No. 5 Cincinnati 41, Louisville 10
Sophomore Zach Collaros threw only two incompletions while passing for 253 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, steadying fifth-ranked Cincinnati to a 41-10 victory over Louisville in the Bearcats' first game without their marquee quarterback.
"I though we were on top of it from the very beginning," coach Brian Kelly said. "We get the first two scores, and I think there was a lot of confidence on the sideline. Nobody was worrying about where Tony Pike was."
Pike was right there behind him, wearing a sweat suit and baseball cap, watching his backup do a nearly perfect job.
"There were some questions with that," said Collaros, who was 15 of 17. "We came out on those first two drives and everybody was hitting. I had a lot of confidence after that. Those first two drives were big."
The Bearcats (7-0, 3-0 Big East) are off to their best start since 1954 despite losing Pike, a senior whose strong arm is the perfect fit for their no-huddle, spread offense. He didn't suit up four days after having surgery on his non-throwing forearm, watching from the sideline with his left arm tucked inside his jacket.
His understudy proved to be a quick study against lowly Louisville (2-5, 0-3).
Collaros was nervous on Friday night, when Pike spent three hours watching game video with him, and again on Saturday morning as he prepared for his first collegiate start. Kelly scripted the first 15 plays to let him do things that would make him more comfortable.
The plan included plenty of quarterback draws. Collaros ran for 52 yards against a defense that is by far the worst in the conference at stopping the run.
"I was hoping Tony Pike would play, actually," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "It makes them one-dimensional and a better matchup for us. I knew Collaros could run. That causes matchup problems for us."
Collaros, who had only two career touchdown passes, threw his third of the game to Mardy Gilyard, a 31-yard play that made it 31-10 midway through the third quarter and put Cincinnati in complete control.
"Personally, I think it adds a little more spice to the offense when we've got Zach there because he can run the ball," said Gilyard, who tied the school record with his 22nd career touchdown catch.
Third-string quarterback Chazz Anderson took over for the final series of the third quarter with Cincinnati up 38-10. Isaiah Pead added a pair of touchdown runs, including a 67-yarder in the third quarter.
Nothing went well for Louisville during its most lopsided loss to Cincinnati since a 38-0 drubbing in 1951. The Cardinals fell to 4-13 against Big East teams during Kragthorpe's three seasons. They also lost top running back Victor Anderson, who hurt his shoulder in the second half and didn't return.
Quarterback Adam Froman, who made his fourth start for the injured Justin Burke, went 6 of 10 for 42 yards and a touchdown, leaving the game after it got out of hand.
"My shoulder was banged up a little bit," Froman said. "I can't tell exactly what happened. I just got hit a couple times. I'm not worried about it, but we'll take a look at it."
During his three seasons at Cincinnati, Kelly has been very adept at rotating quarterbacks because of injuries. He used five of them last season - Pike broke his left forearm, had a plate and six screws inserted, and returned after missing only two games. Wearing a cast on the forearm, Pike led the Bearcats to their first Big East championship.
He damaged the plate late in the first half of a 34-17 win at South Florida, where Collaros took over and ran for two touchdowns. Pike had surgery last Tuesday to replace the plate, and will have his cast changed in the next few days. Cincinnati is hoping to have him back for a game next Saturday at Syracuse.
"A lot of this will really depend on his comfort level," Kelly said.
The game drew 35,099 fans, the largest crowd in Nippert Stadium's history - one more than the previous mark. Fans saw Collaros make only one bad throw, overshooting a wide-open Gilyard in the end zone on Cincinnati's opening possession. The other incompletion came on a pass tipped at the line.
Collaros completed 10 consecutive throws, showing that the nation's fourth-highest-scoring team wasn't going to fall apart without Pike. The Bearcats didn't punt until there were seven minutes left in the game.