Collaros is dual threat for Bearcats
MORGANTOWN - Shaq Petteway has only been around the West Virginia football program for a few months, but he doesn't need any of the old-timers to tell him about perhaps the biggest obstacle the Mountaineers will face Saturday when they play at Cincinnati.
He's been watching UC quarterback Zach Collaros for what seems like most of his young life.
"Zach is a special player. He's one of the types of players that he's going to do whatever he can to win,'' said Petteway, a true-freshman safety at WVU. "If there's anything he can do to win he's going to do it. That's the type of player he is. That's how we were raised in Steubenville [Ohio]."
When West Virginia (6-3, 2-2 Big East) puts its fading hopes of a Big East championship on the line against No. 23 Cincinnati (7-1, 3-0) at noon Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, the Mountaineers will have plenty of issues to overcome with the Bearcats. There is UC's strong running attack and the league's top scoring offense, an experienced defense with all 11 starters back and solid special teams.
But there is also Collaros, the plucky senior quarterback who just seems to find a way to win.
"He's determined. He's the guy that makes that thing go for them,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He's been there for a long time and you can tell that he gets people around him to play better.''
Collaros is from Steu-benville, the same top-flight Ohio program that produced Petteway. The two never played together, but Petteway retains vivid images of Collaros.
"I wanted to grow up to be Zach,'' he said.
It wasn't because Collaros could throw the ball a mile or run with blazing speed, but rather because he was a winner. Ask Petteway about his favorite Collaros play and it's not even a quarterback play.
"He ran an interception back like 108 yards in a playoff game against Dover,'' Petteway said. "He could do it all.''
There have been times when Collaros has seemingly done it all for Cincinnati, too. As a sophomore in 2009 he stepped in for an injured Tony Pike and kept UC's unbeaten regular season alive. As a junior last year he was the All-Big East first-team quarterback, ahead of West Virginia's Geno Smith.
He's never exactly been a dagger to West Virginia - he passed for 205 yards and ran for 44 in Cincinnati's 24-21 win two years ago, but was intercepted twice and sacked five times, once for a safety, in the Mountaineers' 37-10 win last season - but he is always a threat.
Perhaps his best attribute, though, is just his leadership.
"He has a bunch of energy and has no problem in calling people out or getting in people's faces,'' Holgorsen said of Collaros. "He's a good player. He has a couple of good wideouts that make plays. And being able to hand the ball to [tailback] Isaiah Pead is a very attractive option for him.''
West Virginia's hope is to pressure Collaros this week as the Mountaineers were able to do a year ago in Morgantown. That's not easy, though.
"You have to cover people. If you cover people, he'll have a hard time getting it to them on time,'' Holgorsen said.
The trouble with that is that Collaros can make plays with more than just his arm. A year ago he suffered 30 sacks, but this year that number is down to 12. He's scored eight touchdowns running - and has thrown for 14 - and he's run for 245 yards this season despite the sack yardage being subtracted.
"Our job defensively is to do a good job of stopping the run, keep the quarterback in check and make sure we tackle,'' Holgorsen said. "We had way too many missed tackles last week, which is a mindset thing. We had way too many missed tackles. If you don't have too many missed tackles and you attack the ball, play with effort, which is what creates turnovers, and get them in third-down situations where we can get after them, we'll have a shot at winning.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.