Junior Joseph, who earlier in the game moved into the top 20 on UConn's list of career tacklers, had just made perhaps his signature play during his successful run with the Huskies.
Joseph's ability to keep Keenan Johnson from hauling in what could have the winning touchdown kept the Huskies from suffering a spirit-sapping loss. While his teammates were running around Rentschler celebrating the hard-earned 20-14 victory, Joseph was either too exhausted or in too much pain to join in the celebration. Classmate Vontae Diggs saw what was happening and helped Joseph make his way off the field.
Probably 30 minutes later, Diggs had finished up entertaining questions from the media and as he headed out of the room where the interviews take place, he poked his head into the pack of reporters interviewing Joseph and proclaimed, "this man right here won us the game, thank you Junior."
Joseph had left the game as he hyperextended his back according to UConn coach Randy Edsall. Watching Diggs assist Joseph on their way to the locker room reminded me of that classic scene when Kellen Winslow needed help of teammates to get off the field after a classic 1982 NFL playoff game.
"I was gassed but I was just thinking about us winning the game, that was the most important thing," Joseph said. "I was not going to let us lose this game on a play like that. I just focused on the ball in the air, breaking the basket when the ball is in the air. They wanted to get pass interference because I think they would have gotten another play, I just focused on breaking the basket of his hands."
Johnson had inside position on Jamar Summers (who in my opinion played his best game of the season) and when Skipper let the throw game, I thought it was game, set and match. Joseph, who was rarely used in pass coverage until this season, used his superior football IQ to float into the area when the ball was headed. if he doesn't do that, the Hurricane likely would have been lining up to kick the game-winning extra point after scoring 21 unanswered points. Instead, UConn won its second game in a row.
Bear in mind that the last time this UConn team played at Rentschler Field, Memphis put up 70 points which was the most ever given up by a UConn team.
"I stayed off social media for four or five days," Joseph said. "I didn't go on Twitter. A lot of people say stuff on Twitter so I stayed off that and that is how you block it out. All you can do is get better, you can't dwell on that game."
In that game, UConn's defensive backs played with little confidence playing so far off that if you were watching the Memphis game on TV, you might have missed who was providing the coverage. There was little pressure being generated by the all-senior starting defensive line.
Fast forward to today and the secondary (other than in the final couple of drives) were as aggressive as they have been all season long while the starting defensive line of Cole Ormsby, Foley Fatukasi and Luke Carrezola combined for six tackles for loss and five sacks. UConn had 11 TFLs since a win over Temple on Nov. 23, 2013. The six sacks were the most since notching six against the Edsall coached Maryland team on Sept. 25, 2012.
Staying with "the first time since" theme, UConn help Tulsa off the scoreboard in the first half something that last took place against Louisville on Nov. 24, 2012. Wait, there's more. Fatukasi and Ormsby each had two sacks and the last time UConn had two players with at least two sacks was when Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood accomplished the feat against Maryland in 2012.
As I mentioned, Joseph is now in the top 20 on UConn's career tackles list as his seven tackles pushes his total 278.
Some other notes:
Arkeel Newsome's 51-yard reception (setting up the first of two Michael Tarbutt field goals) moved him into second place on UConn's career list for all-purpose yards. However, Newsome suffered an apparent upper body injury and did not return. He tried his best to convince the medical staff to allow him to return, getting on the ground and doing pushups at one point. Edsall said he will update Newsome's status on Tuesday.
Quayvon Skanes' three catches give him 22 making him the eighth freshman in UConn history with at least 20 receptions. Skanes is also the 13th UConn freshman with at least 200 receiving yards (Keyion Dixon is also on that list).
Shirreffs was 23 of 29 passing for 372 yards and an 80-yard TD to Hergy Mayala on a perfectly executed flea flicker. Unofficially, I have him with a passer rating of 198.44, the sixth best by a UConn player attempting at least 15 passes since 1978.
I thought kicker Michael Tarbutt (2 for 2 on field goals and touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs) and punter Brett Graham (a 40.6 net average with five of his seven punts landing inside the 20) had strong games.
The issues I have is UConn failing to punch it in twice with 1st and goal situations including three plays in a row from the 1 in the fourth quarter and questionable clock management. I noticed at least three times in the fourth quarter when the play clock was running and snapped the ball with more than 10 seconds on the play clock including one with 22 seconds left so there are at least 45 seconds that Tulsa shouldn't have had to attempt its spirited comeback. UConn doesn't have a lot of recent experience running plays with the least in the fourth quarter but I'm hoping it gets addressed this week because those mental lapses could have cost the Huskies the game. It never would have gotten to the point where there would be a debate on whether Tulsa should have been able to line up and snap the ball after a 50-yard completion with 1 second left on the clock.
Finally, I couldn't work this quote into my game story but it's a great one from Diggs.
"I threw my hands to the sky and I was hoping, praying and calling on all the football ancestors who came before us," Diggs said. "I give Junior Joseph props because I don't think that was his man, he is just out there playing football."