CINCINNATI -- Receiver Mardy Gilyard was asked what he thought about those astounding time-of-possession numbers on the stats sheet. It took him a few seconds to find the right line.
When he did, his eyes widened.
"Forty-three to 16?" he said. "We had it 16 minutes? Oh, my goodness!"
Those 16 minutes were just enough for Gilyard and Tony Pike to save Cincinnati.
Pike threw three touchdown passes in a quick-strike offense that was hardly on the field, and the 14th-ranked Bearcats held on for a 28-20 victory over a Fresno State team that ran all over them on Saturday. One gamble made the Bulldogs (1-3) come up empty.
Facing fourth-and-2 at the Cincinnati 6 to open the fourth quarter, Fresno State chose to throw rather than run it again. Ryan Colburn's pass was picked off, and Pike put the Bearcats (4-0) in control with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Gilyard.
"I thought we had a real good call," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "I think if you ask Ryan, he would tell you he would have thrown it deeper, but there were a lot of bodies in the way. We considered a field goal, but we thought we could score."
Gilyard also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in another career day. The senior receiver and returner had nine catches for a career-best 177 yards, giving him eight touchdowns in four games.
The Bulldogs' strategy was to keep one of the nation's top offenses off the field. It nearly succeeded. Cincinnati came in averaging 48 points per game, fourth-best nationally, but was on the field for only 16:18. With Ryan Mathews grinding out the yards, the Bulldogs held the ball for 43:42.
The Bearcats' defensive secondary was depleted by injuries and the Bulldogs hit a lot of big plays in their first three games, so coach Brian Kelly decided on a conservative philosophy: Drop the safeties deep in zone coverage and let Fresno State grind away.
"They conducted the game exactly the way they needed to," said Kelly, who considered changing his strategy before Pike's last touchdown put Cincinnati in charge. "I'm glad they're not in the Big East, let me tell you that."
Mathews carried a career-high 38 times for 145 yards, topping the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight game. He was the Bowl Subdivision's leading rusher coming in, averaging 149 yards per game. His ability to find holes behind 270-pound fullback Reynard Camp kept Cincinnati on the defensive all game and persuaded his own coaches to keep giving him the ball.
"I'm tired," Mathews said. "Thirty-eight carries is a lot. The coaches told me to expect the ball every play. It's part of being a running back. Sometimes you may only get it five times, sometimes you get a lot of carries. It depends on the day."
Fresno State had the fourth-best running game in the nation, and showed it wouldn't be pushed around by churning out a 17-play drive that took more than eight minutes in the second quarter. Colburn's 21-yard touchdown pass to Jamel Hamler -- uncovered in the middle of the field -- cut it to 21-17 with 7 seconds left before halftime.
The Bearcats thought: Uh-oh.
Cincinnati's offense had the ball for only one minute in the third quarter -- a three-and-out drive that put the whole burden on the defense. Linebacker Craig Carey's first career interception on Fresno State's pivotal fourth-down pass helped the Bearcats improve to 25-0 under Kelly when they open the fourth quarter with a lead.
Carey had a suspicion the Bulldogs were going to throw to his area.
"Before the play, I noticed the running back staring at me for some reason," Carey said. "I got a weird feeling the play was going to come my way. I feel like he looked me right in the eyes and just threw it to me."
The Bearcats' no-huddle offense needed only 2:12, 1:43, 2:53 and 1:45 to zip down the field for its touchdowns, giving the defense little rest. The game was in the hands of that tired crew after Fresno State got the ball back at its 7-yard line following a punt with 3:55 to go.
Colburn's fourth-down pass from the Cincinnati 37 was broken up by safety Aaron Webster with 39 seconds left, ending it.
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