Toledo Rockets

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.