CINCINNATI - The first time he touched the ball, Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead went 40 yards for a touchdown on a broken play when he wasn't even supposed to touch the ball.

CINCINNATI - The first time he touched the ball, Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead went 40 yards for a touchdown on a broken play when he wasn't even supposed to touch the ball.

Not a bad way for the Big East's top returning back to get started.

The Bearcats are expecting big things out of the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior from Eastmoor Academy, who has been mostly a complement to the passing game until now. They'll need him to be up to speed today for a visit to Tennessee.

"He has to be a playmaker for us to be successful on offense," coach Butch Jones said. "He has the opportunity of a big play every time he touches the football."

He had two of them in limited time during a 72-10 win over Austin Peay in the season opener last Saturday. The first came on the Bearcats' first play from scrimmage, when quarterback Zach Collaros was supposed to keep the ball.

"It was kind of a broken play," Pead said. "Actually, I wasn't even supposed to have the ball. The backside end came toward me, and Zach is supposed to pull it in and run. Zach gave it to me and I wasn't going to give it back."

Pead reversed field and Collaros led the way, throwing a block on the safety that opened a lane to the goal line.

While at Eastmoor Academy, Pead had hoped to play for Ohio State but felt the Buckeyes didn't want him nearly as much as Cincinnati did. He has become part of a fast-tempo, no-huddle offense that relies more on passes than runs. Last season, he ran for 1,029 yards and six touchdowns on only 157 carries. His average of 6.6 yards per carry led the Big East for the second consecutive season.

When he gets room, he's hard to stop because of his ability to cut quickly and run away from defenders.

"It's exciting to be out there on the field with him because he's able to do some things I've never been able to see live before," Collaros said. "You catch yourself watching sometimes."

Pead always has been a threat to score. His shortcomings in the passing game, especially in pass protection, have limited his time on the field. He spent the offseason getting stronger and better at things other than carrying the ball.

"He has had a tremendous camp," Jones said. "We've talked to him. There's more than just being a runner. It's being a complete back. It's being in pass protection. It's being on the perimeter in the throwing game. It's understanding there are different tempos to each running play and understanding the scheme, and he has really embraced that."

The Bearcats ran the ball often against overmatched Austin Peay, piling up 387 yards on the ground and only 174 passing. The starting offense rested after taking a 41-0 lead to halftime. Pead scored the first two touchdowns and finished with 87 yards on seven carries.

"I was definitely glad to see the rushing numbers higher than the passing numbers for once," he said.

Pead admitted that he occasionally thinks about what it would be like to be the featured back in a run-oriented offense, with a fullback leading the way.

"But that's not the situation," he said. "The situation I'm in is a spread offense with a team I wouldn't trade for the world."