Shakim Phillips had a productive day for the Huskies on Saturday.
Dec. 1, 2012
By Scott Waggoner
After a one-yard touchdown run by redshirt sophomore running back Lyle McCombs late in the third quarter, the University of Connecticut football team had cut the Cincinnati lead to four and once again found itself in the game heading into the fourth quarter of Saturday's season finale at Rentschler Field.
When the game was over, Cincinnati had won 34-17 and the Huskies, like they have many times this season, simply ran out of gas. The Bearcats outscored UConn 13-0 in the fourth quarter, which remained unkind to a Connecticut team that saw its chance to become bowl-eligible for the fifth time in six years slip away.
The inability to close out games has hurt Connecticut mightily this year. UConn was outscored 82-34 in the fourth quarter this season and Saturday was another game that left UConn thinking of what could have been.
"They made the big plays they had to make at the end there," Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I always feel like we should win these games and I think the kids on the team feel that way too."
The Bearcats offense had its way with Connecticut's secondary early in the game, making it a point to get the ball to their athletic tight end Travis Kelce. The senior caught a 25-yard touchdown pass on Cincinnati's first drive and then threw for a touchdown on a reverse trick play in the second quarter.
"He was a big part of their game plan tonight," Pasqualoni said. "He's a terrific athlete and a very good player who made some good plays."
Connecticut would respond when redshirt sophomore quarterback Chandler Whitmer found tight end Ryan Griffin for a 74-yard touchdown in the second quarter and after the McCombs' touchdown the Huskies were right there.
Too many mistakes down the stretch would be the difference though, as late interceptions off of senior quarterback Johnny McEntee, who came into the game after Whitmer suffered an injury, put the game out of reach.
"A lot of teams are talented enough to win championships, but it's all those little things that matter which is why football is such a great game," Connecticut redshirt defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. "You have to do all the little things right and you can't shoot yourself in the foot."
UConn's defense, like they have all season, kept the Huskies within striking defense. Cincinnati came into the game averaging 211.4 rushing yards, though Connecticut managed to hold them to just 72 yards on the ground in what was another fantastic effort from a unit that has been consistently great all season.
Redshirt senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson said Connecticut made serious strides defensively this season and that the Huskies can carry that momentum into next year.
"Since I've been here, I think this is the best defense I've seen," Wreh-Wilson said. "It's a tribute to not only (defensive coordinator) Coach (Don) Brown and the seniors but also to the younger guys. They stepped up and played at a high level and I don't think the defense is going to take a hit next year."
Connecticut had their chances on offense, but dropped passes early in the game prevented the Huskies from getting into any kind of rhythm. Missed opportunities and mistakes were a common theme this season for a Husky offense that failed to produce consistently.
"You'd like to have more production throughout the year," Pasqualoni said. "When the giveaway takeaway ratio is as such, it's very hard to win those close games and to have the production you'd like."
Saturday's loss wasn't how the senior class envisioned going out, though many of the players who suited up for the final time Saturday see a bright future for the Huskies.
"It's not the way you want to go but it's time to pass the torch," redshirt senior linebacker Sio Moore said. "I think the program is going to go up. The younger guys have a bitter taste in their mouth and they want more."