— As the week before the final regular season game unfolded, the UConn coaching staff was faced with a dilemma.
Junior kicker Chad Christen was dealing with a hip injury that would limit his availability. His understudy, freshman Bobby Puyol, was one game away from completing a redshirt season and retaining an extra season of eligibility.
But in the end, winning a game that would make the Huskies bowl-eligible was more important. So Puyol kicked and Christen watched as UConn fell short, 34-17 against Cincinnati.
"We were doing everything we could possibly do to try and win this game," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We tried everything. Taking a guy and using him in the last game isn't a snap decision, I promise you. Again, we were here to try and win the game."
Christen, in his first season as the No. 1 kicker, hurt his hip warming up in practice Sunday and was limited during the week. Christen was capable of kicking extra points and short field goals, but was unable to kick off.
So Puyol, who is from North Palm Beach, Fla., was prepared to start. He kicked off well all week and steadily improved his field goal kicking, convincing the staff to use him for all kicks.
His first opportunity came in the second quarter when he converted a 40-yard field goal. His kick sailed just over the crossbar, barely clearing the target. Puyol also converted extra points, so he was perfect.
"I thought the kid really, for his first shot out of the barrel, really did pretty good," Pasqualoni said.
Puyol said it was the coldest day he's ever kicked on, surpassing the 40-something degree day in Tampa when he kicked in high school.
"It was so cold, you have no idea," Puyol said. "Every time I had a chance to sit on the bench, I was definitely sitting on the warm bench."
Puyol said he was anxious during the week, preparing as if he would be playing in a game. But that didn't affect his performance.
"I felt great as the week went along," Puyol said. "I was definitely ready to go."
As for losing a year of eligibility for one game, Puyol said he was OK with the decision. Christen will be back next year and Puyol will redshirt, leaving him with three years of eligibility. He plans to pursue an MBA at UConn, so he always planned on being around for five years.
"Fortunately, Chad's back again next year," Pasqualoni said. "So we're going to try to redshirt Bobby next year and just keep him in development. … We just go back and start over again."
Defensive end Trevardo Williams, the program's all-time sack leader (30.5), was limited by a severe high ankle sprain and did not start.
"We tried to just use him on third down," Pasqualoni said. "He couldn't really put a lot of weight on it, so I was a little afraid in the run game. He's got to play on big people to kind of set the edge on the block, which is going to be hard to do."
As it turned out, Williams was not a factor. Also, quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who suffered a head injury last week, left the game in the third quarter when he hit the ground hard.
"We limped into this game," Pasqualoni said.
The announced attendance was a season-low 33,112, although there appeared to be fewer fans at Rentschler Field on a cold afternoon. Average attendance for the season was 34,672, the lowest since the team moved into Rentschler Field. The average attendance was 36,668 last season, 38,248 in 2010 and 38,229 in 2009. …Pasqualoni said his staff will be on the recruiting trail immediately as they search for offensive linemen, skill position players, tight ends and cornerbacks. As he completed his second, Pasqualoni (10-14) said he remains optimistic. "My confidence level, my passion for it, my outlook on it, has not changed one iota," Pasqualoni said. "I just think we've got to get another recruiting class in here and have another great offseason program and get going." … Cincinnati (9-3) finished 5-2 in the Big East, earning a share of the conference title for the fourth time in five years. The Bearcats will be advancing to their sixth bowl game in seven years.