UConn seniors want one more home win
Updated 12:15 am, Saturday, December 1, 2012
STORRS -- For five years -- four for the true freshmen -- they have grown, bonded, bled and survived everything that's been thrown at them. Good times, bad times. The death of teammate Jasper Howard. Playing in a BCS bowl. Sharing a Big East title. Suffering through a losing season.
And today, 16 Connecticut seniors play their last home game.
Riding the streak of two impressive and emotional wins over Pitt and Louisville, the Huskies go against Cincinnati (3:30 p.m., ABC) at Rentschler Field looking to become bowl eligible for the fifth time in six seasons and allow them to finish the regular season at 6-6.
"It would be real special, especially with what we've been through," senior linebacker Jory Johnson said this week. "It's happened before. As a freshman, we were 4-5 and won our last four, beating South Carolina (in the PapaJohn's.com Bowl) and then were 3-4 and won our last five and went to the BCS (playing Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl). It can definitely happen. It'll just take the same preparation and stressing the same work ethic."
To a man, the Huskies have spent the week talking about character and focus and not throwing in the towel -- which at 3-6 with four straight losses, they easily could have done. But, led by those 16 seniors, UConn never quit, never stropped trying to improve and the result was a 24-17 win over Pitt and a 23-20 triple overtime win at No. 19 Lousiville, just the second time in 20 games that the Huskies defeated a Top 25 team.
"There was a saying, our backs were against the wall and we had to come out fighting if we wanted to play another game," senior tight end Ryan Griffin said. "We had to start winning. It's a testament to these seniors and the character that we have in that locker room to put ourselves in position to play against game."
Credit guys like linebacker Sio Moore, defensive end Trevardo Williams and receiver Nick Williams, players who simply led by example day-in and day-out, for helping to bring the Huskies back from the edge of the cliff.
"It was just the culture of our team," Williams said. "We lost so many tight games, just a few plays here or there that could have gone either way. Lost in overtime (to Temple), lost 10-7 (to North Carolina State), we lost very winnable games. We never doubted our ability we just doubted our execution at times. We knew that we were a good team and the character of our team was that we were just going to keep working hard. Keep showing up on Saturday and hope that the results started ending up in our favor."
So, the players kept working hard at practice, kept working hard in position meetings and film sessions. At 3-6, they knew there was no place left to go but up.
"The older guys on the team ... in practice they set the tone on how hard everyone's going, they set the tone in meeting with body language, how much film you're watching and their approach," Williams said. "What a good team prides itself on is its approach, winning or losing, the process stays the same. Even though we were 3-6, we kept working, we showed up and the last two games have gone our way and we've given ourselves a chance to go to a bowl game with a win."
This comeback has been led by a resurgence in the running game, thanks to a more determined offensive line and a strong focus from tailback by Lyle McCombs, who has recorded 253 yards in the last two games, along with a defense that's been nationally ranked all season.
"We can't learn without adversity. We knew we needed to keep fighting, preparing the same and make whatever adjustments we had to make," senior defensive end Ryan Wirth. "We kept fighting, we kept clawing and it's worked out for us so far. I'm so proud of my group and how they've responded. They've kept working and I can't say enough about them. They're great. I wouldn't ask to play with anyone else. I love these guys and the way that they've responded so far, I couldn't be more happy. They wanted to change things. And they did."
And today, they stand 60 minutes away from reaching bowl eligibility.
"It's a big deal," Williams said.
"You'd rather be 12-0 instead of 6-6 but coming from where we were, at 3-6 and now we're 5-6 with an opportunity to be 6-6 and be bowl eligible, I think that's a testament to the team and our toughness because it would have been so easy to throw in the towel. For us to stick with it and beat two of the better teams in the league and have an opportunity to win our last game at home on senior day, I'm proud of that."