SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Donald Brown delivered the counter for Connecticut, and Jasper Howard and Robert McClain scored the knockout against Syracuse.
Brown scored on a 49-yard run late in the second quarter to counter an Orange tally, and Howard and McClain scored on consecutive plays from scrimmage late in the third to lead the Huskies past the woeful Orange 39-14 on Saturday night.
The Huskies (7-3, 3-2 Big East) led 22-14 in what had turned into a surprisingly difficult game before UConn's special teams and defense broke it open.
"Big plays change games, pretty much put them away," said Brown, who gained 131 yards on 22 carries to become UConn's career leading rusher with 3,254 yards, ahead of Terry Caulley's 3,187. "Coach always talks about you want to make big plays but you can't give up big plays. That was the key to this game. They did a great job keeping us out of the end zone in the first half."
Until Brown broke free.
Forty seconds after senior Curtis Brinkley scored on a fourth-down run from inside the 1 to move the Orange within a point, Brown scampered around right end for a critical touchdown.
"We just made some plays," UConn coach Randy Edsall said after just his fourth win in 16 Big East road games. "Those are the things that we try to stress -- score in all phases. We made more big plays tonight than we have in a long time."
Howard made the next one, returning a punt 69 yards for his first career touchdown with 19 seconds left in the third quarter.
After the ensuing kickoff, Syracuse (2-8, 1-5) rotated Andrew Robinson in at quarterback and McClain intercepted his first-down pass and returned it 37 yards for another score with eight seconds left in the period.
"We had two weeks to prepare and I felt I was more prepared than ever coming in," McClain said after his second interception for a score in three games. "We've been studying that -- the three-step drop, high shoulders. I read the quarterback throwing on a three-step and I broke early."
It was the final home game for 18 Syracuse seniors and perhaps for fourth-year head coach Greg Robinson, whose record fell to 9-36 overall and 3-24 in the conference.
"All summer, the coaches were giving me confidence," said Brinkley, who had 94 yards on 22 carries to reach 1,060, the eighth Syracuse player to go over 1,000 yards in a season. "I knew what I could do. I'm going to keep fighting. The yards, they mean something, but they'd mean much more if we were winning."
Robinson deflected a question about his future after the game when asked if he thought it was his last in the Carrier Dome.
"No, it didn't enter my mind," Robinson said. "I don't know (what's wrong with the offense). It's gone dormant. We're not functioning."
The Orange finished with just 147 yards on 59 plays and was 1-for-14 on third-down conversion attempts. Robinson rotated Cam Dantley and Andrew Robinson at quarterback for much of the game and the experiment was a failure. They were a combined 6-for-23 for 51 yards with three interceptions, were sacked five times, and Dantley had at least four passes batted down.
"The rotation might affect our rhythm a little, but we weren't in rhythm to start," Dantley said.
On the other side of the field, Tyler Lorenzen started at quarterback for UConn for the first time since breaking a foot in late September and finished 7-for-15 for 70 yards and no turnovers. He's 15-4 as a starter.
"Tyler wins and he manages the game," Edsall said. "He didn't have any turnovers, ran the ball, got some yards for us. He's a calming influence out there. To me, a guy like that that wins games as opposed to a guy that's turning the ball over and you don't win games, that's what you want."
Brown, who entered the game as the nation's leading rusher at 156 yards per game, went over 100 yards for the ninth time this season. He has 1,537 yards on the season.
Syracuse had only one first down and 13 yards of total offense in the first quarter, yet UConn only led 3-0 on a 23-yard field goal by Dave Teggart late in the period.
Teggart added a 37-yarder on the first play of the second quarter for a 6-0 lead.
But a 47-yard punt by Rob Long pinned the Huskies back at their 9 and the Syracuse defense forced a punt after three downs. Darnell Pratt then got through to block Desi Cullen's kick and Parker Cantey fell on it for a touchdown and a 7-6 Syracuse lead. It was the Orange's second touchdown in two weeks off a blocked punt.
After the Huskies went three and out, they nearly returned the favor. Cullen pinned Syracuse back at its 10, the Orange went nowhere in three plays, and Long was forced to take a safety after a low snap, giving UConn an 8-7 lead at 9:18 of the second.
"We just get it done," Lorenzen said. "I think everyone just really believes in each other."
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