STORRS, Conn. — The normally stoic Randy Edsall needed some coaxing Saturday, but midway through his post-game news conference, he finally broke into a smile and said it out loud.
"It's got to be the best victory we've ever had here at this institution," the Connecticut head coach said.
Andre Dixon ran for a career-high 167 yards and Connecticut used a late goal-line stand to upset No. 11 South Florida, 22-15, the Huskies first-ever win over a ranked opponent.
The victory keeps UConn (7-1, 3-0 Big East) in sole possession of first place in the Big East, and all but assures the Huskies of the first Top-25 ranking in program history.
"I think we earned a lot of respect today," Edsall said.
South Florida (6-2, 1-2), which was ranked No. 2 just two weeks ago, has lost two straight.
Dixon ran for 115 yards in a rainy first half, helping UConn build a 16-0 lead. He rushed 32 times and also caught three passes for 42 yards.
The Bulls came back in the second half and cut the lead to 19-15 in the fourth quarter, before a 20-yard Tony Ciaravino field goal with 5:19 gave UConn its final margin.
Matt Grothe drove the Bulls inside the UConn 2 with just over a minute to go , but was hit by UConn backup linebacker Greg Robinson Jr. for a 10-yard loss on a naked bootleg, before his fourth-down pass sailed out of the end zone.
Robinson, who is only used in short-yardage situations, said he knew the Bulls would try to take advantage of UConn's aggressive defense.
"You kind of get that feeling that they are going to try you at the end of the game when they need something," he said. "So right there, I just stayed home and made the play I needed to make."
Grothe finished with 146 yards rushing on 25 carries. He also threw for 189 yards, but had two interceptions. He became the second player in USF history to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a career.
The first interception came on a deflected pass with 8:25 left in the first half that UConn linebacker Scott Lutrus grabbed and ran 23-yards for a touchdown to make it 16-0. It was fourth pick of the season for Lutrus, and the second he has brought back for a score.
USF didn't score until Jerome Murphy blocked a punt with 6:07 left in the third quarter. UConn's Dahna Deleston fell on the ball in the end zone for a safety.
It took the Bulls just 29 seconds to score after the free kick. Grothe ran 53 yards on second down to the UConn 10, and kept the ball again on the next play for the touchdown.
"We struggled tonight," Grothe said. "We got to fix some stuff, but we definitely struggled."
UConn made it 19-9 on a 27-yard field goal from Ciaravino with 1:34 left in the third. The Bulls answered with a 47-yarder from Delbert Alvarado with 12:48 to go, and a 27-yarder five minutes later.
USF was forced to settle for that field goal after a 2-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding penalty against receiver Cedric Hill, and a pass into the end zone that Hill dropped.
That was one of several missed scoring opportunities for the Bulls.
Grothe drove from the USF 34 to the UConn 4 in the third quarter, but Robert McClain picked off a pass in the end zone on third-and-goal.
South Florida squandered two other chances in the first half. A 54-yard run from Jamar Taylor set up a 26-yard field-goal attempt that went wide right, and Alvarado later missed a 45-yard attempt.
"We wasted too many opportunities," head coach Jim Leavitt said. "We're proud of our guys. We battled our tails off... We didn't play good enough for 60 minutes of football, that's for sure."
UConn quarterback Tyler Lorenzen was 13-of-25 for 194 yards and a touchdown. He also threw one interception.
Dixon, though, was the star. The sophomore carried the ball eight times for 53 yards on the Huskies first drive, which ended with a 22-yard field goal.
Connecticut then drove 80 yards in 14 plays to take a 9-0 lead with just under 6 minutes left in the half. Lorenzen found tight end Steve Brouse, who had slipped behind the defense from 3 yards out. The Huskies muffed the extra point when the snap went high and a desperation pass by holder Desi Cullen was incomplete.
UConn, which completed the transition from Division I-AA in 2002, came into the game 0-10 against ranked opponents.
The win was Randy Edsall's 48th, and biggest, in his 100 games as UConn's head coach.
UConn linebacker Danny Lansanah said the Huskies were motivated by talk that last week's 21-17 win over Louisville and an earlier 22-17 win over Temple had been tainted by bad calls from officials.
"What can they blame it on this week, the weather or something," he said. "You look at the scoreboard. We won, and we beat a Top-10 team."
For the first time since the stadium was opened in 2003, fans poured onto the Rentschler Field after the victory, joining the players in a wild celebration, though the goal posts remained intact.
"It feels good to have the fans in Connecticut coming out to enjoy watching football, and loving watching us play," Dixon said.