Football: UConn falls to USF, 0-5 for first time since 1978
Published: Sunday, October 13, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 13, 2013 23:10
EAST HARTFORD – For the most part, the tale of UConn’s 13-10 loss to South Florida on Saturday can be told simply in rushing numbers.
For the first 15:12, the Huskies could run the ball at will. After that, they could not and, as a result, they failed to produce any sort of offensive excitement, let alone points.
“Starting off the game, we played a lot of three down linemen,” Bulls head coach Willie Taggart said. “They were running the ball on us quite a bit and [we] put more linemen in the game, and that helped a lot. And then guys played assignment a lot better than they did in the first half.”
Those three-linemen looks left plenty of holes for the UConn running backs, particularly Lyle McCombs, to hit early on. The offensive line, back under the direction of coach Mike Foley after the firing Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone, managed to hold those gaps open as well.
That led to heaps of rushing yards early – 117 on 16 attempts in the first quarter, plus a 52-yard touchdown scamper by McCombs on the first play of the second quarter that gave the Huskies a 10-7 lead.
But beyond that point, the offensive dearth so familiar in the first four games of the season returned.
UConn rushed for -7 yards over the final 14:48 of the first half and tallied just 45 yards on the ground over the game’s final 30 minutes.
“They stayed in some cover-2 coverages that still tried to take away the pass,” interim head coach T.J. Weist said of the second half struggles, “and twisted some things up on the inside that put some pressure on the edges for us. Honestly, that’s something we haven’t handled the past few games. We didn’t run the ball as well in the second half as we would have liked.
Meanwhile, punter Cole Wagner was putting together a star performance, which is always a worrying sign. His 308 punting yards on the afternoon helped the Huskies hold onto field position, as he pinned USF inside their own 20 on six of his seven kicks.
However, that great field position – UConn started three straight drives on its own 33 or better in the second half – was wasted on a stalled offense.
And while the defense was able to hold quarterback Bobby Eveld and the rest of South Florida’s offense in check for most of the day – USF’s lone touchdown came on a defensive scoop-and-score – the lack of points left little margin for error.
Eveld, who typically splits time in the pocket with Steven Bench, was the Bulls lone quarterback Saturday due to his platoon partner’s injury, and looked uncomfortable as a result. The senior completed just five of his first 24 passes and threw an interception on USF’s first drive.
But those struggles were easily covered by a 7:27 field-goal drive late in the fourth quarter that broke a 10-10 tie.
Eveld strung completions of nine, 17 and 12 yards – including two for third-down conversions – together to move the Bulls down field. His lone misfire of the drive was a ball that hit the hands Stephen Bravo-Brown in the end zone.
But the drop was of little consequence after Marvin Kloss drilled a 44-yard field goal to give USF the lead with 4:03 remaining.
“It was the first one in my career here at USF and it felt good,” Kloss said. “I wouldn’t really count it as a game-winner because we still had some time to play but it did give us the go-ahead.”
The Huskies managed two possessions in the time remaining, but failed to come away with any real scoring chances.
The only real threat came on the final drive. Freshman quarterback Tim Boyle, in his first start for UConn, managed to kick-start a drive and provide a little hope for what remained of the Homecoming crowd.
A 3rd-and-10 completion to Sean McQuillan kept things moving and a 16-yard grab by Dhameer Bradley brought the Huskies across midfield with about 16 seconds remaining.
But both Boyle and Weist waited to call UConn’s final timeout and allowed nine seconds to run off before stopping the clock.
That left time for just one desperate shot into the end zone, which fell idly to the ground and preserved the Bulls’ win.
“I’m disappointed in my execution on the last drive of the game,” Weist said. “We were put in a position to move the ball down the field and get a field goal. I hesitated making a call and we didn’t get it in on time. That’s on me.”
Realistically, the Huskies were lucky to even have that chance, as the last-ditch drive began with Boyle surviving three near-interceptions.
While he added an extra dimension to the offense with his ability to scramble, the true freshman was sporadic with his throws throughout the afternoon. Though he was victim of a number of drops, he was also susceptible to overthrows and slightly misplaced passes that were hard for receivers to handle. Boyle finished 15 of 43 for 149 yards.
“I was just a little anxious,” Boyle said. “Obviously I’m capable of making throws but once I got the jitters out I got settled in a little bit. But you know, that’s past me now, so don’t expect that in the future.”
For the Huskies, the immediate future looks a little grim. After falling to 0-5 with the loss, UConn must now turn its attention to a road trip to 4-2 Cincinnati. The Bearcats are 3-0 at Nippert Stadium this season.
That game is scheduled for Oct. 19 at noon and can be seen on ESPNU.