PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — South Florida struggled to find the end zone for the second consecutive week, but came away with a second consecutive conference win on the strength of its defense and kicker Marvin Kloss.
The junior hit two field goals and Aaron Lynch returned a fumble 44 yards for a score as USF (2-4) beat Connecticut 13-10 on Saturday.
The Bulls are 2-0 in the American Athletic Conference without an offensive touchdown after beating Cincinnati last week on the strength of four Kloss kicks.
“Who would have thought after we were 0-4 that we would turn it around?” said head coach Willie Taggart. I think it’s great that our guys stand for each other and play together, that’s what you want to see.”
Kloss’ 44-yard field goal with just over 4 minutes left capped a more than 7 minute fourth-quarter drive, and was the game winner, the first of his career. He has converted on nine consecutive attempts, including a 47-yarder in the first half.
“It was a battle out there for both defenses,” Kloss said. “Before the game a couple of coaches and players came up to me and said it might come down to a kick.”
Lyle McCombs had a career-high 164 yards rushing and a touchdown for Connecticut, which has lost five straight games to open a season for the first time since 1977.
The loss spoiled the debuts of freshman quarterback Tim Boyle, who went 15 of 43 for 149 yards, and interim coach T.J. Weist, who took over the UConn program two weeks ago when Paul Pasqualoni was fired.
“There’s no right answer,” Weist said. “There’s no reinventing anything. We have to play better.”
The Bulls were playing without injured quarterback Steve Bench and starting running back Marcus Shaw, who had been averaging more than 110 yards a game rushing before suffering a leg injury a week ago. They won despite being outgained 356-228.
The Bulls winning drive went 65 yards in 13 plays. USF just missed out on a touchdown when Steven Bravo-Brown got his hands on a 26-yard pass, but dropped the ball in the end zone.
Taggart said Kloss winked at him before going out on the field and said, “I got this coach.”
“I love Marvin. I love Marvin. I’ve loved Marvin from day one when I got the job,” he said. “We have a kicker that kick it in the end zone or kick long field goals. Knowing we’re going to struggle offensively, you’ve got to have somebody there.”
UConn, which was held scoreless in the second half, got the ball back twice more. They drove to midfield with 6 seconds left, but a Hail Mary on the game’s final play fell incomplete in the end zone. The Huskies would have at least one more play, but poor clock management allowed at least 10 seconds to run off the clock before they called their final timeout.
Darius Tice ran for 69 yards and Willie Davis added 38 filling in for the injured Shaw. Senior quarterback Bobby Eveld completed 8 of 28 passes for 106 yards.
Boyle, who turned 19 last week, got off to a slow first start for the Huskies. He hit his initial throw, a 10-yard completion to wide receiver Geremy Davis, then missed his next seven, including two that would have been touchdowns, but went off the arms of his receivers.
An interception by UConn cornerback Byron Jones at the USF 29, set up a 32-yard field goal from Chad Christen that opened the scoring.
USF’s defense then got its third touchdown in three weeks. Ryne Giddins knocked the ball away from Boyle, and Lynch picked up the loose ball and rumbled 44-yards to make it 7-3 late in the first quarter.
“That’s how we practice,” Lynch said. “We practice for turnovers. We play for turnovers. If the opportunity presents itself, we’re going to take full advantage of it.”
It took the Huskies just four plays to retake the lead as McCombs weaved his way for a 52-yard touchdown run, his longest run of the season and longest since 2011.
The junior’s previous rushing high this season had been 76 yards. He had 135 in the first half of this one.
Kloss, who hit four field goals last week, capped a six-play second quarter drive to score 10-10. The junior has five field goals of 47 yards or more on the year, a new school record.
Connecticut had a chance to take the lead in the third quarter, but Mike McFarland blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt, the second week in a row that he has blocked a kick.
Connecticut’s running game came in averaging less than 46 yards a game, but had 207 on Saturday.
But neither team could move the ball, especially in the second half. They combined for 16 punts during the game.
The win gives the Bulls their first 2-0 conference start since 2003, when the program was in Conference USA.
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