EAST HARTFORD - The outcome was the same but the script was certainly different. The UConn football team, having been kicked around by teams from Central Mass. to the Central Valley in California and nearly everywhere else in between, has finally had enough.
It seems the Huskies won’t be going down without a fight anymore.
UConn, with its exciting freshman quarterback and a suddenly stouter defense, had the lead over Wyoming nearly all of Saturday afternoon. And even after faltering slightly late, the Huskies still had a chance to tie in the final seconds and send the game to overtime.
Alas, despite playing their best game in at least two years, the Huskies still came up short. Their record is 0-5 and their losing streak is at nine after Wyoming’s 24-22 win at Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
“They’re undefeated for a reason,” UConn interim coach Lou Spanos said of the Cowboys. “That being said, we don’t want to lose. We don’t. It stinks but you can see the kids are working hard.”
Indeed, they are.
Tyler Phommachanh drove the UConn offense 82 yards in the final minute, and when he flipped it to running back Nate Carter for a touchdown with four seconds to play, the Huskies were a two-point conversion away from an extra session.
Instead Wyoming’s Rome Weber batted the pass away and the Huskies’ hopes were sunk.
“There’s a fine line in this business. Hopefully next week we’ll make the catch,” Spanos said.
On a crazy day of upsets and odd scores in college football, the Huskies were actually trying to become the second 31-point underdog to win on Saturday. Bowling Green’s stunning win over Minnesota earlier in the day provided the first shocker of the afternoon.
Instead it was Wyoming that scored 14 points in the game’s final seven minutes to further frustrate the Huskies.
“It stings but we can see improvement in our team, from the offense to the defense to the special teams,” Carter said.
Even without two of its best players on defense due to injuries, the Huskies were able to keep the Cowboys at bay for most of the day. Yes, the Wyoming offensive line began to dominate late in the game, but nearly gone were the chunk plays that UConn has been allowing weekly for going on four years.
And the offense was different, too.
UConn scored on its opening drive, a first for them this season.
And it held a lead at the half, and a double-digit one at that, for the first time all season.
There were plenty of reasons for that but Phommachanh, who appears wise in the pocket beyond his years, was the primary one.
“He’s a massive bright spot right now. He definitely energizes the offense,” UConn cornerback Jeremy Lucien said.
The other thing that changed Saturday was UConn’s offensive playbook appeared to open up significantly. Perhaps it was the addition of offensive analyst Noel Mazzone to the UConn staff that convinced the Huskies drastic change was needed, or perhaps some kind of self-scouting occurred.
Either way, the Huskies took the lead with a flea flicker that thrilled the scant crowd in attendance and fired up the entire home sideline. Phommachanh handed the ball to Carter, who gave it to wide receiver Aaron Turner for an apparent end-around, who pitched it back to Phommachanh, who fired it deep down field to tight end Jay Rose. Rose did the rest, even flipping over the only Wyoming defender in his path and into the end zone.
UConn needs more of that if it is to attract fans and excite alumni as it tries to emerge from the ashes.
UConn’s head coaches in the last two decades have either been at one extreme or another when it comes to trick plays.
Randy Edsall would sooner run his car onto the field and stall for time than a fake a punt or a kick. And trick plays on offense were almost completely a no-no as well.
Bob Diaco would run a trick play - he called them “exotics” - every third down if given the chance. He once ran nearly the same fake field goal play twice in the same game.
There is room, one would hope, for a happy medium as the Huskies decide who the best person is to find a new permanent leader for the program.
As for the current Huskies, they are not the same also-rans they were a few weeks ago.
For the fifth time in five games this season UConn’s opponent entered its game against the Huskies unbeaten. And, like Fresno State, Holy Cross, Purdue, and Army before it, Wyoming left the field still sporting its unblemished record.
But this time, the result was somehow different.
They showed some remarkable fight, which for this program is a remarkable improvement.