Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni didn't want Connecticut's game against Syracuse to be about him.
But his players had other ideas.
Quarterback Scott McCummings ran for two touchdowns and Lyle McCombs added 152 yards rushing and a score to lead Connecticut to a 28-21 win, giving "Coach P" a "W" in his first game against a program he coached for 14 seasons.
"He downplayed the whole thing," said linebacker Sio Moore, who had a key fourth-quarter interception. "But you always know that playing the team that you used to coach, you want to get those wins and we wanted to make sure we did that for him today."
McCummings, who has spent the season coming in only occasionally as the Huskies option-style change-of-pace quarterback, took over the offense in the fourth quarter. He scored on a 10-yard keeper, then led UConn (4-5, 2-2 Big East) on an eight-play 62 yard drive, running the ball in from 7-yards out for the winning score with just under 5 minutes to play.
"It was just great to be out there," said McCummings. "The coaches showed a lot more confidence in me then they had in the past couple of weeks, so I just wanted to rise to the calling."
Ryan Nassib threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns for Syracuse (5-4, 1-3), which failed for the second straight week to become bowl eligible. His fourth-down pass on the Orange's final drive was knocked down by defensive tackle Kendall Reyes and UConn was able to run out the clock. He also was picked off twice.
"We gotta just get bowl eligible," said Syracuse tight end Nick Provo. "We've gotta win another game."
Provo had seven catches and a touchdown for the Orange, giving him 39 receptions for the season and breaking the school's single-season record for receptions by a tight end. Alec Lemon had nine receptions for 157 yards and a score.
Provo's 6-yard reception on the opening drive of the second half gave the Orange a 14-7 lead, as the teams went back-and-forth, scoring touchdowns on four consecutive possessions.
McCombs tied the game at 14-14 on a 3-yard pitch play, and Syracuse responded with a 7-yard reverse play from receiver Dorian Graham and led 21-14 after three quarters.
That's when McCummings took over, keeping the ball on an option play and diving into the end zone at the end of a 7-yard run to tie the game at 21 less than a minute into the fourth quarter. He finished with 13 carries and 59 yards, and didn't attempt a pass.
But McCombs said McCummings' presence in the game opened up the rushing lanes.
"The defense has to worry about our offensive line coming at them with two running threats in the game," he said. "So it makes the defense get on their heels. It opens things up for me. It opens things up for Scotty."
The Huskies finished the game with 243 rushing yards.
Starting quarterback Johnny McEntee was 8 of 14 from 113 yards and a touchdown, but also threw two interceptions.
He moved Connecticut inside the 30 yard line on their first five drives of the game but came away with just seven points.
Nick Williams found a lane on the right side of the field and returned the opening kickoff to the Syracuse 33-yard line. Three plays later, McEntee found tight end John Delahunt who stretched the ball over the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown.
It was the first time the Huskies had scored on an opening drive since their third game of season, Sept. 16 against Iowa State.
But the Huskies had five first-half turnovers.
Syracuse had two, including a fumble by Antwon Bailey on the team's first drive, which set UConn up on the Syracuse 27-yard yard. But Syracuse safety Phillip Thomas intercepted McEntee two plays later, the first of two pick picks for Thomas.
On the next Husky drive, McCombs took a toss sweep against an inside blitz by Syracuse, turned the corner and ran 63 yards. But McCummings fumbled the snap on the next play.
McCombs also fumbled after the Huskies drove to the 26-yard line early in the second quarter.
Syracuse broke through with just under 2 minutes left in the first half when Nassib found Lemon over the middle from 20-yards out to tie the score at 7-7.
Chandler Jones forced two of the Husky's fumbles and Thomas' second interception set up a 37-yard field goal attempt just before halftime. But Ross Krautman pulled it wide left.
The win was the fifth straight for UConn over Syracuse, but the first for Pasqualoni. He was fired by the school in 2004 after posting a record of 107-59-1, with four Big East titles, nine bowl appearances and six bowl victories.
"My feelings about Syracuse are the great relationships I had with the players and coaches I worked with there," he said. "Everybody I know is essentially out of there, so for me it's honestly about the players and the effort, both sides of the ball...and really not about me at all."
The Huskies have not had a losing season since 2006.
The Orange were forced to stay in a hotel about 60 miles from the stadium because many hotels in the Hartford area don't have power in the wake of last week's damaging snow storm, and those that do were filled with local residents who are still without electricity.