Crystal Ball 2005 - UConn

MORGANTOWN, W. VA. – West Virginia, possessing the nation's third leading rushing offense, switched gears and unfurled a potent passing attack to defeat Big East rival Connecticut by the score of 35-13 Wednesday evening in a game televised nationally by ESPN2.

Mountaineer quarterback Adam Bednarik returned from a week off to rest an ailing hamstring and fired a career-high four touchdown passes to three different WVU receivers as West Virginia ran its record to 6-3 overall, 3-2 in the Big East. Mountaineer tailback Jason Gwaltney gained 88 yards, putting him two yards over the 1,000-yard mark on the season and within range of eclipsing WVU's freshman rushing record held by Avon Cobourne. The midweek game attracted a solid crowd of 51,004 fans, who turned out on a calm but chilly evening with temperatures dipping into the high thirties at game time.

The Mountaineers began the game's scoring on their second possession. From the WVU 34-yard line, Bednarik hit junior wideout Rayshawn Bolden for a pick-up of 27 yards to the UConn 39. After a pair of carries by Gwaltney advanced the ball to the 27, Bednarik went to the air again and found senior Brandon Myles for a gain of 16 to the UConn 11. Gwaltney carried the ball to the four, then Bednarik rolled out and spotted tight end Josh Bailey cutting across the middle of the end zone. His pass and Bailey's hands were both true, and WVU took a 7-0 lead with 7:14 remaining in the opening quarter.

After consecutive sacks of UConn junior quarterback Matt Bonislawski by WVU defenders Keilen Dykes and Marc Magro backed UConn up on its own six-yard line, West Virginia took over after a Chris Pavasaris punt. Gwaltney rushed for gains of five, six and eight yards, then Bednarik hit slot receiver Jason Colson for a gain of nine, putting West Virginia in the red zone at the UConn 15-yard line. On second down, Bednarik found Dwayne Thompson alone near the goal line and the converted quarterback dove across the goal line for WVU's second touchdown with 2:23 left in the first quarter.

The visitors then responded with a drive of their own to get on the scoreboard, aided in part by WVU miscues. The Huskies' career rushing leader, senior Cornell Brockington, picked up 35 yards on seven carries, and the Mountaineers contributed another fifteen via a holding penalty and an offside call. With Connecticut in scoring range, Mountaineer senior Jahmile Addae tipped away a Bonislawski pass in the end zone intended for wideout Brandon Young on third down to stop the Huskies' advance at the WVU 30-yard line. Veteran UConn kicker Matt Nuzie successfully converted from 47 yards out, trimming West Virginia's lead to 14-3 with 11:33 remaining before halftime.

Following an exchange of possessions, West Virginia started its final first half scoring march from its own 40-yard line. Pernell Williams ripped off a 22-yard scamper to the UConn 38. Following two more running plays, Bednarik scrambled for a first down, and was hit going out of bounds at the UConn 26. The late blow by UConn's James Hargrave tacked on 15 more yards, giving WVU a first down at the UConn 11-yard line. From there, the Mountaineers unveiled a bit of trickery. Faking a handoff to Gwaltney, Bednarik rolled to his right and then threw back across the field to hit an open Gwaltney in the left flat. The freshmen than bulled his way over Huskies' linebacker Taurien Sewell and free safety M. J. Estep into the end zone for the third Mountaineer touchdown of the half.

UConn, trailing by 18, opened the second half with a 77-yard touchdown drive. As on their last scoring thrust, the Huskies were again led by Brockington. The senior had gains of six, eight, six, four and six yards on five consecutive carries. Bonislawski then went to the air, finding tight end Dan Murray for a gain of 11 yards to the WVU 36. Two plays later, it was back to the skies again, this time to senior wideout Jason Williams, who picked up 14 yards to the WVU 19. Two Brockington carries pushed the ball to the WVU 12 and another offside call gave the Huskies a first and goal from the WVU 7-yard line, but from there, the going got tougher. Bonislawski scrambled on first down to the five, and Brockington then carried twice to set up fourth and goal from the one. Brockington then followed the block of massive 324-pound right tackle Craig Berry into the end zone to make the score 21-10.

