It took five tries but the Huskies finally notched their first Big East win of the 2012 season, a 24-17 victory over Pitt Friday night in Rentschler Field. UConn led 24-0 at the break thanks in large part to a finely tuned offense we hadn't seen for the first nine games of the season.
In the first 20 minutes, there were three scoring drives and a Nick Williams 80-yard punt return that gave the Huskies something they hadn't seen much of this season: points and a lead. The Panthers, who are headed to the ACC next year, were coming off a triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame and looked out of sorts for most of the evening.
The Huskies had a chance to put the game away late in the fourth quarter. Two plays after running back Lyle McCombs ripped off a 39-yard run that put him over 100 yards on the night, quarterback Chandler Whitmer threw an awful interception in the Panthers' end zone. Tight end Ryan Griffin was open, Chandler overthrew him, and instead of it being 31-10 with just over four minutes to go, the Panthers had new life.
Pitt scored two minutes later to make it 24-17 but on 3rd-and-7 from their own 28, Whitmer hit Shakim Phillips for a 17-yard gain. Three plays later, the clock expired and UConn had won for the first time in five games.
"I'm not so sure I wanted Chandler to the win the game," Pasqualoni said of that decisive third-down conversion on the Huskies' last drive. "I wanted the offense to win the game. We thought we had a pretty good play and thought the protection would be good. We had a seven-man protection so we had a lot of guys in protection. He couldn't get it to his first read but he got the ball off to (Phillips) and he had the wherewithal to stay in bounds and we got the chains moving and the clock moving again. They were out of timeouts so we were going take a shot at throwing it on that third down."
And for the first time in a long time, things went right for UConn late in the game.
"It was a big play and I knew we had to do something to ice the game and put it away," Whitmer said. " (Shakim) did a good job running his route and winning and I just tried to throw it a little early because there was some pressure and let him run underneath it and he did a great job finishing the play."
There was more than a little pressure; Whitmer stood tall in the pocket while a Pitt defender grabbed his left foot, held the ball for another half-second before delivering a strike to Phillips.
"Needless to say, we are proud of the kids and proud of the team," Pasqualoni said. "Really proud of the way they prepared and the way they started the game. I thought we finished the blocks a little better especially early on in the game. We were able to run the ball some, especially early on in the game. I thought that allowed us to use misdirection pass and get some balls to Ryan Griffin early in the game. From a run standpoint, I thought we did a pretty good job stopping the run. We didn't do quite as well running the ball in the second half even though Lyle had that big play. Overall just proud of the way the kids prepared tonight."
Now the Huskies will have the week off to build off this latest win. The odds are still long but if UConn can win out -- which means wins over Louisville and Cincinnati -- they'll be bowl eligible.