The Connecticut football team packed a considerable amount of energy and spunk for its 2,300-mile trip to play BYU Friday night in Provo, Utah. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the bags marked “turnovers, penalties and mistakes” were loaded onto the plane as well.
If only the Huskies could leave those on the curb and rid themselves of all that baggage, perhaps UConn would stand better than 2-3 heading into the American Athletic Conference portion of the season.
UConn found a way to stay close until falling apart in the fourth quarter, when the Cougars outscored the Huskies 20-3. But the negatives were huge. Two interceptions, including one hideous decision by quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, were key. Five penalties, including a serious brain freeze by captain Andrew Adams (unsportsmanlike conduct for kicking a ball away from officials), destroyed the cause and UConn lost 30-13.
The Huskies (2-3, 0-1) faced 14 third down situations and converted only three. BYU won the possession time battle by more than 10 minutes and outgained UConn by a whooping 539-230 yards.
That’s a lot of adversity to confront on the road. UConn simply isn’t good enough to overcome those mistakes. Not yet.
“It was tough for the defense to be on the field that long,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said in his postgame comments. “Any time it’s tilted like that it’s hard. We need to make stops and get off the field better. The offense is going to take a little bit more time.”
And the offense is clearly the problem right now. The numbers will tell you that and the key moments in games will tell you that. Diaco keeps talking execution and the Huskies keep proving him right by failing at critical points.
When a team repeatedly burns timeouts just to avoid delay of game penalties in the first half, it is a warning sign regarding communications. And the Huskies have had troubles with their blocking schemes all season.
Bad protection forced Shirreffs to scramble with about 12 minutes to play and that’s when he made the bad decision to just throw the ball with no receiver in sight. Bronson Kaufusi intercepted the pass. BYU scored on the next play, a 21-yard TD that gave the Cougars a 20-10 lead.
“If you look just at percentages, if you turn the ball over, you’re going to lose and my interception changed the game,” Shirreffs told Desmond Conner of The Hartford Courant. “We just have to turn it into positive energy somehow. Now we’re into the heat of the conference. We just have to get back to Storrs and get to work.”
The bright light for the offense came on an 80-yard scoring drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Shirreffs to Arkeel Newsome. That was aided by a 15-yard targeting penalty on the Cougars, who didn’t exactly play precision football in this game either. But that TD pass sent the teams into halftime tied at 7-7.
UConn seemed to have hope at that point, thanks to the defense. With BYU not taking care of the ball, UConn’s Mikal Myers recovered a fumble, and Jhavon Williams and Jamar Summers continued their fine play this season with interceptions. The interception by Summers led to a field goal by Bobby Puyol and UConn actually took a 10-7 lead with 7:11 remaining in the third quarter.
And Puyol may have regained some confidence from the coaching staff with two field goals in the game. That would be a benefit as UConn heads into conference play.
Still, it is agonizing for UConn’s defense to do so much and then have to go back on the field when the offense makes a mistake. The Huskies must eliminate that trend before AAC play – which starts on the road Saturday at UCF. The Knights fell to 0-5 Saturday with a 45-31 loss at Tulane in their AAC opener.
“We put in so much time and effort into it and to not be successful and come out victorious, it hurts,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to stick together and gel as a team. Now we’re going into conference play and that’s just the most important thing now, winning the conference.”