EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Earlier in the week, current University of Connecticut athletic director and former University at Buffalo AD Warde Manuel came across a necktie he recognized as perfect for the occasion. Some of the stripes were UConn blue. Some of them were UB blue. And the two schools were meeting Saturday at Rentschler Field.
"The tie was intentional," Manuel said after UConn's 24-17 victory. "Everybody obviously knew the connection that I had to both. I actually saw this tie on Thursday and I said, 'Well, I'll wear that one Saturday.' Some people picked up on it but it was really my way of showing the connection that I have to both institutions and the pride I have having been at Buffalo and now the pride I have in being here at UConn."
The burdens have been heavy in Manuel's first few months with the Huskies. The basketball team is on probation for academic issues. Long-time coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement. The whirlwind is just beginning to subside.
"I really like it, adjusting and understanding the culture now and understanding the place and being able to start to really implement some of the things that I believe will help the teams and help academically with the student athletes and the things that need to be done," Manuel said.
"It's been great. Great people. Great state support. It's unbelievable. It's the blessing of being The State Institution and the biggest program in the state."
The state has pumped almost $2 billion into the university since around 1999, including construction of $91 million Rentschler Field. At UB, Manuel long pushed for construction of a $25-$30 million indoor practice facility but couldn't get New York State to pick up half the cost.
Running backs Brandon Murie and Devin Campbell filled in for the injured Bo Oliver with solid results. Murie rushed 18 times for 55 yards and a touchdown with a long run of 20 yards and had 50 receiving yards on the hook-and-ladder touchdown play. Campbell rushed six times for 25 yards and caught two passes, one a 30-yard screen that set up the first Murie TD.
"I think Brandon Murie and Devin Campbell, they stepped in, stepped up," UB coach Jeff Quinn said. "And I think all week long they understood their role and responsibility in picking up the slack without Bo."
The screen to Campbell came off a fake reverse to Murie that caught UConn's defense in errant pursuit.
"We repped that when Bo was out, just kind of for them to feel threatened by both of our speeds, me coming across like that," Murie said. "We're kind of like a little Gruesome Twosome. You'll see a lot more of that."
Sophomore linebacker Lee Skinner was in on 13 tackles, a career single-game high.
"He was all over the place," Quinn said. "I wish he would have caught that doggone interception opportunity, but at the end of the day, I thought our defense really stepped up."
Quinn's referring to a third-quarter play where Skinner failed to make the catch on an errant throw by Chandler Whitmer. As it turned out, instead of having the ball on their 35, UB forced a punt and took possession at their 20.
Quinn on the onside kick UB recovered following its first touchdown:
"Early in the game I wanted to create some momentum. We didn't convert on it but I think it got us some momentum early in the game. We discussed it last night. We discussed it this morning. And our coaches were all on board with it and I think our players were excited about that chance."
Alex Neutz caught six passes for 90 yards but had his TD streak snapped. He had been the first Bull with touchdown receptions in three straight games since Naaman Roosevelt put together a seven-game streak in 2008. . UB's only win over a BCS team came at Rutgers, 34-11, in 2002 under former coach Jim Hofher. . UConn leads the series between the schools, 8-1, since UB returned to FBS in 1999. UB's win was in 2001 by 37-20. . Khalil Mack had 3.5 tackles for losses and is up to 11 for the season. He should be in the national leaders this week now that he qualifies by having played 75 percent of UB's games. .
Freshman Tyler Grassman produced a career-long 50-yard punt with mega-hang time early in the second quarter, forcing a fair catch out of dangerous returner Nick Williams. Grassman also mishandled a punt snap and was tackled. The mishap didn't cost UB points. . The Bulls now have seven TD drives of 75 yards or longer. . Despite being erratic, Zordich has a TD throw in all four games.