EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — For the better part of the season's first six weeks, hyped sophomore DE Aaron Lynch found himself maligned by Bulls constituents for making little more than a cameo on the stat sheet.
Saturday, he made a splash. The former Notre Dame freshman All-American highlighted his best day as a Bull (three tackles, one sack, two hurries, 11/2 tackles-for-loss) with a 44-yard touchdown on a fumble return in a 13-10 victory.
The play was set up when DE Ryne Giddins nailed freshman QB Tim Boyle's blind side at the point of delivery in the first quarter.
"I'm looking in the air for it, and I saw it pop in the (offensive) lineman's arms," Lynch said. "And I'm like, 'Darn!'
"But he trips up, and he fumbles it. So I said, 'Oh, yeah, this is me. Gimme that.' "
Lynch was part of a defensive front that held UConn to 143 second-half yards after surrendering 213 in the first half. Huskies rushing leader Lyle McCombs (20 carries, career-best 164 yards) had 29 yards after halftime.
"The first few games, I played the same. I wasn't in my groove, I would say," Lynch said. "But I'd say after that Miami game (on Sept. 28), I got into a nice little groove where I knew what I needed to do.
"My mind-set needed to be right."
PEOPLE MOVER: For one pivotal play Saturday, seldom-used sophomore RB Willie Davis carried the team — UConn's — on his back.
With three minutes to go before halftime and USF facing third and 9 from its 3, Davis took a handoff up the middle, found a small seam and kept his legs churning as seemingly every UConn defender hopped on his back.
The play spanned 16 yards, extending what turned out to be a 15-play drive that kept the Huskies from getting a crack at the end zone before halftime. Davis finished with 38 yards on eight carries.
He entered with two career carries for 7 yards.
"Out of nowhere, one player comes and tries to hit me," Davis said. "And the next thing you know, all the rest are trying to tackle me. But I wasn't fixing to let them stop me. I looked over to the sideline, saw the chains, saw what I had to get. So I just kept going."
BREAKTHROUGH: Saturday's victory was the Bulls' first at Rentschler Field and second at Connecticut. The Bulls' last win in the state occurred in 2000, at Memorial Stadium in Storrs. And for those scoring at home, this was the seventh consecutive USF-UConn game decided by a touchdown or less.
ODDS AND ENDS: Saturday's announced attendance was 37,861. … With 11 tackles, LB DeDe Lattimore moved into sixth in school history with 295. … Giddins' sack that resulted in Lynch's fumble return gave him 171/2 for his career, moving him into USF's top five. … McCombs' 52-yard run in the second quarter was UConn's first offensive touchdown in the series since 2009. … Seven Bulls freshmen played, and 12 made the trip.
Joey Knight can be reached at jknight @tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ TBTimes_Bulls.