The start of the second half of the football season for the UConn Huskies proved to be similar to much of the first half of the season. UConn was too inconsistent to be successful in a 42-27 loss to South Florida on Saturday night.
It began in the first two series of the game. The Huskies took the opening kickoff and moved the ball to the Bulls 10 yard line when the drive stalled and they had to settle for a Bobby Puyol field goal. It was a game where UConn needed touchdowns, not field goals. Then it took USF only two plays to go 75 yards to score, a 21 yard run by Marlon Mack and an electric 54 yard td run by Quinton Flowers who torched the Huskies for 370 yards of total offense and five touchdowns.
The offense managed only two first downs in their final six possessions of the first half and went 3 & out on four straight possessions. Bryant Shirreffs was under duress much of the time trying to pass. The South Florida blitz made his life miserable. It’s hard to understand why UConn had so many problems picking up the blitz but that was the case all night long. The loss of Tommy Hopkins on the second UConn possession of the night hurt but one man shouldn’t make that much of a difference.
The Huskies had their best sequence of the season in less than two minutes to start the second half. It included the defense coming up with two turnovers (both by Obi Melifonwu) and two touchdowns (both by Arkeel Newsome) to turn a 14-3 deficit into a 17-14 lead. But the Bulls, led by Flowers and Mack, regained the lead with 5:30 to go in the quarter and never looked back.
The defense struggled again, giving up 529 yards, including 316 on the ground. Flowers and Mack were as good as advertised. I don’t think Flowers is Greg Ward Jr. but he isn’t far behind. He made the UConn defense miss more tackles than they have all season, Mack ran for over 100 yards against UConn for the third straight year.
Offensively, Noel Thomas was superb again with his 4th straight game of over 100 yards receiving, pulling down 12 passes. If he’s not a first team All AAC receiver, something is wrong. Newsome continued to produce when given the chance, running for 72 yards and catching 3 passes for 90 yards including the 70 yard td. And Shirreffs threw for a season high 306 yards in the face of that bruising USF pass rush. No one can ever question Bryant’s toughness. But he can’t continue to face that kind of pressure the rest of the way or he’s not going to survive.
USF had five sacks (everyone thinks it was more) and 9 tackles for loss. That’s 14 times UConn got negative yardage on offense. Against that good of a team, that’s not acceptable. The offensive line has to play better for this team to be successful. And the defense can’t have another game of missed tackled and explosive plays like they did Saturday night.
Despite the setback, UConn can still achieve two big goals, an over 500 season and a berth in a bowl for a second straight year. They should be favored in four of their final five games, starting with UCF on Saturday in East Hartford. But the time is now for the Huskies to produce.