The Cincinnati Bearcats had their first big scrimmage of the 2016 preseason camp Saturday at Nippert Stadium. As expected the defense outplayed the offense causing at least five turnovers and recorded countless sacks. Those are things we knew coming in, but the biggest question remained who will be the Bearcats opening day starter at the quarterback position?
That’s the million dollar question that for head coach Tommy Tuberville and his coaching staff as they head into their final week at Camp Higher Ground. Even Tuberville himself doesn’t know which direction he is leaning towards with his three quarterback’s all participating in yesterday’s scrimmage. “Sometimes they looked good, sometimes they didn’t looked anxious in the pocket,” said Tuberville. “It looked like we knew what we were doing most of the time, but too anxious in pocket and a lot of overthrows I haven’t seen that many overthrows since I been here."
Now let’s evaluate Tuberville’s options at quarterback. Let’s start off with redshirt sophomore quarterback Hayden Moore. Last season, he filled in for the injured Gunner Kiel, he threw 9 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with his best game coming against powerhouse Memphis throwing for 557 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also threw 2 critical interceptions that game that ultimately cost the Bearcats. He completed 59% of his passes and can make plays with his feet which are a bonus. The biggest issue with Moore is protecting the football throwing 11 interceptions is never a recipe for success at the quarterback position although he was a redshirt freshman.
Senior quarterback Gunner Kiel had an injury plagued season in 2015. In the games he did play he threw for 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 65% of his passes. While Kiel has had a solid career with the Bearcats and is the most experienced of the three it seems like when it’s time to make a throw to win a game he does the opposite and turns the ball over. Looking back at Week 2, a home loss against Temple the Bearcats had a chance to tie the game late and Kiel threw another interception in the red zone trying to force the ball to Mekale McKay. Late game turnovers have been an issue for Kiel throughout his career with the Bearcats.
Another big question for Kiel that Tuberville and his coaching staff have to wonder about is his durability. He had two head injuries in back to back games last season and entering his senior season you have to wonder are the injuries taking a toll on him. Kiel is a tough competitor and will give you everything he’s got, but can he stay healthy during the course of a 12 game season is the question. Tuberville did say after Saturday’s scrimmage Kiel looks like he has more confidence than Moore and Trail, I’m just not so sure he can stay healthy for an entire season.
Redshirt freshman Quarterback Ross Trail is the best option for Tuberville at this point. Similar to Moore he can also make plays with his feet even more so because he is faster. The Bearcats will need a quarterback with scrambling ability because looking at the young talented receiving group it could be an issue for them to get open consistently, but Trail can throw these guys open. He brings a different dynamic and is more of a threat to defenses than Moore or Kiel. He is young, but Tuberville needs to find some stability at the quarterback position and developing Trail should be his #1 priority. We have watched Moore and Kiel in action, their inability to protect the football consistently was an issue for the Bearcats last season.
Tuberville and offensive coordinator Zac Taylor have a tough decision on their hands. I just think you roll the dice and see what the kid gives you. We know what we are getting in Moore and Kiel, but the unknown is Ross Trail in game situations. Sure he will make some mistakes and it’s a high risk starting a freshman over a proven senior and promising sophomore, but the reward could be having a solid starter at the quarterback position for many years to come. After all it is the most important position on the field.