Note: This was originally published during the 2016 season. I’ve dusted it off and updated it for 2018.
Saturday’s matchup between Cincinnati and UConn is a tale of two downtrodden programs heading in very different directions. The Bearcats have won eight total games across the last two seasons, but are starting to find some traction under second-year head coach Luke Fickell.
While many expected a 2-2 (or even 1-3) start to the season, Cincinnati has shocked the country by starting 4-0. A win Saturday clinches the program’s best season since 2015, and it’s not even October yet.
Up north, things are not looking quite as sunny.
The UConn Huskies have won just six games across the last two years, leading to a coaching change following the 2016 season, just like Cincinnati. Defensive-minded Bob Diaco was ousted in favor of Randy Edsall, the coach that had previously shepherded the Huskies from FCS to FBS in 2000.
While Edsall was never the hottest name in the country, what he was able to accomplish in the Big East at a program with few resources should be commended. He coached the Huskies in a BCS conference for seven seasons and notched eight or more wins in five of those seasons. UConn hasn’t had a winning record since Edsall left Storrs in 2010.
But, like I said, he’s back!
Things have yet to return to the days of glory. Following a 3-9 record last season, UConn is just 1-3 to open 2018. They lost by 39 points to UCF, 55 points to Boise State, and 30 points to Syracuse. Their lone victory came against lowly FCS Rhode Island. The Huskies won by seven points after coughing up 49 to the Rams.
UConn is allowing an astonishing 664 yards per game, worst in the country by 124 yards. It’s incredible.
Cincinnati is a team that the odds-makers have not exactly loved this season, yet they opened up as 17.5-point favorites on the road. That should tell you something. This game might not be fun for the Huskies if Cincinnati continues to play like they have this month.
Now that you’re all caught up on this year’s matchup, let’s dive into the history books and look at the relatively brief but rather exciting football history shared between Clifton and Storrs.
All-time series record: Cincinnati leads, 11–3
First meeting: 2001
Last meeting: 2017
Current streak: Cincinnati won the last meeting
Record in Connecticut: Tied 3-3
Streak in Connecticut: UConn won the last meeting
November 3, 2001 —UC 45, UConn 28
In the first meeting between the schools, the Huskies trekked to Nippert Stadium in their second season as an FBS team. UConn was bad, entering the game with a 5–13 record as an FBS team, with one of those wins coming against an FCS team, three coming against the MAC, and other coming against Rutgers. Basically, UConn hadn’t done a thing as a big-time football program. UC fans responded as such, and just 17,588 fans came out to Nippert. The Bearcats didn’t play an FCS team that season. This was their FCS game. It was that kind of matchup.
Coming off a tough loss to rival Louisville the previous week, the Bearcats — behind QB Gino Guidugli — struggled to get going against 2–6 UConn. Finally, at the end of the third quarter, Zach Norton picked off a Dan Orlovsky pass and streaked for the end zone, giving the Bearcats a 38–21 lead and sealing the win. It wasn’t pretty, as the Bearcats allowed a weak Huskies offense to rack up 382 yards. But five forced turnovers by UC were the difference, and the Red and Black got the victory at home over the hapless Huskies.
The Bearcats finished the 2001 season at 7–5 after losing to #25 Toledo in the Motor City Bowl. The Huskies closed the season with six straight losses to finish 2–9.
October 25, 2008 — UConn 40, UC 16
By 2008, both the Bearcats and Huskies were hitting their stride in the Big East. The Bearcats would make their first BCS bowl that season, and UConn (believe it or not) would have their second of four consecutive eight-win seasons.
The Bearcats entered the 2008 game riding high. They were 7–1 in their last eight games, with the only loss coming on the road against the #4 Oklahoma Sooners. Things were rolling under Brian Kelly until disaster struck in Hartford in front of a sellout homecoming crowd of 40,000.
QB Tony Pike had broken his forearm in September against Akron and was returning as starter for the first time. After experiencing “progressive numbness” in his left hand, his day ended at halftime. A 13–10 Bearcats lead evaporated as UConn outscored the Red and Black 30–3 in the second half.
Brian Kelly coached 40 games at Cincinnati, and this was the only conference loss by 20 points or more. For reference, Tommy Tuberville did that in the first two conference games of the 2016 season alone.
