Football: Huskies’ passing shines, defense struggles in loss at SMU

SMU defensive lineman Tyeson Neals (13) defensive tackle J.T. Williams (95) linebacker Anthony Rhone (48) and defensive back Rodney Clemons (8) tackle Connecticut running back Nate Hopkins (11) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Dallas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Another outstanding offensive performance from the UConn Huskies football team ended in a 49-28 defeat at the hands of the SMU Mustangs after the defense allowed three fourth quarter touchdowns Saturday afternoon in Dallas, Texas.

In what was a closer game than the final score suggested, UConn made a good effort to stick with an impressive SMU team through three quarters and change. In fact, the Huskies tied the game just seconds into the fourth quarter on a 59-yard passing touchdown from quarterback Bryant Shirreffs to wide receiver Keyion Dixon, followed by a two-point conversion.

However, the remainder of the game was a mess for UConn. The following three drives ended in a critical blocked punt, a turnover on downs and a fumble while the Mustangs (4-1, 1-0 the American) scored three consecutive times on quick drives with an impressive balance of running and passing.

It didn’t help the Huskies that their defense struggled mightily for the third game in a row. UConn has allowed 128 points and 1,720 total yards–1,161 yards in the air–over the last three games. The secondary, led by senior cornerback Jamar Summers, has had difficulty containing any talented receivers they may face.

NFL Draft first-round prospect Courtland Sutton caught seven passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns while slot receiver Trey Quinn was a catch magnet, gathering 15 receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns, as well. Although quarterback Ben Hicks threw for a relatively average 280 yards, his ability to find his receivers in key moments of the game really opened up the rest of SMU’s offense.

Additionally, the deficiencies of the UConn secondary meant that the front seven would be exposed when the Mustangs mixed in the running game. SMU’s three-headed running back committee of Braeden West, Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman gained 72 yards, 72 yards and 68 yards, respectively.

The Huskies (1-3, 0-2 the American) had a stellar passing attack for the second week in a row, with Shirreffs throwing for 408 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon. The lone bright spot of the afternoon, Shirreffs and his primary receivers Aaron McLean and Dixon excelled to keep UConn in the game for quite some time, the offensive line and running game struggled to keep the team in the game when it mattered.

UConn’s offensive line allowed the pocket to collapse time and time again, giving up eight sacks, while Nate Hopkins led the Huskies’ mediocre rushing attack with just 30 yards gained Saturday. The lack of balance on offense may have cost UConn in the fourth quarter when the pocket began to crumble under the SMU pass rush, giving the Mustangs the chance to pull away and seal the game.

The Huskies will look to save their season in a matchup with an impressive Memphis team under the lights next Friday night.


Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishanna.