"We just asked them to accept responsibility, to look at the film and be critical of their own performance," Pasqualoni said. "Go out and learn what you can learn from it, move on, and let's go do something about it. And they did that."
The Huskies (5-6, 3-3 Big East) did that with their most complete football game of the season. UConn's defense and special teams created opportunities, then the offense showed its gratification by jumping to a 14-0 lead on the way to a 40-22 victory over Rutgers that was even more dominating than that final result would indicate.
Rutgers (8-4, 4-3) didn't play like a team with the opportunity to clinch at least a share of the Big East championship and possibly represent the conference in the BCS at the Orange Bowl. The Scarlet Knights fumbled four times and lost three. Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova combined to throw three interceptions. The Scarlet Knights finished with minus-9 yards rushing.
"I am very disappointed, disappointed for our players, disappointed for our fans, for the university and the state of New Jersey," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "We had the opportunity to do something special today, but unfortunately it was not our day."
The Huskies, playing their final home game of the season and tired of losing to Rutgers the past three years, proved once again that this is their most bitter conference rivalry.
"The guys played with fire today because we didn't want Rutgers coming into the stadium and getting a Big East title," said UConn tailback Lyle McCombs, who rushed 20 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns. "They kind of demean us. In recruiting, they say, ‘We beat UConn every year' and stuff like that. It was definitely a big win. It's sweet for our [seniors] and I'm glad I could help them get that win."
UConn gave up 430 yards of offense and Rutgers scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to make the score a bit more respectable. But give the Huskies credit for putting the pressure on the Scarlet Knights and never letting up.
"I think what's important is the way you respond to adversity," Pasqualoni said. "There's the old adage of what happens to you in life is 10 percent and 90 percent is how you react to it. Last week was such a disappointing week for us. That's not taking anything away from Louisville. But we just didn't give ourselves very much chance in that in the game last week – and the kids took that to heart."
On the third play of the game, linebacker Sio Moore separated the ball from Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison and end Jesse Joseph recovered at the Rutgers 24. The next time the Scarlet Knights had the ball, Byron Jones tipped a pass intended for receiver Mohamed Sanu and safety Ty-Meer Brown came up with the interception.
McCombs gave the Huskies a 7-0 lead on a 10-yard run after the fumble recovery. Scott McCummings, who alternated at quarterback with Johnny McEntee (10-for-16, 90 yards, no interceptions), scored on a 5-yard run after the interception.
"The way we played last week was definitely not us," senior defensive tackle Kendall Reyes said. "We all had to look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do to make this team to win?' And that's just doing the best you can as an individual.
"It was tough to digest some stuff on film, but you've got learn from it. You've got to take ownership of the mistakes you made, learn from it and not let it happen again. We wanted to send a message early and often – and that's what we did."
In addition to the turnovers, UConn benefited from outstanding special teams play. Returner Nick Williams wasn't far from two or three touchdowns himself, but he settled for a very productive 128 yards on three kick returns and one punt return for 30 yards.
Defensive end Trevardo Williams continued to improve, with four sacks and four tackles for loss. And then Reyes, the senior captain with the NFL future, made the play that really deflated Rutgers. After punter Cole Wagner pinned the Scarlet Knights back to their own 1, Dodd dropped a snap and Reyes scooped up the ball for a 9-yard fumble recovery, his first TD of career – on Senior Day.
"I was picking it up, 100 percent" Reyes said. "It was just a good moment this time to actually get a touchdown this time instead of Bama [Lawrence Wilson] blocking in the back last year."
Reyes intercepted a pass against Cincinnati last season and ran it back 84 yards for an apparent touchdown. But Wilson was called for blocking in the back at the Cincinnati 5, so Reyes had to wait another year for his first TD.
"I saw a ball on the ground, I picked it up and ran it into the end zone," Reyes said with a laugh. "Just to keep it simple. Do you want some imagery? . . . It was great. The last game here. I'm definitely going to miss this place. I'm glad we could go out on top."
About the only thing that went wrong for UConn this day was senior kicker Dave Teggart missing an extra point for the first time in his UConn career. He had made 127 straight before Rutgers blocked one in the third quarter after a 14-yard TD run by McCummings.
"It got pretty sandy out there," Teggart said. "I hit it a little behind the ball. It's like hitting a sand wedge out of a sand trap. It came off low and they blocked it."
Teggart was bummed he couldn't keep his streak alive, especially on Senior Day. But he walked out of Rentschler Field with a smile on his face – in large part because the seniors responded to Pasqualoni's challenge and responded the right way.
With a win next week at Cincinnati the Huskies will be bowl-eligible for a fifth consecutive trip. And a bowl trip would wipe out many of the bad memories from this season. Teggart gave Reyes a lot of credit, not just for his play but also for a pregame speech that fired up the entire team.
"I just told everyone to put everything on the line," Reyes said, "It's our last home game and we've got to get these guys. Let's stop talking about it, let's be about it. We've worked way too hard not to play up to our ability. There were a couple other words in there too. But basically it was about everyone playing as hard as they can."