Start with the bizarre autumn snowstorm that sent the coaching staff – like so many state citizens – scrambling for shelter, heat, water and accommodations for family members. Then mix in all the questions about Paul Pasqualoni coaching against the Syracuse program he directed for 18 years, including 14 as the head coach, for the first time.
But for the players, the biggest burden was the team's record. No one expected three wins overall and a 1-2 Big East record after that disappointing loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 26. Early in the week, there was a palpable feeling the Huskies were disappointed in the direction this season was taking.
Something had to change.
Linebacker Sio Moore put that feeling into words after the Huskies completed their 28-21 victory over Syracuse before 38,769 Saturday at Rentschler Field.
"This wasn't a situation where a loss was any type of thing we could do," Moore said.
After five turnovers and a rather unproductive first half, UConn (4-5, 2-2 Big East) woke up to that notion in the second half after Syracuse (5-4, 1-3) scored on its first possession of the third quarter to take a 14-7 lead. Running back Lyle McCombs (152 yards on 24 carries) and reserve quarterback Scott McCummings (59 yards on 13 carries) combined for three touchdowns in the second half, and UConn's defense held the Orange scoreless in the fourth quarter, to keep bowl hopes alive for the Huskies.
"It was a tale of two halves here," Pasqualoni said. "I thought the coaches and players did an excellent job at halftime of keeping their cool and trying to make some adjustments on both sides of the ball.
"We've consistently been a different team on offense in the second half and the third quarter this year. . . . If I knew [why], I would patent it and make a lot of money. Maybe we just get settled down and have a better picture of what we're seeing and what they're doing."
Or, in this case, maybe it was a bigger commitment to running the ball and utilizing the package of plays that feature McCummings at quarterback.
Starting quarterback Johnny McEntee gave UConn a 7-0 lead with a 10-yard TD pass to John Delahunt with 13:38 left in the first quarter. But after that McEntee struggled, throwing two interceptions and being sacked three times. McCummings changed the tone with his ability to pick up yards on the ground. His touchdown runs of 10 and 7 yards in the fourth quarter gave UConn the victory.
"It doesn't really change much for us," center Moe Petrus said of switching quarterbacks. "We know we're going to run and we have some play action passes out of that. As an offensive line, we love running. So when Scott comes in, we know we're going to get to push some people around."
Pasqualoni gave no hint that he might be thinking of making a change in starting quarterbacks. But he has two weeks to think about that until the Huskies play Louisville on Nov. 19. He said it was just a gut feeling that McCummings could do the job against the Syracuse defense.
"I felt like I was back in high school again," said McCummings, a redshirt freshman. "I was out there having fun. It was great. I'm glad I rose to the occasion and helped us get the win."
McCummings is clearly hungry for a bigger opportunity, but he's also patient.
"We went with what was working," he said. "That all changes week to week. The run was working this week so we went with it."
Syracuse had gone nine consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard performance. McCombs, who how has six 100 yards games this season, was shifty and got outside more than ever against the Orange. He busted out a 63-yard run that was wasted when McCummings fumbled a snap in the first quarter. But his three-yard TD run in the third tied the score at 14-14.
"The coaches did a good job of calling the plays and mixing it up between me and Scot," McCombs said. "The [Syracuse] defense was on their heels because our offensive linemen were running at then and they had to worry about two running backs. Our running game was on point today."
And the defense came up big in the fourth quarter.
Moore hurt his shoulder and left the game with 5:34 left in the third quarter. But he got back in the game quickly and may have made the biggest play of all with an interception with 9:05 left in the game. Eight plays and 62 yards later, McCummings scored the winning touchdown on a 7-yard run with 4:14 left.
"I just dinged my shoulder," Moore said. "The trainers did a great job, even though I was a little upset with them because I wanted to get back in. They wanted to make sure I didn't have a concussion but I wanted to get back out there and help the team.
"I was just reading the release of the receiver [on the interception]. Just got to be patient and let him break. Being able to see the quarterback, I just made a break on the ball. I knew we needed a play, so I made one."
Like Moore said, losing this game wasn't an option. And the Huskies remembered that just in time.