Zach Collaros kept No. 4 Cincinnati unbeaten with the second-best passing performance in school history, one that will make it tough to send him back to the bench.
The Bearcats' near-perfect replacement threw for 480 yards and a touchdown Saturday night, ran for two more scores and led a clinching touchdown drive in the closing minutes of a wild 47-45 victory over Connecticut that let Cincinnati match the best start in its history.
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?
The sophomore has come of age, taking big steps in each of his three fill-in starts for the injured Tony Pike. His eye-opening numbers in his first three collegiate starts: 70 of 89 for 1,100 yards with eight passing touchdowns.
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 best 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 fourth-and-1 with 1:52 left that made it 47-38. Cincinnati finished with a school-record 711 yards on offense.
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.
Pike had to have a plate in his non-throwing forearm replaced after it was damaged in a win over South Florida on Oct. 15. He got a special splint that allowed him to practice better this week, and suited up for the game. Pike could be ready to play on Friday night against West Virginia.
Coach Brian Kelly has maintained that Pike will get the job back when he's up to it, but Collaros' emergence will make it an interesting call.
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. 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.
Jordan 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.