Nov. 12, 2012
By Scott Waggoner
University of Connecticut quarterback Chandler Whitmer preached patience earlier last week when discussing UConn’s offensive struggles over the past few games.
UConn’s patience paid off Friday night as the Huskies exploded for 24 first half points and hung on to earn their first BIG EAST win this season, beating Pittsburgh 24-17 at Rentschler Field in what was one of Connecticut’s best offensive performances of the year.
“We had a good game rushing and that kept us balanced and that’s what I’ve been saying we need to do to be successful,” Whitmer said.
The Huskies established the run early in the game and created a balanced offensive attack that had been missing for much of the season.
Redshirt sophomore running back Lyle McCombs ran for 120 yards on 29 carries and looked every bit like the back from last season. UConn did a much better job blocking for the sophomore, who used his lateral quickness in the open field to gain big chunks of yards and put the Huskies in more manageable second and third downs.
“Lyle did a great job tonight,” redshirt junior offensive guard Steve Greene said. “He was able to read the linebackers and cut it back when he needed to.”
With a strong rushing attack, the Huskies were able to keep the Pittsburgh defense honest, which opened up the play-action pass for Connecticut in the first quarter.
“We finished some blocks early in the game and really set the tempo,” Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “We were able to run the ball some early and that allowed us to use the misdirection passes.”
Whitmer connected on his first three passes of the game all going to redshirt senior tight end Ryan Griffin, who led the Huskies with six catches for 84 yards.
“That’s the type of offense we can play,” Griffin said. “Tonight we were firing on all cylinders.”
When the Huskies wanted to throw, Connecticut’s offensive line gave Whitmer time to go through his progressions and find the open receiver. Whitmer finished the game 19-25 for 213 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“Pittsburgh has a pretty good defensive front but the line did a good job of protecting me tonight,” Whitmer said.
Some wondered how the Huskies would come out Friday after dropping their four previous games. Connecticut played inspired football though, and UConn appears determined to finish the season strong after stumbling through the middle portion of the season.
“Everybody can learn a lesson from the way these kids don’t get down,” Pasqualoni said. “They don’t get discouraged and they come in everyday and they work.”
Pittsburgh made it a game in the second half, as Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri threw two fourth quarter touchdowns to cut Connecticut’s lead to just one score.
Pasqualoni put the game in his offense’s hands late, and the Huskies ran the clock out after converting a crucial first down, allowing Connecticut to finally win a close game this year.
“It’s a great feeling,” Pasqualoni said. “We’ve been in four games this year where we’ve lost by seven points or less so it’s awfully nice to win one of them.”
The win kept UConn’s hopes of going to a bowl game this year alive and reenergized a team that still has a lot to play for going forward. UConn has to win its final two games – at Louisville and home against Cincinnati – to earn bowl eligibility.
“Right now it feels good to win a game,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. “It was good just to see everybody happy and we really needed this.”