Bob Diaco and the UConn Huskies grabbed an unexpected and very important win at Rentschler Field against Cincinnati, 20-9. It is the first win for UConn over the Bearcats since 2010 and gets the Huskies back to .500 on the season. The Huskies started off poorly but recovered on both sides of the ball as they battled back to score 20 unanswered.
UConn played for field position early, downing two punts deep in Cincinnati territory in the first quarter. The Bearcats’ opening drive moved downfield but ended on a 4th-down drop in UConn territory. The rest of the first quarter saw little offensive production from either team as it ended in a scoreless tie. The Huskies have failed to score a first-quarter point this season.
The second quarter could have been a disastrous one, and very well should have if not for a few lucky bounces and some timely stands by the defense in the red zone. Cincinnati moved deep into UConn territory three times but only managed to get three field goals out of it.
Uconn’s offense continued to sputter, leading the crowd to start booing after quarterback Bryant Shirreffs’ second interception among multiple errant throws. Luckily a 59-yard catch and run to Tyraiq Beals right before the end of the half got the Huskies back into the game. Shirreffs finished 18-for-33 for 224 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also added 52 hard-earned rushing yards, keeping some key drives alive with his legs.
In the second half, UConn started making stops and moving the ball offensively. The Huskies marched 88 yards down the field on their first possession, which ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Noel Thomas, who finished with nine receptions and 116 yards. The next drive started with a 67-yard run by Arkeel Newsome to flip the field, and ended with a field goal as UConn took its largest lead of the season, 17-9, going into the fourth quarter. Newsome finished with 128 yards from scrimmage, 116 on the ground on 14 carries.
As the defense continued to clamp down, the offense mounted another long drive to burn the clock in the fourth quarter. Bobby Puyol sent another field goal through to give UConn a two-score lead with 3:08 remaining and the Huskies were able to hold on.
This is a big win for UConn that gets bowl eligibility back into the conversation, which was a bit of a question mark after the loss to Syracuse. For the Huskies to bounce back the way that they did speaks volumes to the character and resolve of the players.
Defensively, Obi Melifonwu had a key interception which led to one of UConn’s touchdowns. Linebackers Vontae Diggs and E.J. Levenberry had nice days alongside the steady performance of Matt Walsh. The secondary, which had struggled to date, played a really great game, with Jamar Summers starting at safety and Jhavon Williams making four pass break-ups.
Another key to the win was the performance of the offensive line. Pass protection was solid and for the most part they gave the running backs enough space to make something happen.
The Huskies (3-3, 1-2 AAC) will be on the road next week against South Florida. The Bulls are the current frontrunners to win the AAC East Division and will be 5-1 after locking up a win over East Carolina today.