Still Seeking First Win, UConn To Play An Emotional Cincinnati

UConn starting quarterback Tim Boyle tries to keep his hands warm in a cold, steady rain during warm-ups. The Huskies play the University of Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium Saturday. (MICHAEL McANDREWS)

CINCINNATI — Life goes on. But no one ever said it would be easy.

The Cincinnati Bearcats certainly aren't over the death of freshman Ben Flick, who was killed in a car accident last month. No, that's going to take awhile.

UConn knows the feeling.

Friday marked the fourth anniversary of the death of cornerback Jasper Howard, who was killed on campus hours after the Huskies' big homecoming win over Louisville.

It's homecoming in Cincinnati this weekend, and Nippert Stadium is expected to be rocking. It has been all season in support of a team saddled with heavy hearts. The Bearcats face the Huskies on Saturday in a noon game on ESPNU. Cincinnati is 4-2, 1-1 in the American Athletic Conference. UConn is 0-5, 0-1.

Cincinnati is dedicating the season to Flick as well as to Mark Barr, another player involved in the crash. Barr remains in intensive care.

The tragic accident is fresh in the minds of Cincinnati players. There aren't many players left on the UConn roster who played with Howard, and there are fewer who play for his memory every day, such as defensive end Jesse Joseph.

From a Courant story after an on-campus memorial for Howard in 2009: "Freshman defensive end Jesse Joseph was the first to break from the group, running toward the Student Union with [punter Desi] Cullen quickly following to console him, followed by five more players. The quiet of the area was broken by the loud sobs of Joseph, 50 feet from the memorial."

After getting a medical redshirt, Joseph is now a senior. He can relate to what Cincy is going through. So can UConn as a school. The Huskies will wear No. 77 stickers in honor of Flick.

The accident occurred after a Sept. 21 victory over Miami, south of Oxford, Ohio, about 25 miles from Cincinnati. The Bearcats lost 26-20 to South Florida in the first game after the accident, but rebounded to beat Temple 38-20 last week. They will have an emotional crowd on their side.

The Huskies have to block out emotion and simply focus on winning. That's it. For UConn, it's about UConn. And the No. 1 thing the team's going to have to do is step up its game, make some big plays. Cincinnati is a physical football team.

"I think practice went well," said UConn coach T.J. Weist, the receivers coach at Cincinnati from 2010-12. "I think we had the same spirit and energy and emotion that we had last week, which I think was a plus. ... We didn't have any letdowns from that standpoint. We also tried to create a little bit more competitive situation just to find some guys that can make some plays under pressure."

One will have to be freshman quarterback Tim Boyle (15 of 43, 149 yards), who needs to be a little better than he was last week. In fairness, though, he's going to need help. Receivers have to catch the ball, something a few had problems with in the 13-10 loss to South Florida. The line is going to have to protect him. He was sacked three times. The run game is going to have to do its job. Lyle McCombs rushed for a career-high 164 yards last week, but much of that came in the first half. It'll be a chore to turn similar numbers against Cincinnati, which is fourth in the American, allowing 112 yards on the ground.

"It was good to see the offensive line gets some credit, finally, for all their hard work," McCombs said. "The run game was something positive to build on for this game, but we've got to find a way to win games at the end of the day."

Truer words could not have been spoken.

"It's been very positive around here," safety Andrew Adams said. "Everybody is trying to get this first win. The thing we've stressed is everybody just staying together as a team because if we stay together, wins will start to stack up, the camaraderie is going to get even better. If we stay all in, as Coach Weist keeps preaching, we'll pull the season together."

Cincinnati represents the first of a grueling three-game stretch for the Huskies. They play at Central Florida (4-1) on Oct. 26, and then after a bye week, have Louisville (6-0) at home at Rentschler Field on Nov. 8.

"We're focusing on one game at a time," Boyle said. "We can't look past this one. Cincinnati is a tough team. I have a lot of respect for them and their program, but we have to focus on us, what we have to do win."