by Joe D’Ambrosio
For the second straight year, East Carolina was a desperate football team when the Pirates faced UConn. For the second straight year, the Pirates put up 41 points a year ago. But this year, the Huskies put up a fight, falling short in a gut wrenching, heart breaking 41-38 loss before a small crowd at Pratt and Whitney Stadium.
The game was not lost on Michael Tarbutt’s missed field goal from 33 yards out on the game’s final play. That doesn’t absolve Tarbutt who must make that kind of kick if he wants to be a kicker at the FBS level. But like a golfer missing a short putt, kickers miss relatively short field goal attempts.
No, this game was lost in the first 34 minutes when the Pirates, who hadn’t scored more than 20 points in any of their first three games, put up 41. ECU scored on 7 of their first 8 possessions, putting together three drives of 75 yards and one of 65. Once again, the UConn defense was unable to get off the field… They had three third down conversions on their first two touchdown drives. Thomas Sirk looked like both Peter Pujols and Kurt Benkert who both riddled the UConn secondary. Again, the Huskies got little or no pressure on the quarterback. The Huskies had just one sack in 40 pass attempts and only three tackles for loss. Davon Grayson had his way with the Huskies defensive backs, catching 11 balls for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Offensively, other than one turnover and two three and outs, you can’t complain about the UConn offense. Bryant Shirreffs threw for a career high 406 yards. And he moved the offense from its own 9 yard line to the Pirates 15 to set up the potential game winning field goal attempt. Redshirt freshman Mason Donaldson made his debut at wide out and the first college catch he made was a 45 yard touchdown. Described as dependable by Randy Edsall during the week, Donaldson proved more than that with six catches for 106 yards. Freshman running back Kevin Mensah saw more time and gained 107 yards.
And Arkell Newsome had the best receiving day of his career with eight catches for 170 yards including a spectacular 79 yard catch and run for a td that got UConn within 41-38. Newsome’s versatility might be his greatest asset as his senior season rolls on.
Were there good signs for UConn? Yes. Were there enough to overcome the poor defensive effort? No…And now at 1-2, the Huskies face two extremely tough games Saturday at SMU and on Friday the 6th at home against Memphis. This group has had to rebound from adversity throughout their careers at UConn. How they respond to this loss will tell the tale about this 2017 season.