The eighth-ranked Bearcats got two
touchdown passes from Pike before he left in the third quarter with a
sprained left wrist, then backup Zach Collaros ran 75 yards for a score
in a 34-17 victory over No. 21 South Florida on Thursday night.
Collaros squirted through an opening
in the middle of the defense for the long touchdown three plays after
replacing Pike. The senior was injured late in the first half, then
left after being hit as he released an incomplete pass on Cincinnati’s
first possession of the second half.
Pike threw scoring passes of 3 and 8
yards to Armon Binns in the second quarter, helping the Bearcats (6-0,
2-0 Big East) to a 17-10 halftime lead over South Florida (5-1, 1-1).
The Bulls led early on B.J. Daniels‘
28-yard touchdown pass to Jessie Hester, and closed within 24-17 late
in the third quarter when safety Nate Allen intercepted an ill-advised
pass by Collaros to set up a 1-yard TD run by Daniels.
But Collaros, one of two freshmen
quarterbacks who bailed Cincinnati out after two starters — Dustin
Grutza and Pike — were injured early last season, was not rattled by
the mistake. He came right back to lead a six-play, 70-yard scoring
drive that restored the 14-point lead.
The big play in the march was a
43-yard completion to Ben Guidugli, who stretched out to get the ball
over the goal line for an apparent touchdown. The tight end was
penalized for taking his helmet off in the ensuing celebration, and
things got worse for the Bearcats when officials reviewed the play and
determined his elbow was down at the 1.
The penalty, which would have been
walked off on the kickoff if it had been a touchdown, moved the ball
back to the 16. After USF gave the stalled drive new life with a pass
interference penalty on third down, Collaros scored on a 3-yard run,
making it 31-17.
Collaros finished with 132 yards
rushing on 10 carries. Pike, who threw a TD pass for the 16th
consecutive game, was 12-of-25 for 140 yards without an interception.
Pike injured his non-throwing arm
when he was hit as he released a pass on Cincinnati’s last possession
of the opening half. He went to the locker room ahead of his teammates,
then returned for the first possession of the third quarter, wearing a
protective sleeve over the wrist.
Last season, Pike broke his left forearm and played with a plate and six screws that are still in place.
Moving up the polls hasn’t been a
problem for USF, which has climbed into the top 10 each of the past two
seasons before tumbling out of contention when they got into the heart
of the Big East schedule.
The Bulls started 6-0 in 2007 and
were ranked No. 2 before three consecutive losses dropped them out of
the Top 25. They were 5-0 last season before losing four of their next
five, including their third straight loss to Cincinnati.
The Bearcats have one of the most
prolific offenses in the nation, but they’ve been so efficient in
moving the ball and scoring quickly that coach Brian Kelly has been
concerned by a time of possession imbalance that’s kept his defense on
the field for too long this season.
The defending Big East champions had
the ball for just 16 and 19 minutes in victories over Fresno State and
Miami (Ohio). They had one scoring drive of 4 seconds on Thursday, set
up by Aaron Webster‘s interception and 83-yard return to the USF 3.
Binns had one career touchdown
reception before Pike’s first TD pass gave Cincinnati a 10-7 lead less
than a minute into the second quarter. The junior from Pasadena,
Calif., stretched out in the back of the end zone to make the diving
8-yard catch that put the Bearcats up 17-7.