EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — After a pair of tough road defeats where seemingly everything went against UConn, leave it to third-string quarterback Cody Endres to pick up the mood for the Huskies.
Endres, starting in place of the injured Zach Frazer, went 18-for-42 with 196 passing yards while Donald Brown set the school record for rushing yards in a season with his 150-yard performance as the Huskies defeated Cincinnati, 40-16, on Saturday for their 11th consecutive win at Rentschler Field.
Described by UConn head coach Randy Edsall as a "happy-go-lucky guy," Endres, a redshirt freshman, didn't let any kind of anxiety or excitement effect him in his first career start. Though his statistics reflect little more than a mediocre performance, Endres managed the game well, didn't turn the ball over and kept the Huskies (6-2, 2-1 Big East) in the game despite an early deficit.
Most importantly, he didn't panic – a situation that got Frazer into trouble in his first career start against North Carolina three weeks ago.
"I knew my own ability and I've put a lot of hard work in, and in the back of my mind, I knew it was going to be my turn one of these days," said Endres, who made just two appearances before Saturday. "I was really ready to go."
Although Frazer was listed as a game-time decision all week, Endres admitted that he knew he would be the starting quarterback on Tuesday. He gave credit to the extra work in practice, as well as the offensive game plan, as the reasons for his success.
Despite the criticism that has come all season from a lackluster game plan, the strategy worked off on Saturday. Though the Huskies went three-and-out on the opening possession, Endres attempted a pass on all three occasions.
He looked comfortable hitting his receivers out wide on the curl routes and only went long for one play – a 34-yard slant route to Michael Smith early in the third quarter.
Edsall declined once again to address the play-calling, even though UConn had one of the more balanced rushing and passing ratios of the season. In addition to Endres' 42 pass attempts, the Huskies ran the ball 36 times – a surprising development given that Cincinnati entered the game allowing just 94.5 rushing yards per contest, tops in the Big East.
Brown didn't factor into the offense until the second possession, at which point the Huskies already faced a 3-0 deficit due to Jake Rogers' 29-yard field goal. Redshirt freshman Dave Teggart, installed as the kicker earlier in the week after incumbent Tony Ciaravino missed three field goals against Rutgers, responded with his own 26-yard attempt on the next possession to tie the game.
UConn took its first lead on a 2-yard touchdown run from Brown later in the first quarter, with Cincinnati's Tony Pike finding receiver Mardy Gilyard for a 27-yard touchdown pass two minutes later to again tie the score at 10-10.
Though a 54-yard field goal from Rogers sent Cincinnati into the break with a 13-10 advantage, it was all UConn in the second half. Jordan Todman rushed one yard for his second career touchdown to give the Huskies the advantage once again, 17-13, and after Rogers made a 22-yard field goal with 6:53 left in the third quarter, a 47-yard field goal by Teggart into the wind solidified the UConn advantage.
Teggart would make two more field goals, Brown would add a second touchdown and Robert McClain would return his second interception of the day 28 yards for a touchdown for the win.
Edsall said Teggart's 47-yard field goal made him "look good," especially after Ciaravino was benched for his inability to kick into the wind a week before.
"It just happened so fast," said Teggart, who was making his first-ever college appearance. "We were looking at the clock and it was winding down, so we had to get out there fast. The snap of the ball – it all happened so fast. I made good contact and I just went through, so I'm happy with that, definitely."
Pike, returning from a broken non-throwing arm, completed 10 of 27 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception before re-injuring the arm in the second half. Chazz Anderson, the starter in each of the last two games for the Bearcats (5-2, 1-1), entered in the third quarter and finished 9-for-20 with 123 yards and two interceptions.
Much of the credit for Cincinnati's offensive ineptitude went to the defensive line, which held the advantage in the trenches. The Huskies had four sacks on the afternoon, including two on the Bearcats' second drive of the game that backed them up from their own 20-yard line to their own 2.
Cincinnati also failed to convert on a third-down scenario for the second consecutive game. The Bearcats went 0-for-14 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down after going 0-for-11 against Rutgers two weeks ago.
Brown, who now has 1,324 rushing yards this season, passed Tory Taylor's 1,262 yards from 1995 with a 53-yard fourth-quarter rush.
He was more thrilled after the game, however, with the way his team responded, especially after the Huskies became bowl eligible in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.
"It could have turned into a long season," Brown said. "We came out, we circled the wagons and we got after it today."