Football: Huskies smoked in season opener

Quarterback David Pindell appeared as a lone bright spot on  a bleak Thursday loss to UCF (Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

The video board showed pleasant memories of UConn football all night: their program-defining win against Notre Dame in 2007, the school’s first bowl victory in the Motor City Bowl in 2004.

Terry Cauley, one of the closer things UConn has to a legendary historical figure, was honored before the contest, and Orlovsky was on the call for the game on ESPNU.

On a night where UConn even wore the same block C lids that brought back old memories, this game would not join those ranks.

UConn lost by a score of 56 to 17, letting up over 650 yards of total offense in a game mired by, as head coach Randy Edsall put it, “self-inflicted wounds.” The Huskies committed seven penalties for a total of 93 yards, as if the Knights needed any more help moving the ball down the field.

The Huskies did push the ball down the field well themselves, with 266 yards passing and 220 rushing yards to their name, but only put the ball in the end zone twice.

“We did move the ball, we had a lot of yards but again, the name of the game is to score. Against a team as talented as Central Florida, you have to take advantage of every opportunity they give you,” Edsall said.

UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton mirrored his first trip to Rentschler Field in 2016, completing 24 of 32 passes for 346 yards and five touchdowns while gaining 50 more yards on the ground.

“Defensively, we talked about getting turnovers, and we didn’t get any. We talked about getting off the field on third or fourth down, and you know, we didn’t do that. And we knew we had to keep the ball in front of us, and we didn’t do a good job there [either],” Edsall said.

There was plenty to be happy with on the other side of the ball, however. David Pindell had a better first game as a starter this year than last year, completing 27 of 41 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown, but he impressed more with his feet: 157 yards and one touchdown on the ground on 7.1 yards per carry.

“I think David Pindell played an outstanding game, he did a lot of good things with his feet and throwing the ball,” Edsall said.

On the first drive of the game, UConn did everything that new offensive coordinator John Dunn said they wouldn’t do prior to the season.

They ran at a breakneck pace: a 26-yard QB-keeper from David Pindell and a 14-yard chuck to Hergy Mayala put the Huskies at the UCF 36, then a stuffed run and a fumble from starting running back Donevin O’Reilly gave the ball directly to the best offense in the conference.

On UCF’s ensuing drive, they clinically picked apart the hyper-young Huskies, culminating in a spectacular touchdown catch from Gabriel Davis around defensive back Keyshawn Paul. The call was overturned (Davis was out of bounds) but it didn’t matter.

Pass interference was called on the freshman, and running back Adrian Killins wouldn’t get touched on his two-yard touchdown carry on the next play.

UConn would go three-and-out, and UCF added six more on a beautiful rainbow pass from Milton to Tre Nixon, putting the Knights up two scores, and they wouldn’t look back from there.

The Huskies finally toughened up a bit and stuffed UCF on a third down to get in one more drive just before the start of the second quarter. They got stuck behind the chains early and Pindell, who had shown flashes in the first few drives, took matters into his own hands.

He dropped back, got swarmed by UCF defenders, and somehow picked his way 12 yards for a first down. He followed it up with a pretty 8-yard pass and another 11-yard run, but UConn got stoned again.

UCF scored six next on a drive elongated by penalty, this time it was a Milton pass to receiver Tre Nixon, his first of two touchdowns on the night.

UConn put the ball in the endzone for the first time on a brilliant drive orchestrated by Pindell and Mensah, who accounted for every inch of UConn’s 75-yard touchdown drive. Pindell would finish off the drive with a five yard pass to tight end Tyler Davis.

UConn almost had a shred of momentum heading into halftime, driving into UCF territory with under a minute left, but even that was fleeting as Pindell chucked a misguided ball over the head of his target into the waiting arms of Richie Grant, a blemish on his otherwise-solid night.

The score was 28 to 10 at the half, and UCF was getting the ball back. The Knights basically gave Killins a breather for this drive, and their other star running back Otis Anderson rushed ten yards for a touchdown. 35-10.

A couple things happened in the second half after that, but they didn’t really matter. Milton threw yet another touchdown pass to Nixon. Pindell had an impressive 50-yard run down to UCF’s 12 that got negated by a Ryan Crozier holding penalty.

UConn’s second touchdown occurred in this ethereal part of the game as well. David Pindell danced effortlessly around UCF’s second-string defenders, running it in from 14 yards out for his second score of the game.

Ultimately, this loss was a disappointment for many UConn fans who expected more of the team in Edsall’s second year, but this team is still very much a work in progress, Edsall said.

“It’s a process that we’re in, and I’m anxious to look at the film because I thought some of our young guys did some good things,” Edsall said. “But if you thought that they were gonna come in here and be Man Mountain Dean, first team All-American in the first game against Central Florida, you’re kidding yourself.”