NCF Nation: Cincinnati 0810
|AP Photo/David Kohl|
|Tony Pike threw for 281 yards and two TDs against South Florida.|
CINCINNATI -- Tony Pike sat in the Cincinnati training room on Wednesday afternoon and suddenly realized he was surrounded by peers.
"There were five quarterbacks in there getting treatment," Pike said. "We even had a redshirt freshman break his foot this week. It was pretty much a training room full of quarterbacks."
The latest in the never-ending series of quarterback casualties struck Chazz Anderson, who missed Thursday's game against South Florida with a medial collateral sprain in his knee. He's out for about 10 days, becoming the third different starting quarterback the Bearcats have lost to injury. And that's not even counting Ben Mauk's failed appeal to the NCAA this summer.
Such calamities might have killed lesser teams. But Cincinnati (6-2, 2-1) is still very much alive in the Big East race after its best overall performance of the season in a 24-10 win over the No. 23 Bulls.
These were the Bearcats last seen during their 10-win campaign a year ago and the ones everyone expected this season. The defense rediscovered its ball-hawking ways, intercepting Matt Grothe three times. The offense, stymied for weeks by the quarterback uncertainty, produced 396 yards while finding a nice balance between the running and passing games.
"Everything played into our hands tonight," receiver Mardy Gilyard said. "We played our best game."
They couldn't have done so without Pike, who was questionable to play until Tuesday. The junior broke his left forearm in the Sept. 27 game at Akron and needed to have a plate and six screws inserted. He sat two games, then fell awkwardly in the first half at UConn. That caused the plate to push against a nerve and made his left hand go numb. He also suffered a broken radius in his wrist. Anderson had to finish out the 40-16 loss.
CINCINNATI -- Impressive performance by the Bearcats tonight as they keep their Big East title hopes alive. South Florida, meanwhile, is in yet another midseason tailspin.
I'm heading to the field for interviews and will have more to come.
Showing no lingering effects of the broken arm that kept him out of the second half at UConn, Pike has thrown for 227 yards in the first half. He's also shown surprising mobility and touch for a guy his size (6-foot-6).
The Bearcats would probably be up even more if not for three first-half turnovers, including two fumbles by running backs Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel. South Florida has turned it over twice on a pair of Matt Grothe interceptions. His first was returned 58 yards by Mike Mickens to set up Cincinnati's first touchdown. His second came on a great play by Connor Barwin, who reached out with his left hand to tip the ball in the air, allowing Lamonte Nelms to come up with the pick.
The Bulls have surprisingly made a big commitment to the running game despite missing top backs Jamar Taylor and Mike Ford. It has worked as they've produced 108 yards on 23 carries, which includes some negative plays on sacks and failed reverses. But the passing game has struggled; Grothe is just 5-of-11 for only 71 yards. Credit the Cincinnati pass defense for shutting down throwing lanes, but Grothe and his receivers have been a little off most of the night.
South Florida just can't get out of its own way. The Bulls have already drawn six penalties and have continued their annoying habit of jumping offside on defense, which they repeatedly did at Louisville last week. They've been called for three pass interference penalties, and even worse, Cincinnati connected on two of those.
Cincinnati had gone 0-for-25 on third down in its past two games. Tonight, the Bearcats are 4-for-5. They look like they're in good shape to pull off this much-needed win.