Cincinnati Bearcats

Turnover, penalty nearly cost Bearcats in 54-46 victory over ECU

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No one knows exactly which team the College Football Playoff committee prefers among the “Group of Five” conferences not in consideration to be named a participant in one of the playoff slots.

In the new system, the best team from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference is granted an automatic berth into one of the New Year’s Bowls.

Cincinnati tried to help its case Thursday when the national spotlight was shining brightly. But the Bearcats’ 54-46 victory didn’t come without its share of drama.

First and foremost, the win by Tommy Tuberville‘s squad gave the program a 4-1 record in the American, which is tied with the Memphis Tigers. Cincinnati is 6-3 overall with losses to Ohio State, Miami and Memphis.

However, an exciting offensive team like Cincinnati could prove to be enticing for the committee.

The Bearcats amassed 586 total yards Thursday. Quarterback Gunner Kiel was 29-of-44 passing for 436 yards and four touchdowns. Kiel connected with wide receiver Mekale McCoy nine times for 172 yards.

When Cincinnati needed the offense to move the ball quickly late in the game, Kiel marched the Bearcats 35 yards in 47 seconds to set up the 47-yard game-winning field goal by kicker Andrew Gantz.

It was the previous drive which presented problems for Cincinnati, though. Those problems should have cost the Bearcats the game due to poor decision-making.

As Cincinnati attempted to run out the clock with a 45-40 lead, Tuberville decided it was a good idea to attempt a quarterback option to seal the game. Kiel isn’t much of a running quarterback. The play ended miserably as the pitch fell to the ground and East Carolina recovered.

To make matters worse, Cincinnati appeared to have stopped East Carolina on the ensuing drive only to be called for pass interference in the end zone. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden eventually capitalized with a two-year touchdown dive.

Despite all of that, the Bearcats still found a way to win in the end.

Was it enough to make them the favorite to emerge out of the “Group of Five?” Probably not. East Carolina may have been the favorite to claim this honor earlier in the season with a strong national ranking, but the Pirates lost their last two games.

Meanwhile, the undefeated Marshall Thundering Herd is still looming just outside the Top 25. Memphis maintains an edge over Cincinnati due to their head-to-head meeting. Finally, Georgia Southern also remains undefeated in the Sun Belt with two losses coming in tight games against North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.

Thursday’s game just proved to be another entertaining contest where neither team really put their best foot forward.

Big plays give Cincinnati Bearcats 31-20 edge over ECU Pirates at halftime

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The first half of the meeting between the East Carolina Pirates and Cincinnati Bearcats was a microcosm for the seasons both teams are having.

The Bears lead 31-20 through two quarters, but the game is far from settled. Just like the American Athletic Conference, this game could go down to the wire.

Both teams are approaching this game like they any other contest they played in recent weeks.

The Pirates sputtered at points. The Shane Carden-led offense was in the red zone four times before the Pirates finally found the end zone.

Despite the slow start, Carden finished the half 20-of-35 passing for 255 yards. But the Pirates can’t continue to come up short after they successfully move the football. Cincinnati is far too explosive on offense to trade field goals for touchdowns.

The Bearcats’ explosiveness on offense showed up during the team’s first drive of the game. Quarterback Gunner Kiel targeted junior wide receiver Mekale McCoy for a short screen. The 6-6 receiver picked his way through blockers, tiptoed down the sidelines and finally burst past the Pirates’ secondary for a 55-yard touchdown.

McCoy caught six passes for 116 yards.

With the Bearcats trailing 20-14 in the second quarter, Kiel connected with junior Chris Moore on a post for a 66-yard touchdown pass.

But Cincinnati’s downfall all season has been its inability to stop opposing offenses. The Pirates already amassed 333 yards of offense compared to the Bearcats’ 393.

These two teams should continue their offensive onslaught during the second half. With more scoring to come, a chance to win an American Athletic Conference crown is riding on the outcome.

Bearcats have as many questions as answers after victory over Rockets

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The Cincinnati Bearcats will be happy with a 58-34 victory over the Toledo Rockets to open the season, but Tommy Tuberville‘s squad can’t be content with the team’s overall play.

The Bearcats’ offense was spectacular at points under the direction of quarterback Gunner Kiel. The sophomore signal caller tied a Cincinnati record with six passing touchdowns in his debut. Kiel also threw for 418 yards.

Kiel, a former five-star recruit, exceeded expectations, but he had plenty of talent around him to keep the offensive moving. Kiel repeatedly challenged the Rockets’ defense with deep passes. More often than not, the Bearcats’ receivers came down with a reception. Ten different receivers caught a pass during the contest. Junior Mekale McKay led all receivers with 175 receiving.

But all the positives for Cincinnati came from the offensive side of the ball. The Bearcats’ defense had plenty of trouble stopping the Rockets’ spread offense.

Cincinnati was complacent after a strong start and a 41-14 lead at halftime. From the end of the second quarter to start of the fourth quarter, Toledo scored 27 unanswered points to pull within one score.

Toledo moved the ball at will. The Rockets accumulated an impressive 563 yards of offense. The Rockets were able to gain 240 yards on the ground, and the number may have been higher if running back Kareem Hunt was able to play and produce in the second half. Hunt finished the contest with 12 hard-fought carries for 101 yards.

Cincinnati also struggled when the Rockets were able to stretch the field horizontally and complete passes on the edges of the defense. Tuberville’s secondary and linebackers didn’t rally to the football and were gashed by the Rockets.

Complacency, poor defense and lackluster effort are not associated with teams considered the favorites to claim a conference championship. Cincinnati may have been voted the preseason favorite to win the American, but Friday’s performance showed they have a long way to go at least on one side of the ball.

With the No. 22 Ohio State Buckeyes and the Miami Hurricanes on the docket in the next month, Tuberville must have his team prepared to play on both sides of the ball. Otherwise, the Bearcats dreams of an American Athletic Conference championship and a College Football Playoff appearance are nothing more than pipe dreams.

Halftime: Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel shines during first start

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Gunner Kiel‘s debut as a collegiate quarterback couldn’t have gone any better. Kiel was nearly perfect as the Cincinnati Bearcats lead the Toledo Rockets 41-14 through two quarters of play.

The drama that once surrounded Kiel is finally gone, and he can just play. And play he did. Kiel is 16-of-19 passing for 294 yards and four touchdowns against the Rockets.

The performance comes after a two-year wait. Kiel was considered a five-star recruit and the No. 1 rated high school quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class. Kiel originally gave the Indiana Hoosiers a verbal commitment before he flipped to the LSU Tigers. Kiel realized LSU wasn’t for him and decided to attend Notre Dame University. The young signal caller then transferred to Cincinnati after a year at Notre Dame.

Kiels decision didn’t bring out the best in LSU’s Les Miles at the time when the coach questioned Kiel’s ability to lead a program. Kiel is now getting the last laugh.

As impressive as Kiel’s first-half performance was, the sophomore quarterback had plenty of help. Junior wide receiver Mekale McKay caught eight passes for 148 yards. Nine different receivers caught at least one pass during the first half.

As halftime approached, Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville decided to pull Kiel and allowed senior Muchie Legaux to lead the offense for a series. Legaux will likely continue to play in the second half.

Cincinnati’s goal for the rest of the game should be to finish strong, while Toledo will want to build some momentum for next week’s contest against a MAC rival in the Ball State Cardinals.