Coupled with a home loss to Syracuse the week before, West Virginia (5-3, 1-2) has lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2008 and lost consecutive Big East games for the first time since 2004 defeats at the hands of Boston College and Pitt.
The Mountaineers are 4-4 in their last eight Big East contests and 7-6 in their last 13 games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. For the second-straight week, WVU was on the short end of a historic loss -- Syracuse hadn't beaten the Mountaineers since 2001 and UConn had never defeated WVU in six tries.
"I'm proud of everyone, and it feels good to beat West Virginia for the first time in seven years," said Huskies head coach Randy Edsall.
"This win was a combined effort. Defense played well enough to win, offense played well enough to win and special teams played well enough to win."
But the prevailing sense from the West Virginia side of things in what was a solemn series of postgame interviews was that WVU was, once again, its own worst enemy.
The four lost fumbles were key to holding the Mountaineers to 20 or fewer points for the third-straight game -- the first time that has happened since the final three games of the 2004 campaign.
The turnovers spoiled what could have been a solid day for the offense otherwise, as the visitors gained 414 yards, converted a higher percentage of their third down opportunities than did their opponents and (albeit narrowly) won the time of possession battle.
"But we could not hold on to the ball," WVU head coach Bill Stewart said. "I thought we played very hard, very physical and very tough, but I am not proud of how we took care of the football."
"You cannot win any games if you can't take care of the ball. We gave a valiant effort, but I am not proud of how we handled the ball."
It was an emotional win for the Huskies, as many of the 40,000 in attendance at Rentschler Field ran out onto the surface after Teggart's field goal went through the uprights cleanly. As the game concluded, a UConn assistant coach ran out of his booth in the press box, screaming at the top of his lungs that the Huskies (4-4, 1-2) were "back."
The same could not be said for West Virginia. Stewart faced questions in his postgame press conference about who, if anyone, should be accountable for the offense's inability to convert on its chances and whether or not he worries about "losing" his team down the stretch of the regular season.
"No. Do you have another way to phrase that question?" Stewart asked in response to a reporter's contention that someone -- possibly assistant coaches -- must be "accountable" for WVU's red zone struggles. "It's a football team."
"My first year, we lost two games [in a row] and everyone thought the world was ending, and we rallied back pretty well. So no, I'm not worried about losing the football team."
But as Friday turned to Saturday, and WVU entered its second and final bye week of the season, Stewart had to worry about more than just his team's feelings. For the second time in his relatively brief tenure as the head coach in Morgantown, Stewart had to hope his team could recover after back-to-back losses in time to rally for a respectable finish in the Big East.
That may be easier said than done, as in a span of two weeks, the Mountaineers went from being anointed the favorite to win the league to a three-way tie at the bottom of the standings with UConn and South Florida.
It didn't look like that would come to pass early, as WVU's offense looked strong and, once again, started to sputter as time passed.
|This game recap presented by The Book Exchange|
After a would-be 9-yard scoring rush by running back Noel Devine was nullified by a chop block penalty on guard Eric Jobe, West Virginia settled for a 36-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal that made it 10-0.
Meanwhile, the Huskies' offense was going nowhere fast, averaging a paltry 1.8 yards per play in the first period and failing to gain a single first down in the same span.
By the time Connecticut honored its national champion women's basketball team late in the quarter, that sport's legendary head coach, Geno Auriemma, was imploring the fans at Rentschler Field to stick around for the game's conclusion.
That didn't seem likely given the way WVU had dominated to that point, but the Huskies began to turn the corner in the second period.
It started on defense, as Sio Moore ripped the ball out of running back Noel Devine's hands to give the hosts' struggling offense good field position at the Mountaineers' 44-yard line. An 11-yard rush by quarterback Zach Frazer on the next play was good enough to allow the UConn offense to move the chains for the first time all game.
But even after driving all the way to the West Virginia 19-yard line on a third down pass from Frazer to tight end Ryan Griffin, the hosts couldn't manage points. A personal foul penalty on offensive guard Zach Hurd moved the ball back to the 34, and another personal foul on running back Jordan Todman pushed Edsall's offense back further.
