TAMPA- USF prepared for Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard and a bevy of other playmakers on the Cincinnati offense for almost two weeks.
There was one thing they didn’t prepare for, though.
After Pike went down with injury, Cincinnati sophomore backup quarterback Zach Collaros stepped in and led the No. 8 Bearcats to a 34-17 victory over No. 21 USF before a near sellout crowd at Raymond James Stadium Thursday night.
Collaros entered the game in the third quarter, and with Cincinnati nursing a 17-10 lead, the Bearcats were sitting at third and 11 from their own 25. Cincinnati called a timeout to discuss the play, while USF had six defensive backs in to prepare for a pass.
Collaros fooled the USF defense with a quarterback draw and took it 75 yards for a touchdown, making it 24-10 and ultimately putting the game out of reach.
Even USF quarterback B.J. Daniels was impressed.
“It was a great play by the quarterback,” said Daniels, who rushed for 74 yards and passed for 208 yards in his first home start. “It was a back-breaker.”
USF coach Jim Leavitt said he was caught off guard.
“Did we prepare for him? No we didn’t,” Leavitt said. “When (Collaros) went in there, we mentioned he was going to hand it off or run it up inside. We did a poor job of adjusting to the other quarterback.”
Collaros finished with 132 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns to help the Bearcats to their fourth straight win over USF and emerge as the favorites to win the Big East championship.
It wasn’t just Collaros, though, who hurt the Bulls. A number of
With the Bulls leading 7-3 and driving deep in Bearcat territory early in the second quarter, Daniels was picked off by Cincinnati’s Aaron Webster, who returned it the USF 4-yard line. It led to a touchdown. Daniels said Cincinnati’s defense was relentless.
“Cincinnati was rushing three and dropping the rest,” Daniels said. “Even if our receivers got open off one (Cincinnati defender), another was waiting. They did a good job with their scheme.”
The Bearcats also put together some impressive drives, including one in the second quarter spanning nearly the length of the field.
Pinned deep in USF territory, Pike hit wide receiver D.J. Woods on third and 17 for a 25-yard gain. Cincinnati then marched down the field and Pike hooked up with Armon Binns for an 8-yard touchdown to go up 17-7 midway through the second quarter.
The Bulls cut the lead to 17-10 before halftime with a 50-yard field goal from Eric Schwartz, who was 2-for-5 entering the game.
However, it was mistakes that hurt the Bulls, Leavitt said. USF committed 12 penalties in the game. Despite keeping things close up until the third quarter, Leavitt said he was disappointed with the mistakes the Bulls made.
“I felt good about things. We had some momentum,” Leavitt said. “I thought we could come in and play great in the second half and win the ballgame. Cincinnati outplayed in the second half. That’s all there is too it – too many mistakes.”
USF heads to Pittsburgh next. The Bulls face the Panthers at Heinz Field at noon on Oct. 24.