Connecticut dominates Toledo in Motor City Bowl
Dec. 27, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports
DETROIT -- Dan Orlovsky wanted to linger as long as possible and savor the latest milestone for Connecticut football.
By the time he trotted to the sidelines in the closing minutes to a standing ovation, he had thrown for 239 yards and two touchdowns to lead UConn to a 39-10 win over Toledo in the Motor City Bowl. It was the Huskies' first bowl appearance since becoming a full Division I-A team three years ago.
"I didn't want to come off the field," Orlovsky said. "Me being stubborn, I just wanted to play. But it was great feeling to walk off the field and have the fans cheer like that."
Thousands of UConn fans were part of the record Motor City Bowl crowd of 52,552. For years they have cheered on the Huskies' powerhouse men's and women's basketball teams.
Now Connecticut can play football, too.
"Before this year I heard people say UConn has arrived. UConn has arrived now, literally," said Orlovsky, who was named the bowl MVP.
The Huskies (8-4) dominated in every phase of the game, holding the Rockets to a season-low 10 points.
The UConn defense held the Rockets (9-4) to just 78 yards on the ground. Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who broke his throwing hand in the Mid-American Conference championship on Dec. 2, struggled in the first half. He scored the Rockets only TD on a one-yard run. Backup quarterback Marques Council played the second half, throwing for 160 yards with two interceptions.
"It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be and it was better to get a healthy guy out there who could do the job," Gradkowski said.
The Huskies' special teams also shone in their bowl debut. Matt Nuzie kicked a career-best four field goals and added three extra points. Larry Taylor ran back a punt 68-yards for a score in the first quarter, his first of the year. Taylor's runback with 2:31 left in the first quarter quickly put UConn up 17-0 and the Rockets never recovered.
The Rockets came into the game averaging 35.2 points but, behind their injured quarterback, could muster little in the way of offense.
"It doesn't happen very often and it's a rare thing," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. "I give UConn a lot of credit. We just didn't have all our guys going."
The Huskies got their biggest lift with the return of defensive end Tyler King. The 6-foot-5 senior made his first start since breaking his leg on Sept. 30 in a win over Pittsburgh.
King and his teammates were ready for every trick play the Rockets tried to run. King recovered a fumble on Toledo's fake punt in the first half. Four plays later Orlovsky hit Jason Williams for a 32-yard touchdown. Orlovsky also hit Brian Sparks with a 7-yard scoring pass late in the second quarter.
"When we got the turnover on the fake punt, that was great recognition," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "Our coaches did a great job preparing the players and then taking advantage of those situations."
The Huskies began their upgrade from Division I-AA six years ago when the school hired Edsall. They joined the Big East this season, finishing 3-3 in the league. Their 23-13 run over the past three years is the best in school history over a three-year span.
Orlovsky completed 20 of 41 passes before he came out of the game. The bowl was also the final game for senior linebacker Alfred Fincher who switched his number from No. 9 to No. 4 Monday night in honor of Dan Reen, a friend and former Norwood (Mass.) high school teammate killed in a car accident several months ago. He finished with nine tackles and an interception.
Fincher has anchored UConn's defense all season and dismissed talk this week that the game, featuring two potent offenses, was going to be a shootout. His coach said he knew Fincher, King and the rest of the UConn defense would rise to the occasion.
"There's no way that Alfred and those guys were going to let this thing turn into a shootout," Edsall said. "They have so much pride in what they want to accomplish."
Council completed 16 of 28 passes for the MAC champs. Gradkowski was 6-of-12 for 43 yards.
Keron Henry led Connecticut's receivers with nine catches for 109 yards, while Cornell Brockington led the UConn with 72 yards rushing. Matt Lawrence scored the Huskies only rushing TD -- an 11-yarder with under 3 minutes to play.
Orlovsky, a pro prospect out of Shelton, Conn., spurned offers from other Division I-A schools such as Purdue and Virginia to play in his home state. He's had no regrets.
"It's just a gratifying process to go through and its extremely humbling and an honor to go through it with the people we have," Orlovsky said.
The Associated Press News Service
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