EAST HARTFORD —What a night.
UConn didn't win but it was some night wasn't it?
The 15th-ranked Wolverines (4-0) escaped — and we do mean escaped — from a sold-out and electric Rentschler Field with a 24-21 win over UConn before 42,704 Saturday night.
"Obviously I'm proud of the team's effort, proud of the kids who had to step up and play," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We had some young guys in there this week, had some guys out hurt. I admire the approach the kids took, their attitude and how hard they played. I think what happened tonight is they made a couple more plays than we did, got a couple more first downs."
UConn, which led 14-7 at the half and 21-7 late in the third quarter, falls to 0-3 and heads to Buffalo next week in search of its first win. It'll be the Huskies' first road game.
The Wolverines, who outgained UConn 289-206, sealed the deal on a 21-yard field goal by senior kicker Brendan Gibbons with 4:36 to play.
Subsequently, UConn went three and out and broke down on a pair of third and shorts against the Wolverines to extend the game-winning drive and score.
UConn would have to convert a 4th-and-29 to keep its final drive alive. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer, 16 of 32 159 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, found Deshon Foxx for 26 yards. And Michigan, which barely got past Akron last week, was able to run out the clock.
They were that close — 3 yards. And Pasqualoni was a little off the first down edge. The Wolverines actually had 19 to UConn's 12 but the Huskies held Michigan, one of the top teams in the country on third down coming into the game, to 7 of 17 and that was huge. The UConn defense sacked Devin Gardner (11 of 23, 97 yards, two interceptions, 64 yards rushing) three times and pinged him several more times in this one.
The crowd not only stayed until the game was over, but also cheered their Huskies from start to finish and cheered them loudly. Yes, there were plenty of Michigan fans in the crowd, but it was clearly a UConn home game.
The Huskies were giving fans something to cheer for all game long but a hush came over the building with about 10 minutes to play and UConn up 21-14. Whitmer, who has thrown at least one interception in each of the Huskies' games so far, was intercepted for the fourth time this season, in dramatic fashion, a one-handed number by linebacker Desmond Morgan who returned it 29 yards. On the next play, Fitzgerald Toussaint (24 carries, 120 yards, 2 TDs) got on the outside, where running backs had been scorching the Huskies in the previous two games, and dashed 12 yards for his second score with 9:49 left.
"It's tough because, I mean we were making plays all night," Whitmer said. "That was a great play and that's tough for us because we really wanted that one. This one hurts, you know, it's tough. You've got a team like that, a great team in your place. Great atmosphere, it was unreal, and you know, they made plays. We both made plays, it was a hard-fought game, but in the end they were able to put three more points on the board than us."
Michigan, which traveled to play an East Coast nonconference opponent for the first time since 1995 at Boston College, struggled again against the Huskies.
"We're Michigan, we don't settle, we don't play down to the level of our competition," said defensive end Frank Clark, who got a key sack late in the Wolverines' 24-21 win over UConn. "We've done that the last two weeks, we've got to stop doing that."
Ty-Meer Brown picked up a fumble by Gardner on a third-and-1 and raced 15 yards untouched for the score and a 21-7 UConn lead with 13:39 to go in the third quarter. It was the third turnover of the game for Gardner, the dual threat who struggled in the first half because of UConn's defense.
On Michigan's second possession of the third quarter, the Huskies put the Wolverines in a third-and-25 hole and Michigan had to punt.
The Wolverines pulled to to 21-14 on a 35-yard run by Toussaint on their next possession in the third quarter. The key to the drive was a short, third-down conversion by Gardner.
UConn tight end Sean McQuillan played to the student section and a raucous crowd as the Huskies entered the locker room happy and excited with a 14-7 lead at the break.
They had just completed a half in which the defense was simply outstanding, holding the Wolverines to 82 yards on the ground and 120 total.
UConn outgained the Wolverines with 138 total yards of offense.
Most important, the Huskies were getting it done on the ground, with Lyle McCombs (five carries for 29 yards) and Max DeLorenzo (4 for 20).
Whitmer's composure was a key reason for the UConn lead. He was 8 of 19 for 79 yards two TDs.
UConn tied the score at 7 with 3:54 left in the second quarter when Whitmer hit walk-on tight end Spencer Parker from 11 yards out to complete an eight play, 56-yard drive.
McCombs stretched his body for a 7-yard TD reception with 1:47 to go in the half. That TD came on the heels of a muffed Michigan punt that was recovered by Obi Melifonwu at the Michigan 9. Two plays later UConn led mighty Michigan.
Overall, Michigan outrushed UConn 192-47 and dominated possession, controlling the ball for 35:47.
Yawin Smallwood had 13 tackles and Ty-Meer Brown and Melifonwu each had eight for the Huskies.