With their starting quarterback unable to play in Saturday's game against Louisville, Cincinnati backup quarterback Zach Collaros stepped in for Pike and led the fifth-ranked Bearcats to a 41-10 win over the Cardinals.
The win keeps Cincinnati atop the Big East standings with a 3-0 league mark and, more importantly, keeps them in the BCS national title hunt. For UofL, now 2-5, the loss was their eighth straight in the Big East and dropped the Cardinals to 0-3 in conference play.
Collaros and the Bearcats jumped on UofL from the opening kickoff, driving for a touchdown – and a 7-0 lead – on the game's opening possession. Collaros led Cincinnati on a 10-play, 78 yard drive that ended with Isaiah Pead's 1-yard touchdown run.
Game. Set. Match.
Louisville threatened on the next possession, but after Vic Anderson's 20-yard run down to the UC 29, the Bearcats defense tightened. After two Adam Froman incompletions, UC defensive lineman Brandon Mills sacked Froman for an 11 yard loss to force a UofL punt.
The rout promptly ensued.
On their next possession, Cincinnati marched 80-yards in seven plays that resulted in Collaros' 15-yard touchdown pass to Pead to give the Bearcats a commanding 21-0 advantage. How impressive was Cincinnati to start the game? The Bearcats scored three touchdowns in their first four possessions of the game, going 78 yards in 4:50, 90 yards in 2:49 and 80 yards in 3:33.
Louisville got on the board just before halftime when Froman connected with Josh Chichester for a four-yard touchdown pass to cut UC's lead to 21-7. The Cardinals went 74 yards on 15 plays, mostly on the ground for their first score of the game. The drive, led by Anderson and Darius Ashley took nearly eight minutes off the clock. Ashley rushed for 26 yards on the drive, including consecutive nine yard gains.
But it was a dominating first half for the Bearcats, who out-gained Louisville 299 to 97 in their first 30 minutes of action. Collaros threw for 222 yards in the opening half, while the Cardinals passed for just 23 yards. Cincinnati had 15 first downs compared to six for the Cards in the first half.
Louisville cut the lead to 21-10 on the opening possession of the second half. The Cardinals were helped by two 15-yard penalties by Cincinnati to set up Ryan Payne's 36 yard field goal.
Cincinnati answered with a 76 yard return on the kickoff by Mardy Gilyard to set up the Bearcats at the UofL 14. Collaros touchdown pass to Binns was called back because of an illegal shift and the Cardinals defense held, forcing a 26 yard field goal by Jake Rogers that made the score 24-10.
After a 14 yard UofL punt that gave Cincinnati the football at the 32, Collaros hit Gilyard for a 32 yard touchdown pass two plays later to put the Bearcats ahead 31-10 with 6:18 left in the third quarter.
Justin Burke replaced an injured Adam Froman (left elbow) on the Cards next possession but it didn't matter. Louisville went three and out and was forced to punt. Isaiah Pead went 67 yards for a touchdown on Cincinnati's next offensive play to increase the Bearcats lead to 38-10 with 4:36 left in the third quarter.
Burke returned on Louisville's next possession and connected with Doug Beaumont on third down to move the chains. Darius Ashley, replacing the injured Anderson (shoulder), ran for 15 yards to the UC 45 yard line. But Ashley lost yardage on the next two plays before Burke was intercepted by UC's Walter Stewart.
Chazz Anderson, the third string quarterback behind Pike and Collaros, played the fourth quarter for the Bearcats. Anderson moved UC into position for a 45 yard field goal from Rogers on his first drive of the game to give the Cats a 41-10 lead with 12:40 remaining in the game.
Louisville returns home next week to play Arkansas State.