his throws and there were a couple passes he made where he stood in the pocket until the very last moment, showing great toughness. He had the look of a veteran and moved the Cincinnati offense with relative ease.
Was it a perfect game? No. The first pick was what it was, but the second pick sealed the game, in an unfortunate play that, for the first time in the game, really displayed Moore's lack of experience. It was a tough way to finish a career-game, but there was sooo much to like about the performance as a whole. The stats are incredible, but the poise, toughness and leadership he displayed throughout the night was incredibly promising and impressive. Dueling Paxton Lynch is no small task and Moore gave him a run for his money, responding to every swing of momentum with ice water in his veins.
Oh yeah... don't forget that Moore did it all in just over three quarters (he had only 37 yards passing at the end of the first quarter).
2. Gunner Kiel's Injury
Kiel's injury was frightening. Taking a hit to the neck/head area, Kiel went down, laying motionless on the field. He was eventually put on a stretcher and carted off the field on to the hospital. During the game, it was reported that Kiel was conscious and had movement in all four extremities, which is obviously a positive sign moving forward, but the question still remains; what happened on the play?
Kiel was running with the ball and it appeared that he was hit in the neck/head area. The play was initially called a targeting call with Memphis' Chauncey Lanier being ejected for the hit. However, the call was eventually reversed, as was the ejection.
Okay, I get it, the play was "technically" not targeting by definition.
Terry McAulay is the American Athletic Conference officiating coordinator.
McAulay pointed out 2 ways for targeting: Forcible contact w/ crown of helmet and forcible contact to head/neck area of defenseless player.— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) September 25, 2015
In other words, sounds like replay determined there wasn't forcible contact with crown (perhaps shoulder?) and Kiel wasn't defenseless yet.— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) September 25, 2015
The argument against the call is that Kiel was still a runner and therefore wasn't a defenseless player. Additionally, the hit wasn't with the crown of the helmet and therefore wasn't a call.
I guess I can grasp that. I personally believe Kiel was in the process of sliding, and therefore giving himself up making him well... defenseless. I'm just not sure why we are trying to split hairs on a call that is supposed to be about ensuring player safety and deterring hits like the one Kiel took. Regardless, Kiel's status will continue to be monitored moving forward and the debate will likely continue in varying fashions.
Look at that LRT and this wasn't called targeting pic.twitter.com/wAe3QDzxio— Bearcats Blog (@BearcatsBlog) September 25, 2015
3. Paxton Lynch is Good
Going back to the game, Memphis' Lynch is a very, very good quarterback. We all knew that coming in, but watching him work was impressive. In this game, Lynch reminded me a lot of Aaron Rodgers, in the sense that he was savvy and always in control, making smart plays with his arm and legs. I'm not saying he is the next Rodgers or anything like that, but I am saying that in this game, he was that impressive to watch, even if he didn't put up the numbers Moore did for the Bearcats.
4. So Are the Cincinnati Receivers
The Cincinnati receivers were great too. Moore obviously had to get the ball to them (props to the Bearcats o-line for keeping him mostly upright too), but the senior receivers really stepped up and took advantage of a Memphis defense that just couldn't keep up. Max Morrison was the leading receiver with nine receptions, 162 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Moore had five catches for 153 yards with one score and Shaq Washington had nine receptions with 120 yards a score himself. Alex Chisum added five receptions and 77 yards too.
In an offensive explosion like this, someone has to rack up yardage like this, but the overall showing was impressive. This was the first time this season where we really saw just how varied Cincinnati could be with their passing attack. Even when Mckale McKay and Johnny Holton are mostly removed, there are four guys who approach or exceed 100 yards receiving.
The "fumble" that was reversed on Memphis' final drive was atrocious. First of all, it looks like both knees aren't down when the ball starts coming out. Secondly, how could you look at that replay and have enough indisputable evidence to reverse that call? Is it really clear enough to definitively say, without a doubt that it wasn't a fumble? I'd lean the other direction and say it's a definitive fumble, but I can't believe there was enough there to overturn the original call.