CINCINNATI -- Four Cincinnati players rode the elevator to the classroom that served as the postgame news conference room, and linebacker Andre Revels and wide receiver Mardy Gilyard stood face to face in a heated argument.
"When I'm done with football, I'm going to coach and then I'm going to run for mayor of Cincinnati," Gilyard said. Revels -- a Cincinnati native -- scoffed. "Not if you’re running against me," Revels retorted.
|Tony Pike is forced to watch from the sidelines after sustaining an arm injury last week. (AP)|
"No," the hero of Saturday’s game said, "Tony Pike is going to be mayor."
Everybody broke into laughter, the elevator doors opened and the No. 5 Bearcats walked into the room where they would quickly explain how they dominated Louisville 41-10 in front of a school-record crowd of 35,099 at Nippert Stadium.
Pike has been an impact player this season, a redshirt senior quarterback who wasn't even listed on the depth chart heading into fall camp last season. Before a helmet to the arm against South Florida on Oct. 15 damaged a metal plate in his non-throwing arm, Pike had been one of the nation's biggest surprises.
A grassroots campaign touting Pike as a Heisman hopeful had begun to gain support. NFL Draft experts had begun to notice his 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame and his arm strength. And if you studied his stats -- a 66.7 completion percentage with 13 touchdowns, three interceptions and an average of nearly 300 yards per game in his first five contests -- it'd be hard to disagree with Collaros' assessment.
Pike, if not the mayor of the city, was at least the darling of the Bearcats football community. With his performance Saturday, though, Collaros -- at least for the meantime -- is the toast of this town.
Confusing the Cardinals with his arm and his feet, Collaros, making his first start as Cincinnati's quarterback, completed 15 of 17 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 11 times for 52 yards. That's 305 yards of total offense and probably enough to garner Collaros some votes in the 2013 mayoral race.
"One guy steps out, the next guy steps in and we keep rolling," said Gilyard, who tied the school's record with his 22nd career touchdown catch. "I think we added a little more spice to our offense when we added Zach. It keeps the defense guessing. They don't know if he's going to throw the ball -- he throws an excellent ball as you saw today -- or if he's going to do run the ball, like he did against South Florida."
After the game, Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said he had hoped Pike would play today, because he makes the Bearcats a one-dimensional team. Frankly, that's a little hard to believe. But he was correct on this point: Collaros can throw the ball with surprising accuracy or, as evidence by his 75-yard touchdown run against South Florida, can kill you with his feet.
Much of the credit for Saturday's blowout victory must go to Collaros, Gilyard and a Bearcats defense that made Louisville's 2007 Orange Bowl victory seem like decades ago. But Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly has made a habit of this.
He takes the backup quarterback, makes him the starter out of necessity and then rides him to victory. In the 35 games of his tenure at Cincinnati, Kelly has needed a backup on six occasions and the Bearcats are 6-0 in those contests. You want to talk about molding a game plan to your quarterback's abilities and talents, Kelly knows how to make that happen.
"That's what he emphasizes, playing to a player's strengths," said former Bearcats quarterback Dustin Grutza, who replaced injured starter Ben Mauk for two games in 2007 and led the team to a pair of victories by a combined score of 87-24. "He knows how to use his players. He can move guys around. That's definitely an asset. That's definitely a skill he has that makes this team go."
Last year, Pike broke his non-throwing arm and missed two games. Backup Chazz Anderson won both, including the Big East opener vs. Rutgers. This year, a South Florida defender damaged one of the plates in Pike's arm. Enter Collaros, who beat Anderson for the backup job at the beginning of this year.
On Friday night, Pike did his best to help his roommate Collaros prepare for the Cardinals. Pike watched tape with his teammates, he studied Louisville's tendencies and shared his insights with Collaros.
You can see why teammates agree that Pike could win a race for mayor. But Collaros also proved Kelly's theorem true. Take a quarterback -- a runner or a thrower, it doesn't matter which -- and architect a plan specific to his needs. Then, watch that quarterback win the game for you.
"It doesn't matter who's under center with the offense we run; Coach Kelly could be out there running the ball," Gilyard said. "The best way I can say it is: We don't worry about who's running the show. We just go with the flow."