Pike, Cincinnati hammer Rutgers
Tony Pike threw for a career-high 362 yards and three touchdowns, and Cincinnati used its high-speed, no-huddle offense to hurry past Rutgers 47-15 on Monday.
The defending Big East champion Bearcats got a jump on the conference race by improving to 4-0 against Rutgers since joining the league.
Looking to christen its newly expanded stadium and extend a seven-game winning streak, the Scarlet Knights couldn’t keep up with Pike, Mardy Gilyard and the Bearcats. Instead, it looked like the bad ol’ days at Rutgers.
New Scarlet Knights starter Domenic Natale threw three first-half interceptions and the senior left open the possibility that his first career start could be his last. Highly touted freshman Tom Savage played the second half.
Coach Brian Kelly began his third season with the Bearcats as a rising star in the business. Courted by Washington and Tennessee last season, Kelly might not be long for the Queen City and his team showed why against the Scarlet Knights.
With the luxury of a returning starter at quarterback for the first time at UC, Kelly unleashed his fast-paced, Oklahoma-style offense.
Pike completed 27 of 34 passes, Gilyard caught eight passes for 89 yards and a score and Isaiah Pead scored two touchdowns.
With Pike directing traffic at the line of scrimmage, the Bearcats burned down the field on the opening drive of the game, covering 81 yards in 2:29 without an incomplete pass. Pead capped the drive with a 2-yard TD run.
Rutgers’ response to UC’s speed was a methodical, 20-play, 78-yard touchdown drive, that took more than 10 minutes and was capped by a 5-yard run by Joe Martinek.
Ultimately, though, the team breaking in a new quarterback was no match for the one with a seasoned veteran.
Natale, replacing the departed Mike Teel, held the ball too long and had several throws sail high. Cincinnati turned his first two picks into touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Pike went 20 of 25 in the first half for 286 yards with touchdown passes of 5 yards to Gilyard and 41 yards to Pead as the Bearcats raced to a 31-7 halftime lead.
Cincinnati even gave Rutgers a dose of the Wildcat – not, the Bearcat? – with redshirt freshman tight end Travis Kelce, a former quarterback, taking two snaps and bulling 16 yards to finish off the first of three consecutive second-quarter touchdown drives. They were the first two touches of Kelce’s career.
Kelce added a 2-yard TD run in the third quarter.
This certainly wasn’t what Rutgers had in mind for the first game in its renovated home. The two-year project to enclose the stadium, put in luxury suites and install a new scoreboard increased capacity from about 42,000 to more than 52,000 and cost $102 million.
A crowd of 53,737 was raucous early, quiet and dejected by halftime and mostly out the door by the fourth quarter. The home team played more like the sadsack program coach Greg Schiano found when he took over nine seasons ago.
One reason for hope: Savage, who played his high school ball in the suburbs of Philadelphia. One of the biggest recruits Rutgers has ever landed, Savage completed his first three passes and finished 15 of 23 for 135 yards with a touchdown pass.