Changing QBs doesn't faze No. 5 Cincinnati
Take Zach Collaros, the latest quarterback forced to the forefront because of injury.
The sophomore made his first collegiate start on Saturday against Louisville and was nearly perfect, throwing three touchdowns and only two incomplete passes in a 41-10 victory that showed the fifth-ranked Bearcats are far more than one talented quarterback.
Simply put, their system works.
"It doesn't matter who's under center with the offense we run," said Gilyard, who caught a 31-yard touchdown pass. "The best way I can say it is: We don't worry about who's under center or who's running the show. Coach (Brian) Kelly's running the show. We just go with the flow. One guy goes down, another steps in and we keep rolling."
During his three seasons in Cincinnati (7-0, 3-0 Big East), Kelly has shown a knack for getting teams through the worst times. He had to use five quarterbacks last season because of injuries, but won the school's first Big East title. He told his players that losing a quarterback isn't a reason to lose, and proved it many times over.
So, when Tony Pike reinjured his non-throwing arm and had to sit out Saturday's game against Louisville (2-5, 0-3), no one flinched. Collaros went 15 of 17 for 253 yards and three touchdowns in less than three quarters, leaving once the game was well in hand so his backup could get some game experience.
Another quarterback, another win.
"Anytime you have a team that has had success, they don't want one guy to be the reason why you win and lose," Kelly said. "Guys don't want to go in and say, 'Well, it's a one-man operation.' It's a tight group of guys, and they weren't going to let each other down."
Mainly, they've learned to trust in Kelly's system, which can put up a lot of points with different styles of quarterbacks.
In Kelly's first season, Ben Mauk had to fight through shoulder problems that repeatedly forced him to the sideline. The Bearcats used Mauk, Dustin Grutza and Pike at quarterback, and still won 10 games.
Last year, Grutza won the starting job but broke his leg. Pike took over and broke his left (non-throwing) forearm two games later. Collaros and Chazz Anderson - both freshmen at the time - steadied the Bearcats through the next two games until Pike could return, with a cast protecting the left forearm.
The juggling jobs have convinced players that Kelly knows what he's doing.
"We really didn't buy into it in 2007," Gilyard said. "Once we hit 10 wins, it was like, 'Hey, man, something's going on up there in the front office that's getting the job done.' We lost Grutza, and Pike came in and Pike was down. We flip-flopped so many quarterbacks. I can't remember how many quarterbacks we used last season, but we used all of them on the depth chart."
Kelly's spread, no-huddle offense is very adaptable, and he has shown a good feel for tailoring the game plans to what his quarterback does best - and for changing on the fly if that quarterback gets hurt.
When Pike damaged the protective plate in his left forearm midway through a 34-17 win at South Florida, Collaros came in and the play-calling changed. Pike is more of a pro-style passer; Collaros can take off running. The Bearcats ran a quarterback draw for a 74-yard touchdown. Collaros ran for two touchdowns as Cincinnati pulled away.
Kelly scripted the first 15 plays against Louisville, mixing runs and passes.
"With Tony - he's an NFL prototype, can throw the ball 60 times and complete 45 of them," Collaros said. "With me and the other quarterbacks, we can run the ball a little, too. They like to get us involved in the running game."
Pike watched from the sideline in a sweat suit and baseball cap. He had surgery on Tuesday to replace the plate in his left forearm. When he had the plate inserted last season after his injury, he missed two games. Kelly is hopeful that he could be ready to play at Syracuse (3-4, 0-2) next week.
"A lot of this will really depend on his comfort level," Kelly said. "The good news is that last year he had a dislocation in that wrist and the fracture. There is no dislocation (now). That's what really held him up last year. We'll take it day to day and go from there."
And if Collaros has to start again, no one will worry.
"Like I told Zach in pregame, I said, 'Bro, don't worry about anything. We've got you,"' Gilyard said. "We're going to make sure, when all's said and done, that you're going to have a nice day, you're going to be confident, and we're going to be able to take two steps forward from where we're at."