EAST HARTFORD – The UConn football team had its offense rolling yet again this week in a matchup with the Memphis Tigers. Or, at least it did for the first half. Unfortunately, a great offensive performance in the first half would not be enough for the UConn Huskies against Memphis in this American Athletic Conference matchup.
The real story of the game and of the season for the Huskies is their leaky defense, which was completely outmatched in the second half by an impressive Memphis offense in a record-breaking 70-31 defeat Friday night at Rentschler Field.
Memphis (4-1, 1-1 the American) finished the game with 711 total yards, including 480 passing yards. Quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for seven touchdowns and wide receiver Anthony Miller earned 15 receptions, 224 yards and four touchdowns alone, almost doubling his season totals in each category.
The Huskies (1-4, 0-3 the American) continued their experiment with a 3-3-5 scheme under defensive coordinator Billy Crocker. But the scheme left the secondary exposed against Memphis, for what feels like the umpteenth time this season. Still the defense had never been as exposed as it was under the lights Friday night.
"I got to answer this the right way because if I don't I know I'll get crucified," UConn head coach Randy Edsall said. "We decided to come in here and install a defense that we think is going to be good for us as we put this program together. The defense we inherited is not built for this defense… We don't have the personnel to play this. We don't have the personnel to play a 4-3.”
UConn’s defense broke a 98-year school record for the most points allowed in a game, giving up 70 to the Tigers, one more point than the Holy Cross Crusaders’ 69 in 1919. The Tigers came up just short of the 732 total yards that would’ve eclipsed the Huskies’ record for yards allowed in a single game. It was a true beatdown. The word ‘embarrassing’ was echoed by players and coaches alike after the game.
"On national TV, there's no way in life should a team ever put 70 points on you,” UConn linebacker Vontae Diggs said. “Just thinking about that makes me sick to my stomach.
“I’m very embarrassed. I can’t stress that word enough, it’s just an embarrassment.”
Still, the Huskies got off to an electric start in this one, taking just 1:16 off the clock before storming into the lead. After two quick plays, senior running back Arkeel Newsome took off for a 64-yard rush for a touchdown on just the third play of the game. Newsome’s touchdown was UConn’s first on an opening drive in 19 games.
Memphis would answer with a relatively quick drive of their own, scoring on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Ferguson to receiver Sean Dykes, who diced his way through the Huskies’ secondary and into the end zone to tie the game at seven apiece.
Later in the drive, UConn went for another fourth-and-short on the Tigers’ five-yard line and converted with a one-yard rush from Nate Hopkins. Two plays later, Hopkins punched the ball into the end zone, giving the Huskies a 14-7 lead heading into the second quarter.
Memphis then scored on back-to-back drives with fade routes to Miller giving them a 21-14 lead. Yet again. UConn’s offense bounced back as quickly as ever with a few big plays culminating in a 30-yard touchdown to tight end Alec Bloom making it 21-21 with 7:13 left in the first half.
Miller caught his third touchdown – a 40-yard post route – of the second quarter alone with just 1:47 remaining to give the Tigers a 28-21 lead. But Memphis’ first half would not end there.
After a quick fumble by UConn running back Kevin Mensah, the Tigers quickly put the ball back in the end zone to extend the lead to 35-21 just before halftime. Or so they thought. Another quick drive by the Huskies’ in the up-tempo Rhett Lashlee offense set up kicker Michael Tarbutt for 37-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 35-24 to end scoring for the half.
From the second half on, however, the game was all Memphis. The Huskies managed to score one more consolation touchdown on a 13-yard Newsome run, but the Tigers put up an additional 35 points on the back of Ferguson and company in a true display of dominance on offense. A display that may have inflicted the most embarrassing defeat on UConn in the program’s history, and that’s saying something.
"Hopefully we can be better…the next time out,” Edsall said. “That was embarrassing in the second half. Embarrassing.”
Offensively, the potent Huskies were almost completely nullified after the break. They would’ve needed a miracle to keep up with Memphis anyway, but it didn’t help that the offense was shut down.
“I would agree with [Coach Edsall],” Shirreffs said. “It is embarrassing. We let ourselves down and then we let our fans down as well.
“I think it was lack of execution, and I take a lot of responsibility for some of those plays.”
Next up, UConn goes on the road to face off with the Temple Owls on Saturday, Oct. 14 at noon. It’ll be difficult to do much worse than they did this Friday night.