Those who made it to Saturday’s 113th Battle for the Victory Bell or watched online undoubtedly saw Kelly being quite vocal with his players, coaches, and officials while patrolling the sidelines.
“Look, at the end of the day it’s on my watch how well we play, and their were times that I didn’t think we had the fire necessary and it’s my job to make sure it gets passed along to the troops,” said Kelly when asked what got his blood boiling Saturday night. “We had to meet and exceed the intensity of the ballgame, and I was just making sure that our troops knew that they better bear down or they can get beat.”
Penalties, his team’s defensive play in the first half, and an overall sloppiness on the field all showed Kelly areas in which his team still has room to improve.
“We’ve just got to get better. It’s a long season, and as I said from day one, I want to be better in November. We’re not ready to win any championships in September; we’ve got to get better,” said the coach.
But Kelly was able to find plenty of things to be happy about following his win over the RedHawks, his 150th career victory.
“I thought we did a very good job offensively controlling the football when we needed to. We had the one fumble which I was disappointed in, but there were a lot of positives that I can take from the game,” he said. “I feel good about what we’re doing offensively; we’re not there defensively. We’ve got to keep improving in every area. But certainly to know that you’ve lost your starting quarterback, and your number two comes in and goes 20-for-24, 241 (yards) and three touchdowns in his first real start, I feel pretty good about that.”
That number two was red shirt junior Tony Pike, taking over for senior Dustin Grutza who was lost for the season following injury in the team’s loss in Oklahoma September 6th. Having never started a collegiate game in his life, there were questions on whether or not Pike would come through. He certainly delivered, and may have surprised Bearcat fans with his performance. Coach Kelly however, wasn’t surprised one bit.
“I knew he was prepared and I think I said all week, he’s got the tools, and he’s very well prepared. I thought he did the things that he had shown in practice, and I thought he played a very good football game. He’s an experienced player,” said Kelly. “Our standards are pretty high. I didn’t expect him to come in there and muck it around, or he probably wouldn’t have played very long. I was confidant. I did want to see him play obviously because he hadn’t had that chance, but I knew he was very well prepared.”
Pike’s teammates weren’t surprised, either.
“Coming from the team’s standpoint, all the quarterbacks and everybody get a lot of reps during practice, and we really weren’t surprised at all,” said running back John Goebel, who ran the ball 13 times for 63 yards and a career-high two touchdowns Saturday night. “We see Tony every single day out there. Everybody else, 35,000 people don’t see him every single day, but we see him out there every single day doing the same thing he did out there (tonight). Losing Dustin’s really hard because he’s such a great guy, just mature and everything, a great leader. But, we really didn’t feel like we took a step back with Tony Pike coming in there.”
Pike himself credited the work put in over the past two weeks and the team’s game plan for his impressive performance Saturday night. He was also quick to take the spotlight off himself and place it on his teammates.
“The biggest thing was I was able to sit back there and be able to make the reads and throw. Our line did a great job, our backs were getting about five yards a carry almost, and the receivers were running great routes. It was easy being able to sit back there and just make the reads and throw it to the receiver,” said Pike. “With the blocking we had and the way we were running the ball it was easy to keep the defense off guard, especially on the play action passes.”
While his teammates did excel, this game belonged to Pike, who grabbed his first career start by the horns and never let up. He showed the strong arm everyone had been talking about, but what impressed coach Kelly most was his imitation of Eli Manning avoiding those New England Patriot defenders and still being able to hit David Tyree downfield this past Super Bowl.
“His escape ability, staying with the play, the last touchdown they brought outside pressures, we didn’t do a very good job of picking it up, but he side-stepped one guy,” said Kelly of Pike. “He’s 6’-6”, 230 pounds, he’s a tough guy to bring down. He stayed with the play and kept his eyes downfield, that’s a great quality to have. Once the quarterback ducks his eyes on those pressures you get concerns, so his escape ability and his ability to keep his eyes downfield really impressed me.”
According to coach Kelly, cornerback Brandon Underwood left the game Saturday night with a “slight hamstring pull,” while offensive lineman Jason Kelce suffered a “little bit of an ankle” injury. Kelly wasn’t too worried about either of the two missing a game due to the injuries, and the only one that has him and his staff “a little concerned” is Robby Armstrong, dealing with an injured shoulder.