CINCINNATI — Expectations are that Gunner Kiel is going to be the starting quarterback for Tommy Tuberville when the University of Cincinnati opens its season Sept. 12 against Toledo. Expectations are going to have to wait.
Tuberville has time before he feels the need to name a starter and he was willing to take that time after a second scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.
Kiel, Munchie Legaux and Jarred Evans each produced touchdowns while leading the offense in a variety of situational drives during the two-hour scrimmage. All three quarterbacks got time with the first-team unit as well as backups. In the team’s first scrimmage last week, the offense had a clear advantage over the defense but things were much closer this time around.
Official stats weren’t kept. Unofficially, Kiel completed 20 of 26 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown, while Legaux was 7-of-12 for 137 yards and a touchdown, and Evans was 10-of-15 for 85 yards and one touchdown. None of them turned the ball over. Freshman Hayden Moore also got a lot of snaps but Tuberville’s decision is going to come down between the highly touted transfer (Kiel), last year’s starter who has defied some medical expectations just by being back on the field (Legaux) and a junior college transfer (Evans) who has caught on quickly.
"It’s pretty close," said Tuberville. "A lot closer than what I think people think. I think all of them threw the ball well. I was really impressed with Jarred Evans and his improvement since we’ve got to two-a-days and he’s definitely in the mix. We’ll see how things shake out as we go. We’ve got a lot of reps to do in the next two weeks before we get to game week."
While all three quarterbacks had their moments, it took 17 possessions for the offense to finally get into the end zone. The offense had various starting spots to simulate different game situations. The defense did a good job of giving senior Tony Miliano and redshirt freshman Andrew Gantz a platform to conduct their kicking battle.
"We all want to be the starter and we all want to play," said Evans. "I don’t look into all of the politics and I don’t look into all hype. I’m a guy who goes out there and studies every day and plays football. My talent will take me places."
Brendon Kay appeared to be the clear favorite to win the starting job last year but when UC opened up against Purdue it was Legaux who was taking the first snaps under center. Unbeknownst to most, Kay was battling shoulder issues but Legaux also earned his spot with his play and practice and by winning over the coaching staff with his toughness. Here was a guy who easily could’ve transferred schools when Butch Jones left for Tennessee and Tuberville and his staff came in.
Legaux stuck around. That earned him a lot of points with his teammates. When he suffered a severe knee injury at Illinois in Week 2 last year, the thought of him coming back and playing again was lukewarm, at best. Yet here he is.
"It’s excitement," said Legaux. "I’m glad to be back out with my teammates. I’m glad to be running around playing football again. It’s a blessing, an honor to be out here.
"There was some doubt (about coming back). Laying in the hospital there were doctors telling me I may not play again, that it might be over for you but as I got results back and I got my surgery and met with my trainer, my doctors and coaching staff there was progress and maybe I could come back and play. We took it day by day and things have worked out for the best."
Kiel watched from the scout team last year. He had to sit out the year after transferring from Notre Dame. He was sharp on Saturday. He led to offense into the red zone on his first drive. He completed a well-placed sideline throw to Shaq Washington on a third-down play when the offense was working on getting out from within the shadow of its own end zone. He hit Alex Chisum in stride for a 20-yard touchdown, the first one scored by the offense.
Kiel is still the favorite. He did nothing Saturday to dissuade the outside expectations.
"It doesn’t affect me at all," said Kiel of the expectations. "I’m a team player and I’m going to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful and win games. If that’s to be on scout team again this year, then so be it, I’m going to do it. I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing every day and that’s come out and work my tail off and try to earn the team’s respect and be a team leader.
"If I’m the starting quarterback that’s great. If I’m the scout team quarterback, that’s great. I’m just happy to be a part of this team. When I transferred here from Notre Dame they opened their arms to me and let me in to their family. It’s time for me to give back."