DURHAM, N.C. – Moments after walking off the field and heading back to the locker rooms, quarterback Tyler Lorenzen yelled ahead to running back Donald Brown.
"Don, we've got to get better, though!" Lorenzen said. "Starting tomorrow!"
Indeed, the Huskies could have played better, and likely will do so with time as soon as the team starts to move through the season. But a 45-14 victory against Duke in the season-opener showed resilience, especially in the second half, that the team needed to have in order to win on the road.
"I'm pleased with the win," said head coach Randy Edsall. "I was just happy that the kids came down here and focused on just playing and winning and understanding that it usually takes 60 minutes to win a ballgame."
Lorenzen, making the first start of his Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I-A) career, threw for a total of 298 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for an additional gain of 89 yards. Hampered in the final stats by his sacks – Lorenzen was taken down behind the line of scrimmage four times for a loss of 33 yards – he remained calm and poised in the pocket, making difficult throws while not being afraid of tucking the ball and running with it when needed.
"He did a lot of the things that we wanted him to do," Edsall said. "There's mistakes that he did make, but … he made enough plays, and the only real bad play was the interception he threw and he'll learn from that."
Brown, who was an all-Big East honor as a freshman last season, finished with a gain of 99 yards and a touchdown. Leading the receivers were Terence Jeffers, who caught eight passes for a total of 92 yards, and Larry Taylor, who took seven chances a total of 75 yards.
Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis finished the game with 148 yards and a touchdown off 14-of-28 passing, including a total of three interceptions. As a team, the Blue Devils were held to a total of 15 net rushing yards.
For the first 30 minutes, the Huskies played slowly and nearly out-of-sync, allowing slight miscues to derail them from putting together a sustained scoring drive. The first passing play of the game, a completion from Lewis to receiver Eron Riley, sailed 53 yards and set up a six-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to tight end Brandon King.
On the next drive, which Lorenzen opened with a 23-yard run and an eight-yard scramble, the Huskies were able to storm the length of the field, but an incomplete pass that sailed feet above and past the head of Steve Brouse and left the team settling for a field goal and a 7-3 deficit. The points marked the seventh consecutive season that the Huskies have scored on their first drive of the year.
The momentum appeared to change when defensive end Julius Williams, making his first career start, forced Lewis to fumble the ball on the next drive. He was unable to recover the ball as it bounced into the endzone, and when tight end Nick Stefanow dove on it to keep possession, he was whistled for a safety.
UConn continued to lurk behind through the rest of the first quarter, missing a field goal and suffering a costly, 15-yard penalty for a facemask that halted two scoring opportunities. Tony Ciaravino made a 27-yard field goal early in the second quarter to give the Huskies a brief lead, but a 94-yard touchdown return from Duke cornerback Jabari Marshall padded the lead against a Ciaravino field goal to end the half.
"In the first half, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit," Edsall said. "We've got a lot of work to do yet. We understand that, and I won't sugarcoat it. But I'd rather be 1-0 than 0-1 and be able to learn from the corrections that we're going to be making."
A different story emerged in the second half as both the offensive and defensive units got to work. The Huskies exploded out of the break with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Lorenzen to Hernandez – the longest passing play since last season's opener against Rhode Island – to give the team an 18-14 lead and never looked back.
Hernandez, who converted from quarterback in the spring, became just the third UConn player in school history to have a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and throw for a touchdown, joining Ken Sweitzer, who played from 1984-1987, and Keron Henry, who started from 2001-2004.
The scoring continued as Lorenzen was able to get back to Brouse in the closing minutes of the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown pass in the back of the endzone. Brown then rushed 25 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter (despite a missed extra point), Lou Allen scored on an 11-yard run and Darius Butler returned an interception 36 yards to seal the win.
"To be a good football team, you have to be consistent, and today we were not consistent," said Duke head coach Ted Roof. "In the first half, we were fighting through some adversity and hanging in there, and we did not have a good performance in the second half."
UConn will advance to play Maine Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rentschler Field in the team's first home game. Duke now hits the road to take on Virginia for the first of four consecutive road games.
Zac Boyer covers UConn sports for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.