An incomplete pass on third-and-21 ended the threat, and Cole Wagner came on to punt from the WVU 45-yard line.
But Connecticut's defense was again up to its task, and the Huskies managed one last drive before halftime.
This time, the hosts rode the arm of Frazer -- the team's third-string signal-caller as recently as two weeks ago -- all the way to the Mountaineers' 14-yard line. But Frazer was sacked there, and his third down pass was tipped by WVU safety Terence Garvin and then dropped by Griffin at the goal line.
Dave Teggart's 39-yard field goal was true with a single second left before intermission, and somehow, a West Virginia team that had dominated stretches of play in the opening 30 minutes was only up 10-3 going into the locker room.
"We had a nice drive right before the half, in the last two minutes," Edsall said. "When we came into the locker room, I told the guys I wanted to keep up that tempo."
Indeed, momentum carried over into the second half. UConn earned a pivotal stop when Stewart elected to keep his offense on the field for a fourth-and-1 play from the Huskies' 26-yard line and Clarke lost the first of his two crucial fumbles on what appeared to be a bad exchange between he and Smith.
The hosts made good on the opportunity, picked up a pair of third downs and a fourth down play before running back Jordan Todman burst through the middle of the Mountaineers' defense for a 24-yard touchdown that tied the contest at 10-10.
But WVU answered immediately, converting a fourth-and-inches play when Clarke took the ball on a fullback dive and gained two yards. The drive stalled on the ensuing series of downs, however, and the team settled for another Bitancurt field goal, this time from 42 yards away, to make it 13-10.
The visitors seemed to claim momentum when they forced a Connecticut punt on the next possession and the offense drove into Husky territory. But Smith, who was asked to run the ball more often Friday night than he had at any other point this season, fumbled.
UConn recovered and landed a haymaker on the next play, a 40-yard bomb from Frazer to Kashif Moore that would have been an easy touchdown had Frazer not badly underthrown the open receiver.
From there, West Virginia couldn't take advantage of good field position. Its last three regulation drives started at its own 40, its own 38 and the Huskies' 46-yard line, respectively.
But all three drives stalled and ended in punts -- perhaps most controversially when Stewart sent out Gregg Pugnetti on the UConn 33-yard line instead of Bitancurt. Afterwards, Stewart dismissed the thought of having Bitancurt attempt what would have been a 50-yard field goal to potentially win the game.
His strategy was at least partially borne out by the fact Pugnetti's punt was downed at the Huskies' 1-yard line. But Todman took a handoff on third-and-7 and gained just enough to move the chains and allow Edsall to run out the clock and go into overtime.
There, a long run by Jock Sanders on the first play of the extra frame was called back on a holding foul on Matt Lindamood. But Clarke ran for three yards on third-and-1 to convert, and two more carries from the power back gave West Virginia first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Again, the call was for a Clarke carry between the tackles, but it resulted in the most brutal of the Mountaineers' four lost fumbles.
"The ball didn't get to him, it looked like to me," Stewart said. "It was high, almost like a pitch handoff. It's unbelievable. I can't explain it."
Lawrence Wilson recovered, his second fumble pick-up of the day, and Teggart capped a five play, 16-yard UConn "drive" with his game-winner on the ensuing possession.
Todman led the way for the victors with 113 yards on his 33 attempts. Frazer was 18-of-29 for 166 yards and managed to avoid turning the ball over even while being sacked four times.
Smith fared no better than Frazer, completing 22 of his 34 tosses for 160 yards. Devine had 67 yards rushing on 16 attempts, but the senior accounted for one of WVU's four turnovers.
Stewart hoped, once again, that the pain of a loss would galvanize his team before the season slipped away entirely.
"Maybe the UConn Huskies fans rushing the field all around us will linger in their minds so they hopefully won't experience this feeling too many more times during their career at West Virginia," Stewart said.