EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)—Five years after completing the move to major college football, Connecticut is one win away from its first Big East championship.
Tyler Lorenzen threw for 213 yards and a touchdown and the No. 25 Huskies beat Syracuse 30-7 Saturday to stay in sole possession of first place. UConn’s tailback tandem of Donald Brown and Andre Dixon combined for 151 yards rushing and two scores.
UConn (9-2, 5-1 Big East) plays at West Virginia next Saturday, and a win would secure the Huskies an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series.
“Probably nobody in America ever thought that (was possible), except for the guys in that locker room,” coach Randy Edsall said while choking back tears.
UConn finished 7-0 at home, only the second Big East team to do that. West Virginia was the other in 1993.
The Huskies jumped to an early 21-0 lead and were never challenged by the Orange (2-9, 1-5).
Lorenzen got the Huskies off to a fast start when he hit Terence Jeffers for a 63-yard touchdown pass on UConn’s first possession, the longest pass play for the Huskies since 2004. Jeffers was running with defensive back Mike Holmes until the ball was in the air, then ran away from Holmes down the right sideline to complete a five-play, 95-yard drive.
“He always has another gear there somewhere,” Lorenzen said. “When he hits that gear, you can tell. He’s got some wheels.”
UConn made it 14-0 on a 1-yard run from Dixon. That capped a 35-yard drive that began when Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson fumbled at the end of an 11-yard run.
After Syracuse missed a 40-yard field goal, UConn drove 77 yards in just under 2 minutes to take control of the game. Brown finished off that drive with a 21-yard touchdown run up the middle. He had 99 yards on 22 carries. Dixon ran 15 times for 62 yards.
“It makes it easier on both of us to be fresh when we go in there,” Brown said. “We have a nice tandem going right now.”
Lorenzen finished 16-of-24 with no interceptions. He also ran for 28 yards.
Tony Ciaravino set a UConn record for field goals in a season. His 21st from 34-yards out made it 24-0 with just over 6 minutes left in the third quarter.
Robinson was 8-for-21 for 59 yards and one interception, after missing last week’s loss to South Florida with a cracked rib. He was replaced by Cameron Dantley in the fourth quarter, who threw an interception, which UConn linebacker Danny Lansanah returned 49-yards for a score. It was the fifth time this season the Huskies have returned an interception for a touchdown.
Dantley finished 7-of-17 for 61 yards and a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams after the game was out of reach. Williams has caught a touchdown pass in a school-record eight consecutive games.
Syracuse squandered several other scoring opportunities.
Taj Smith dropped a long pass while running free down the sideline in the first half and Robinson overthrew a wide-open Da’Mon Merkerson, who had gotten behind the UConn defense early in the third quarter. The Orange later drove 51 yards to the UConn 3, before safety Robert Vaughn picked off Robinson in the end zone.
The Orange also had four personal fouls, three on defense. Their best play of the day was a blocked extra point that kept the score 30-0.
“It’s a tough loss for the program,” defensive end Jameel McClain said. “We wanted to bring more to the table, but obviously, that’s not what happened. It’s a bad feeling.”
Syracuse is now 7-27 under third-year Greg Robinson, 2-18 in the Big East.
The win was Edsall’s 50th at Connecticut against 52 losses. The Huskies were 4-8 a year ago, and picked in the preseason to finish next-to-last in the conference.
Edsall said he knew this year’s team would be improved, but acknowledged that even he didn’t know the Huskies would be this good.
“I don’t know if you call it magical, if you call it chemistry, if you call it camaraderie,” Edsall said. “People are just going to do things you’d never expect them to do, and this group, from January on, has done the things that we needed to do.”