Oklahoma 48, UConn 20

Fiesta is no party

UConn works hard, but falls to Oklahoma

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 2, 2011

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Almost no one gave Randy Edsall’s University of Connecticut Huskies a chance to win their Fiesta Bowl matchup against the ninth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners last night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

And when the Sooners bolted to a 34-10 lead in the third quarter, the predictions seemed to be accurate.

But the Huskies, who 10 years ago were a lower-division team contending with programs such as Maine and Rhode Island, did not go quietly in their first BCS appearance. And they made things entertaining before dropping a 48-20 decision.

For the Huskies (8-5), it was a case of too much Landry Jones (34 of 49, 429 yards, 3 touchdowns), too much Ryan Broyles (13 catches, 170 yards, 1 TD), and too much Cameron Kenney (7 catches, 154 yards, 1 TD) as the Sooners wore down an overmatched defense.

After pulling within 34-20 in the fourth quarter, UConn simply ran out of energy from its climb, which began early and never got easier against Oklahoma (12-2).

Before the game, Edsall talked about the problems he saw with containing OU’s attack.

As it turned out, the Huskies never did. Oklahoma, which could be the No. 1 team in the country entering next season, scored early, late, and often. Landry did his best Tom Brady imitation as he completed his first 12 passes in helping the Sooners take control.

OU came here expecting to win, just as it had in Fiesta Bowl losses to Boise State in 2007 and West Virginia in 2008, and just as it had in three BCS title game appearances in the last six years. The Sooners came up short each time.

“It’s redemption,’’ said Broyles, who had a 5-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.

The Sooners spent part of their week of preparation watching tapes of their previous BCS losses. “It just motivated us,’’ said Jones, whose yardage total set a school bowl record.

Edsall could only shake his head in frustration as he watched his Huskies respond to Oklahoma’s opening touchdown drive by marching to the OU 19, only to get stopped on fourth and 1. From that point, the Sooners rode the momentum to a 20-10 halftime lead. The bulge grew to 24 points before the Huskies started a mini-comeback.

UConn got a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Robbie Frey, and when Dave Teggart added a 38-yard field goal, the Huskies pulled within 34-20 and showed no quit entering the final quarter.

Unfortunately for UConn, the fourth belong to the Sooners.

“Our kids battled the entire time,’’ said Edsall. “I told our team it’s a game of inches and we couldn’t make enough of those inches. When you play a team like Oklahoma you have to play perfectly and we came up a little short. We just couldn’t make some plays. It was tough to get used to the speed, but once we did and settled down, we came back.’’

Edsall knew he needed touchdowns, not field goals, and that prompted his decision on that fourth-and-1 play to pass up a field goal attempt by the reliable Teggart.

“I felt we needed points,’’ said Edsall. “We didn’t want to settle for a field goal.’’

For the Huskies, the conclusion to their journey wasn’t what they had hoped, but they enjoyed the ride nonetheless.

“We didn’t win the game, but there was nothing negative that comes from this,’’ said Edsall, after the end of UConn’s five-game winning streak. “Just being here will help our kids to understand that they can compete with anyone.’’

Last night, on the biggest stage in program history, the Huskies gave it their best shot, but simply were not good enough.