Football: UConn drops old-fashioned Dallas shootout to SMU

UConn’s Kevin Mensah tries to escape a pack of SMU Mustangs on Nov. 10, 2018. (Charlotte Lao/ The Daily Campus)

With about seven minutes left in the third quarter of UConn’s 62-50 loss to SMU on Saturday, quarterback David Pindell threw a great pass to receiver Kyle Buss for a touchdown over the middle to put the Huskies within two scores

But nobody in the upper decks was paying attention.

A fight had broken out in parking lot outside: A young lady in a purple vest leaned against a cop car as about two dozen police rushed to the scene to control the situation. They handcuffed a man lying unconscious on the ground and were working to accost his fleeing attacker as the higher-up parts of the stadium looked on.

Directly preceding this, Pindell and company had labored for a 3:50, 81-yard touchdown drive. Then SMU got it all back in 30 seconds courtesy of a 52-yard run by SMU running back Xavier Jones.

The same thing happened to start the fourth quarter. Pindell threw a touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Davis to cap a masterful 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and SMU went back up three scores via a 43-yard rush on the very next play.

The extracurricular activities in the parking lot were more enthralling than the display of football competence on the field because despite UConn’s season-best 580-yard offensive performance, it didn’t matter. The defense made the same old mistakes it had all year, rendering the offensive outburst meaningless.

“Defensively it’s the same thing, we got one guy breaking down and it’s a big play," UConn head coach Randy Edsall said. "That’s kind of been the story of the year for us.”

UConn’s offense wasn’t perfect, failing to figure out SMU’s trickier-than-usual front seven and speedy safeties in the first half, but they played much better in the second after a spirited talking-to by Edsall, according to UConn players.

UConn scored five touchdowns in five possessions to open up the period, but SMU ended up with more points in the margins, holding serve just enough to come out on top.

With its latest loss, UConn dropped to 1-9 in 2018, 0-6 in conference play in a season that is rapidly beginning to waste some very impressive individual performances on offense.

Pindell had the one of the best Sisyphean efforts of his career at UConn on Saturday. The senior completed 25 of 38 passes for 215 yards and four touchdowns, adding 181 yards and a pair of scores on the ground. That got Pindell up to 1,118 yards rushing on the season, the most for a quarterback and good for ninth overall in the country. He is the Huskies’ first 1000-yard rusher since Lyle McCombs in 2011.

“[Pindell’s] a competitor, he loves to play the game, loves football,” Edsall said. “He’s giving everything he has and being very productive doing it.”

The ever-humble Pindell has given credit all year to his offensive line and offensive coordinator John Dunn and that didn’t stop on Saturday.

“Coach Dunn just puts a great game plan each week, so as long as everyone follows what they’re supposed to each week, it opens up holes for me and the running back,” Pindell said. “So as long as everybody stays true to their reads.”

Kevin Mensah had a great day running the ball with 184 yards on 6.6 yards per carry, hitting huge holes opened up by the offensive line, but it could have been much more. On a few occasions the sophomore had a good hole and was about to break loose for six but was either tripped up or chased down, as SMU defensive backs used their tremendous speed to reign in the back.

"Plays like that I wish I could have back but I just go on to the next play, and I just execute," Mensah said. "I know if I go through the regression and everything that I'm gonna end up breaking one."

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee made the move from UConn to SMU in the offseason, and he pulled out all the stops against his former team. SMU’s third touchdown of the day came on a reverse to receiver Tyler Page, who passed it to tight end Ryan Becker. Their fourth then came on a flea flicker pass to Proche, who made an incredible one-handed grab to set up the score.

Not to be outdone, John Dunn pulled out some tricks of his own. UConn ran a flea flicker of their own (which went for a minimal game), as well as three swinging gate plays, one of which went for Pindell’s first touchdown of the day.

“We knew running it the first time they were gonna be surprised and not know how to line up, so we took our first read and took it to the house,” Pindell said.

Only they knew it at game time, but a lot of the extra effort seen from UConn came from the return to the sideline of Eli Thomas, who was hospitalized with a stroke before practice three weeks ago.

Thomas surprised the elated squad at their team dinner on Friday night, UConn players said, providing them with a needed boost on gameday.

"It was emotional just to see him out there with us and just to see him involved, it was like he never left," Mensah said.

The Huskies will return to action next Saturday, still searching for their first FBS win in Greenville, North Carolina against ECU.


Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at luke.swanson@uconn.edu.