Friday, September 04, 2015

UConn offense delivers down the stretch

Just 87 seconds remained and one yard possibly stood behind the UConn football team and its first season-opening win since 2012 or perhaps a devastating loss.

Following a Villanova timeout there was a sense of quiet confidence from the members of an offensive unit which started seven sophomores including five making their first career starts.

Ron Johnson, one of those sophomores, ran behind left tackle Richard Levy and left guard Tommy Hopkins and made it just beyond the first-down marker. Two kneeldowns later and the Huskies had a 20-15 win over Villanova.

"It was an amazing feeling to have coach trust me like that," said Johnson, who ran 23 times for 69 yards including a 1-yard touchdown . "Get behind my pads and get the yard. I was just happy I was able to do my job."

Coming off a 2-10 season, there was obvious elation on the home sideline after securing a win over a team expected to compete for the FCS title.

It was especially sweet for the members of the offense, who have been identified as the largest question mark on the squad in recent years.

"Coach (Frank) Verducci (UConn's offensive coordinator), he expects us to make plays," said UConn sophomore tight end Tommy Myers, who caught two passes for a game-high 83 yards. "He puts playmakers in spots where they can make plays and it is beautiful. The offensive line was huge for holding the defense off.

"Our mindset was 'we have to get the first down' and we win the game. I remember when we got the first down, (quarterback) Bryant (Sherriffs) saying to me 'I love you boys.' It is the best feeling I have ever had.

Shirreffs, playing his first game since 2013 when he was primarily used in the Wildcat offense which at North Carolina State, was 12 of 20 for 202 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 33 yards.

Noel Thomas and Arkeel Newsome led UConn with three catches each with Newsome's 27-yard touchdown scamper with a screen pass giving the Huskies the 20-9 lead with 4:53 left to play.

Sophomores Foley Fatukasi and Luke Carrezola each had two tackles for loss. Fatukasi had a pair of sacks and forced a fumble while Carrezola had a sack (nearly had a couple more) and recovered the fumble caused by Fatukasi while classmate Junior Joseph had nine tackles.

Fatukasi was ejected late in the game for allegedly throwing a punch. UConn coach Bob Diaco said Fatukasi would miss time in next week's game against Army. We will get more details at Tuesday's press conference but word is he would miss at least the first half.

""I learned a valuable lesson," Fatukasi said. "The next game, I just have to support my teammates. It (stinks). You let your team down, you let your teammates down. It is a great lesson learned, it happens in football."

Another standout for UConn was punter Justin Wain, who averaged 44 yards on four punts and Villanova had no punt return yardage.


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