When a defensive tackle as big as Kendall Reyes starts building up steam, the laws of momentum, inertia, motion, gravity and centrifugal force all kick in. Especially the law of physics that states "an object in motion tends to stay in motion." Above, Reyes (99) in motion at the Pittsburgh game. File photo © 2010 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
Move over Jordan Todman, before you get run over by the Huskies’ newest – and largest – ballcarrier, Kendall Reyes, who turned in the biggest – and longest – play in UConn’s 38-17 win over Cincinnati at Rentschler Field Saturday afternoon (Nov. 27).
The win raises Connecticut’s record to 7-4 and puts the Huskies in the driver’s seat for the Big East title, needing only a win at South Florida on Dec. 4 to earn the league’s automatic Bowl Championship Series berth.
Todman scored three touchdowns and gained 175 yards rushing, but it was a 79-yard run by defensive lineman Kendall Reyes that literally turned the game around.
Rumblin’ and stumblin’
With UConn nursing a 17-10 lead, Cincinnati was threatening at the nine-yard line with a bit more than a minute to play in the first half. The Huskies hadn’t been able to stop the Bearcats who were just about to polish off a 10-play, 73-yard drive with a game-tying touchdown.
And up stepped Kendall – he literally jumped up at the line of scrimmage and got his hands on a pass, then cradled the ball in his muscular arms and headed toward paydirt.
Now, understand that despite his 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame, the redshirt junior is fleet afoot. On the previous Bearcats possession, Reyes had roared into the backfield and chased Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros out of the pocket and forced him to the left sideline.
The junior passer made a fantastic throw to avoid a sack and found wide receiver Armon Binns who had gotten loose in the corner of the end zone. The 15-yard scoring toss cut UConn’s lead to 14-10.
But now would be the time for Reyes’ revenge for allowing Collaros to get that TD pass away on the previous series.
With a second-and-goal from the nine, the Cincinnati quarterback launched a pass that Reyes scooped out of midair and then began running toward the Connecticut goal line which was 84 very long yards away for a lineman.
Defensive lineman Kendall Reyes, shown here celebrating after a win earlier this season, had a 79-yard interception return against Cincinnati. File photo © 2010 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
Reyes began running down the sideline, his eyes set on the goal line; if a venerable football announcer were calling the game, he might say that “Reyes was rumblin’, stumblin’ down the field,” flanked by a convoy of Huskies who were knocking down Bearcats like bowling pins.
When a defensive tackle as big as Kendall Reyes starts building up steam, the laws of momentum, inertia, motion, gravity and centrifugal force all kick in. Especially the law of physics that states “an object in motion tends to stay in motion.”
Reyes was tending to stay in motion as he barreled past midfield, down to the 40, the 30, the 20, the 10. He was a like a – oh, let’s stay he was like a runaway freight train that even Denzel Washington couldn’t stop.
And he certainly wasn’t going to be stopped by Isaiah Pead, a 5-foot-10, 198-pound tailback who was the last Cincinnati player with a shot at the Runaway Reyes.
Pead’s angle would have intersected Reyes’ path at around the four and it’s hard to imagine that the lineman’s mass and momentum wouldn’t have carried him into the end zone. But we’ll never know, because linebacker Lawrence Wilson nudged Pead off balance and was called for an illegal block in the back (a questionable call, given the replays, but the call is not a reviewable one).
And so, even though Reyes got into the end zone, he was only credited with a run to the five-yard line, the spot of the foul.
But thanks to his interception, instead of the Bearcats knocking on the doghouse at the nine, now it was the Huskies knocking on the door at the 15.
As he did in the Pitt game (above), guard Mathieu Olivier (66) opened big holes for Jordan Todman, who scored three times against the Bearcats in the Nov. 27 game. File photo © 2010 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
A few plays later, Todman scored his second touchdown of the afternoon and instead of what looked like a 17-17 tie only minutes earlier, thanks to Reyes’ 79-yard interception return, UConn led 24-10 with four seconds left in the first half.
Cincinnati’s Butch Jones realized the significance of the play: “When you look at the big play before the end of the half, there was an opportunity to go into the half 17 to 17, and then there was a big 14-point swing,” he said after the game.
