Huskies Can't Hold On

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – It was obvious Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni had allowed himself to entertain thoughts of what might have been. And if he hadn't, it would make you wonder why he ever wanted to be a college football coach.

"It's disappointing," Pasqualoni said of the 34-20 loss the Huskies suffered at the hands of Louisville Saturday. "They're all disappointing. You get to this point in the season and with the [Big East] conference the way it is, this is disappointing in light of the fact of where this win would have put us.

"It would have been a lot of fun, you know."

Pasqualoni's use of the word "disappointing" fell shy of the number of dropped passes UConn (4-6, 2-3 Big East) experienced Saturday before a crowd of 34,483 at Rentschler Field. Coming off a bye week when every result in the Big East broke their way, the Huskies had an enormous opportunity against Louisville.

But unlike last season, when UConn won its final five regular season games to earn the BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl, there will be no conference championship for the Huskies this time around. The mathematics are now against UConn. Rutgers (8-3, 4-2) defeated Cincinnati (7-3, 3-2) Saturday 20-3 to drop the Bearcats out of first place.

With Rutgers coming to Rentschler Field on Nov. 26 and the Huskies headed to Cincinnati for the season finale, UConn needed to beat Louisville to keep its title hopes alive. Instead, it was the Cardinals (6-5, 4-2) heading home with BCS dreams dancing in their heads.

"[That thought] is floating in the air, but like I said before the game to my team and to the coaching staff, we were going to treat today like our bowl game," said Louisville running back Victor Anderson, who rushed 15 times for 72 yards. "We came out, worked hard, and we played well."

On the other side, the Huskies came out and treated the ball as if it were a hand grenade. Quarterback Johnny McEntee passed for 253 yards and one touchdown as the Louisville defense dedicated itself to shutting down UConn's running game. McEntee was 18-for-43 with one interception and one sack. But those might be the cruelest statistics ever pinned on a college quarterback.

"Coach [offensive coordinator George] DeLeone came in the locker room and said we had about nine drops," said wide receiver Kashif Moore, who had seven receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown and also scored a rushing TD. "One drop is too many. It's a lack of focus, that's all it is.

"It could be a whole different story right now [if those drops had been caught]. You might see a smile on my face."

At least three of those drops came in the open field with touchdown potential. Factor those plays in, along with Louisville's 100-yard TD kickoff return to start the game and a fluke 36-yard fumble recovery on the game's final play, and it is easy to see how different the outcome might have been.

"I think we missed a lot of big plays," McEntee said. "Partially it was on me. And the other guys know. Sometimes they get a little excited and try to run after the catch. It's understandable but we can't leave those plays on the field.

"This game would have kept us in [the race] if we had won. That's our main goal, to win the conference. Unfortunately we couldn't do that."

After falling behind 14-0, UConn scored 10 unanswered points in the final 8:41 before halftime. Dave Teggart kicked a 24-yard field goal before Moore scored on a 5-yard inside reverse that ended with a flip into the end zone.

Still at 14-10 and early in the third quarter, punter Cole Wagner pinned Louisville back to its own 5 with a 43-yard punt. Facing fourth-and-2 on their own 13, the Cardinals were forced to punt. But UConn's Kendall Reyes plowed into Josh Bleser and was called for roughing the kicker.

"I shouldn't have done it," Reyes said. "The game really changed after that play."

The Cardinals received an automatic first down and went on a 12-play, 95-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes and 52 seconds. When quarterback Teddy Bridgewater finished things off with a 5-yard TD run, Louisville led 21-10 and the Huskies were in desperation mode.

"This is a [Louisville] team averaging 18 points per game and we gave them seven to start the game," Pasqualoni said. "It was not a good day of execution. It's hard to talk about. There were plays out there that we could have made."

UConn's Blidi Wreh-Wilson returned to the defensive secondary after missing five games with a knee injury. But even he caught the "drop" bug, letting a possible interception go through his hands in the fourth quarter.

"It was a routine play I have to make," Wreh-Wilson said. "We have to stop everything [on defense]. It was on us. This was an opportunity we missed. We have two more opportunities to accomplish something."

The Huskies will need to beat Rutgers and Cincinnati to become bowl eligible. Even then it seems unlikely UConn would get a bowl bid. But maybe the Huskies can prove something with a strong finish. The task will be extraordinarily tough. Rutgers will be playing for a BCS bid when it invades. And the Huskies have never won at Cincinnati.

"We still have to take it one game a time," McEntee said. "Rutgers is a big game for us. We'd like to come out and get a win.'

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