Cincinnati needed a break. That much is obvious. What else could explain how the Bearcats went from offensively challenged in the first six game of the season to the same high-powered attack we’ve come to know and love this past weekend?
Maybe it also had something to do with Gunner Kiel being back under center or the fact that East Carolina is second to last in the American Athletic Conference in total defense. Whatever the reason, the Bearcats (appear) to be back! They tallied a season-high 513 yards of total offense and reached the 30-point plateau for just the second time this season. Let’s get to the grades since we finally have some positive things to say this week.
The good: Gunner Kiel is back. He is effing back! Hayden Moore and Ross Trail got there chances but Kiel finally returned to his rightful place under center and boy did he deliver. He completed 23-of-40 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, both season-highs for any Bearcat quarterback. His efficiency rating of 163.58 was also the best of any UC signal caller in 2016. The effort was the 10th 300-yard game of Kiel’s career and his ninth with at least three touchdown throws.
The bad: Kiel didn’t exactly spread the ball around very much, with Kahlil Lewis, Devin Gray and Nate Cole accounting for 20 of his 23 completions. That’s not really a huge knock when you’re racking up 300 plus yards through the air, however.
Final grade: A
The good: With the passing game opening up, Tion Green and Mike Boone were able to find a few more openings. Boone looked like his old self, averaging 6.3 yards per carry while racking up 88 yards on the ground. He also added in a 54-yard reception and 74 yards on kick returns, equating to a total of 216 all-purpose yards. Green pounded his way to 71 yards on 15 carries in a fine showing. Seeing them work in tandem reminded us of the two-headed beast we expected to see week in and week out.
The bad: There isn’t much to gripe about. Both Boone and Green were careful with the ball while still making big strides on the ground. In total, the Bearcats rushed for 165 yards on 35 carries.
Final grade: A
The good: Well, hello Kahlil Lewis! With Kiel making passes, Lewis dominated, hauling in 11 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns. It was an incredible day for the sophomore who should continue to be a key piece of the offense for years to come. Lewis is the first UC receiver since Chris Moore in 2014 to have three touchdowns in a game and the first wideout since Max Morrison to have at least 150 yards. Being in the same company as those two is a good thing. Lewis has seen his involvement in the offense skyrocket over the last few weeks and he is now second on the team in receiving yards (449) and tops in touchdown grabs (five). Devin Gray is another new receiver who has been consistently utilized and he was so again on Saturday, tallying 98 yards on six catches. He has had at least 90 yards in four games this season, more than any other player on the roster.
The bad: Lewis and Gray got to eat but that left only scraps for the rest of the team. Nate Cole, who had been the team’s top target, only had three catches for 28 yards and all of that production came in the first quarter. In fact, Cole was only targeted three more times the rest of the game.
Final grade: B+
The good: Kiel was able to play so well because he was never really in trouble. The offensive line gave up zero sacks and also opened up plenty of openings for Boone and Green to make an impact.
The bad: Its nitpicking, but the offensive line was guilty of a couple of penalties, including a false start by Will Steur. Still, when you are pointing to a pair of penalties as the biggest negative, you know things were largely just fine.
Final grade: A
For just the second time this season, UC looked like the offensive team it has been in recent years. Kiel threw the ball all over the yard, Lewis and Gray were outstanding and Green and Boone made plenty of plays as well. The Bearcats averaged 6.8 yards per play and although they weren’t great on third down (6-of-15), they converted all three of their red zone trips into touchdowns. Naysayers will point to the fact that UC did all this at home against an ECU team that doesn’t have a ton of defensive strength, but after weeks of offensive depression, a spark of life was refreshing.
Final grade: A