TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tony Pike left the field clutching his non-throwing arm, and unbeaten Cincinnati’s high-powered, quick-strike offense kept rolling against South Florida.
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The eighth-ranked Bearcats got two touchdown passes from their senior quarterback before he left in the third quarter with a sprained left wrist, then backup Zach Collaros ran 75 yards for the first of his two rushing TDs in a 34-17 victory over the 21st-ranked Bulls on Thursday night.
“We’re kind of accustomed to it, which isn’t a good thing. You never want to see your starting quarterback go down,” Collaros said. “I just try to be as well-prepared as I possibly can.”
Coach Brian Kelly said Pike, who broke his left forearm last season and played with a plate and six screws that are still in place, will miss Cincinnati’s next game, at home Oct. 24 against Louisville.
“The plate that’s in there has shifted,” Kelly said, adding that it has not been determined if the injury will require surgery. Pike will be examined by a specialist on Friday.
The Bearcats did not make Pike available to the media in the locker room, citing team policy regarding injured players.
Collaros squirted through an opening in the middle of the defense for his long touchdown three plays after entering the game. Pike 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), which has lost six consecutive games against Top 25 teams.
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 led a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive that restored the 14-point lead.
“He’s a gamer. He’s a competitive kid,” Kelly said. “He’s athletic, and we did what we had to do with him in the game, and that was obviously run him, control clock, play good defense and get out of here with a win.”
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.
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.
South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said the Bulls will regroup and prepare for next week’s conference game at Pittsburgh.
“I’m going to look at the film, tell them what they did right and what they did wrong … and we’ll move on,” Leavitt said. “I don’t have any other magical formula I can use.”
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 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.