CINCINNATI - Cincinnati obviously was thrown for a loop Saturday when quarterback Zach Collaros was injured in the second quarter and didn't return. But West Virginia was pretty much unprepared for the change, too. Collaros was knocked out of the game when he was sacked by Najee Goode at his own goal line, coughed up the ball when Bruce Irvin joined the fray and the play ended up a WVU touchdown when Julian Miller fell on the ball in the end zone. It was a major turning point in WVU's 24-21 win. Collaros was replaced by 6-foot-5, 197-pound sophomore Munchie Legaux, who struggled mightily to start. He threw an awful pass that was intercepted by Keith Tandy on his third play and gained just one first down in his first three series. But he eventually broke off a 65-yard run from his own 4-yard line that changed field position, made some big runs and throws down the stretch and put the Bearcats in position to tie the game by getting them to the WVU 14 in the final seconds before a blocked field goal ended the game. "We didn't prepare for that at all,'' Tandy said of Legaux. "I mean, Collaros runs, but not like that.'' Legaux would finish his day 10-of-21 passing for 144 yards and ran eight times for 77 yards. WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, while admitting WVU had not worked much on Legaux, still knew what he could do. "We had a pretty good idea what he was going to do,'' Casteel said. "But it didn't look like it at times.'' As for Collaros, whose injury was to his leg, his status for the remainder of the season is up in the air. UC coach Butch Jones said he would be evaluated Saturday night and today. "You know there is so much to change when your backup quarterback comes in,'' Jones said. "You change your plan a little bit and then it's establishing a rhythm and a consistency and continuity. I thought in the fourth quarter we had a little bit of a rhythm started with Munchie and thought he did a pretty good job. Obviously there are things we need to get corrected going [to Rutgers] on Saturday." Collaros' injury could be significant because Cincinnati is still a half game in front of everyone else in the Big East and can win the league by winning out. The Bearcats play at Rutgers and Syracuse the next two weeks and home against Connecticut to finish out.
West Virginia seemed to be cruising early in the second half. After overcoming an awful start and falling behind 7-0, the Mountaineers had scored 17 straight points and were dominating on both sides of the ball.
The trouble was, they couldn't add to the lead because penalties kept disrupting the offense. There were holds charged to Quinton Spain and Don Barclay on one drive.
"I don't know how many [holding penalties] we had, but it was a lot,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "But it's part of the game. You have to overcome that. We didn't all the time, but we didn't cave in, either.''
There were also more special-teams blunders.
Tyler Bitancurt, who later missed a 47-yard field goal, had his second field goal blocked in as many weeks at the end of that third-quarter drive with the two holding calls. But that actually might not have been a bad thing had it worked out.
After John Hughes blocked the 39-yard try, the ball fluttered over the line and into open space. It would have been UC's ball automatically, except that a Bearcat touched the ball and it slipped away from him. That made it a live ball and Matt Molinari, the holder, had a clear shot at it. But instead of falling on the ball he tried to pick it up and couldn't. Cincinnati eventually recovered at its 4-yard line.
Molinari also continued to have his problems punting, although Holgorsen stuck with him and never went to Corey Smith. Molinari did have a career-best 58-yarder and had a 52-yarder on his first attempt. But that first attempt was nullified by a delay penalty, and he kicked a 38-yarder the second time.
Molinari also had two wobblers of 26 and 36 (the second thanks to a roll) and had a 33-yarder into the end zone that netted just 13 yards. nn
Holgorsen's threat to bring only 50 to 55 players on the trip didn't materialize. Then again, perhaps the mere threat accomplished its purpose.
Holgorsen said Tuesday he would bring only those players he felt wanted to play and were giving full effort, and if it meant trimming down the normal travel roster from 65 or 70, so be it.
Well, the dress list on Saturday included 64 players, not far off the normal.
And because West Virginia's staff doesn't generally discuss injuries, it's difficult to tell how many - if any - players were left behind because of injuries or because Holgorsen felt they hadn't bought in.
The fact is, there were five players who are normally on the depth chart or who play regularly who did not dress for the game against Cincinnati. But four are confirmed injured - Terence Garvin, Brantwon Bowser, Brad Starks and Josh Taylor. Other than those four, the only player on a recent depth chart not on the trip was John Bassler, who is listed as the backup center.
But he's not really the backup center. That would be starting left guard Jeff Braun, who moved over last week when center Joe Madsen missed one play. Braun was then replaced by Quinton Spain. The depth chart was changed to reflect that this week.
There are other non-freshman scholarship players who didn't dress, but they haven't been on the travel squad for weeks - Cole Bowers, Mike Dorsey and Trey Johnson to name a few. Oh, and receiver Coley White did not make the trip, nor did normal backup long-snapper Trent Lusk, who was replaced by Jerry Cooper.
The injuries to Garvin and Bowser - both reportedly head injuries - did throw the WVU defense into a bad spot. Travis Bell started for Garvin, but twice left the game with his own injuries only to return. The loss of Bowser forced changes in WVU's third-down package.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com