STORRS – If anyone could shed light on Connecticut's turnaround in this football season, a top candidate would be receiver/kick returner Nick Williams. He's a senior. He's honest, perceptive, funny and quotable.
So it was worth it to ask Williams why the Huskies didn't throw in the towel when they were 3-6 after a loss at South Florida with Pittsburgh, Louisville and Cincinnati still on the schedule. Did the UConn seniors get together and take a stand? Did someone give a speech?
Williams laughed and shook his head.
"There was no ‘Friday Night Lights' moment," Williams said, referring to the TV series on football in a small town in Texas. "People in the outside world would like to think that goes on. I wish I could tell you there was, but that didn't happen."
But there will be drama Saturday at Rentschler Field (3:30 p.m., ABC, UConn IMG Sports Radio Network) when UConn (5-6, 2-4 Big East) wraps up the regular season against Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2). After beating Pittsburgh 24-17 and upsetting Louisville 23-20 in triple overtime, the Huskies need only to win Saturday to earn bowl eligibility for the fifth time in six years.
A bowl game isn't guaranteed, but teams are needed to fill slots. It's a near certainty the Huskies would go bowling if they win. Williams says it was all about toughness and treating the last three games like a playoff situation when everyone else was writing off this team.
"It's very easy to throw in the towel when you are 3-6 and you've got three of the better teams in the league coming in," Williams said. "You're going to have to play them and go home early for Christmas and everyone is frustrated. For us to stick with it and beat two of the better teams in the league and have an opportunity to win our last game at home on senior day, I'm proud to be a part of that.
"We had lost a few games that were tight games. A few plays here or there and they go the other way. We lost a few that were very winnable games. We didn't doubt our ability, we just doubted our execution a few times. We knew we were a good team. The culture of the team was that we were just going to keep working hard."
Coach Paul Pasqualoni said that's what this team has been all about.
"This team is resilient," Pasqualoni said. "This group of seniors is tough; they persevere; they keep coming back. There is excellent leadership in the group. Guys like Ryan Wirth, when this is over, I'll miss because of their toughness."
Saturday's game will be the final home appearance for 16 UConn seniors. These seniors have played in three bowl games, including the 2011 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, UConn's first BCS game.
Seniors to be honored before the game are: Denzell Allen, WR; Jimmy Bennett, OT; John Delahunt, TE; Blaise Driscoll, QB; Dwayne Gratz, CB; Ryan Griffin, TE; Jory Johnson, OLB; Adam Masters, OT; Johnny McEntee, QB; Sio Moore, LB; Michael Smith, WR; Martin Tartaglino, FB; Nick Williams, WR/KR; Trevardo Williams, DE; Ryan Wirth, DT; Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB.
Emotions will be high.
"Oh I'm pumped.," Wirth said. "I'm excited beyond words. Nothing would make me happier than to go out there and kick some butt and have one more game."
BIG RECRUITING WEEKEND
The last game of the regular season will be watched by several UConn recruits, including 11 who have committed to the Huskies.
Committed to UConn and visiting officially are: WR Dhameer Bradley (Elkton, Md.), DT Folorunso Fatukasi (Rockaway Park, NY), CB Javon Hadley (Miami, Fla.), DE Shaki Holines (Springfield, Mass.), OT Tommy Hopkins(Thornwood, NY), QB Richard Lagow (Plano, Texas), CB Thomas Lucas (Burtonsville, Md.), TE Tommy Myers (Coventry, Conn.), WR Noel Thomas (New Canaan, Conn.), TE Quinn Thompson (Edinboro, Pa.). Linebacker Cory Jasudowich (Cheshire, Conn.) is committed but on an unofficial visit.
In addition, there are at least three official visitors, who have not made final commitments. One is tight end Jeremy Kerr (St. Petersburg, Fla.) who had committed to Miami but has reopened his recruiting. The others are California junior college players Sean Rubalcava (OT) and Brendon Vandenburg (TE).
And unofficial visitors from the Class of 2014 are also expected, including wide receiver Paryss Marshall, the son of former UConn basketball All-American Donyell Marshall. We posted a feature story on Marshall Tuesday.