UConn's drive towards a postseason appearance—which seemed like an impossible dream after a four-game mid-season slide—was kept alive for at least another week when the Huskies pulled off one of the biggest upsets of this college football season—a thrilling 23-20 triple-overtime upset over the No. 20-ranked Louisville Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday afternoon. It marked the first time the Huskies had defeated a ranked opponent since Connecticut stopped USF, then ranked No. 11, in 2007.
The Huskies jumped out to an early lead after a 39-yard field goal by Chad Christen and a three-yard run by senior Nick Wilson made it 10-0 Connecticut after the first quarter. Although the Louisville, the top scoring offense in the Big East, was able to move the ball consistently against Connecticut all game long, the Huskies showed the 45,618 fans in attendance and SNY television audience why they came into the game with the nation's ninth-ranked offense by keeping the Cardinals off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.
Leading 10-0 after the third period, the Cardinals' offense suddenly came alive. A 19-yard field goal by John Wallace 20 seconds into the fourth stanza cut the Connecticut advantage to one possession, 10-3. Then Louisville came all the way after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed a 92-yard, 13-play drive capped by a six-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wideout DeVante Parker, a Louisville hometown product, with 21 seconds left in regulation. That knotted the score at 10 points apiece and sent the game into overtime(s).
Bridgewater had been knocked out of the game temporarily when a second-quarter sack by UConn sophomore linebacker Seo Moore resulted in a fractured left (non-throwing) wrist for the Cardinals' Heisman Trophy candidate, but he returned in the second half, his left arm in a cast. When he returned, the Cardinal offense operated exclusively out of the shotgun, allowing the Louisville star an extra few yards to set up in the pocket without having to drop back.
Connecticut starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Chandler Whitmer, was also knocked out of the game after getting his bell rung by Louisville linebacker Preston Brown in the fourth quarter. That left the offense in the hands of Johnny McEntee, the Huskies' starting quarterback last season. Whitmer ended the day 7-for-21, good for 72 yards in the air with no touchdown passes and one pick.
“I'm a little woozy but I'm all right,” said Whitmer after the game. “It's football. I'll be fine. I'll rest up and they'll take care of me and I'll be good.”
After trading field goals in the first overtime and touchdowns in the second extra session, the Huskies did the unthinkable—stopping a ranked opponent on enemy turf.
Christen's winning 30-yard field goal was set up in dramatic fashion after senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked off a Bridgewater pass intended for Parker in the end zone. Four plays later, Christen calmly booted it through the uprights keeping Connecticut's bowl dreams alive.
“I just know in the red zone they like to go back-shoulder on the fade ball and I had the guy across from me,” said Wreh-Wilson, he fifth-year senior from Edinboro, Pa. “On the play before, they ran a similar route and I played it the same way. This time, the ball came to me. I flattened him out and didn't let him go upfield. I pushed him toward the sideline.”
Although Louisville outgained Connecticut, 401 total yards to 241, with 374 coming in the air, it was the Huskies' “bend, but don't break” defense that kept them in this contest.
“We were just looking for a few points in the second half [but we] weren't able to come up with points in the third and fourth quarters,” said Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni, a Cheshire native and the winningest head coach in Big East football history. “I thought our guys hung in there on pride and with character and how hard they fought in this game.”
With the win, the Huskies, who have won two straight after starting out the season 3-6, are now in position to qualify for a postseason bowl bid with a win over the 8-3 Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday. Kickoff at Rentschler Field is slated for 3:30 p.m., and the game will be televised live to a national audience on ABC.