They are who we thought they were!
To borrow a phrase once uttered by Dennis Green when he was head coach of the Arizona Cardninals, the UConn Huskies are finally playing football the way we thought they would before the season started.
With a convincing 23-6 win at Syracuse Saturday night (Nov. 20), Connecticut has won three straight Big East games, is now bowl eligible for the fourth straight year, finally got a win on the road this season, knocked Syracuse (7-4, 4-3) out of the Big East title chase and, most importantly, clawed their way from the league basement into second place in the conference standings.
Coach Randy Edsall’s squad, 6-4 overall, is tied at 3-2 with West Virginia; but in fact, the Huskies are technically ahead of the Mountaineers, because UConn won the head-to-head match up earlier this season, 16-13 in overtime.
If UWV wins in Pittsburgh the day after Thanksgiving, then UConn could earn the Big East’s automatic BCS Bowl berth by winning its final two games.
It should be noted that there were grumblings heard this past weekend from noted national sports commentators that the Big East shouldn’t have that automatic berth which could deny a better team an opportunity to compete in the BCS Bowl extravaganza, specifically this year with at-large teams such as Boise State and TCU continuing to win week after week.
It is true that as of this writing, no Big East teams are ranked in the Top 25; but until the BCS head honchos revoke this standing invitation, the conference with the fewest football schools (8) will continue to send a representative to a big bowl.
So if you’re planning to battle the mobs in the malls on Black Friday, set your Tivo for Channel 8 (ABC-TV) at noontime before heading out Christmas shopping.
But make sure you make time to watch that game before noontime on Saturday because that’s when Connecticut hosts Cincinnati at The Rent (televised locally on SNY as part of the BIG EAST Network Game of the Week).
The defending conference champs, Cincinnati will have a big say as to who claims the Bearcats’ crown, because they host Pittsburgh to end the regular season.
Remember, Connecticut can finish tied with Pitt and still win the Big East because the Huskies beat the Panthers earlier this season.
As they have since the start of this three-game winning streak, the Huskies coupled timely touchdowns with tenacious tackling and tacked on three Teggart field goals to beat Syracuse.
As he had done against Pitt and UWV, Dave Teggart made three field goals (35, 35, 21).
Jordan Todman, coming off a career-high 222-yard game in the big win over Pitt, scored on a pair of short rushing touchdowns as he tallied 130 yards against the Orangemen, solidifying his position as the second-leading rusher in the nation among FBS runners with a per-game average of 145 yards gain.
The junior tailback is sandwiched between two sensational sophomores: Oregon running back LaMichael James with 158 ypg and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson who has compiled 140 yards per game on the ground – not to mention the 202 yards passing he’s been averaging.
Husky fans remember Denard, of course, from the season opener, when the nation said “Hello, Mr. Robinson,” as he rushed for 199 yards and passed for 187 more against Connecticut.
The Huskies complemented their powerful rushing attack with a workman’s performance from quarterback Zach Frazer who hit on 13 of 21 attempts for 98 yards. But what those stats don’t reveal is two of those completions came on fourth downs, as Edsall continues to mimic Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s penchant of gambling in order to keep a drive alive.
Bucking the odds
A year ago, nursing a slim lead late against the Colts, Belichick bucked the odds and went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots’ 28-yard line with 2:08 remaining. Indianapolis held and went on to win the game. (By the way, in their meeting this past Sunday, the Pats took a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter, just as they had a year ago, but this time the Colts couldn’t come all the way back, losing 31-28.)
Belichick said after the 2009 game that the 4th-down call gave his team the best chance to win because the Colts had stormed through the Pats defense on the previous series.
Edsall had used that same line of reasoning late in the win over Pittsburgh, only UConn was successful as Todman ran for the first down that clinched the win over the Panthers who were undefeated in the Big East went they came to East Hartford.
Speaking to the press while basking in the euphoria of that big win, Edsall said, “I looked in the eyes of the offensive linemen and in the eyes of number 23 (Jordan Todman) and I knew they would find a way to get a first down. After seeing what [the Pitt] offense was capable of, I thought it would be best to get a first down and try and run the clock out and we were able to do that. When you have confidence in your offensive line and running back, it makes the decision easier.”
Edsall’s decision to gamble had also been made a bit easier after seeing the Panthers march over the Husky defense on the previous series, much as the Colts had done against the Pats.
Against Syracuse, Edsall twice went for it on fourth down, both times calling for a pass play and making it each time.
The first came on a fourth-and-six from the Syracuse 34, Frazer hitting Isiah Moore for a first down at the 24 that resulted in a field goal and a 10-3 Husky lead shortly before halftime.
And then right before the end of the third quarter with UConn leading 17-6, Edsall went for it again.
On a fourth-and-four from the Orange 33, Frazer found tight end Ryan Griffin over the middle for 10 yards and a first down that led to a field goal.
Given leads to hold, the Connecticut defense played some inspired football during this three-game streak against the top three teams record-wise in the Big East.
In fact, the UConn defense has ratcheted it up a notch in the three games against the iron of the conference. During the three-game winning streak, the Huskies “D” has recovered six fumbles and picked off three passes.
First the defense held West Virginia to 13 points and UConn linebacker Sio Moore was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week.
Moore had a career-best and game-high 17 tackles, including three tackles for a loss and two sacks, and recovered two fumbles, a sterling performance that also earned the talented sophomore a pair of prestigious national awards: Moore was named by the Football Writers Association of America as the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week and Sio also earned the honor of being named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week.
In defense of the defense
Against Pitt, yes the Huskies gave up four touchdowns, but in defense of the defense, two of those came on short fields set up by an interception and a long kick return.
Once again, a Husky was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week, this time the honor going to another linebacker, senior Lawrence Wilson.
He had 11 tackles plus a sack, one of three turned in by UConn in the 30-28 nail-biter over Pittsburgh.
UConn has a shot at making it three league defensive awards in a row if linebacker Scott Lutrus should get the conference nod. The senior co-captain had nine tackles to pace the Huskies as the defense held Syracuse to six points.
Lutrus, Wilson and all the seniors will be honored this Saturday during Senior Day ceremonies scheduled to take place prior to the noon kickoff against Cincinnati.
Posted Nov. 22, 2010
Editor’s Note: The University of Connecticut Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will once again conduct a “Winter Wear Drive” this year, at the UConn vs. Cincinnati game on Saturday, Nov. 27 at Rentschler Field, which begins at noon. Patrons are asked to bring gently-used coats, hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, etc. to the game wich will be collected as they enter the stadium. The items will be donated to the Cornerstone Foundation in Rockville, CT, the Windham Area Interfaith Ministries of Willimantic, CT and the Salvation Army of Willimantic, CT.