A freshman inspires UConn

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Connecticut didn't look like a BCS bowl team when it was 3-4 and coming off a 26-0 loss to Louisville. It looked like a team spinning into the toilet, a promising season heading toward the sewer.

Team meetings are often overrated -- an unfocused, unmotivated, divided team doesn't just suddenly transform because guys deliver a fire-and-brimstone speech or two -- but UConn's players seem to believe they saved their season with one.

Part of that was good leadership from upperclassmen, guys such as linebacker and team captain Scott Lutrus. And there was star power: All-American running back Jordan Todman also appealed to his team to turn things around.

"We realized at that point there was kind of a fork in the road and we were going down the wrong path," quarterback Zach Frazer said.

But Frazer specifically recalled a speech that came from an unlikely person: True freshman offensive lineman Gus Cruz, who reminded them of Jasper Howard, a Huskies cornerback who was senselessly stabbed to death on campus the previous year

Said Frazer, "You don't really think a freshman is going to stand up and speak, but some powerful words came out of his mouth... He just reminded us that, 'Hey, Jas isn't here this season, but I'm sure he's watching down.' He didn't go through that experience last year, but he's a team member and he kind of put that in our vision."

It took guts to speak up. And it took something else to create a message that resonated with the team. Cruz said he was motivated by a quote on the wall of the football complex that the Huskies see every day: "Play every play like it's the last play you'll ever play."

Cruz wondered if everyone was doing that.

"I said if Jasper were here, this wouldn't be happening," he said.

What happened thereafter is the Huskies won five games in a row, won the Big East and now will play Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Saturday.

Team meetings don't always work. But sometimes they do.

Said Cruz, "We've been doing pretty good after that."