Sunday, November 24, 2013

Veterans come through to lead UConn to first win

Since being elevated to interim coach T.J. Weist has walked into the visiting locker room at halftime on the wrong side of the scoreboard and knew he had to play the role of cheerleader and self-help guru as much as a football coach.

However, when Weist stepped into the locker room at halftime of last night's game at Temple, he saw a different scene. There were few bowed heads but a sense of  "enough is enough" from the leaders of the winless team.

"What did we say at halftime?" Weist said on a Sunday afternoon conference call. "Everybody wants to know ‘what did we say at halftime?’ I got a little (ticked) off and kind of challenged them a little bit but the players came together, Yawin (Smallwood) grabbed the defense and really Casey (Cochran) did a good job at halftime and really grabbed the offensive guys and brought the offense together in the locker room and challenged them. That was good to see some of our leaders challenge the team at halftime to get back to playing smart football, tough physical football. I was proud of their second half effort, shutting those guys out. Really everything came together for us in all three phases in the second half and that is what we have to do."

UConn trailed 21-0 against Temple at halftime but did not allow the Owls to score another point and had three offensive scoring drives of at least 50 yards to rally for a 28-21 win. Fittingly, it was the Huskies' veteran players who delivered many of the key plays. Junior linebacker and team captain Yawin Smallwood scored the game-winning TD on a 59-yard interception return and also had a sack on Temple's final drive. Defensive end Tim Willman had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, Geremy Davis opened the scoring with a 33-yard touchdown catch.

"That is what makes some of the (plays) special," Weist said. "Yawin, a team captain, makes the plays in the end. Tim Willman guys that the players really respect, comes through and the character shows through in the end and he makes a play when you need it. That is what you have to have. You want to win games you have to make plays and somebody’s got to make them, it is the guys who work the hardest, guys who are the starters and the team leaders those are the guys who usually come through and that is what we have been missing. It is really good for this team to see Yawin and Tim make those plays. Geremy only had four catches but they were four critical catches, every one of those catches made a difference in the game and the players trust him when he gets the ball that he does what he is supposed to do and make plays. The same thing with Yawin and that is what good teams and that is why I said we just have to learn how to win and they only learn how to win by making plays, making them at critical times and we finally did last night."

Weist had to deal with the frustration after returning home with losses following road games against Central Florida, Cincinnati and SMU so there was a different feel when the team headed back to Connecticut this time.

"There is no comparison because winning solves so many things," Weist said. "It makes everybody feel better, there is no comparison to it. This kind of win is so sweet because these players have put in so much work, the players and staff have put in so much work, so much time and so much effort to get a victory that this one is that much more special and means that much more. It may not mean anything to anybody in the country that a winless team won a game but this is one of our best victories, one of my best victories as a coach just because of how much it means to the players, to this program, to this university to come back and finally put it together. There is no comparison to the feeling you have, the satisfaction of coming back after a bad first half, coming back and getting a victory like this – there is just nothing like it."

On Thursday's conference call Weist said he brought cigars a while back with the intention of breaking them out for the staff following the first win of the season. He just didn't think it was going to take this long.

"Right after we met as a team (he broke them out)." Weist said. "We sang the fight song, we prayed, the assistant coaches got to meet with the offense and defense and we (had) a nice victory cigar. We have been waiting to do that a long time and it was a little something special."

Weist said wide receiver Shakim Phillips turned an ankle early in the game but he is hoping that Phillips can play on Saturday against Rutgers. He said he hopes to have offensive tackle Kevin Friend, DB Jhavon Williams and WR John Green back as well. Friend and Williams are dealing with concussions and Green had a quad issue. He was able to practice a little bit last week but not enough for him to play.

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