UConn survives thanks to Virginia's botched field goal
EAST HARTFORD – There is no set timeframe for coming full circle. It could be minutes, days, months, years, and…you get the point.
Full circle for the UConn football team came in one week. Seven days after a horrific loss on the final play of the game at Navy, the Huskies somehow survived an equally tumultuous finish in the last seconds against Virginia on Saturday.
Trailing by three with the clock ticking and no timeouts, the Cavaliers rushed to the line to kick the tying field goal from a mere 20 yards out. The result was disastrous for them as Alex Furbank, a walk-on in his first career game, missed wide left with no time remaining, giving UConn a much-needed, yet ugly 13-10 win at Pratt and Whitney Stadium.
The 31,036 on hand, who were especially vocal voicing their frustrations toward the Huskies in the first half, celebrated, but were also relieved.
“You’re hoping for a push and we got the push,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said. “It was really dented well and we really strained on every single down. If you rewind the play, I’m sure you’ll see a real significant surge into the backfield from the players."
Bobby Puyol nailed a 43-yard field goal with 1:33 left to give the Huskies the lead, which proved to be the eventual difference. He also made a kick in the final minute to win the season-opener against Maine.
Sandwiched in-between was the chaotic loss at Navy, which saw the Huskies butcher clock management, ending in a loss at the one-yard line.
UConn, now 2-1, could really be 3-0, with Syracuse coming to East Hartford next week. But, with a bounce or two, it could also be 0-3.
Diaco, who came under fire during the past week for his handling of the Navy game, is hoping to see consistency immediately.
“Every game’s been taxing, spectacularly taxing,” Diaco said. “We had two turnovers in the red zone. It doesn’t need to be this interesting. We have some stuff to clean up. I’m excited we get to clean it up after a win and not after a loss.”
After falling behind 21-0 last week before coming back to take the lead, the Huskies were held to only three points in the first 52 minutes on Saturday. Bryant Shirreffs, who was hit all game long (sacked four times, 20 runs for only 33 yards), threw an interception in the end zone. Arkeel Newsome also lost a fumble.
“We’re trying,” Diaco said. “It’s just a little mind-boggling. And it’s the same slow starts.”
Only one play after Newsome’s fumble, Jamar Summers picked off Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert. The Huskies promptly drove for their first, and only, touchdown, a one-yard run by Shirreffs.
“I noticed in film study that they like to do a lot of pop patterns, so I relied on that when making the play,” Summers said. “It was really important. We always talk about our defense outplaying the opposing defense. We needed to make a big play.”
On the winning drive, Shirreffs connected on a 23-yard pass play to Noel Thomas (91 yards total) to put the Huskies in field goal range.
Four plays later, Puyol easily connected from 43 yards away, which was quite the contrast from Furbanks’ eventual kick.
“The team battles, they never stop,” Diaco said. “They never stop believing.”
Battling and believing, of course, is crucial and the Huskies have shown those traits. This is an odd time around the school’s sports programs, with the shadow of the Big 12 looming.
Before the game, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco acknowledged the awkwardness surrounding the league and its schools, making it a point to praise the league for its growth and also showing an understanding as to why schools would jump at a Big 12 invitation. Football is the ultimate calling card and UConn, over the past three years, has shown steady growth after the dark times following Randy Edsall’s departure.
At this point, every win counts more than ever. Every breath and every step is under heavy surveillance by the Big 12. It was imperative for the Huskies to rebound and come full circle after last week’s debacle. It’s now imperative for them to execute even better.