Brendon Kay threw for a touchdown and ran for another on a finger-numbing Friday night, getting Cincinnati's offense moving after its worst showing of the season, and the Bearcats pulled away to a 27-10 victory over self-destructive South Florida.
The Bulls (3-8, 1-5) struggled behind redshirt freshman Matt Floyd, making his first career start. Floyd was 21 of 39 for 176 yards, but his receivers repeatedly slipped and fell while running patterns. The Bulls also had seven fumbles, but recovered five of them.
"I thought our young quarterback stood in there and showed an awful lot of poise tonight," Coach Skip Holtz said. "I thought he showed an awful lot of toughness and I was proud of the way he competed. But we certainly in the last two weeks have not done much to help him on the perimeter. It seemed like we had a lot of guys tripping and falling tonight."
Floyd's biggest problem was holding onto the snap — he repeatedly lost his grip on the ball after taking the snap.
"The cold definitely didn't help matters, but it's something that I need to work on," Floyd said. "It's only hurting the team every time I fumble the snap."
Demetris Murray's 5-yard run ended a streak of 10 quarters without a touchdown by the Bulls and cut it to 27-10 with 7:19 left in the game.
South Florida lost receiver Terrence Mitchell on its opening drive of the third quarter. The junior was shaken up by a collision with a defender and was helped off the field. Mitchell missed most of last season after a concussion.
"These were concussion-like symptoms with a little bit loss of memory," Holtz said. "I am concerned about him."
Only 21,171 fans showed up for senior night, Cincinnati's smallest home crowd of the season. The Bulls had sideline heaters and warmed benches to take the chill off the evening. One of the heaters billowed smoke in the closing minutes.
The game ended with a nasty exchange in front of the Cincinnati bench. Officials and coaches stepped between players to break it up.
Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2 Big East) was coming off a 10-3 loss to Rutgers that eliminated the Bearcats from the league title race. It was the first time since 1987 that the Bearcats gave up only 10 points and lost.
Their senior quarterback got them back on track, avoiding mistakes on a night when the cold and wind made it a challenge to throw the ball. Kay improved to 2-1 as a starter since taking over for the struggling Munchie Legaux.
Kay ended Cincinnati's touchdown drought with an 18-yard touchdown scramble in the first quarter. He also threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce and set up another score with a 48-yard completion.
Kay was 17 of 27 for 178 yards without an interception. He also ran seven times for 48 yards.
George Winn ran for 119 yards and scored from 3 and 4 yards out in the second half, when the Bearcats pulled ahead 27-3.
Both teams came in with questions about their quarterbacks.
Kay hurt his left (non-throwing) elbow during the loss to Rutgers. It didn't bother him as he scrambled to avoid the Bulls' pass rush on Friday. After South Florida fumbled, Kay eluded the rush for his 18-yard scamper and a 7-0 lead.
The Bearcats surprised the Bulls with a quick-snap play in the second quarter, and Kay threw a short pass that Anthony McClung turned into a 26-yard gain. Kay's 3-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce made it 13-0 — the extra-point attempt hit the upright.
Kelce had a team-high seven catches for 58 yards and became the first Cincinnati tight end to have 500 yards on receptions during one season.
Kenbrell Thompkins got behind the coverage for a 48-yard pass from Kay to the 3-yard line late in the third quarter. Winn ran the rest of the way for a 20-3 lead.
South Florida was on its third quarterback of the month, and it showed.
B.J. Daniels broke his left ankle on Nov. 3. Junior Bobby Eveld replaced him and separated his left shoulder in the first quarter of 40-9 loss to Miami last weekend. Floyd finished it out, completing 20 of 35 for 175 yards with two interceptions.
Floyd couldn't get the offense moving on Friday night until Cincinnati was in control. The Bulls managed only 95 yards in the first half. They ran 15 plays in the second quarter for a total of 14 yards — two long sacks set them back.
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