CINCINNATI -- Not bad for a guy with a broken arm.
Playing with a soft cast protecting his surgically repaired left forearm, junior Tony Pike had one of his finest games Thursday night, throwing a pair of touchdown passes and steadying Cincinnati's offense in a 24-10 victory over No. 23 South Florida.
Pike was sharp in his second game back since he broke his non-passing arm, which is held together by a plate and six screws. A black wrap covered the removable cast that covers a 4-inch scar from the operation and softens the blows. He took several rattling hits and hung in there until the middle of the fourth quarter.
"He sees the whole field," said receiver Mardy Gilyard, who caught a 26-yard touchdown pass. "He does a good job of getting the offense going. When he's in there, everything is fluid."
Cincinnati (6-2, 2-1 Big East) was back to normal with an experienced quarterback running the no-huddle, spread offense again. Facing one of the conference's toughest defenses, Pike was 20-of-28 for 281 yards and two touchdowns, including a 1-yard pass to Connor Barwin that put the Bearcats up 24-10 early in the fourth quarter.
On that play, Pike had to take a direct snap from center instead of working out of the shotgun. The force of the snap hurt his left hand, limiting him to one play the rest of the way.
"After the touchdown to Connor, it was pretty painful," Pike said.
South Florida (6-3, 1-3) was the last Big East team ranked in the Top 25, a measure of the conference's struggles so far. The Bulls readily acknowledged that if they didn't win this one, they likely would have no chance for the league title.
Not even a steady quarterback could pull them through.
Junior Matt Grothe came into the game on a surge, throwing at least two touchdown passes in each of the last three games. He had only five interceptions all season, a sign of his dependability. But against the Bearcats, Grothe threw three -- two of them deflected -- against a defense that pressured him steadily.
"We can't turn the ball over the way we did," coach Jim Leavitt said. "I think Matt was trying too hard."
Grothe's toughest play was a tackle, pulling down Mike Mickens after a 58-yard interception return. The senior cornerback's 13th career interception set a Cincinnati record and set up its first touchdown.
"It means a lot to me," said Mickens, who had three interceptions this season. "The line and the linebackers got pressure on him, made him scramble and throw a bad ball. He doesn't like a lot of pressure. We knew that coming into the game. We played physical."
Grothe was 13-of-31 for 174 yards, but couldn't connect on his two most important throws. He misfired on a fourth-and-goal pass from the 5-yard line with 7:56 left, then had a fourth-down pass batted down in the end zone on the next possession, essentially ending it.
"That's the way it's been going," Grothe said. "We couldn't do anything. They did a good job of stopping us, and we did a good job of stopping ourselves."
Cincinnati's biggest problems have been at quarterback, where no one can stay healthy. Senior Dustin Grutza broke his right leg in the second game of the season. Pike, his junior backup, broke his forearm two games later, forcing redshirt freshman Chazz Anderson to start a couple of games.
Pike returned on Saturday against Connecticut, but had to leave at halftime because his left hand went numb. He did fine in warmups Thursday and started the game.
In the latest medical twist, Anderson was dropped from backup to emergency status because he was bothered by a sprained knee suffered earlier in the season. Zach Collaros, another redshirt freshman, took over for Pike in the fourth quarter and finished it off with running plays.
The pell-mell changes at quarterback bogged down Cincinnati's offense, which failed to convert any of its 25 third-down chances in the last two games.
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