TAMPA — If there's a team used to recovering from losing a quarterback, it's Cincinnati.
Thursday's example was sophomore backup Zach Collaros, who stepped in for injured starter Tony Pike and helped lead the No. 8 Bearcats to a 34-17 victory over USF.
Last season Pike stepped in when the Bearcats' Dustin Grutza went down with an injury, and he led them to the Big East championship and an Orange Bowl appearance.
Thursday, Pike left the game in the third quarter after a plate in his left wrist slid out of place, said Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly. Collaros stepped in and made big plays
"Zach Collaros came in and did what we asked him to do except for one time when he tried to do a little too much," Kelly said. "He's a gamer. … And we did what we had to do."
Collaros helped manage the offense in Pike's absence, Kelly said, adding a big run and two rushing touchdowns and throwing only one interception.
Collaros, who had only one rushing attempt this season entering the game, finished with 132 yards rushing in a quarter and a half, including a 75-yard touchdown run that gave the Bearcats a 31-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"We got the play in, and the offensive line opened a big hole and (running back) Jake Ramsey crushed the linebacker," Collaros said. "I rode him and split two and tried not to get caught."
Collaros, who also had 72 yards passing, said he was recruited to Cincinnati by now-USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, who spent the past two seasons with the Bearcats, and he is used to seeing his defenses.
"I said hello to him before the game," Collaros said. "We're from the same neck of the woods (in Ohio). … I was on the scout team for two years, so I went against him a lot."
The only mistake Collaros made was late in the third quarter, when he was hit by USF defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul during a throw, which landed in the hands of safety Nate Allen. The interception set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak by B.J. Daniels to cut Cincinnati's lead to 24-17.
Kelly said Collaros was prepared to step in to help the Bearcats to a big win, which ties them atop the Big East standings with Pittsburgh: "Zach gets work during the week, and we had enough in there for him to be successful against a very good defense."