[Updated Oct. 12 with video clips; and updated Oct. 12 with new text and corrected byline.]
PITTSBURGH — With the Red Sox having packed it in for the winter, perhaps UConn football coach Randy Edsall should consider hiring Boston’s ace closer Jonathan Papelbon to instill in the Huskies the proper disposition for turning a lead into a win.
UConn lost to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field Saturday afternoon, 24-21, on an 18-yard field goal by Dan Hutchins as the final gun went off.
If Edsall could convince the NCAA to shorten football games from 60 minutes to, oh, let’s say 54, then the Huskies would be 5-0 right now instead of 3-2 and 0-1 in the Big East.
As they had done against North Carolina in the Rent home opener this season, the UConn offense built a nice lead heading into the final frame, 10 against the Tarheels and eight (21-13) against Pitt.
But just as they had done against nationally ranked Carolina, UConn failed to hang on in either game.
“I can’t explain it; I wish I could,” Edsall said after Saturday’s loss.
“That wasn’t a big, big lead but when you’re up like that [in the fourth quarter], you’ve got to put your foot to the pedal,” said running back Andre Dixon, who gained 95 yards on 16 carries and scored from two yards out with 3:56 to play in the third period to give UConn what seemed to be a comfortable 21-6 lead.
But the Huskies could not withstand a ferocious Panther comeback, as Pitt’s 6-foot-3 senior quarterback Bill Stull hit on a couple of 26-yard scoring passes, as well as a two-point conversion, to tie the score midway through the fourth quarter.
Both Pitt touchdowns were similar, in the sense the catch was made in the end zone by a wide receiver (or in the case of Pittsburgh, maybe the position should be named “tall receiver”: split end Jonathan Baldwin, who caught the second TD pass, stands at 6-foot-5, flanker Oderick Turner is 6-3 and tight end Dorin Dickenson, who caught the first TD pass, is 6-foot-2).
The one notable difference was that on the first TD, there were three UConn defenders futilely trailing the play while on the second score, the receiver was all alone in the end zone.
But blame for this second late-game meltdown of 2009 surely can’t be placed solely on the defense which, oh by the way, scored six points on a 20-yard interception return by Robert Vaughn to give UConn a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. Give linebacker Greg Lloyd a big assist on that TD since his incessant pursuit on the play forced Stull into a hurried throw.
That was Vaughn’s second interception of the game, the first one coming in the Panther end zone with Connecticut nursing a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
Those two picks made Vaughn an easy pick as Big East Defensive Player of the Week, an annoucement made by the league on Monday [Oct. 12]. The two interceptions raised his collegiate total to an even dozen, allowing him to remain the leader among active Big East players and fourth among active Bowl Subdivision players.
Hutchins’s game-winner earned him Big East Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Hutchins had given Pitt an early 3-0 lead but UConn answered with a 79-yard bomb from Cody Endres to a wide-open Marcus Easley who caught the ball in stride at midfield and ran to pay-dirt.
For Easley, a senior from Stratford, it was a banner day, as the wide receiver chalked up 100 yards and notched his first collegiate score.
That 79-yarder helped Endres end up with 197 passing yards against Pitt on a 17-for-23 performance with three sacks.
One of those sacks was huge, according to Edsall, since it resulted in a lost fumble on a third-and-six at the Pitt 11-yard-line, most likely a gimme for UConn kicker Dave Teggart.
Edsall said that Endres should have gotten rid of the ball out of bounds rather than take the sack in that situation and preserved the field goal attempt.
“I should have thrown it away,” Endres said after the game.
He said the Pitt defense stepped up the pressure in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, when UConn had possession of the ball for only two minutes and 39 seconds.
“We’ve got to help our defense stay off the field” late in the game, Dixon said. “If we constantly go three-and-out, the defense is going to always be [playing] tired.”
Dixon was not pointing fingers at either unit for the loss, calling it a “collective effort” that resulted in a tough loss and a feeling of “disappointment” in the UConn locker room.
“It did mimic the North Carolina game a little bit,” Endres said. “We’ve got to work on finishing our games,” he said.
“When you’re up on a team [late in the game] like that, you’ve got to stick a dagger in them,”
Dixon said. “And then when you don’t stick that dagger in….”
Could be UConn needs some advice from that dagger-sticker extraordinaire from Fenway.
Posted Oct. 10, 2009
Five YouTube clips (by Vito J. Leo) of Coach Edsall’s post-game press conference, with a brief description of the content above the link.
“We’re not the same team as we were a year ago.”
“We needed to execute better in the fourth quarter.”
“We needed to make plays at the end of the game.”
“Some of the tackling angles we took weren’t good.”
“Cody endres should have thrown the ball away.”