All week, West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart has been preaching a simple mantra: get out of bed, and don't hit the snooze button. It may have taken a little longer than he would have liked, but Stewart's message finally registered with his Mountaineers.
Jock Sanders scored three third-quarter touchdowns as West Virginia came alive in the second half for the second consecutive week en route to a 35-13 win over the 25th ranked Huskies.
"They banded together at halftime," Stewart said. "Maybe that team in there is growing up."
Throughout the first half of play, it looked as though West Virginia's road struggles from early in the season had returned. The Mountaineers dug deep holes for themselves in losses at East Carolina and Colorado, and such was the case again as Connecticut raced out to an early first half lead.
One week after having its best outing of the season, the Mountaineer offense lacked crispness in both the running game and the passing game early. UConn's defense stonewalled ground efforts by Noel Devine and Patrick White, while White misfired on two early throws to Jock Sanders, including one downfield heave that could have resulted in a 43-yard touchdown pass had the ball been thrown on target.
Meanwhile, Connecticut's offense was doing a good job of keeping the Mountaineer defense off-balance. The Huskies found the perfect mix of intermediate passes to go along with a steady diet of Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher. Brown capped off a seven-play, 80-yard drive midway through the first quarter with a 21-yard touchdown run to give the Huskies an early 7-0 lead.
Brown's touchdown was the first time WVU had given up a scoring play of at least 20 yards since a 38-yard touchdown pass from Cody Hawkins to Josh Smith at Colorado. It was just the second time all season West Virginia has given up 20-yard scoring play.
The lead extended to 10-0 after a WVU three and out which culminated with a 15-yard punt by Pat McAfee to give the Huskies excellent field position.
The Mountaineers pulled to within a field goal after a nine-play, 54-yard drive full of ups and downs ended happily with White's 24-yard touchdown run.
Another UConn field goal pushed the lead to 13-7, and West Virginia continued to struggle on both sides of the ball. UConn's Brown finished the first half with 77 yards on 15 carries. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Endres was 11-19 for 112 yards while effectively managing the game and keeping the Mountaineer defense honest enough to open up a little bit of running room for Brown.
At halftime, though, Stewart sounded West Virginia's alarm and woke up his slumbering team.
"I said a lot of stuff (at halftime)," Stewart said. "I was ticked off at the head coach, I was not pleased with the coaching staff and I didn't like what (the players) had done. Yet, you have to be a realist. Why were we ticked off? Because UConn was busting us in the mouth. Donald Brown was running up and down the field."
Stewart's message was certainly effective, as the Mountaineers appeared much more awake in the second half. West Virginia's defense came alive, rendering Brown ineffective and putting the offense in a position to be successful.
Twice, the Mountaineers held the Huskies to three-and-out.
After the second three-and-out, West Virginia broke the huddle with wide receiver Dorrell Jalloh lined up at fullback. White found Jalloh wide open out of the backfield on a wheel route for a 35-yard gain and WVU's longest play of the afternoon.
Five plays later, White dumped the ball off to Sanders for the first of his three touchdowns, this time on a six-yard catch and run.
West Virginia's defense continued its dominance as wide receiver-turned-cornerback Brandon Hogan picked off and Endres pass attempt and returned it 24 yards into UConn territory to set up a three-yard run by Sanders.
The nail in the coffin came one drive later when Brown was stripped by Chris Neild, and Scooter Berry picked up the loose pigskin and rumbled to the UConn 21 to set the table for another three-yard scoring run by Sanders.
White capped the scoring with his 36-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. It was the third quarter flurry, however, that gave the Mountaineers their fifth straight win and broke UConn's 11-game home winning streak in the process.
"Coach Stewart is a great coach and when he comes in at halftime, I love that he keeps his cool. He comes in smiling which brings everyone up," said Sanders, who leads West Virginia with six touchdown receptions this season. "He came in and told us to keep our poise under pressure. We knew we would come out with a lot of momentum in the second half."
"You can't make mistakes against a good team like that," said Brown, who was held to just five net rushing yards in the second half to finish with 82, or about half of his season average. "I felt defensively they did a good job, but offensively you can't turn the ball over and make mistakes when playing a good team like that."
The Mountaineers finished with 337 total yards. White led the way with 109 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while also throwing for 121 yards and a touchdown. White also continued his assault on the WVU and Big East career record books. A six-yard rush in the third quarter moved White past the 4,000-yard rushing plateau, joining Avon Cobourne and Amos Zereoue as the only Mountaineers to surpass that total.
White also topped 9,000 career yards in total offense and reached 5,000 yards passing for his career. His 230 yards of total offense marked the 21st time he has notched at least 200 total yards in a game. West Virginia is now 15-2 all-time when White runs for 100 yards or more.
"You have to understand that when you play teams like this, you have to take advantage of opportunities," said UConn head coach Randy Edsall. "You can't have those things (turnovers) happen to us today and come away with a win."
The Huskies are the only Big East team to never beat West Virginia. The Mountaineers are now bowl-eligible. They are also the only undefeated team remaining in Big East play at 3-0, meaning they control their own destiny in pursuit of another conference title.
"I'm very pleased with this win," said Stewart. "I am very pleased with the way our guys set their alarms."