EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut linebacker Alfred Fincher said his defensive line allowed him to run free Thursday night.
And he did.
The senior tri-captain matched his career high with 17 tackles and helped the Huskies secure their first Big East win as a conference member, a 29-17 victory over Pittsburgh.
"Where we've come from to get a win like this is big," Fincher said.
The Huskies are in their third full year as a Division I-A program and the defense made sure they delivered one of their biggest wins before a loud home crowd of 40,000.
"We expected to win. Our kids believed it," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "There was electricity on the sidelines the whole night. Nobody ever got down."
Cornell Brockington rushed for 185 yards and one touchdown for UConn. His 11-yard TD run with 6:25 left in the game gave UConn (4-1, 1-1) the 29-17 lead. The Panthers (2-2, 0-1) were playing their first road game of the season and struggled against the crowd noise throughout the game, jumping early on a number of snaps. The penalties and poor field position added up quickly.
"We were our own worst enemy. We had horrible field position and we made it worse," Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said.
Dan Orlovsky was 23-of-43 for 237 yards and one TD for UConn. He and Keron Henry hooked up for an 8-yard TD pass with 3:28 left in the third quarter, which proved to be the winner.
But the victory may have been a costly one for the Huskies. Defensive end Tyler King injured his right leg in the closing minutes while pursuing Panthers quarterback Tyler Palko, who was pressured all night by the UConn defenders. He was sacked four times for 29 yards and Fincher was always around the ball. Nine of his tackles were solo.
"Alfred's a beast," cornerback Justin Perkins said. "When he's out there, you've got to be on his level. He gives it all he's got."
Perkins intercepted Palko midway through the first half and ran it back nine yards for the Huskies' first score. Palko was 11-of-31 for 267 yards. He threw for one score -- a 77-yard bomb to Greg Lee -- and ran for another. Palko's 1-yard scoring run late in the third
quarter gave Pittsburgh its only lead, 17-16.
Orlovsky struggled early as his receivers dropped several passes in the first half. The Huskies had just one third-down conversion on seven tries in the first half. But it was the UConn defense and special teams that kept the Huskies in control, despite giving up two big plays that led to the Panthers' only touchdowns. Josh Cummings hit a 30-yard field goal but missed two more late in the game.
Perkins also figured heavily in the Panthers' first TD. Palko hit Lee for the 77-yard strike, burning Perkins on the coverage. Perkins and the UConn defense had left the field prior to the play since the first quarter had expired. But the Panthers had been flagged for a false start, and the Huskies had to quickly run back into position quickly because the period cannot end on a penalty.
"I just had to block that out and let everybody know my confidence was still there and that we could still get it done on defense," Perkins said.
Pittsburgh had two false starts and a delay of game on a possession that started at its own 6-yard line and was eventually pushed back to the 1. Adam Graessle got them out of trouble with 74-yard punt.
After both teams traded field goals, the Huskies took a 13-10 lead on Matt Nuzie's career-long 49-yard field goal as the first half ended. That sent the Huskies into the locker room with some much-needed momentum and got the crowd going.
"Connecticut football is going to get really big," Fincher said. "The crowd really fired us up."