Nov. 7, 2009
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CINCINNATI, Ohio (AP)
- A young quarterback came of age, kept his team unbeaten and possibly won a starting job, too.
Sophomore Zach Collaros threw for 480 yards - the second-best passing performance in Cincinnati's history - and showed beyond-his-years composure on the clinching drive of a wild 47-45 victory over Connecticut on Saturday that let the Bearcats match the best start in their history.
Their near-perfect quarterback replacement was the driving force.
"It's an amazing feeling being out there when everything is clicking," Collaros said. "It was a lot of fun."
Cincinnati (9-0, 5-0 Big East) is off to its best start since 1951, when it won the Mid-American Conference title. The stakes are much higher this time - the Bearcats are keeping themselves in the conversation about national title contenders. The win over Connecticut (4-5, 1-4) provided more talking points.
The best one: Where would Cincinnati be without Collaros?
He's been so sensational in his three starts in place of the injured Tony Pike - 79 of 89 for 1,100 yards with eight touchdown throws - that coach Brian Kelly has changed his mind about automatically benching Collaros as soon as Pike is ready to go.
Although Pike began practicing fully last week after getting a special splint for his injured non-passing forearm, Kelly is considering letting Collaros start again against West Virginia on Friday night. Until now, Kelly has said it was Pike's job when he's ready.
"He's made it hard," Kelly said. "OK, I've changed my mind based on the way he's played the last three games. I think I have to reconsider my decision."
The sophomore has taken big steps in each of his three fill-in starts. In the first three quarters alone on Saturday, he threw for 447 yards, topping everyone except Greg Cook's 554-yard passing game in the school record book.
His most important work came after Cincinnati let most of a 20-point lead slip away, forcing the Bearcats to grind it out down the stretch. Collaros went 4 for 4 for 33 yards on the final drive, completed by Isaiah Pead's 14-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play with 1:52 left that made it 47-38.
Cincinnati finished with a school-record 711 yards of offense. Collaros had a hand in three touchdowns - he threw for one and ran for two more. His 559 yards passing and running set a school record.
"Collaros made a lot of good plays," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "His athleticism really helps him out quite a bit. I think Brian will have a tough decision, but that's his problem."
Zach Frazer threw a 9-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left that cut it to 47-45, and Cincinnati recovered the onside kick to finish it off. Frazer was 19 of 32 for 261 yards.
UConn couldn't keep up with Cincinnati's high-powered offense, run by a quarterback who's no novice to winning.
Collaros went 30-0 as a starter in his last two years of high school and had one of those perfect moments on Saturday. He reared back and let fly a 41-yard pass to Armon Binns, who made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone while being tackled for interference.
Collaros bounced off two defenders on a 28-yard touchdown run that made it 37-17 midway through the third quarter, a seemingly comfortable lead. At that point, Kelly was considering letting Pike get in for a few throws to work off some of the rust.
The Huskies pulled off several big plays that took the game down to the closing minutes, just like all of theirs this season. Connecticut's losses have come by a combined 15 points.
"It never gets easier to take," running back Jordan Todman said. "We're going to have to deal with it. It's been a tough, tough year. We have to learn to finish."
Todman ran 46 yards for a touchdown and Robert McClain ran back a punt 87 yards for another score. When Todman went in from 1 yard out for his third touchdown of the game, it was 40-32 early in the fourth quarter - the most points Cincinnati has allowed all season.
Todman's 2-yard run - his fourth of the game - cut it to 40-38 with 5:03 left, but Frazer was sacked on the conversion try, keeping Cincinnati ahead and putting the pressure on Collaros to finish the Huskies off.