Cincinnati 37, South Florida, 34
October 22nd, 2011
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
The Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the South Florida Bulls on Saturday by a final score of 37-34, moving their record to 6-1 (2-0 Big East) on the year. With the win, the Bearcats find themselves atop the Big East standings as the only team without a conference loss.
The game was ugly for both teams on both sides of the ball, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t make for exciting television. There were six lead changes, and 51 second-half points. Luckily, the final lead change of the game went the Bearcats way when Zach Collaros scrambled in from 3-yards out to give the Bearcats the win.
Collaros finished the game with 389 yards and three touchdowns on 26/41 passing. He also threw two interceptions, both of which came in the first half.
Adrien Robinson and Isaiah Pead also finished with one touchdown grab each. For Pead, he also rushed for 79 yards on 22 carries. Quarterback Zach Collaros accounted for each of the Bearcats’ two rushing touchdowns, and finished with 21 yards on just four carries.
20. The number of flags thrown Saturday. Each team accounted for ten infractions, with South Florida racking up 109 yards in penalties, including five personal fouls.
6. The number of wins for the Bearcats thus far. That total equals two more than they achieved in all of last season. It also assures the Bearcats of a bowl berth.
The turning point of this game didn’t come until the final Bearcat play from scrimmage. This game featured enough twists and turns to raise anyone’s blood pressure. Thus, the final turn didn’t come until there were just 12 seconds left on the clock. It was at that moment that Zach Collaros crossed the goal line and gave the Bearcats the lead, and the win.
I’m going to give this award to Zach Collaros. It’s not often that a quarterback win’s a game and is the “unsung” hero, but because of the amount of flack Collaros took in the first half, I’m going to give him the award anyways.
Collaros struggled mightily in the first half, nearly doing enough to earn himself a spot on the bench. But, when most quarterbacks would fold, Collaros regrouped and came out strong in the second half. He made the throws he needed to make in the second half, and was the driving force behind the Bearcats’ game-winning drive.
Dominique Battle was lost in the first quarter of Saturday’s game against South Florida after he suffered a sprained knee attempting to defend against a BJ Daniels touchdown pass. His status for next week is up in the air.
The Bearcats started the game with the ball, and things appeared to be running smoothly. They Ralph David Abernathy started off the game with his second big kick return in two weeks, and the Bearcats started out near midfield. After quickly moving the ball inside the twenty, however, the Bearcats were unable to score. After Alex Chisum dropped a pass that would have set the Bearcats up with a first down, Tony Miliano failed to covert a 30-yard field goal that would have given the Bearcats an early lead.
Fortunately, the defense stepped up big on the Bulls’ first possession of the game, forcing a fumble from USF quarterback BJ Daniels and regained possession inside the Bulls’ fifteen-yard line. Again, however, the offense would sputter. Two incomplete passes and a delay of game put the Bearcats in a third-and-long situation, and quarterback Zach Collaros was intercepted, leaving the Bearcats without any points to show for two early trips to the red zone.
The Bulls would again take over possession, and this time they’d strike. The Bearcats were able to get zero pressure on Daniels, who picked apart the secondary en route to an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Griffin to put USF on the board first.
On the Bearcats’ next drive, the offense was back on the move. A couple of nice runs from Isaiah Pead, and a couple of big catches from Kenbrell Thompkins and Travis Kelce set the Bearcats up inside the Bulls’s 15-yard line. This time, the Bearcats were able to convert on third down when Collaros found pead of the backfield who took it in to pull the Bearcats even.
The Bulls would start the second quarter with the ball and would quickly move downfield on the Bearcats’ defense. Bulls receivers were able to regularly get open, often with a defensive back nowhere in sight. Thoughts of Tennessee began to appear in the minds of Bearcat fans as the Bulls again moved inside the Bearcat 10. Fortunately, just as the Bearcats’ special teams had let them down on their first drive of the game, the Bulls’ special teams would let them down as well when they failed to handle the snap on what would have been a chip shot field goal and gave the ball back to Cincinnati.
