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December 1, 2013

UConn Wins 2nd Straight

Make it two straight for the UConn Huskies (2-9, 2-5).True freshman Brian Lemelle made a full-extension, diving grab just inside the front right-side pylon on a perfectly placed ball from Casey Cochran to give UConn an 11-point cushion and ultimately their second straight win, 28-17, over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-6, 2-5).

"We had pressure coming from that side, and he [Cochran] made the throw and Lemelle made a great catch out of it," UConn interim head coach T.J. Weist said. "That was him making the right decision in a critical situation, and he put the ball in the air, gave Lemelle a chance and he just made a play."

UConn scored 28 points for the second straight game with Cochran under center, and their defense limited Rutgers for the majority of the game despite a handful of big plays to get the victory. For Weist and company, the win was the first time that the Huskies have played an entire game of solid football.

"We got turnovers, and that's how you're supposed to play football. That's how you're supposed to play Husky football - physical, smart, aggressive playmaking,"Weist said.

Cochran picked up right where he left off against Temple. The redshirt freshman continued to make his case as the team's starting quarterback not just for this season, but heading into the future. He did exactly what the team needed by converting on UConn's first three third-down opportunities of 10, 11 and eight yards, respectively. The conversions led to two first quarter touchdowns. Cochran ended up 25-of-33 for 311 yards and two touchdowns, and led the team to nine third-down conversions on 15 tries.

Cochran's most important third-down conversions came during the drive that ended with Lemelle's big catch. Starting from their own 44-yard line, Cochran converted on three, third-down passes (nine, three and 14 yards, respectively) on a 12 play, 56-yard touchdown drive. Most importantly, the drive used up 4:53 off of the clock, leaving Rutgers with just 3:04 to come back from a 28-17 deficit. UConn's record with Cochran under center is now 2-1.

"He makes good, sound decisions. Part of him making those sound decisions is everything that you want from a quarterback. It's all the film study during the week, it's the look that he sees, it's the decision that he makes in those four or five or six seconds that it takes to get in and out of a play," Weist said.

Cochran was aided by outstanding play from his wide receiving corps. Deshon Foxx had a career day with nine catches for 117 yards, including a 40-yard run and catch on a bubble screen that eventually led to UConn's go-ahead touchdown (21-17). Most importantly, Foxx continued to make strides and prove that he can be a dangerous weapon alongside Geremy Davis.

"Casey believed in me, and he was giving me the ball, so I was just trying to do what I could do for the team," Foxx said.

Davis, the team's go-to guy all season, came up clutch on several third downs once again. He finished with five catches for 98 yards. Davis is the ultimate security blanket for a young quarterback, and Cochran wisely locked onto his primary target whenever he needed a big completion.

Lemelle (five catches, 28 yards, one touchdown) and fellow true freshman Dhameer Bradley (three catches, 41 yards, one touchdown) also had good days and gained invaluable playing experience late in the season.

"I'm not even shocked. I see it all the time. I knew their time was going to come. They did a great job blocking and catching. They took advantage of all of their opportunities," Davis said. "I feel like every receiver played their part."

For UConn, the losing culture is changing. After surrendering a big play and touchdown to relinquish the lead in the third quarter (17-14), the Huskies immediately responded with an eight play, 80-yard drive highlighted by Foxx's 40-yard play. That drive would not have happened just two weeks ago.

"We're starting to put it all together. We've got a quarterback who's getting us the ball, we've got running backs that are making plays, and we've got defensive backs and a defense that's making plays," Foxx said.

One of the key differences was that UConn finally won the turnover battle. The Scarlet Knights simply could not hold onto the ball in the first half, and UConn clamped down with two big interceptions late. Rutgers recovered a fumble on its opening drive, but was not so lucky on a kick return after UConn tied the game 7-7. Quron Pratt coughed it up after a hard hit by UConn's Martin Hyppolite, and Brandon Steg recovered. The Huskies turned the mistake into a quick seven points to take the lead, 14-7.

UConn's defense played well with the exception of a few individual plays, such as an 84-yard bomb from Chas Dodd to Pratt and another one on a later drive that went for 41 yards to Pratt again. The secondary would make amends, however. Senior cornerback Taylor Mack came up with two huge interceptions that helped to decide the game.

The first one came while Mack was sprawled out on the ground on a 3rd-and-7 from Rutgers' 45-yard line on their first drive of the fourth quarter. Dodd fired a pass intended for his wide out, who slipped coming back for it. Mack slipped as well, but was in the right position to snag the errant throw on UConn's 41-yard line, halting Rutgers' drive.

Mack recorded his second interception of the game to seal the victory, snagging a Dodd pass at UConn's 19-yard line with just over two minutes remaining and UConn holding onto their 28-17 lead.

"He looked off and then he looked back into the seam, and then he threw it and I just undercut it," Mack said.
For Mack and the rest of UConn's seniors, the best way that they can leave this program is by making it three straight wins to end the season against Memphis next week.

"If we can leave this program with a three-game winning streak so they can have momentum to carry over with next year, that's all I can ask for," Mack said.

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