Huskies can’t hold 14-point lead, fall to favored Michigan
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 00:09
EAST HARTFORD – The opportunity was there. The finishing touch was not.
For the third time this season, the UConn football team let one slip away in the second half – this time in heartbreaking fashion as they fell 24-21 to No. 15 Michigan.
“I felt like we controlled the game for just about three-and-a-half quarters,” UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood said. “For them to just sneak away with the victory it’s very tough on us but we feel like we played a good game. We made a few mistakes and at the end it just cost us.”
Through those three-and-a-half quarters, the Huskies – along with the record-setting 42,704 in attendance at Rentschler Field – had the biggest win in program history within their sights, but a late turnover and an inability to move the ball over the final 15 minutes extinguished that hope.
With the score at 21-14 UConn and 10 minutes remaining in the game, quarterback Chandler Whitmer dropped back and fired in the direction of Geremy Davis.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the ball never found its intended target. Instead, it found the hands of Michigan linebacker Desmond Morgan.
“You know, I think when I snapped over there he did a great job of redirecting,” Whitmer said. “I tried to hold him in the middle for four steps and snap over there to that place and he grabbed it one hand and brought it down.”
One play later, Fitzgerald Touissant brought Michigan back to level terms with a 12 yard saunter to the left corner of the end zone.
Following a three-and-out by the Huskies on their ensuing drive, the Wolverines capitalized on their strong field position and worked the ball deep into the red zone.
Though UConn would hold strong and keep Touissant and Michigan’s quarterback out of the end zone, Brendan Gibbons hit a 21-yard chip shot for what would prove to be the game-winning field goal.
“It hurts,” Davis said. “You know, being so close against a Top 25 team. I feel like everybody just gave it their all and just to come up short just leaves a bad feeling in our stomach.”
Prior to the interception that sparked the Wolverines’ comeback, Whitmer had looked confident throwing the ball.
His completion percentage was relatively low – he went 16 of 32 – but went for 159 yards and two touchdowns while smartly throwing the ball away under pressure to avoid danger throughout the night.
The first of his two scores came on an 11-yard throw to tight end Spencer Parker that tied the game at 7-7 with 3:54 left in the second quarter.
Just about two minutes later, following a Michigan fumble on a punt return, Whitmer connected with running back Lyle McCombs on a seven-yard strike to give the Huskies a 14-7 lead.
That’s the way the score would stay into the locker rooms, and the lead sent the UConn faithful in attendance into a frenzy.
“The crowd’s excitement was unbelievable,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “Tonight was so much fun and such a great night for football. The fans were great, the stadium was great, the only thing that would have made it complete was the outcome.”
The decibel level would only increase out of the break when the Huskies’ Ty-Meer Brown scooped up a Devin Gardner fumble and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
Gardner lost control of the ball on a 3rd-and-1 quarterback keeper just over a minute into the second half and that allowed Brown to extend the UConn lead to 21-7.
But as the game wore on, the Huskies’ defense – which spent over 35 minutes on the field – struggled to contain the Michigan offense, especially when the Wolverines started with short fields.
Both of Michigan’s scoring drives in the fourth quarter began at or inside the UConn 40.
“I don’t think so, no,” Pasqualoni said of whether fatigue hurt the Huskies’ defense late. “I think that just – out of position just a little bit, we just let them get a little too wide on us and he made a play. [Touissant]’s a good back, good backs make plays.”
The win marked Michigan’s second such near-miss in as many weeks after a 28-24 win over Akron a week prior.
This week, however, Wolverines’ head coach Brady Hoke seemed more content with the victory, despite his frustrations.
“I thought our team did a really good job of being resilient, especially in the second half,” Hoke said. “I thought defensively, we played awfully hard and productively. We did a nice job. Offensively, obviously, we can’t give the ball away. We’ve got a major league problem and we’ve got to fix it because that’s not going to win championships.”
The win brought Michigan, which fell to No. 18 in the latest AP Ranking released Sunday, to 4-0.
Meanwhile, the Huskies fell to 0-3 despite logging easily their best effort of the season.
“We’ve got to get more,” said Davis, who finished with four catches for 52 yards. “I mean, we keep giving effort but obviously it’s not enough…I feel like we have been improving each week but you have to come to that point where improvement comes to a win.”