Career game puts spotlight on Pike
Sep. 7, 2009
By Mike Freeman
CBSSports.com National Columnist
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- He's a better pure passer and more NFL ready than Tim Tebow. He's got a stronger arm than Colt McCoy.
He's got the smarts of Jevan Snead and unlike Sam Bradford has two perfectly healthy shoulders.
Some NFL scouts believe he's one of the fastest risers in all of college football and by the end of the season might be a first-round pick.
His name is Tony Pike and many of you have never heard of him. Stop lying, you haven't.
Rutgers University knows him well. In front of a home record crowd of 53,737 at beautiful Rutgers Stadium on Monday, Pike put on a show. No, show isn't the word. Pike took Greg Schiano's defense and did things to it that violated state decency laws.
This wasn't a game as much as it was a national coronation. America, meet Tony Pike and Tony Pike, please meet America.
Cincinnati 47, Rutgers 15 and Pike 1. As in, one possible beginning of a special run for a mostly, until now, nationally unknown player.
"I think this is a huge, huge game for us," Pike said.
"But we can get better," he said. "We're light years ahead of where we were last year at this time and we can get better."
Better? That's a tad scary. The Bearcats put up almost 600 yards of offense, averaged 8.1 yards a play and scored on all six of its trips to the red zone.
While Rutgers certainly aided Pike with missed tackles, truncated intestines and ineffectual game planning there still was little the defense could've done even if they had played flawlessly. Pike was that good, finishing 27 of 34 for a career-best 362 yards. He tossed three touchdown passes.
"No excuses," Schiano said, "we got whooped."
Pike is an important story because his conference needs an ignition source. Or, perhaps more bluntly, it needs a hero.
The Big East is the most disrespected big-time conference in all of college football. At the beginning of the year none of its teams were ranked in the top 25, and the football portion of Big East athletics is a joke.
Rutgers entered this year as a hopeful to change the image of the league for the better, but after this thumping the only thing the Scarlet Knights changed was their underwear.
Pike was hot from the start and though Cincinnati wasn't exactly playing the Florida Gators it's extremely easy to see there's talent leaking from every pore. Pike can deliver every throw and for someone who is 6-6 moves quickly. He reads defenses skillfully and is highly accurate.
It's a simple thing: The ball goes where it's supposed to, with the required velocity, and the chains keep moving.
Pike started the game completing his first six passes and his first incompletion was a drop. Early he was 9 of 11 for 110 yards and that quickly mushroomed into 20 of 25 for 286 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. He made only one bad throw the entire game, and it came on a screen pass. Even that was fluky. Rutgers defensive end Alex Silvestro bounced into the air like Moses Malone and plucked the football out of the sky.
Cincinnati's first-half possessions ended with: touchdown, field goal, interception, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown then the end of the half. None of their lengthier first-half drives (81, 62, 63, 71 and 58 yards) took longer than 2 minutes, 53 seconds.
Pike had a career high of 337 yards passing by the third quarter.
The third quarter.
If Pike didn't sit for a chunk of the second half he'd have passed for a googolplex.
"His leadership level has just gone through the roof," Cincinnati lineman Jeff Linkenbach said of Pike.
The Bearcats had two additional helpful factors in their trouncing of Rutgers. Pike began studying Rutgers' defense when the team first learned in the spring they were playing the Scarlet Knights. "He really did his due diligence on the reads," Kelly said.
Kelly also admitted that when Cincinnati's coaching staff traveled to Gainesville and studied how the Florida coaching staff used Tebow, Kelly hijacked some of those elements and incorporated them into his scheme. Rutgers looked completely unprepared for those Wildcat plays.
Schiano seemed to know Pike's Peak was coming. He spoke about the quarterback just several days before the game. Schiano's words didn't appear to be the usual Lou Holtz-like pregame gobbledygook. Schiano actually believed what he said about Pike and was almost prophetic.
"We didn't face Tony last year because of injury," Schiano said. "But when you watch tape of him, he certainly is as advertised. He's big, he's strong. He can throw the ball down the field vertically. Has nice touch in the short game. I wouldn't call him a runner, but he's definitely athletic, can avoid the rush, when he needs to run, he can run. Avoiding the rush, keeping his eyes down the field, throwing the ball down the field, he's got the arm to do it. He can really hurt you that way.
"The thing [is] that I look at Tony Pike and say, he's a big-time college quarterback. This guy is going to be I think a big-time pro quarterback. He can make all the throws. It will be interesting to see how much more they open it up."
Well, he would have to say Cincinnati opened it up quite a bit. Saying they opened it up is like saying Jose Canseco took a little bit of steroids. Pike didn't just open up a can on Rutgers he might've opened up a door for an entire conference.
A door to respectability.