Minus the rain, it was a feel-good day around the University of Cincinnati.
The Bearcats beat the UConn Huskies 37-13 to earn their first conference win on Homecoming in front of a sellout crowd of 40,124—an on-campus record for Cincinnati football.
That said, I think I buried the lede here. Gunner Kiel returned as the starter in this one, and he looked better than he has all season.
“It feels really good to be back in the spot and being a captain and our quarterback,” Kiel said during the post-game press conference. “It feels really good and we came out with a huge win which is really big for us.”
Kiel’s numbers were spectacular, as he completed 26 of his 35 attempts for 327 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored once on the ground on a one-yard sneak in the second quarter after a review overturned a touchdown by Tion Green. Kiel spread the wealth too. He connected with 10 different receivers throughout the game.
“I think he’s [going to] be real hard to get that position away from, that number one spot,” said Tommy Tuberville of Kiel during the post-game press conference. “I thought he was pretty dang good tonight with a wet football in his hands, standing in the pocket, and taking a few licks like he did take.”
Unsurprisingly, with Kiel that sharp, the entire offense was firing on all cylinders and produced 612 on 84 plays. The Bearcats were able to play up-tempo and put points on the board quickly while maintaining a rhythm that has often been lacking from the offense this season.
Outside of Kiel’s impressive performance, that rhythm can be attributed to two things: Success on the ground and a victory in the turnover battle.
Cincinnati’s three-headed monster at running back of Mike Boone, Tion Green and Hosey Williams combined for 328 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries. Williams and Boone both eclipsed the 100-yard threshold, as they racked up 140 and 117 yards, respectively on 13 carries apiece. Williams was the man to reach pay dirt.
All three backs were efficient and able to rip off long runs all night. Green’s long of 17 yards was the shortest among the three, as Boone exploded through a hole on a cutback for 34 in the first half. Williams busted one late down the left sideline for 84 before icing the game with a score from the one yard line with 53 seconds left.
That balance was key for Cincinnati as it kept the pressure off of Kiel, who was hit a few times early, and gave him wide open looks at receivers off of play action frequently.
The other key to offensive rhythm and ultimately victory for the Bearcats was winning the turnover battle. Speaking of which, this is just the second game Cincinnati has come out on top in turnover margin and not turned it over more than once, with the other being last week in the loss at BYU.
Defensively, the Bearcats played their best game in quite a while. After UConn easily took the ball right down the field and scored a touchdown in its first possession, Cincinnati’s defense only allowed six more points the rest of the way. The Bearcats held the Huskies to 266 yards of total offense and an abysmal 3.7 yards per play.
“Real proud of the defense,” Tuberville said. “I thought our guys did a good job of not giving up the big play.”
Cincinnati finally put together a complete game, playing well on both sides of the ball, and looked like the team everyone thought they would be before the season began. Now, it’s about carrying that momentum into the next game and continuing to improve.
“We actually looked like a football team tonight, for four quarters,” Tuberville said. “Great day for the Bearcats. We got better.”