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UConn overcomes slugglish start to beat Cincy

POSTED October 09, 2016
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

EAST HARTFORD – Six weeks into the season, it’s clear the UConn football team is never going to win any awards for style points. UConn’s offense, to be frank, seems to stumble over itself more often than not, continuing to irk their fan base.

It was not surprising to see them struggle again on Saturday, falling behind 9-0 to Cincinnati at Pratt and Whitney Stadium. It was also not a surprise, though, to see them come back and win 20-9, evening their record at 3-3, and bringing them within three wins from securing a berth in a bowl game.

The Huskies, albeit in ugly fashion, have shown they’re capable of fighting through some difficult obstacles, ones they often create themselves. Saturday was no different.

Arkeel Newsome was suspended for the first quarter for what UConn coach Bob Diaco called “family business.” Newsome made the most of his lesser time, though, rushing for 116 yards on 14 carries, including a 67-yarder. Bryant Shirreffs threw two interceptions, including one that led to a Cincinnati field goal, and, on several occasions, was hesitant in the pocket which led to limited yards rushing or coverage sacks. He recovered to finish the first half strong and ultimately played an important role in closing out the victory with 224 yards on 18 completions.

Down those nine points at the end of the first half, Obi Melifonwu changed the game, intercepting Hayden Moore. One play later, Shirreffs connected with Tyraiq Beals on a 59-yard touchdown down the right sideline, awakening the spare gathering of 24,169 and giving the Huskies a much-needed spark.

“That’s why college football is the greatest game in the world,” Diaco said. “Young people can be excited and reinforced in a positive way rather than feeling defeated or downtrodden because they are not doing well. So I think any time you can have an explosive play that is a catalyst and an energizer, it’s a great thing.”

Speaking of energizers, Noel Thomas continues to stand out as UConn’s best player, registering nine receptions for 108 yards, along with the go-ahead 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter on which he was interfered with, yet made the catch anyway.

“It was one-on-one coverage, (Shirreffs) threw it up, and he trusted me to go up and get it,” Thomas said. “It’s something we work on in practice every day.”

The 6-foot-1 receiver is averaging 105.2 yards a game (55 catches and 631 total yards) with three touchdowns. And this win meant extra for the senior because the Huskies have been tormented by Cincinnati during his time at the school.

“This is huge, Cincinnati has beaten me since I’ve been here,” Thomas said. “To finally get that win is great, great for the program, and great for us because now we can get rolling.”

Also vital for UConn was its defense, especially against the run. The Bearcats, also 3-3, finished with a meager two yards on 22 carries. Foley Fatukasi notched a sack for a seven-yard loss, along with four tackles, and Cole Ormsby had three tackles and a sack.

“To hold them to two yards (rushing) is absurd. Absurdly incredible,” noted Shirreffs.

The Huskies travel to Tampa next week to face USF. How will they fare? That’s anyone’s guess.

“It’s been a little like a rollercoaster. And I hate rollercoasters,” Diaco said. “There’s moments where it’s like you’re at the top and it’s crashing. We did look a lot like a rollercoaster today. (Shirreffs, in particular) obviously had a couple of really bad plays today, a couple of really boneheaded plays.

“But he’s then so tough, such a passionate guy and great leader, he puts together a couple of fantastic drives on just guts.”

While UConn may lament its struggles and missed opportunities, it should also realize it could be a lot worse than .500, as its trailed by at least seven points in every win. If a bowl game is to be in the cards, though, it may want to consider a more stable ride instead of a rollercoaster.

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