Nov. 26, 2011
By Leigh Torbin
Because the University of Connecticut football team got off to a great start on Saturday afternoon, the Huskies will have a chance to send their 2011 season off with a great finish next Saturday when the squad heads to Cincinnati.
The season-long aspiration of a bowl bid remains within UConn's control because the Huskies wasted little time in asserting its force over Rutgers, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the game's first 7:42 to take a 14-0 lead which would spur the Huskies on to Saturday's 40-22 victory.
"It was refreshing to start off making plays," tailback Lyle McCombssaid after a 95-yard rushing effort that included a pair of touchdowns. "We started off early making plays on both offense and defense and kept the ball rolling."
Bucking a disconcerting trend, the Huskies had led after the first quarter just once in the last six games entering Saturday, including a 14-0 deficit after 15 minutes of last week's humbling loss to Louisville. Against Rutgers, UConn took its first 14-point lead after the opening stanza since last year's Sept. 25 victory over Buffalo.
"They looked in the mirror instead of looking out the window," UConn head coach Paul Pasqualonisaid of how his victorious team reacted this past week after last week's loss to Louisville. "They took responsibility and did something about it. That is the definition of responsibility."
Now, with a victory on Saturday at Nippert Stadium, UConn will find itself eligible for postseason play for the fifth consecutive season and the seventh time in the last nine years. However, without a win on Saturday's Senior Day over an eight-win Rutgers team which entered the contest with visions of the school's first-ever BIG EAST championship, those dreams would be dashed.
UConn's early dominance on both sides of the ball saw to it that Rutgers was never able to shake off the cobwebs of the bus ride from New Jersey. On the Scarlet Knights' third play from scrimmage, Sio Moore burst through to drop tailback Jawan Jamison and force a fumble which Jesse Josephrecovered at the Rutgers 24. A 14-yard gain by McCombs was followed by a 10-yard McCombs touchdown run to put the Huskies up 7-0 just 2:09 into the contest.
The third play of Rutgers' second drive also resulted in a turnover as Ty-Meer Brown picked off Chas Dodd's pass at the Rutgers 40. UConn did not take the gift lightly, with Johnny McEnteehitting McCombs for a 21-yard catch on the first play after the turnover, UConn's third successive play of at least 10 yards. Five plays later the Huskies were once again in the end zone with a 14-0 cushion.
"Being up like that lets you play confidently," McCombs said. "When everyone's making plays, you have nothing to worry about."
Very much playing like a team facing an effective end to its season, UConn sustained its momentum, eventually extending its lead to 40-10 and allowing the visions of a 13th game to dance in their heads as the holiday season beckons.
UConn has dropped all three contests it has played in the Queen City but none have had this level of significance. The Huskies could be spending the holidays in any number of locations greener and warmer than Storrs with a win over the Bearcats on Saturday. Should the Cincinnati, 8-3 on the season and still in the running for a BCS bowl bid, prevail on its Senior Day, the Huskies will be spending the holidays back home wondering about several close losses suffered in 2011. The predicament sets up some significant drama.
"This win shows what we have in hold for us in the future" redshirt freshman Yawin Smallwoodsaid following today's contest. "This will give us some great motivation for the Cincinnati game. We proved a lot today and showed that UConn is a good football team."
"This game today meant a lot to us," McCombs said in agreement. "Now this next game could be our last. It makes you want to play hard and leave it all out on the field next week."
In a high noon showdown next Saturday, UConn's 2011 bowl hopes will either materialize or vanish. The season's potential happy ending would have never survived today had UConn's Senior Day not had such a happy beginning.
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