Cincinnati’s drive didn’t go far. After gaining just one first down, they found themselves forced to punt the ball back to USF. However, a defensive facemask penalty, perhaps the first anyone had ever seen on a punt play, would give the Bearcats second life. They would take advantage, setting up Tony Miliano with a chance from 43 yards out. His kick was good, and it gave the Bearcats a 10-7 lead.
After Zach Collaros threw what may have been the dumbest interception of his career late in the first half, South Florida would capitalize. However some clock management issues would prevent them from getting in the endzone. At the half, the score was tied at 10.
The second half started with South Florida in possession of the ball, and they would embark on a long, time consuming drive to get the half underway. BJ Daniels was able to make plays in the passing game and with his feet, and the officials helped the Bulls out with a couple of questionable calls. In the end, it was Demetrius Murray scoring a touchdown on the ground and giving the Bulls a 17-10 lead.
On the Bearcats’ ensuing drive, they would answer right back. Facing a third down and two, Zach Collaros found a wide open Kenbrell Thompkins streaking down the sideline, and Thompkins took it inside the Bulls’ 25-yard line. On the very next play, Collaros found his big tight end Adrien Robinson over the middle for six, tying the game at 17.
After a South Florida field goal made it 20-17 Bulls, the Bearcats took the field looking to regain the lead. Unfortunately, they would accomplish quite the opposite. After a quick three-and-out possession, the Bearcats allowed Victor Marc to return Pat O’Donnell’s punt 40 yards inside the Bearcats twenty. The Bulls quickly scored again on a BJ Daniels touchdown pass, and extended their lead to 10 as the third quarter drew to a close.
The fourth quarter got underway with the Bearcats in possession and on the move. A couple of nice plays coupled with two personal fouls on the Bulls allowed for the Bearcats to start the fourth quarter already inside the South Florida twenty yard line. Almost as soon as the quarter got underway, the Bearcats pulled within three. They did so via the quarterback scramble when Zach Collaros took it in from about 7 yards out.
After South Florida was forced to punt on their ensuing possession, the Bearcats embarked on another long drive in hopes of at least pulling even with the Bulls. After moving the ball inside the USF 25, the Bearcats found themselves in a third down-and-thirteen situation. On the next play, Collaros heaved it up to Alex Chisum who made a spectacular touchdown grab to give the Bearcats the lead. Unfortunately, the extra point was blocked – something that would loom large late in the game.
On South Florida’s next possession Devan Drane intercepted BJ Daniels, albeit inside the 10-yard line, and the Bulls relinquished possession. However, the Bearcats were unable to run the clock out, and gave the ball back to the Bulls with just over four minutes left to play.
The Bulls proceeded to drive right down the field on the Bearcats. BJ Daniels made a tremendous play to pitch the ball to a teammate as he was being sacked, and the ball carrier took it inside the Bearcat 20-yard line. The drive was capped off with another BJ Daniels touchdown pass, and the Bearcats found themselves down by four with little more than a minute left to play.
The Bearcats wouldn’t go away easy. With time winding down Zach Collaros orchestrated a drive that took the Bearcats inside the South Florida 25-yard line in just under a minute, and gave the Bearcats a chance to steal one.
And, as they have done all year long, the Bearcats delivered when it mattered the most. With fifteen seconds to go, the Bearcats down by four, and only fifteen seconds left on the clock, Zach Collaros scrambled in from 3 yards out to give the Bearcats their sixth win of the year.
It’s been a theme all season long for the Bearcats. They’ve been mistake prone, and they haven’t played their best football in almost a month. Yet somehow, despite their struggles, they continue to win. That’s what makes a football team great. Is this a great football team? Maybe not yet. But they’re certainly on their way, and they’ve certainly shown their ability to win.
They have two games forthcoming that could decide how far they go. If they take care of business against West Virginia, and they take care of business against Pittsburgh, the Bearcats will find themselves in an absolutely commanding position atop the Big East standing, with a return trip to the BCS in their future.
Regardless, the future is bright for Cincinnati football. Many questioned whether or not the program could survive the loss of a coach like Brian Kelly. Regardless of what happens from here on out, I believe the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’