When West Virginia subsequently sputtered on offense and punted the ball back to UConn, momentum appeared to have shifted to the Huskies. However, the WVU defense stopped that momentum cold and provided the key play of the evening. On second down, Bonislawski tried to hit Brandon McLean on a crossing pattern, but WVU linebacker Jeff Noechel tipped the pass and Mountaineer spur Eric Wicks intercepted at the WVU 45-yard line. Following several key blocks, Wicks weaved his way through the Huskies' offense all the way to the UConn four. Although he wasn't able to duplicate last year's return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech, Wicks' big play nevertheless resulted in another seven points. Two plays after his pick and return, Gwaltney plunged into the end zone and WVU had restored its 18-point margin at 28-10 with 8:07 gone in the second half.

West Virginia then held a rattled Huskies offense without a first down and took possession at its own 29-yard line. Bednarik again went to the air, hitting Vaughn Rivers for nine yards, Darius Reynaud for 12, and Ryan Dawson for 15, putting the ball at the UConn 35-yard line. Williams then broke free for a gain of 17, and two plays later Bednarik put the game out of reach by hitting Thompson in stride with a quick scoring strike down the right sideline. The sophomore crossed the goal line to give WVU a 35-10 with 2:12 left in the third quarter, and although more than 17 minutes remained, there wasn't much doubt that the Mountaineers were in firm control of the contest.

The score remained 35-10 until midway through the fourth quarter, when UConn moved into range for Nuzie's second field goal from 34 yards out to make the score 35-13. West Virginia marched to the UConn three-yard line with time running down, but took a knee on three straight plays to end the 22-point triumph.

"We studied the film on them [UConn] all week and thought we saw an opportunity to open up our offense a little bit," explained WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez when asked about the uncharacteristic WVU passing explosion. "Adam felt good before the game and we gave it [passing] the green light." "I was glad to see Adam have the kind of night he had tonight," continued Rodriguez. This will do a lot for his confidence and it shows that we aren't just a one-dimensional team after all."

WVU quarterbacks coach Bill Stewart was equally effusive in praising the Mountaineers' sophomore signal caller, who completed 20 of 32 passes for 279 yards. "Adam's had this type of game in him. We've just been waiting for it to happen on the field. He has days like this in practice where he can't miss and we have pretty good defensive players in practice that he has to go up against. It's just been a matter of having the right opportunity to open it up and we got it this week."

Visiting head coach Randy Edsall zeroed in on the Wicks pick as the turning point in the contest.

"The interception was the key play tonight. We felt like we'd withstood the best they could throw at us – literally throw at us – and still had a chance to get right back into the game. We score at that point and we're within less than a touchdown and anything can happen. You can't let a team like West Virginia have any big plays like that, especially at their place, with this kind of a crowd and expect to win the game," said Edsall, who is in his seventh year at the helm of the UConn program. "We felt that we had to play near-perfect football to win tonight and West Virginia just didn't let us do that."

Rodriguez was also proud of his defense after the contest. "Any time you hold a conference opponent to one touchdown and a couple of field goals you have to like your chances. Jeff's [Casteel, WVU defensive coordinator] guys have been playing good all year but they've been really good the last couple of weeks. We're reacting well and all the effort our coaches and players made this week really paid off."

West Virginia completes a rare Wednesday-Wednesday-ESPN2 two-week stretch when it travels to Cincinnati next week to face the Bearcats at Nippert Stadium. UConn fell to 4-4 overall, 1-3 in the Big East and will face Pittsburgh at Heinz Field a week from Saturday.

PASSING – WVU – Bednarik 20-32-279-4-0 UCONN Bonislawski 16-38-178-0-1

RUSHING – WVU – Gwaltney 17-88-1 Williams 12-71 Bednarik 5-13 Schmitt 2-5 Phillips 4-14 Reynaud 1-7 UCONN – Brockington 22-114-1 Caulley 4-13 Anderson 3-8 Williams 1-2 Bonislawski 5-(19)

RECEIVING – WVU – Bailey 2-21-1 Bolden 4-63 Thompson 4-67-2 Gwaltney 2-16-1 Colson 3-31 Reynaud 2-28 Myles 1-18 Rivers 1-20 Dawson 1-15 UCONN Young 4-61 Williams 4-47 McLean 3-21 Murray 3-30 Fogarty 1-9 Dewar 1-10

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for entertainment purposes only. No criticism, direct or implied, is intended. The author assumes no responsibility for any errors or inconsistencies and has produced the series strictly for the enjoyment of Mountaineer football fans during the agonizing summer months without WVU football.

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