The Bearcats bounced back from the loss, beating #24 South Florida, #20 West Virginia, and #20 Pittsburgh in the next four games. They finished the season 11–3 after a loss to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
November 7, 2009 — UC 47, UConn 45
The Bearcats magical 2009 season saw them finish a perfect 12–0, but they nearly slipped up at home against a tough UConn team.
A Jacob Rogers field goal on the final play of the first half gave the Bearcats a 27–10 lead at the break, but the Huskies didn’t quit. In the third quarter, a 46-yard touchdown run and an 86-yard punt return brought the game to 37–24 entering the final frame. Another Rogers field goal put UC up by 16, but then UConn made their move.
Two more Jordan Todman touchdown runs (his third and fourth of the night) cut UC’s lead to just two points after a failed two-point conversion. With five minutes remaining, the Bearcats needed another score. QB Zach Collaros, starting again in place of the injured Tony Pike, marched the Bearcats 56 yards with the help of an Isaiah Pead touchdown scramble on fourth down. The Huskies had time to answer back, but it wasn’t enough and UC held on to improve their record to 9–0.
Not only did the win preserve UC’s Top 5 position in the AP Poll, but it also capped what’s arguably the best three-game stretch by a quarterback in program history. Collaros finished this three game stint without Pike with an absurd stat line: 66-for-82 (80%), 1,028 yards, eight touchdown passes, and zero interceptions. Without Collaros, the 12–0 season isn’t possible. He was masterful.
December 1, 2012 —UC 34, UConn 17
In what would be the final game of the Butch Jones Era, the Bearcats traveled to Hartford to face UConn with a share of the 2012 Big East title on the line. You may remember this game being on the same day as Cashmere Wright’s incredible buzzer beater against Alabama. A handful of us hung out in the student section after the basketball game to watch the Bearcats put away UConn on the big screen. That was a good day.
The game was the Brendon Kay and Travis Kelce show, as the pair connected with each other for three scores. Kay threw two touchdown passes to Kelce and Kelce returned the favor with a touchdown strike to Kay on a trick play in the second quarter. After the opening drive of the second half, it was Kay/Kelce 21, UConn 10. The Bearcats added a George Winn rushing touchdown and a pair of field goals to put the game away and close the regular season at 9–3. The loss dropped UConn to 5–7, securing back-t0-back losing seasons in Hartford for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
October 8, 2016—UConn 20, UC 9
This may have been the low point of the Tuberville Era, which is saying something. It was an 11:30am kickoff in East Hartford, and that sets the tone.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Bearcats started piling up field goals. Cincinnati struggled to find the end zone, but they got a trio of makes from kicker Josh Pasley to jump out to a 9-0 lead.
Just before the half, UConn finally woke up with a 59-yard touchdown pass and that’s where things went south. They’d add another 13 points after halftime while UC did nothing.
Hayden Moore completed 29 passes but none yielded points and the Bearcats’ leading rusher went for just 15 yards. It was a disaster of a loss against a team that only beat one other FBS team that season.
It was UConn’s first win in the series since 2010.
November 25, 2017—UC 22, UConn 21
In the final game of the 2017 season, two 3-8 teams entered Nippert, desperate to close out the season with even the smallest shred of positive momentum.
After a pair of UConn field goals in the first half, Hayden Moore found Khalil Lewis just before the break to give UC a 7-6 lead.
The Huskies scored the first nine points to open the second half and take an eight-point lead. Moore again found Lewis early in the fourth quarter before a two-point conversion knotted the game at 15 apiece.
With 88 seconds remaining, Moore crossed the goal line himself to give Cincinnati a seven-point lead, which appeared to end it.
Instead, UConn streaked down the field and scored on the game’s final play to bring themselves a PAT from overtime.
They missed it. Cincinnati won.
After what had felt like three years of bad luck, the final play of the 2018 Bearcat football season going down as a missed extra point to earn a desperately-needed victory felt miraculous. It was a sad way to win, but nobody seemed to care.
The Bearcats and Huskies played 60 minutes of evenly-matched football. The missed freebie was the point of inflection. UConn football is reeling. Cincinnati football is looking to match its best start since 2009.