EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Entering an open date unbeaten felt pretty good for most of the Cowboys.
Sean Chambers beat himself up a little bit and wasn’t in the mood to take any time off after Wyoming’s 24-22 victory over UConn on Saturday at Rentschler Field.
“I know a lot of people in that locker room probably want the bye week because it gets bodies healed up,” Chambers said after finishing 15-for-26 passing for 149 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. “I want to go back out there. Even though we got the (win), this one doesn’t sit right with me. I want to go back out there and prove to everybody what we can do.”
Here are five takeaways from the Pokes’ win over the Huskies (0-5):
1. Just win, baby
UConn, a 29 ½-point underdog at the start of the week, led 13-0 in the first half and 16-10 in the fourth quarter before UW’s third dramatic comeback win of the season.
The Cowboys are obviously a flawed team with a narrow win over an FCS opponent (19-16 over Montana State) and two wins over mediocre (at best) Mid-American opponents (50-43 at Northern Illinois and 45-12 over Ball State).
Saturday’s tension-filled tightrope walk over the independent Huskies – a team that was outscored 146-21 in its three losses to FBS opponents and lost 38-28 to FCS Holy Cross coming in – was an undisciplined mess.
But head coach Craig Bohl has the program off to its first 4-0 start since 1996 and extra time to prepare for the Oct. 9 Mountain West opener at Air Force.
“It was a great team win,” Bohl said. “We faced a lot of adversity. I think we made some things harder than maybe they should have been. However, I do think UConn has some good players. They’ve been getting better.”
2. The X factor
When push came to shove, UW’s seasoned offense line took control and paved the way for Xazavian Valladay’s 101 yards rushing and Titus Swen’s career-high 84 yards rushing.
Valladay’s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Pokes their first lead, 17-16, with 6:31 remaining. After an interception by Esaias Gandy on UConn’s next snap, Swen bulled his way in for a 2-yard touchdown run to give UW a 24-16 advantage with 3:34 remaining.
The Cowboys finished with 203 rushing yards on 45 attempts (4.5 yards per).
“I really thought we reestablished the momentum in the second half and got the downhill running game going,” Bohl said. “That was our ace in the hole.”
3. Good, bad and ugly for secondary
Let’s start with the good – Gandy’s aforementioned pick, nickel back Keyon Blankenbaker’s team-high seven tackles and Rome Weber batting down UConn quarterback Tyler Phommachanh’s 2-point conversion pass to prevent overtime and seal the win.
There was also some bad – leaving tight end Jay Rose uncovered for a 42-yard touchdown reception that gave the Huskies a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and allowing wide receiver Aaron Turner to convert two long third-down plays with clutch catches.
And plenty of bad penalties – a roughing he passer call against Ravontae Holt that negated an interception, a pass-interference call against Blankenbaker that led to an early field goal for UConn and P.I. calls against C.J. Coldon (on fourth-and-9), Azizi Hearn (on third-and-10) and Weber (on fourth-and-8) that set up Nate Carter’s 2-yard touchdown run with 4 seconds left.
UW defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, after a couple of timeouts, had the perfect defensive alignment for the ensuing 2-point conversion. Even if Weber didn’t get a mitt on the pass, a host of Pokes were in position to make the tackle on the intended receiver (Turner) short of the goal line.
“We were burning timeouts, we were seeing what set they were in. I know I was getting some catcalls from the stands,” Bohl said. “But it was a chess game. I thought Jay really dialed up a great defense and it was great to see Rome make that play.”
4. Clutch connections
Chambers made up for his two interceptions by throwing a perfect pass to go-to-guy Isaiah Noyer for a touchdown to get UW within 13-10 early in the third quarter.
As the tension mounted, Chambers’ 23-yard completion to Ayden Eberhardt on third-and-7 set up Valladay’s go-ahead score.
UW was without tight end Treyton Welch, who warmed up but did not play after suffering an ankle injury against Ball State.
Chambers spread his 15 completions to seven different targets.
“What helped is knowing we’re capable of doing this stuff,” Chambers said after the Pokes pulled another win from the fire. “It’s just a matter of doing it.”
5. Time to regroup
The Cowboys need to take advantage of getting an extra week to prepare for the Mountain West opener against Air Force on Oct. 9 at Falcon Stadium (5 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
UW, after being penalized nine time for 99 yards at UConn, will have to play cleaner and tackle better against the Falcons (3-1). Air Force ranks sixth in the FBS for fewest penalty yards (32.0 yards per game) and leads the nation in rushing (357.3 yards per game).
Chad Muma will have to return to the All-American level he played at the first three Saturdays of the season after finishing with three tackles against UConn.
“A little bit of rest, and maybe try to find a way to not let these games get so close in the end, is something we can focus on during the bye week,” defensive end Garrett Crall said. “So people don’t lose more hair than they need to.”