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UConn's Most Important Football Wins: #3

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Thanks to four fumbles and questionable game management, UConn finally beat West Virginia, saved its 2010 season and began its march to an unlikely BCS berth.

Andy Lyons

Box Score

Finally, UConn slayed the dragon.

During UConn’s first half-dozen years in the Big East, there was only one team they couldn’t beat. They beat Rutgers before even joining the conference. They beat Pitt in their first conference game. They had great success against Syracuse and USF. They beat a Cincinnati team in 2008 that would play in the Orange Bowl.

But West Virginia? They were a horror show.

If you’re a UConn football fan, you know what I’m talking about. The most frightening college football player I ever saw in person was Pat White, with Steve Slaton a close second. Yes, if you’re a Georgia fan reading this, you can nod in acknowledgement.

For whatever reason, UConn couldn’t even play with West Virginia. The games were blowouts that sent UConn fans heading for the parking lot by halftime. The 2007 season finale between the two for the Big East title was a complete and total destruction.

So in 2009 – as White finally graduated – it appeared UConn might have enough. The road trip to Morgantown came the week after Jasper Howard’s murder and the 28-24 loss was tough but promising. UConn had kept it close.

Yet in 2010, there were no good vibes around the program. A preseason Big East contender, the team had slumped to 3-4, following a 26-0 loss to Louisville in the Mike Box Debacle that could be considered the worst loss of the Randy Edsall era. It was a Friday night and ESPN was there – yet you couldn’t shake the feeling that another West Virginia rout was going to extinguish whatever hope was left in the UConn season.

In fact, a West Virginia rout is exactly what should have happened. A 53-yard TD run by Brad Starks put West Virginia up 7-0 before five minutes had been played. It was 10-0 after the first quarter. West Virginia had 24 first downs to 16 for UConn. West Virginia rushed for 254 yards with a ridiculous 5.4 yard per carry average.

This is where I state that if you average a first down on every two runs, you should win the football game.

Except West Virginia fumbled the ball away four times. That’s it. That’s the whole game right there. When you are negative-four in the turnover game, you’re probably going to lose.

Up 10-0 early in the second quarter, Noel Devine fumbled around midfield.

On the first drive of the third quarter, Ryan Clarke fumbled at the UConn 26-yard line on a 4th and 1. In fact, since Geno Smith recovered, that wasn’t even one of the four turnovers.

Up 13-10 early in the fourth quarter, Geno Smith fumbled in UConn territory.

There was plenty of blame to go around on the West Virginia sidelines as then-coach, the late Bill Stewart decided to punt the ball from the UConn 33-yard line with just over three minutes to go. That ultra-conservative plan backfired when three Jordan Todman runs gave UConn a first down and sent the game into overtime.

By overtime, everyone inside the Rent started to believe. UConn was essentially playing with house money. They had been largely outplayed for fourth quarters but a stingy defense, a Herculean performance by Todman and some help from the visitors meant overtime was on hand.

You got the sense it just wasn’t West Virginia’s night.

On first-and-goal from the UConn 1 to start overtime, Ryan Clarke fumbled again. He basically dropped the football. That was that.

UConn rode Todman some more and set it up for Dave Teggart to end the game, securing a 16-13 UConn victory. The fans rushed the field and there was a huge celebration on the Rentschler Field turf that Friday night.

We know the rest of the story now – UConn didn’t lose again in the regular season and played in the Fiesta Bowl.

On that Friday night, none of that crossed anyone’s mind. UConn had finally slayed the dragon. They had beaten West Virginia. The how and why didn’t matter. It happened.

The beauty of a big home win is how quickly it erases prior mistakes. Even though at 4-4, UConn was still underachieving compared to preseason expectations – everything simply felt better.

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