In the end the offense came through.
Let's say it again: In the end the UConn offense came through.
The defense gave it the cover it needed early to take a big first half lead and yes, the offense which struggled throughout the second half, came through for a much-needed 24-17 win before 33,305 at Rentschler Field Friday night.
The Huskies (4-6, 1-4) now go into another bye week before playing Louisville on Nov. 24 but they go into it having stopped a four-game losing streak and having won their first Big East game.
And they'll go into it with something to build on from an offensive standpoint. (Pitt barely outgained UConn, 350-345.)
Chandler Whitmer (19 of 25, 213 1 TD) hit Shakim Phillips for a first down on a third-and-long with just under two minutes to play to secure the win. Pitt was out of timeouts and the Huskies could run out the clock.
Whitmer had a Panther pulling at his foot as he set for the throw and waited for Phillips to get free. It was a remarkable play by the Huskies' first-year quarterback.
"It was a big play and I knew we had to dosomething to ice the game and put it away," Whitmer said. "Shak did a good job running his route and winning and I just tried to throw it a little early because there was some pressure and let him run underneath it and he did a great job finishing the play."
Pitt (4-6, 1-4) made UConn pay for not scoring on a couple of opportunities it had though when quarterback Tino Sunseri (19 of 34, 302 yards, two touchdowns) found 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Shanahan for an 18-yard touchdown reception with 2 minutes, 46 seconds to go, drawing Pitt to within seven at 24-17.
That drive went 80 yards and took just 2 minutes, 11 seconds.
UConn had a chance to put the game away for good in the fourth but Whitmer was intercepted in the end zone.
The Huskies had a chance before that, too.
Nick Williams, who had a punt return for a touchdown in the first half, nearly broke another one and was tackled deep in Pitt territory but the Huskies were penalized for a block in the back on the return and ended up at their own 31.
The Panthers got the ball with 49 seconds left in the third at their own 28 and drive 72 yards in six plays, scoring on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Drew Carswell. The drive took 2 minutes and 12 seconds.
Pitt was starting to get into a groove in the third quarter but the UConn defense kept itself together and allowed only a 42-yard field goal with 10:33 to go in the period.
Now the Huskies didn't score either but they did have an eight-play drive that lasted 4:41 and that helped, keeping the ball out of the Panthers hand.
Lyle McCombs was big for the Huskies with 120 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. The offensive line worked just fine for him in the first half. Tight end Ryan Griffin (6 catches for 84 yards) had a monster game.
"It wasn't the defense won the game or the offense won the game, special teams won it, every phase contributed to that win but the offense and Ryan Griffin set the tone," said senior linebacker Sio Moore.
The UConn defense took it up a notch on Pitt, the team that took No. 4 Notre Dame to the brink in triple overtime last week.
The Panthers hardly resembled the team that had a 20-6 lead on the Irish at their place.
This Panthers team faced a Huskies defense poised to tee off on the Pitt offense.
Case in point: 28 plays, 121 yards of total offense in the first half.
UConn scored 24 points three times season, all in September, including the last time they had won, a 24-17 decision over Buffalo Sept. 29.
The Huskies had 24 points on the board with 1:02 left in the half. Running back Ray Graham, who had a season-high 172 yards rushing last week, was slowed to 17 yards on seven carries in the first half. Sunseri was 8 of 18 for 107 yards, was sacked once, and nearly had a couple of balls intercepted after coming into the game having thrown 172 passes without a pick.
The UConn offense helped out big here because it owned Pitt in time of possession, 19:18 to 10:42.
The Huskies weren't just holding the ball; they did something with it —throughout the first half.
When McCombs crossed the goal line for the first time since the Buffalo game, on a 2-yard run, UConn led 24-0 with 1:02 left until the break. It was McCombs' fifth touchdown of the season.
McCombs was having his best game in weeks running the ball. It was also the best the offensive line had been all season, in terms of opening holes and protecting Whitmer (11 of 15 for 150 yards and a touchdown in the first half).
Pitt's 4-3 defense was a welcome sight considering ome of the sets the UConn offense had seen previously. The box was not stacked and the Huskies took advantage on the ground with McCombs and in the air with Whitmer who wasn't sacked and was barely even pressured by Pitt.
The only real hit he took was on a run and he didn't hook-slide. He was nearly beheaded on a third-down run in the first quarter in which he fumbled, but the ball was recovered by junior guard Steve Greene.
When he was upright Whitmer was fine, as was his primary target, senior tight end Griffin, who ended the Huskies first drive of the game, an 11-play, 75-yard deal, with a 2-yard TD reception, his fifth of the season.
Griffin caught three of Whitmer's passes for 33 yards on the opening drive and he had the key catch, a 22-yarder on the drive that led to the McCombs TD just before the half.
Chad Christen's 29-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 61-yard drive in the first quarter gave the Huskies a 10-0 lead with 1:43 to go in the quarter.
Nick Williams made it 17-0 for the Huskies on an 80-yard punt return for a score with 9:26 to go in the half. It was Williams' second punt return for a touchdown this season. He had a 58-yarder at Maryland.Copyright © 2015, CT Now