Injuries force Bearcats to use freshman quarterback against Herd

Published 1:55 am Friday, October 3, 2008

The Cincinnati Bearcats could use some help behind center right about now.

Injuries have cost the Bearcats (3-1) their starting and backup quarterbacks, so coach Brian Kelly must give redshirt freshmen Zach Collaros or Chazz Anderson their first college start on Friday night at Marshall (3-2).

‘‘I’m very confident in the guys that we’ve got that we can win with them,’’ Kelly said.

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The season began with former starter Ben Mauk exhausting his appeals for an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA, and Dustin Grutza is out indefinitely with a broken leg suffered in a loss at Oklahoma.

Tony Pike started the next two games but broke his left forearm in last week’s 17-15 win over Akron and he’s expected to miss up to a month. Collaros played the rest of the game, completing 1-of-4 passes for 2 yards. His 7-yard run on third down set up Jake Rogers’ go-ahead field goal with 7:45 left.

Anderson has yet to attempt a pass this season, so Collaros would be the odds-on choice. Kelly said he will make a game-time decision on his starter.

‘‘The first thing in evaluating a quarterback is: Can he handle the pressure of the moment? Can he go in there and succeed?’’ Kelly said. ‘‘Zach’s very first start was in the fourth quarter on the road down. That’s not the ideal situation to put somebody in, but he’s got enough in the mental end of things that he can succeed. And the same thing with Chazz. He’s a very smart kid. He knows the offense very well. All he needs is the opportunity.

‘‘They’re going to get the opportunity.’’

Whoever that is, Marshall coach Mark Snyder is asking Thundering Herd fans to rattle him. The school is handing out 7,500 white T-shirts and 1,000 white rally towels prior to kickoff.

‘‘We would love for it … to be as loud as possible and use that home-field advantage,’’ Snyder said.

Snyder is more concerned about getting his own defense on track. The Thundering Herd rank near the bottom nationally in total defense, surrendering 440 yards per game. Last week West Virginia amassed 319 rushing yards in a 27-3 win.

On offense Marshall couldn’t get its top playmakers going, turned the ball over three times and was limited to 158 total yards, including 39 on the ground.

Cincinnati’s pass defense is just as brittle as Marshall’s, so the opportunity is there for improvement from Thundering Herd redshirt freshman Mark Cann, who threw an interception, lost a fumble and had his string of three consecutive 200-yard passing games snapped against the Mountaineers.

Wide receiver Darius Passmore, tight end Cody Slate and running back Darius Marshall are looking to rebound from a quiet showing at West Virginia. Passmore was held to a season-low 39 receiving yards and will get a challenge Friday night from Cincinnati cornerbacks Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith.

‘‘It’s an opportunity for him,’’ Snyder said. ‘‘These guys are being looked at by every NFL scout.’’

Last year against Marshall, Mickens’ interception and fumble recovery set up Cincinnati’s first two touchdowns, and the Bearcats won 40-14.

With its inexperience at quarterback this time, Cincinnati will need to get its ground game going and Snyder envisions a heavy dose of quarterback runs. The Bearcats have yet to produce a 100-yard rusher this season.

Cincinnati’s offensive line, which hasn’t allowed a sack in two games, will also be tested.

‘‘We’re confident,’’ said Bearcats right guard Trevor Canfield. ‘‘We’re moving the ball with any quarterback back there. Our offensive line is confident in keeping him clean. No offense to coach Kelly, but you could put coach Kelly back there and we’ll be all right.’’

The game will feature two of the nation’s top kick returners and receivers. Cincinnati’s Marshwan Gilyard leads the nation at 36 yards per kickoff return, one yard more than Darius Marshall. And like Passmore, Gilyard has three 100-yard receiving games.