Football: UConn falls to USF in Tampa

UConn quarterback and captain Bryant Shirreffs carries the ball down the field in the 20-9 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. The Huskies fell to the Bulls in Tampa on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

The UConn football team put an impressive offensive performance Saturday night against American Athletic Conference rival USF in Tampa, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the Bulls’ explosive playmakers. On a cloudy night in Florida, the Huskies fell 42-27.

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers rushed 16 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns in the win, while running back Marlon Mack added 107 rushing yards of his own. Flowers also threw for two touchdowns.

UConn (3-4, 1-3 The American) opened the game with one of their most impressive drives of the season. The Huskies put together a 15-play, 66-yard drive over nearly seven minutes that ended in their first first-quarter points of the season from a short Bobby Puyol field goal.

The Bulls (6-1, 3-0 The American) struck right back, scoring on a remarkable 54-yard touchdown run from Flowers in which the quarterback dodged a handful of tacklers and sprinted down the left sideline. It was the beginning of a huge day on the ground for the USF passer.

The Huskies did not enjoy similar offensive success with the remainder of their first half drives. UConn struggled to pick up first downs as the Bulls let their pass rush loose to great success. USF sacked quarterback Bryant Shirreffs five times on the night, and delivered huge hits on many other occasions.

On the other side of the ball, Flowers struggled through the air despite his success running the ball, as he missed several throws down the field. He was intercepted on the UConn goal line by cornerback Jhavon Williams, as Williams made an incredible play to wrench the ball away from the USF wide receiver with just one hand.

Flowers did punch into the end zone with a short run near the end of the first half, as USF took a 14-3 lead into the halftime break.

The Huskies came out of the break on a mission, as safety Obi Melifonwu quickly intercepted Flowers on an errant deep ball. On the next play, Shirreffs hit running back Arkeel Newsome with a perfect pass down the seam for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Newsome had a solid all-around game, rushing 15 times for 75 yards while adding that long score.

On the ensuing USF drive, linebacker E.J. Levenberry forced a fumble on a short pass leading to a recovery by Melifonwu. Three plays later, Newsome powered into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 17-14 lead.

Eventually, the USF offense kicked into high gear. After the teams traded punts following the Newsome score, Flowers led a 12-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to put the Bulls back on top. USF moved right down to the UConn goal line on their next possession, but defensive lineman Mikal Myers forced and recovered a fumble to keep them out of the end zone momentarily.

The Huskies could not move far past their goal line offensively after taking over, leading to a brief touchdown drive from the Bulls to go up 28-17.

UConn put together a strong drive to respond, including a crucial 33-yard reception by Brian Lemelle on third down, to move within one possession after another Puyol field goal.

However, USF answered right back with a lengthy drive of their own that ended with a touchdown pass on third down as Mitch Wilcox won a jump ball over Melifonwu in the end zone. That gave the Bulls a 35-20 lead with just 4:21 left on the clock, a tough deficit for the Huskies to overcome. Each team put up a touchdown in garbage time as USF secured a 42-27 victory.

UConn is back in action next Saturday when they take on UCF in the 2016 ConFLiCT rivalry game at Rentschler Field. The Huskies and Knights will kick off at 12 p.m.

Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering football and men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at He tweets @tylerskeating.