4th down and 29 yards to go with the Fat Lady warming up in the background.
Those were the kind of long odds UConn faced this week, as it prepared for the all-time winningest program in college football history.
Then, after overcoming those odds and outplaying no. 15 Michigan from nearly start to finish, the Huskies faced that exact scenario with the game on the line.
And they damn near pulled it off.
On his team’s final offensive play, Deshon Foxx snared a rifled Chandler Whitmer pass 26 yards downfield, before getting crunched by Wolverine defensive backs Jarrod Wilson and Blake Countess. Helpless, he collapsed three yards shy of the first down marker.
Last night, the Huskies faltered late in a heartbreaking loss to Michigan, 24-21. The matchup had been dubbed the biggest home game in program history, and as the night wore on, it seemed destined to become the biggest victory.
Just minutes after halftime concluded, UConn had already produced three touchdowns and forced four turnovers. Faced with a shocking 21-7 deficit, the Wolverines fought to reel off 17 unanswered points and go ahead late in the fourth quarter.
From there, the Huskies failed to generate a game-winning drive, harped by a false start penalty and critical third down sack. The absences of leading wide receiver Shakim Phillips and right tackle Kevin Friend were felt more than ever on this drive, when needed downfield passing appeared impossible.
Nevertheless, Whitmer played arguably his best game in a Husky uniform to date, finishing 16-32 with 159 yards, two touchdowns and one costly pick against a stingy Wolverine defense.
Linebacker Desmond Morgan hauled in Whitmer’s lone interception with one hand early in the fourth quarter of a then 21-14 contest. After Morgan weaved his way back to the Huskies' 12-yardline, running back Fitzgerald Touissant came on with the offense and immediately sprinted into the endzone to tie the game.
Five minutes later, and once again afforded a short field, Michigan watched kicker Brendan Gibbons sail one through the uprights from 21 yards away to permanently take the lead.
"I am very proud of the entire team's effort tonight,” said head coach Paul Pasqualoni. “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 … They (Michigan) made a couple more plays and first down then we did. We contained them for a long time but not long enough.”
Outside of some late breakdowns, the UConn defense performed spectacularly against its Big Ten visitor. Defensive coordinator Hank Hughes set the table with a variety of fronts, coverages and blitzes, which was a far different gameplan he laid out against Maryland and Towson. Linebacker Yawin Smallwood moved as a sideline-to-sideline blur, producing 13 stops and a sack of Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner.
Gardner was taken down twice more before the night ended, but it was his ability to run away from would-be tacklers that kept Michigan alive. The senior signal caller threw for only 97 yards on 11 of 23 passes, while he accounted for 64 yards rushing and a touchdown. As a team, Michigan collected 289 yards of total offense, averaging a mere four yards per play.
Touissant rushed for 120 of those yards on 24 attempts, thanks to some long second half runs against a tired UConn front. His 35-yard touchdown scamper in the middle of the third quarter gave the Wolverines life and a manageable 21-14 margin. Prior to his score, Michigan received the ball to open the second half and promptly coughed it up on a Gardner fumble, which Ty-Meer Brown took 34 yards to the house.
Brown was a part of a depleted Husky secondary that produced two interceptions and multiple fumbles, only one of which they recovered. Cornerback Byron Jones picked off a deep Gardner pass in the second quarter, and fellow cornerback Jhavon Williams snatched a tipped ball for an interception in the game's first six minutes. Neither turnover led to UConn points.
The first of two offensive touchdowns scored by the Huskies came after the offense had progressed just 39 yards over its opening five drives. Geremy Davis made two big catches for first downs to open things up for Max Delorenzo, who subsequently moved the chains on his own with a nice 12-yard run. Whitmer hit back-up tight end Spencer Parker in the end zone to cap off the 8-play 56-yard series.
A couple drives later, the Huskies found themselves camped nine yards from the Michigan goalline, following a Wolverine special teams gaffe. Lyle McCombs caught a well-aimed Whitmer pass over the shoulder for his first receiving score of the year. He finished with 41 total yards.
"There were some positive things that we can build off of,” McCombs said. “But at the end of the day it hurts. We fought hard for that win, but need to go back tomorrow. “
Offensively, UConn did nothing to help itself in the second half. Only a single drive travelled more than 15 yards, finished 1-10 on third down and compiled 209 total yards for the game. These efforts repeatedly sent the defense back onto field, where it inevitably cracked against a quality Michigan attack.
"We went out as a team and fought our hardest, but we didn't get the win,” said freshman safety Obi Melifonwu. “We played very well. We needed to play hard for 60 minutes but we came up with the loss.”
The Huskies will take on the Buffalo Bulls next Saturday afternoon in their first road game of the season. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and a live broadcast can be seen on ESPN3.