Swingman Reyes didn’t get the lineman’s dream – scoring a touchdown – but his heads up, hands up play could lead to a dream being realized by the entire team, namely a trip to a BCS Bowl game.
With West Virginia having beaten Pittsburgh the day after Thanksgiving, UConn’s win on Saturday leaves all three teams tied atop the Big East standings with 4-2 records. Since UConn beat both the Mountaineers and the Panthers, Connecticut has dibs on all tiebreakers.
If the Huskies can beat South Florida in Tampa this Saturday, Dec. 4, (8 p.m., ESPN2), Connecticut would get its first-ever invitation to a major bowl game, either the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day or the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.
South Florida (7-4) traveled to downstate rival Miami on Saturday and upset the Hurricanes, 23-20, in overtime; so the Bulls haven’t packed their horns away for the season just yet.
Conceivably, UConn could lose and still sneak into a BCS Bowl, if Pitt loses to Cincinnati and UWV loses to Rutgers this weekend.
But Connecticut Head Coach Randy Edsall isn’t looking ahead to bowl invitations, just yet.
“We’re going to focus on the South Florida game, because that’s our biggest goal right now. South Florida is going to be a hard game. They beat Miami today, so we know it will be hard, but you play the game to be in this position,” Edsall told reporters after the Nov. 27 game.
And he advised the media not to ask players about the BCS Bowl possibilities, “because I told them to keep their mouths shut.”
It was a bit warmer at the Pitt game (above) than it was Saturday, but if UConn beats South Florida in Tampa at the Dec. 4 game, fans will indeed be able to say Connecticut is number 1 in the Big East. File photo © 2010 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
For Husky fans, on the other hand, there’ll be a lot of barking going on in the days leading up to the USF showdown.
Many who have endured previous bowl trips to such un-sunny, un-warm places as Detroit in December and Toronto in January may be hoping they can welcome the New Year in the dry heat of Arizona or the brilliant sunshine of southern Florida.
Edsall did have a message for the 40,000 fans on hand for yet another sellout at The Rent: “I want to thank the fans for being out there and showing the support they did today. It really makes a difference as you can see from us being undefeated at home,” said Edsall “If we continue to sell out, it can help us create something special.”
A whole new team
The Huskies are unbeaten at home, but have only won one road game this season – a week ago against then-second-place Syracuse. And that came in the midst of this four-game winning streak against the best teams in the conference, a streak that began after two straight disappointing – and, in hindsight, hard-to-figure – losses to lowly Louisville and Rutgers.
Todman, who maintained his spot as the nation’s second-leading rusher, says a lot has changed since those two losses that opened Big East play.
“You know, it’s a whole new team. Everybody has kind of switched attitudes and work ethic, and we’ve really started to practice, and we love to win and winning is addictive and makes everybody happy,” Todman said. “So, we’ll stick to what works so far and we have one more game on the way.”
While Todman was his usual workhorse self on offense – he carried the ball 31 times – quarterback Zach Frazer showed he has some open-field moves as well, when he deeked out a linebacker en route to a 19-yard run for a key first down midway through the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Zach Frazer completed 11 passes in 24 attempts for 121 yards with one touchdown and one interception as the Huskies beat Cincinnati 38-17. File photo © 2010 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
Frazer hit 11 of 24 attempts for 121 yards, one touchdown (to Anthony Sherman, his first passing TD as a Husky) and one interception, the only turnover UConn had in the game.
Winning isn’t easy
Cincinnati, on the other hand, coughed up the ball five times, including four interceptions.
Reyes had that big one and was in the backfield a couple other times, twice throwing ballcarriers for a loss.
Defensive backs Jerome Junior and Blidi Wreh-Wilson each had a pick, as did Mike Lang, who made a spectacular late-game interception. He dove to snag the ball close to the ground, stretching as far as he could to get it under control before he hit the turf.
Sometimes people think winning is easy, but it’s really hard.
As Edsall said, “If you go back in UConn history, there has only been a couple times when there’s been four consecutive winning seasons.”
He added, “I’m very pleased for the kids, especially because it wasn’t easy today against a tough Cincinnati team… We were able to do a little better than the 700 yards and 47 points they got on us last year; I think the kids got tired of me saying that all week.”
Posted Nov. 30, 2010