Heard it From Hoard: Column 53
Four years, 10 months, and 12 days.
That's how long it had been since Tony Pike last started a football game.
I'm not sure who to compare him to - Tom Brady's replacement Matt Cassel or Rip Van Winkle.
To put it in perspective, when Pike threw 53 passes in his last start - a playoff game for Reading High on November 8, 2003 - Jim McGreevey was still the seemingly-straight Governor of New Jersey, the "Jen" in Ben Affleck's life was Lopez, and the Bengals were looking to overcome an 0-3 start.
OK, a few things never change.
But Tony Pike certainly has. After grayshirting in 2004, redshirting in 2005, and watching from the sidelines for most of 2006 and 2007, the junior quarterback finally got a chance to show what he could do in his 52nd game as a member of the Bearcat program.
He was nothing short of sensational, going 20-for-24 for 241 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Furthermore, of the four incompletions, two were intentionally thrown out of bounds to avoid sacks, one should have been caught by Marcus Barnett, and the other was just barely tipped by a Miami defender.
And our radio stats guru, Brad Ellis, pointed out this great tidbit: Pike was 9-for-9 on pass attempts that were longer than 10 yards.
"I thought he was outstanding for his first start," Coach Kelly said. "I knew he was well-prepared - it was just a matter of getting his opportunity and he made the most of it. He's a smart kid and took care of the football, and I thought he did a great job of balancing the run and the pass."
"I'm upset that he missed four completions - we've got to work on that and get him to 24-for-24," Kelly joked.
It was pretty incredible considering the 1,778 day layoff between starts. I can't wait to see how he does after a 6-day break.
Now time for the weekly report card after a 45-20 win over Miami.
Quarterback - A-plus
When I met with Coach Kelly the day before the game, he sounded totally confident that Pike would play well and proceeded to show me practice footage of the 6'6" quarterback making throws that no other UC quarterback - including Ben Mauk - is capable of making. It remains to be seen how Tony will fare against tougher competition, but so far so good.
Running backs - B
John Goebel had two nice touchdown runs, but also had a costly fumble. Jacob Ramsey had his best game of the season (12 carries, 57 yards), but I'm still waiting to see him bust a long run.
Wide receivers - A
Mardy Gilyard had an incredible diving touchdown catch, Dominick Goodman had 6 grabs for 94 yards and leads the Big East in receiving yards, and TE Ben Guidugli had his first big game with 3 receptions for 52 yards, including a 24-yard TD.
Offensive line - A
Pike had to deal with some pressure at times, but there were no penalties up front and the 'Cats scored on 7 of 8 possessions (not including running out the clock at the end of the game).
Defensive line - B-minus
I thought they did a fantastic job of stuffing the run, but got very little pressure on Miami QB Daniel Raudabaugh.
Linebackers - B-minus
Again, excellent against the run, but the unit struggled to pick up RB Andre Bratton on short passes - especially on third down.
Defensive backs - B
Mike Mickens third career "Pick 6" was the play of the game and nearly all of Raudabaugh's completions were of the dink-and-dunk variety. Still, for the second game in a row, the DBs allowed a big play (Chris Givens 34-yard TD catch) when two defenders had him surrounded.
Special teams - B
Jake Rogers made all seven of his kicks (1 FG, 6 PAT) and the coverage teams did a great job. Mike Elston's group gets docked one mark for allowing Miami to recover an on-side kick.
In addition to calling UC's third straight win over Miami, my weekend included two other highlights.
On Saturday afternoon, I got to watch UC's first full squad basketball workout and came away extremely impressed. Mike Williams appears to be completely recovered from Achilles tendon surgery, Yancy Gates is the "anti-Adam H." (if he's next to the basket he won't blow the layup), and Deonta Vaughn might be the 'Cats most improved player in addition to being their best player.
"All of the guys have improved," head coach Mick Cronin told me. "The most important thing that I've tried to focus on is making sure your better players improve - especially your best players. Mike looks like he's ready to play - he doesn't look like he's been out for a long time and Deonta, in my opinion, has probably improved the most. That's the most important thing. Sometimes people look at trying to improve the 9th, 10th, and 11th guys on the roster. The really important thing is that your best players get better because they're the ones that are going to win games and set a tone for the other guys. Deonta really has worked hard to set a tone for our team and that excites me. To win a title or compete at the top in a league like the BIG EAST, you have to have all-league players. As much as you want the 10th man to improve, it's important that the best man improves."
"We're getting better every year, but it's still a process," Cronin said. "They key for us is going to be Dion (Dixon) and Cashmere (Wright) - especially Cashmere at the point - being able to help and being able to play right away and create offense. We were near the top of the league last year in the defensive and rebounding stats - those are things you can coach and teach as you get bigger bodies. They say defense will keep you in a game, but offense wins games and we were offensively challenged last year. Hopefully our increased athleticism will make us better finishers inside, our perimeter players will make more shots, and a guy like Cashmere will create more opportunities out there so we're not trying to run Deonta off 30 screens and pick-n-rolls on every possession."
On Sunday and Monday, I had the pleasure of playing in Marty Brennaman's annual charity golf tournament, and my player partners on Monday included UCATS president Jim Amann. In addition to being a good golfer, Jim and the entire UCATS staff do an incredible job of helping UC athletes obtain the resources they need to be successful. If you're not already a member, you should check 'em out at ucats.net.
I'd love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad who appears to either be watching a UC game on TV or an episode of Curious George.