The mystery of Gunner Kiel continues at Cincinnati.
With the Bearcats struggling at 3-2 overall, 0-2 in the American Athletic Conference, it seems there are more questions than ever about Kiel and coach Tommy Tuberville’s offense.
The Bearcats, who travel to play at Connecticut Saturday, have been outscored 85-36 in their two AAC games this season. The good news for Cincinnati is that UConn has an offense that is an even bigger mess. The bad news for the Bearcats is they aren’t closing games well, and that has Tuberville frustrated. Cincinnati has outscored opponents 44-27 in second quarters this season, only to slip and be outscored 26-18 in third quarters and 48-44 in fourth quarters.
“We’ve basically self-destructed in both of our conference games in the second half or fourth quarter,” Tuberville said Monday on the AAC coaches’ teleconference call.
Cincinnati’s AAC losses have come to Houston and USF, the two best teams in the conference. It will be interesting to see how Tuberville responds for the UConn game. The Cincinnati depth chart for Saturday’s game lists Hayden Moore or Ross Trail (not one, but both) as the starting quarterback. Kiel, the only senior in the bunch, is listed third.
With Moore battling through an injury, the Bearcats have been leaning on Trail, a redshirt freshman. Trail was 20-for-30, 216 yards and one TD against USF last week, but he was intercepted three times.
Moore and Trail have combined for nine interceptions and eight TD passes. Kiel, once the top- ranked high school quarterback in the country, has tumbled from the starting position and has appeared in only two games this season, completing 3 of 11 passes for 47 yards.
Kiel, who once threw 14 touchdown passes in his first four games with the Bearcats, has none so far this season. He received more playing time against USF, and Tuberville explained to reporters that happened because he didn’t want Trail “to lose all the stuff he got better at.”
“I’m a Gunner Kiel fan, but we play the best guy, that knows the offense, that’s ready to play,” Tuberville said.
“So Kiel doesn’t know the offense?’’ Tuberville was asked.
“He knows it, he’s getting better at it. He missed spring ball. Zach (Taylor, the first-year offensive coordinator) doesn’t know Gunner Kiel. He treats them all the same. It’s his offense.
“It’s football. Next best guy goes in. Gunner has had a good career here. Not great. He has thrown a lot of interceptions.’’
Last season Kiel was intercepted 11 times and had 19 touchdowns. He threw for 523 yards and four TDs against Houston. He had been the starter most of the last two years but missed the 2015 Hawaii Bowl for undisclosed personal reasons. Kiel rejoined the team in January but Tuberville indicated he would have to earn his job back.
Eddie Gran, Tuberville’s former offensive coordinator, left after last season for Kentucky. He was replaced by Miami Dolphins interim offensive coordinator Zac Taylor. Cincinnati also had to replace its five top receivers from last season.
Navy next in line for Houston
From Oklahoma to Connecticut, teams around the nation are finding out exactly how difficult it is to play against No. 6 Houston.
Navy is next on the Cougars’ scedule. The Midshipmen are normally the one causing preparation challenges for opposing teams. This week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has to figure out how to handle Houston’s high-octane, high-scoring offense.
“We’re trying to petition to the NCAA to see if we can play 15 guys on the field,” Niumatalolo said.
Houston head coach Tom Herman has the Cougars functioning smoothly in the multiple spread offense. Houston ranks 19th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense [506 yards per game] and 12th in scoring offense [44.2 points per game]. Not bad for a team outside the Power Five conferences.
Everything starts with quarterback Greg Ward Jr., a solid contender for the Heisman Trophy. Ward is completing over 70 percent of his passes and has thrown for eight touchdowns. The Cougars rank 25th nationally in passing offense at 304.6 yards per game.
“Ward was a really good player last year and he’s even better this year,” Niumatalolo said. “Nobody has been able to slow him own. He’s very patient in the pocket and is well-coached.”
Navy knows there is more to the Cougars than an outstanding quarterback.
“They’re ranked where they are for a reason,” Niumatalolo said. “They’re just so good in so many places. A well-coached team with so many good players is a tough combination.”
Niumatalolo also praised Houston defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, the former defensive coordinator at Connecticut, Florida International and Utah State.
“On defense, I think Coach Orlando is as good as there is in the country,” Niumatalolo said. “He had a really good plan against us last year. He stops running teams and teams that throw the ball all over the place.”
Navy suffered its first loss of the season last week, falling 28-14 at Air Force.
Everybody loves Herman
The list of distractions continues to grow longer in Houston. It’s not enough that the Cougars are undefeated and trying to break into the College Football Playoff from outside the Power Five conferences; they’re trying to filter out the chatter about Houston moving to the Big 12. In the process, coach Tom Herman is – and will continue to be – the most wanted coach in college football.
Add Texas and USC as schools that will pursue Herman at the end of the season if vacancies exist in their football programs.
After LSU fired Les Miles, it was reported that Herman or Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher would be leading candidates for that job. USC would be on the list if the Trojans fire Clay Helton.
A report by Sports Illustrated this week speculated that Charlie Strong could be out at Texas by the end of the season. SI’s Pete Thamel writes that Herman would be the “top choice” at Texas.
Houston fans better get used to hearing that.
UConn coach Bob Diaco, again addressing the Huskies’ dysfunctional offense:
“I don’t really don’t have an interest in watching [quarterback] Bryant [Shirreffs] run and [running back] Arkeel [Newsome] not. For Arkeel to have six touches, it can’t happen. I don’t feel like I’m compromising state secrets. I don’t know what play he’s going to be electric but if it’s on the 13th, we have to give it to him 12 times to see what he does on the 13th. He’s that kind of player. We need to get him the ball. We’re underachieving – period – by not getting the ball to Arkeel Newsome more than we do.”
(Note to Coach Diaco: The UConn fans don’t enjoy watching that offense either. But they can’t do anything about it.)