CINCINNATI – Zach Collaros threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and Cincinnati's wobbly offense finally found its legs in the second half Saturday, pulling away to a 40-7 victory over Indiana State.
The Bearcats (1-1) heard boos at halftime after struggling to a 12-7 lead, their spread offense going nowhere for a second straight game. Collaros directed Cincinnati to touchdowns on all four of its drives in the third quarter.
The two-time defending Big East champions improved to 13-0 at home over the last three seasons, two shy of the school record for consecutive home wins.
Cincinnati's spread offense, expected to score a lot of points in coach Butch Jones' first season after replacing Brian Kelly, evaporated during a 28-14 loss at Fresno State last week. Collaros was sacked eight times in that game, prompting Jones to change his starting left guard.
They acknowledged they needed to get some confidence and get it right against Indiana State (1-1), which is 3-55 over the last six seasons. Cincinnati's next two games are at North Carolina State, then against Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium.
In the second half, it finally came together.
Collaros finished 11 of 17 for 130 yards. He also scrambled for 32 yards as Cincinnati's running game got on track. Sophomore Darrin Williams started in place of Isaiah Pead, out with a sore knee, and ran for 117 yards. John Goebel had two short touchdown runs in the third quarter.
Indiana State was coming off a 57-7 win over St. Joseph's of Indiana — its first season-opening victory in 14 years. The Sycamores haven't won back-to-back games since 2004, and were hoping to stay close until the fourth quarter and have a chance at the upset.
At halftime, they were living the dream.
Cincinnati lost only two fumbles last season, the fewest in the country. Receiver D.J. Woods lost two in the first half on Saturday, including one after a catch that set up Indiana State's touchdown. Ronnie Fouch's 18-yard pass to tight end Alex Jones cut it to 12-7 late in the second quarter.
Not at all what the Bearcats wanted.
Collaros had more time to throw but still struggled to complete anything more than a short pass in the first half, when he went 8 of 13 for 70 yards with one sack.
There were a few boos as the Bearcats headed for the locker room at halftime up 12-7. They'd managed only 150 yards, and two of their points came on a safety.
It was Cincinnati's first game without receiver Vidal Hazelton, who tore up his left knee at Fresno State. Hazelton was one of Cincinnati's best downfield threats, expected to replace the departed Mardy Gilyard as a playmaker.
Something was missing.
Collaros put a spark in the offense by doing a lot of it himself. He scrambled for three straight first downs, then hit Armon Binns down the left sideline for a 29-yard touchdown that made it 26-7. The Sycamores helped Cincinnati pull away, fumbling at their own 10-yard line to set up another score.