The Bearcats annual spring game began with an 8-yard pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay. Followed by a 7-yard strike to Max Morrison. Then a 47-yard bomb to Chris Moore. And then another 15-yard bullet to Moore.
Four plays, four passes, and four completions for 77 yards. Not a bad way for Gunner Kiel to make his unofficial Bearcats debut in front of roughly 5,400 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.
“A lot of people kind of bash me and hadn’t really seen me play,” said Kiel. “I haven’t played in three years. So to come out here and silence the critics is definitely one thing that I wanted to do.”
The bashing resulted from Kiel’s struggle to choose a college as one of the nation’s most heavily-recruited high school quarterbacks. Gunner changed his mind after verbal commitments to Indiana and LSU and eventually enrolled at Notre Dame. After a redshirt season with the Fighting Irish, he transferred to Cincinnati last spring.
“I know what I did some people say was dumb – and I agree with them 100% — but that doesn’t change the person that I am,” said Kiel. “I’m a good person and I’m going to do what’s right. I’m going to be a good teammate and I’m going to come out here and work my hardest.”
His hard work appears to be paying off.
Kiel played only the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage and directed the first team offense to three touchdowns and one field goal on six drives against the first team defense. He finished 17-for-22 for 300 yards, with one touchdown run and one interception.
“That’s amazing and this probably wasn’t even his best practice,” said wide receiver Shaq Washington.
“Gunner’s got a quick release, he understands football, and he’s usually going to throw it to the right guy,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “The problem that he’s had this spring is that he’s had ‘happy feet’ because we have had three starting offensive lineman out.”
That was a factor last Sunday in a scrimmage that was dominated by the defense. Kiel was 9-for-20 for 44 yards and Tuberville did not pull any punches afterward.
“Offensively, we looked as bad as I’ve ever seen.” he told reporters.
“To hear your head coach make comments like that sets a fire under your butt,” said Kiel.
So the sophomore quarterback was determined to end spring practice on a positive note.
“I treated it just like a game,” said Kiel. “Last night I watched tape, I went over our plays, I went over the protections and coverages, and I treated it just like a regular game. I woke up early and had breakfast, and came out with a chip on my shoulder to get better and play hard.”
“There were a lot of questions marks at quarterback after last week,” said Tuberville. “The big thing about college is being consistent. We haven’t been very consistent this spring. The defense won most of the time during the spring, but today the defense didn’t win. The offense came out with a different frame of mind and played a lot better.
“I can sleep a little bit better now. Last week we were just awful on offense, but today we threw it and caught it well.”
Tuberville will not name a starting quarterback until fall camp, saying that Jarred Evans will compete for the job and possibly Munchie Legaux as he continues to rehab from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last year vs. Illinois.
But Kiel appears to be the man to beat.
“Obviously Gunner looked really, really good today,” said Tuberville.
“I got the ‘ones’ reps, but I am not the number one quarterback right now,” said Kiel. “That doesn’t mean anything. You still have to come out each day and work hard and compete and do your best. At the end of the day, the coaches are going to make their decision and I understand that, but I’m going to do whatever I can to get the team’s respect, and learn as much as I possibly can because I know that I have to learn more and accomplish more. The sky is the limit and we’ll see what happens.”
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