CINCINNATI -- All week, college football followers wondered how Cincinnati coach
"It caught me off guard," admitted Bearcats starter
"I thought he just wanted to talk to me," Pike said when he first heard his name called. "I kind of had some trouble getting my chin strap on."
He didn't dally long. On his first play since injuring his left forearm against South Florida on Oct. 15, Pike fired a 10-yard touchdown strike to receiver
Two completions. Two touchdowns. And Cincinnati is 10-0 for the first time in school history.
"I don't know if anyone's ever done that before," Kelly said afterward. "It was kind of crazy."
This entire season has been crazy for this 114-year-old football program that inexplicably finds itself on the footsteps of football bluebloods Florida, Texas and Alabama. For the second straight week, a Nippert Stadium record crowd (35,105) watched their beloved BCS aspirants stave off a furious last-minute comeback attempt by a thought-to-be vanquished Big East foe. This one required two quarterbacks, a career night from sophomore tailback
"I don't care how we score points. I don't care what it looks like," said Kelly. "I just want to win."
The Bearcats' offensive wizard has now won 32 of the 38 games he's coached here, and this one required more of his mad-scientist tinkering. He'd decided early in the week to give the torrid sophomore Collaros his fourth straight start while easing Pike back into action in advance of his anticipated return to the starting lineup Nov. 27 against Illinois. His plan -- to use Pike in selected red-zone situations -- was far from arbitrary.
"We wanted to minimize [Pike's] risk," said Kelly. "In a short field, there was a three to four percent chance of pressure [from West Virginia] based on film tendencies. We knew we would get a lot more bracket coverage, and Tony can fit it in tight spaces. He can see those creases just a little bit better than Zach."
That he did. Both of his touchdown throws were lasers, but the second -- a 6-yard strike on a third and goal slant to
Lest you think Kelly's creative platoon might cause friction among his quarterbacks, Pike and Collaros hugged in a hallway just outside the Bearcats' postgame press conference, where they'd just finished hamming it up for reporters.
"Guys on the sideline were joking that I got the assist and he got the [basket]," said Collaros. "It was like
Collaros, who set a school record with 555 yards of offense six days earlier against Connecticut, cooled off a bit Friday night. While he made some nice throws, he finished a modest (by Cincinnati standards) 17-of-24 for 205 yards and threw an ill-advised interception shortly before halftime.
The Bearcats' undisputed offensive star Friday night was Pead, who saw the most extensive action of his young career due to an injury to backfield mate
He also scored an important game-tying touchdown late in the second quarter after Cincinnati fell behind for the first time since Sept. 19 -- although it appeared at first that he'd committed a crushing miscue instead. On first and goal at the 3, Pead leapt over the top of the pile and stretched the ball forward toward the goal line -- only to have it fall loose. The officials on the field called it a fumble.
Remarkably, the Bearcats had not lost a single fumble during their first nine games -- but tight end
"I was praying [on the sideline]," said Pead. "I felt like I [got in]. [Backup running back]
Cincinnati's defense must have felt much the same way. For the second straight week, an opponent rushed for 200-plus yards on the Bearcats (202), with fullback
But Mountaineers quarterback
For the second straight week, Cincinnati found itself needing an onside recovery to seal the deal. While the Bearcats' bandwagon keeps growing, their victory margins are suddenly shrinking.
Their bye week couldn't come at a better time. Following a non-conference game against the 4-6 Illini on Thanksgiving weekend, Cincy (10-0, 6-0 Big East) will travel to No. 9 Pittsburgh (8-1, 5-1 Big East) the final night of the season (Dec. 5) with a BCS berth -- and maybe, possibly more -- on the line.
"Winning football games is hard," said Kelly. "We have won 10 in a row, and we are banged up. We're just fighting to win every day."
As of Friday night, they'd won more than any team in the country -- and any team in their school's history. Not bad for a team with a revolving door at quarterback.