Mekale McKay

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.

Louisville wins Keg of Nails, sends UCF to the BCS

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If this is the last Keg of Nails game for a long stretch of time, at least it is going out in style. No. 19 Louisville (11-1, 7-1 AAC) and Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2 AAC) exchanged scores in the fourth quarter, and the two rivals needed to settle the score in overtime. Louisville scored first in overtime and then held Cincinnati out of the end zone for a 31-24 victory. With the result, UCF clinched a spot in a BCS bowl game. Louisville has already accepted a spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.

Louisville saw an early 10-0 lead slip away midway through the third quarter when Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay pushed forward just enough to pick up a short touchdown run, his second of the game, to give Cincinnati a 14-10 lead. That lead would hold in to the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter the fun got started. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, one play after being taken down shy of a first down, worked some magic to escape would-be-tacklers to extend a 4th and 12 play for a first down and later tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Damian Copeland to cap a 13-play, 86-yard drive to regain the lead, 17-14. The play was a thing of beauty with Bridgewater again avoiding defenders to keep a play alive before heaving a rainbow to the right corner of the end zone for Copeland. Cincinnati wasted little time in striking back.

Kay completed a 57-yard pass to Mekale McKay to quickly enter the red zone, and one play later Ralph Abernathy rushed right up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown to take a 21-17 lead. As was the theme for the fourth quarter, this was not the end of the scoring. Bridgewater again drove Louisville’s offense down field, and he put Louisville back in front with a short touchdown pass to DeVante Parker on a play that appeared to have pass interference on both sides with no call. Up 24-21, Louisville could not hold on to the lead, with Cincinnati stretching the field in similar fashion to the way UCF defeated Louisville with a late score. This time Louisville managed to hold Cincinnati to a field goal, which led the game in to overtime tied at 24-24.

Louisville running back Dominique Brown scored a short touchdown run in the first overtime possession for a 31-24 lead, and Cincinnati’s final attempt on a fourth and long attempt fell incomplete to seal the fate of the game, and for UCF’s bowl plans.

UCF is now guaranteed the top spot in the American this season. No matter what happens at SMU on Saturday, UCF can do no worse than tie with Louisville for the conference crown. Thanks to an earlier head-to-head victory over the Cardinals, UCF wins the tiebreaker for the conference’s automatic BCS berth. UCF will play in their first BCS bowl game in bowl history.

Louisville finishes the regular season with a respectable 11-1 record but will not be in the BCS at-large conversation considering all of the teams still in front of them and the likelihood of Northern Illinois advancing to a BCS bowl game. Still, the success of the Cardinals this season will provide some momentum as they begin to shift conference affiliations from the AAC to the ACC next year. The big question left to answer for now is whether or not Bridgewater will be there or playing Sundays.

Bridgewater’s final game of the 2013 season may not have been overly impressive just by looking at the numbers, but he had his moments that make you say “wow.” Considering the shallow depth of the NFL’s quarterback class of 2014, Bridgewater could be a certain high draft pick.

Cincinnati had their shot to win a share of the conference championship, but the 10 wins achieved this season suggest this program will remain one of the top teams in the American in 2014.

Ex-Hogs WR granted immediate eligibility at Cincinnati

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One day before Cincinnati opened the 2013 season, the Bearcats received some good news from the NCAA that could offer immediate benefits.

UC officials confirmed Friday that wide receiver Mekale McKay‘s appeal for a waiver from the NCAA has been approved.  As a result, the receiver will be eligible to play immediately in 2013 and, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, will be in the rotation when the Bearcats open the season against Purdue this afternoon.

The appeal made by McKay was based on transferring from Arkansas to Cincinnati to be closer to his ailing grandmother, who raised the receiver and has heart issues according to head coach Tommy Tuberville.  The grandmother lives in Lexington, Ky., a short distance from the UC campus, relatively speaking.

In early August, it was reported that McKay was considering a transfer from the Razorbacks.  Less than two weeks later, he officially landed with the Bearcats.

As a true freshman last season, the 6-6, 195-pound McKay finished second on the team in receiving yards (317) and was tied for fourth in receptions (21). He added a pair of receiving touchdowns.

McKay was a three-star member of the Razorbacks’ 2012 recruiting class.

Injuries piling up for Razorbacks, too

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Virginia Tech’s not the only big-time FBS football program to be broadsided by a plethora of injuries of late.

After one of UA’s former coaches leaked the news a day earlier, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema announced that wide receiver Demetrius Wilson suffered a significant ligament tear in his knee.  As a result, the senior will miss the entire 2013 season.

Wilson will undergo surgery in the middle of the upcoming week, and will use his redshirt season this year in the hopes of returning in 2014.

“Demetrius has a redshirt year opportunity in front of him. We’re truly blessed well be able to get him back for another year,” Bielema said according to Rivals.com. “He’ll actually have surgery Wednesday.”

In 2012, Wilson caught nine passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.  Wilson is the second experienced wide receiver the Razorbacks have lost in the past month, with Mekale McKay announcing earlier this month that he would be transferring to Cincinnati.

Unfortunately, Wilson wasn’t the only negative injury news for the Hogs.

Linebacker Otha Peters and tight end Austin Tate, Bielema said, will miss various lengths of time due to injuries as well.  The former will be out 6-8 weeks after breaking his right arm, while the latter will miss a maximum of six weeks with a shoulder injury.

Both of those players are backups at their respective positions.