CINCINNATI – The two-time defending Big East champions got their swagger back just in time.
Zach Collaros threw three touchdown passes — two of them long strikes to Armon Binns — and Isaiah Pead had a pair of long runs during Cincinnati's big first half Saturday night, sending the Bearcats to a 45-3 victory over local rival Miami of Ohio.
The Bearcats (2-3) were determined to build on their momentum from a close loss to No. 6 Oklahoma. A quick-strike offense sent Cincinnati into conference play with plenty of momentum. The Bearcats open next Friday at Louisville.
"This gives us a little confidence, more of a swagger about ourselves," Collaros said.
Collaros threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Binns down the left sideline on the game's second play, setting the tone. He also threw a 32-yarder to Binns down the other sideline as Cincinnati pulled ahead 45-3 in the first half. Collaros finished 14 of 17 for 216 yards, leaving midway through the third quarter.
The Bearcats' balance was their best asset.
Pead broke a career-best 80-yard touchdown run and a 69-yard run that set up another score, carrying 10 times for 197 yards. Pead, who missed most of two games because of a knee injury, returned against Oklahoma and ran for 169 yards.
With him back, Cincinnati no longer has to rely on Collaros to do it all.
"I want to be perfect in all my assignments and get a spark in the offense that I know I can be at times and gain our confidence back," Pead said. "Even with a 1-3 record, we knew what kind of a football team we could be. Today was a stepping stone."
Miami (3-3) lost to its southwest Ohio rival for the fifth year in a row.
The RedHawks won only one game last season with a young roster in coach Michael Haywood's first season. They stayed with Florida for most of the game in their season opener, and quickly eclipsed their win total from last season by beating Eastern Michigan, Colorado State and Kent State.
Against the Bearcats, though, they never had a chance. Miami gave up 28 points in the first quarter, its worst quarter since 2002.
"Zach Collaros did a tremendous job of getting them in the right places and making the proper reads," Haywood said. "Pead was running the football down hill and was really explosive. I think that they were fighting to gain confidence as they go into the Big East season. They did a tremendous job of gaining confidence within their team."
Cincinnati was still stung by its 31-29 loss to then-No. 8 Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium, a game lost on turnovers. Collaros threw an interception in the end zone, and receiver D.J. Woods fumbled near the goal line and again on a punt return in the closing minutes.
Woods was so bothered by his performance that he carried a football in his right arm to classes the following week, drawing double-takes from classmates. He didn't drop it once on Saturday, and scored Cincinnati's second touchdown on an 18-yard reverse.
Pead had two scintillating runs. On his 80-yard score, he found a hole and made two full-speed cuts before outrunning Miami's defensive backfield. On his 69-yard run, he made two cutbacks and pushed one defender out of his way to keep going.
Miami's self-destruction helped turned it into a quick blowout. Left tackle Cory Brown drew a personal foul for making a throat-slash gesture after one of Miami's incomplete passes, undercutting a drive. The RedHawks also had an interception at the goal line wiped out by a hand-to-the-face penalty on a pass rusher.
Zac Dysert, the RedHawks' dual-threat quarterback, was under constant pressure. He finished 22 of 35 for 165 yards, getting only six yards on eight carries.
"We knew we'd have to score a lot of points to win the game," Dysert said. "It puts a little bit more pressure on you and you know that."
Cincinnati struggled in its transition from coach Brian Kelly to Butch Jones, losing at Fresno State and at North Carolina State before finally finding its form against Oklahoma. The Bearcats backed it up with another all-around solid game heading into Big East play, where they know they'll be considered an underdog.
"Of course we're not the favorite," Pead said. "To the world, we're not the favorite. In our eyes, we're the top dog."