December 31, 2011
Three flavors of RB
Trite but true these were the Comeback Cats.
After Vanderbilt conquered the Cincinnati defensive backfield for a 68-yard screen pass Cincinnati's fans, Cincinnati's players grew quiet. The lead they fought for had evaporated. Gone. With fourteen minutes remaining in their season UC was on the verge of losing to average Vanderbilt.
As VU's defense revved up on the sideline freshman kick returner Ralph David Abernathy provided a metaphorical gut punch. There would be no need for a defense for Abernathy glided ninety yards through the entire kick team. He outran three prospective tacklers.
"I felt like I had to step up to prove I deserved my spot on the team," said Abernathy. "When I came back to the sideline Adrien Robinson told me that big players make big plays in big games."
His individual effort completely eroded the Vanderbilt confidence.
Cincinnati improves to 10-3 in Head Coach Butch Jones' second year in town. He managed to keep the season alive with a backup quarterback through December. A lesser man, a lesser program would have crumbled along with Collaros.
Eventually the resurgent Bearcats rebounded and somehow Collaros returned.
"We live in a Sportscenter society," said Coach Jones. "Everyone is going to turn the highlights on. What they are not going to see is the eight hours every day Bob Mangine and Angel Colosimo and all the hard work Zach put in. When he was carted off the field in West Virginia he said, 'Coach, I'll be back.'"
Zach Collaros completed 12 passes but did not look throwing the ball. He threw short multiple times to deep routes and overthrew a lot of tight ends across the middle. His best passes were caught by Adrien Robinson and Travis Kelce. Collaros appeared to have the most comfort with his upperclassmen tight ends.
With Collaros struggling to string together completed passes the running game become paramount. Solution is Isaiah Pead? Or George Winn perhaps.
The most unlikely hero emerged when Winn stepped behind Collaros during the second quarter.
To begin the second quarter George Winn took his opportunity and ran with it. Literally.
The junior back dashed up the western sideline, leaped to avoid one diving tackler, and utilized Adrien Robinson's downfield block prior to crossing the goal line. An ecstatic backup Winn spiked the ball into the padding beyond Vanderbilt's endzone.
The massive run, third longest in Liberty Bowl history, gave UC the spark they needed.
Minor injuries removed both Isaiah Pead and George Winn temporarily. Third string running back, "The Future" Jameel Poteat found his way onto the field but did not earn a carry. And fourth string running back Ralph David Abernathy IV completely shifted the balance of the game with his aforementioned kick return.
"It was a dagger," said Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward.
Though he started slow, three yards on first three runs, Pead finished strong. His dive into the endzone with 1:52 gave UC the desired cushion and virtually ended Vanderbilt's chances. Pead won the Offensive MVP and the MVP with his 149 yards rushing. He wasn't even on the field for most of the third quarter.
A left calf cramp forced him into the locker room.
"I had to get an IV," said Pead. "And I was back out there."
Coach Jones never doubted his return.
"The mark of a great running back is durability," said Coach Jones on Pead. "He showed great durability all season long and got stronger as the day went on."
After the game Coach Jones succinctly categorized this 2011 Bearcat football team.
"We had five trophy games this year and we all five."
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