Saturday, October 31, 2015

Seniors Stewart, Vann deliver for UConn

It hasn't been the easiest of senior seasons for linebackers Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann.

They found themselves losing playing time to younger players but more than anything, they have been unable to prevent UConn from dropping five of its last six games heading into last night's game against East Carolina. With the hopes of ending their UConn careers by playing in a bowl game fading with each passing week, it was pretty much make or break time for UConn and its senior leaders.

Vann came up with his first collegiate interception while Stewart made a team-high nine tackles including a couple that sent his enthusiastic teammates to an entirely different emotional level.

Coming off the Cincinnati game when the duo combined for two solo tackles in a humbling 37-13 loss, last night's performance must have felt good for two of the most vocal leaders on the UConn squad.

"It has been disappointing but that kind of fuels you, when you are starving and we were hungry today for a win," Stewart said. "I am proud of be a part of something right now that is going to be the foundation and backbone of the program going forward, they can look back to these days smile and be happy.

"Our overall record might not be what some people want it to be but there have been drastic strides and improvement and that is going to continue to happen."

Stewart had one eye-opening play when he not only wrapped up East Carolina quarterback James Summers for no gain on a 3rd and 3 play early in the second quarter but emphatically threw Summers to the ground.

The two would meet again later in the game with Summers trying to make something happen on a fourth down play. What he got for his troubles was a vicious (but clean) hit by Stewart on the UConn sideline.

"I guess it sounds cliche but you don't even feel it, when you get a good one like that it feels like nothing," Stewart said. "I know it juices up the sideline, I was juiced up and I was happy about it.
It gets the next guy going, the next guy wants to make the big play and the next guy wants to get the sideline more momentum so it is an awesome thing."

The series of plays leading up to that hit was almost as impressive. On second down Obi Melifonwu, who I thought had a spectacular game, came up with an interception as a pass to Brandon Bishop bounced a few inches off the ground and Melifonwu made an athletic catch. After replay it was ruled that the ball hit the ground as Bishop attempted to make the initial catch. On third down safety Ellis Marder reached in and knock the ball away from Travon Brown to prevent a touchdown.

So in a span of three plays the Huskies had a near interception, a pass breakup and emphatic sack. By game's end the Huskies had three sacks and four interceptions. It is just the fourth time in the last seven seasons that UConn had at least three sacks and interceptions in the same game (2010 vs. Texas Southern, 2011 vs. Rutgers and last year against Central Florida are the others).

"It is expected, it is what we are capable of and it is great to finally great to see the team put it together, get that great W," Vann said.

Vann was excited to get into the act with an interception of his own.

"It was the first one of my career so I definitely enjoyed it," Vann said.

A couple of other notes, Melifonwu recorded the 200th tackle of his career

UConn's 14 interceptions are the most since the Huskies had 18 during the 2011 season. It should be noted that of the nine players who had interceptions, four are currently playing in the NFL (Dwayne Gratz, Byron Jones, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson) while Yawin Smallwood and Jerome Junior got into NFL training camps.

UConn coach Bob Diaco vowed to get Trey Rutherford into the game and he was true to his word but it was not as an offensive lineman when he first appeared in last night's contest but as a fullback.

"He has to play, you have to do something, he has been standing next to me for too long," Diaco said.


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