Amidst a season of letdowns and dissapointments, the UConn football team improbably--almost inconceivably-- upset the No. 20 Louisville Cardinals, 23-20, in triple overtime Saturday afternoon at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky.
The win marked just the second time the Huskies have beaten a ranked FBS opponent, with the only other win coming against No. 11 USF on Oct. 27, 2007. Though the win was surprising, it wasn't nearly as surprising as how UConn won.
As good as the UConn defense has been all season-- and they're among the nation's elite--Don Brown's unit hadn't put away a game all season, until cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson intercepted Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the end zone on the Cardinals third overtime possession.
Four plays later, junior kicker Chad Christen--who missed four field goals, including an overtime kick, in a loss to Temple--knocked a 30-yard field goal through the uprights to complete the upset.
The Huskies won, despite completing one pass in the second half, despite losing starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer to injury in the fourth quarter. UConn hasn't scored a second-half touchdown since Sept. 29 against Buffalo, and have scored just 3 points in the second half of Big East games. Yet, somehow, with a win against Cincinnati in the season finale at Rentschler Field, UConn will be bowl eligible.
The Huskies have lost so many game in excruciating fashion over the last two season that, when Teddy Bridgewater threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Devante Parker to tie the game at 10 in the final minute of regulation, it was hard not to envision another heartbreaking loss on the horizon.
After trading field goals in the first overtime, however, Johnny McEntee, replacing the injured Whitmer, connected with Shakim Phillips in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. Naturally, on Louisville's first play of the second overtime, Bridgewater and Parker hooked up for a 25-yard touchdown to force a third overtime.
In what turned out to be a meaningless game for Louisville (Rutgers lost to Pittsburgh, so next week's Lousville-Rutgers game will determine the Big East champion), Bridgewater showed incredible grit. The sophomore quarterback threw 53 times, completing 30 for 332 yards, in the face of extreme punishment from the UConn defense.
The Huskies tallied five sacks, three coming from senior defensive end Trevardo Williams, and Bridgewater had to have an x-ray on his left wrist at halftime after a big hit from Sio Moore. Bridgewater missed a few series at the beginning of the third quarter, but he returned to action with a cast on his left hand.
UConn's front seven was dominant throughout the majority of the game, which allowed Don Brown to use nickel packages more often to take away the deep passes that are a staple of the Cardinals offense. By holding Louisville to 27 rushing yards on 28 carries, the UConn defense made the Louisville offense one-dimensional. Bridgewater hit a few big plays in the second half, but, for the most part, the secondary held up.
On the other hand, the UConn offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half, paving the way for 74 first-half rushing yards for sophomore running back Lyle McCombs. For the second consecutive week (but just the third time all season), McCombs ran for more than 100 yards.
The much-maligned Wildcat offense even led to the Huskies only touchdown in regulation. After a Lyle McCombs run set UConn up at the Louisville 20-yard line, the Huskies ran three plays out of the Wildcat formation, culminating in a 3-yard touchdown run by Nick Williams.
On first-and-10 at the 20, sophomore quarterback Scott McCummings handed off to Williams in motion, who ran 12 yards for the first down. Then, UConn ran the same play, but, instead of handing off to Williams, McCummings kept the ball himself, running for 5 yards and setting up the Williams touchdown run.
In the end, deja vu only lasts so long, and UConn was finally able to snap out of it with big plays from the offense, defense, and the special teams. By playing complementary football under pressure, the Huskies not only created a memory they will cherish forever, they also set themselves up to play a meaningful game in what perhaps will be their final game as a member of the Big East conference.