Screw you Las Vegas, the Bearcats beat ECU 54-46, and are now tied with Memphis and UCF for first place in the American (6-3, 4-1 AAC). The weather was not a factor as anticipated, and this did turn into a good old-fashioned shootout, reminiscent of the former Thursday night Big East games. This is a statement win for the program. ECU was picked to win the league. UC led the game for well over 50 out of 60 minutes, and outplayed ECU in all facets of the game. The Bearcats are starting to live up to preseason expectations at the right time down the stretch.
As for Tuberville, he didn’t get the nickname “Riverboat Gambler” for nothing. Coach Tubbs, in jaw-dropping fashion, decided to go for it deep inside UC territory on 4th down not once, but twice after a timeout, while up five points with two minutes left in the game, rather than punting the ball away safely. On top of this, they decided to run an option play for the first time all game. Either he did not trust his defense against the future NFL tandem of Shane Carden and Justin Hardy or he simply wanted to roll the dice and potentially put away the game by converting and running out the clock – either way what a strange call. In the end it didn’t matter.
Gunner marched the team down the field, and set the stage for true freshman kicker, Andrew Gantz, to kick a season long 47-yard field goal for the win. Behind his golden leg, Gantz drained the field goal in picture-perfect fashion. The Gantz golden leg would have been good from at least 55 yards. This surely will aid his campaign to a Lou Groza trophy.
The game ball goes to Gunner Kiel. Munchie did not take a snap. Gunner started and finished the game, and certainly stepped up when the game was on the line, going 29/44 for 436 yards and four TDs. He distributed the ball well to nine different targets. Kiel has been hiding his injuries and playing through the pain, according to Tubbs in his weekly press conference. But it looks like Gunner is close to 100%. He even ran the ball a few times, and popped right back up after taking shots.
Side note – QB pick stats need to be denoted by an asterisk or footnote. In this case, at least two of Gunner’s three interceptions were well-thrown balls that should have been caught. Instead, they bounced out of the receiver’s hands and wound up as treasures for the Pirates, one was caught by a lineman. But I digress…
Mekale McKay came out from the shadows tonight and caught nine balls for 172 yards and two touchdowns, including a 55-yarder. Chris Moore hauled in a 66-yard bomb similar to the opening pass in the OSU game. The technician, Max Morrison, also tip-toed his way to a picturesque 17-yard TD. On any given night, any UC wide out can go for over 100 yards, which keeps the AAC defensive coordinators up at night. The UC backfield averaged over five yards a carry. Rod Moore carried the rock 19 times for 99 yards, and one TD. Mike Boone ran nine times for 45 yards, and one TD, as well. The duo raddled off two 20+ yard runs providing a much-needed running threat to accompany Gunner’s arm. The defense stepped up and contained ECU. However, ECU certainly racked up some yards, including receiver Hardy’s 15 catches for 181 yards. The Bearcats defense also forced two turnovers. Despite the frigid temperatures and the polar vortex, one concern I had is the UC receivers dropping the ball too many times. Gunner put the ball on target all night, but on several key third downs that could have put the game out of reach, receivers simply did not come through.
Next up are the UConn Huskies. Of interest, Bob Diaco is the UConn head coach. As Bearcats fans know, Diaco was the 2009 defensive coordinator at UC under Brian Kelly. The team is 2-7 on the season and 1-4 in the AAC. The win was somehow over UCF. UConn is not a very good team in any phase of the game. The offense ranks 123rd in the country. The defense ranks 73rd. Neither starting UConn running back has averaged over three yards a carry on the season. QB Chandler Whitmer’s season high passing the ball was only for 201 yards. He has not thrown over two TDs in a game. I anticipate the Bearcats to roll over the Huskies next Saturday. In years past the Huskies have played spoiler and put up very difficult matchups under former head coach Randy Edsall. Simply put, unfortunately for the Huskies, they are not nearly as talented as those past teams.
By Technical Writer: Andy Smith