As noisy and excited as the UConn locker room was a week ago after the win over Virginia, it was equally quiet and deflated this past Saturday after the 31-24 loss to Syracuse. This was a game that the Huskies should have won, could have won but let slip through their hands.
It started out like it would be a long afternoon. It took Syracuse nine plays and 4 minutes 12 seconds to take a 14-0 lead. Eric Dungey carved up the Connecticut defense with Amba Etta-Tawo catching touchdown passes of 57 and 30 yards. In the first two series, the Maryland transfer caught five passes for 118 yards, the start of a day that would see him catch 12 passes for 270 yards. Yes, Etta-Tawo had a terrific day against Jamar Summers. But to put all the blame on Summers would be unfair. UConn didn’t mount much of a pass rush, affording Dungey the chance to find all of his targets.
And even though UConn did better defensively better after the first two drives, they did allow Syracuse to drive 44 yards in 34 seconds to kick a field goal to take a 17-14 lead at the half. And for the fourth time this season, the defense allowed a team to drive 90 + yards on them, with the 99 yard game clinching drive that made it 31-17 proving to be the final blow.
The offense had its moments. The two second quarter touchdown drives were proof that the Huskies can move the ball. Bryant Shirreffs found seven different receivers. Noel Thomas continued to make his case as the best receiver in the AAC with 14 catches for 111 yards. Why he wasn’t targeted after the first play of the fateful drive that ends with the Huskies failing to score after first and goal at the eight was surprising. The Huskies executed the part of their game plan to control the clock, owning the football for 38:29. The tight ends caught eight balls so we can’t complain about that this week. Bob Diaco again showed his willingness to reach into his bag of tricks with the fake field goal from Tyler Davis to Tommy Myers to set the Huskies up at the eight.
But that’s when things went south again. Three Ron Johnson runs got the ball to the two. Trying the same play three times seems stubborn to me, but that’s me. Then, we all called for a rollout on the fateful last play at Navy so no one can talk about the play call. But Shirreffs didn’t execute the play and his ill fated drive from the four yard line never stood a chance. Still, if the defense could have made a stand….
There has to be concern about the play of the secondary which gave up 407 yards passing. Receivers have found plenty of open space to get open and the lack of pressure on the quarterbacks hasn’t helped. Things won’t get easier over the next three games against Houston, Cincinnati and South Florida.
The second portion of the schedule is much tougher. The Huskies need to step up their game or this season of great expectations may not measure up to those expectations.