By PAT EATON-ROBB
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Lyle McCombs ran for 120 yards and a
touchdown and Connecticut beat Pittsburgh 24-17 on Friday night for
the Huskies’ first conference win after four losses.
Chandler Whitmer threw for 213 yards and a score for the Huskies
(4-6, 1-4 Big East), and Nick Williams returned a punt 80 yards for
Tino Sunseri threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns for Pitt
(4-6, 1-4), which fell short in its attempt to overcome a 24-0
halftime deficit. The Panthers, like UConn, must now win out to
become bowl eligible.
McCombs, who ran for more than 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns
as a freshman, had just 547 yards and four scores coming into the
game. He carried the ball 29 times in this one.
The Huskies held Pitt running back Ray Graham to 41 yards on 15
carries after he rushed for 172 against Notre Dame a week ago in an
UConn scored on its first possession when Whitmer hit Ryan
Griffin with a 4-yard pass to cap an 11-play, 75-yard march. A
staunch UConn defense, ranked ninth nationally, forced Pitt to punt
on its first possession, setting the tone for the rest of the half.
UConn extended the lead to 10-0 a little over 3 minutes later on
Chad Christen’s 29-yard field. The Huskies opened a 17-0 lead on
Williams’ punt return midway through the second quarter.
McCombs made it 24-0 on a 2-yard plunge, giving the Huskies
their first rushing touchdown since a Sept. 29 win over Buffalo.
While the UConn offense rolled in the first half, the Huskies’
defense, led by linebacker Sio Moore pressured Sunseri throughout
the first 30 and blanketed the Pitt receivers, forcing Sunseri to
scramble or throw out of bounds. It also didn’t help that several
of Sunseri’s passes were dropped.
The Panthers didn’t score until Kevin Harper’s 42-yard field
goal in the third quarter. Harper’s 44-yard attempt in the first
half hit the right upright.
But they opened the fourth quarter by going 72 yards in just six
plays. Back-to-back passes from Sunseri to Devin Street picked up
46 yards and the Pitt quarterback then found Drew Carswell in the
left flat for an 11-yard touchdown strike.
UConn had a chance to put the game away after a 44-yard run set
the Huskies up at the Pittsburgh 14. But Whitmer threw an
interception in the end zone to end the threat.
Sunseri took over and drove the Panthers 80 yards in just over 2
minutes, capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass to Mike Shanahan with
But the Panthers never got the ball back. Whitmer hit Shakim
Philips for a key 17-yard completion on a third-and-9 on UConn’s
next drive and the Huskies ran out the clock.
The Panthers were coming off a heartbreaking triple-overtime
loss to Notre Dame last week, a game in which they squandered a
14-point fourth-quarter lead and missed a 33-yard field goal
attempt in the second overtime period that would have won the game.
The Huskies have been outscored 76-3 in the second half of their
five Big East games. UConn has games against No. 11 Louisville and
Pittsburgh needs wins over Rutgers and USF to finish .500 and
become eligible for a fifth consecutive bowl bid.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)