An effective run game. Just about every successful football team needs one. Nursing a two touchdown lead midway through the second half and on its way to one of the biggest wins in program history against one of the most storied programs in college football, UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni may have given his first born for a running game.
But, there was none to be found as 15th ranked Michigan (4-0) turned the tide scoring seventeen unanswered over the last 20 minutes of play, dropping the upset-minded Huskies to 0-3, before a record crowd of just over 42,000 at ‘The Rent’ in East Hartford Saturday evening.
Said Pasqualoni, "I am very proud of the entire team's effort tonight. I was pleased with the kids who stepped up and also some of the young guys who were called on to compete and for the kids who played hurt. I admired our approach and attitude as we approached this week and this game. (Michigan) made a couple more plays and a couple more first downs then we did.”
History in the making
After free safety Ty-Meer Brown scooped up a Devin Gardner (11/23-97yds-2INT) fumble and returned it 31 yards giving UConn a 21-7 lead three plays into the third quarter it looked the ‘The Rent’ would celebrate its 10th year of UConn football with a signature win of near epic proportion. The defense, which at times resembled its 2012 self, kept the Wolverines in check for most of the game, just needing the offense to burn some big minutes in the second half.
The help never came.
On the running game Pasqualoni said, “We wanted more production and a few more points. That’s for sure. We weren’t as good as we needed to.”
Running on empty
UConn’s backfield could only muster 25 yards on the ground in the second half and Michigan’s defense, which sacked Chandler Whitmer (16/32-159yds-2TD-1INT) three times after the break, got it’s only turnover of the game in the fourth when a Desmond Morgan pick and 34 yard return gave the Wolverines the ball on the UConn 12. One play later a twelve yard Fitzgerald Touissaint (24 carries-120yds-2TD) end around knotted the game at 21 with just under ten to play. The momentum had swung and the dreams of a UConn upset were fading.
A UConn three and out on the next possession and a good punt return gave Michigan the ball on the UConn 40 at the midway point of the fourth. Eight plays and four and a half minutes later a 21 yard Brendan Gibbons kick gave Michigan the lead for good, 24-21. After a touch back on the ensuing kickoff UConn had just over three and a half minutes to keep the dream alive, but a turnover on downs on a fourth and 29 with just under a minute to play shut the door on a miracle finish.
“There’s no moral victories”, said Pasqualoni and added, “Unfortunately, we came out on the short end of things tonight. We are disappointed right now on the outcome of the game but we aren't discouraged by our performance. ”
Monday morning quarterbacking is easy (Sunday morning in this case), but it was perplexing that while protecting a lead in the second half that in all three of UConn’s possessions, prior to Michigan eventually tying the game, that the coaches chose to start with a pass play. Granted two of three were completions, but perhaps it underscores a subtle lack of faith in the running game by the UConn staff that may have ultimately cost them the game.
UConn plays it’s first road game of the season next Saturday as the Huskies travel to Buffalo for a 3:30 p.m. game.