EAST HARTFORD — With the way UConn moved the ball down the field on Saturday, anyone who glanced at the box score without seeing the score would have thought the Huskies dominated South Florida.
But they didn’t. UConn generated 528 yards of offense Saturday afternoon — the most they have gained since they put up 538 against Memphis in 2013 — but they couldn’t produce points.
USF had 461 yards of offense of its own (312 in the second half) and put up 21 points in the second half to defeat UConn 28-20 in front of a Homecoming crowd of 31,719 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
“Pitch the stat sheet because it’s not relevant. It’s a bizarre read,” UConn head coach Bob Diaco said after the game. “I take full responsibility. I take full accountability. It’s a sad, hard loss.”
It took three drives for USF (3-3, 1-1 the American) to find a rhythm on offense. In their first two drives, the Bulls ran six plays for a total of minus-2 yards. On its third drive, quarterback Quinton Flowers rushed for 33 yards on third down. That seemed to get the Bulls going.
USF scored on its next possession on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Flowers to Rodney Adams.
Trailing 7-3 with eight seconds left in the half, The Huskies were on the USF 20-yard line and in great position to score points going into the half. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs completed a pass to Arkeel Newsome, but Newsome went for the end zone and the clock ran out.
“We have to do a better job as a football staff having a higher level of awareness, play selection,” Diaco said of that play. “We felt like we had the right thing for the right moment. A four-second play that ended up being an eight-second play.”
The Huskies made three red zone trips in the first half, but didn’t score a touchdown. UConn (3-4, 1-2 the American) was 0-1 on fourth down and 5 for 10 on third down in the first half.
On South Florida’s second possession of the third quarter, UConn corner back Jamar Summer intercepted Flowers, putting UConn inside USF territory. On the next play, Shirreffs ran 36 yards into the end zone to put the Huskies in the lead 10-7.
USF scored on its next possession, going four plays, 73 yards in just 1:18 to regain the lead, 14-10. The Bulls got a little tricky, as running back D’Ernest Johnson threw a pass to Adams for a 29-yard touchdown.
And its next possession the Bulls went down the field quickly again, this time with Flowers scoring on a 15-yard run to cap off a three-play, 75-yard drive in 1:22 to lengthen their lead to 21-13.
As much as the Huskies were struggling on offense to score, they were still in the game. Thanks to a missed 48-yard field goal by USF kicker Emilio Nadelman, UConn was still down by eight.
UConn went inside the USF 40-yard line on the next drive, but on fourth-and-two, Shirreffs was sacked.
“We need to do a better job as a staff finding ways to be successful in critical situations,” Diaco said.
Flowers would find Adams for a 44-yard touchdown (his third of the day) on USF’s next possession to just about put the game away, 28-13.
The Huskies added a score on their next possession as Shirreffs found freshman Tyraiq Beals for a 27-yard score, but the Huskies failed to convert the onside kick and the Bulls proceeded to run the clock out.
“The plays are there, we have the players, just as a whole we got to make sure 11 guys are doing the right thing,” wide receiver Noel Thomas said. “It’s just execution overall, we all have to be on the same page. It can’t be one guy here and there.”
Shirreffs finished with 465 yards of total offense (365 passing and 100 rushing). Shirreffs is the first UConn quarterback in program history to throw for 300-plus yards and run for over 100 in a game.
Newsome finished with over 200 all-purpose yards for the second game in a row.
Flowers finished with 157 passing yards, 98 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Bulls. Marlon Mack rushed for 113 yards, moving him into a tie for second in USF program history.
UConn Wide receiver Noel Thomas had a career-high 94 receiving yards and tight end Alec Bloom had a career-high five receptions for 97 yards.
But as much as the offense flourished on Saturday moving the ball, UConn’s defense, which has been great all year, couldn’t get the stops when they needed to.
“I don’t need to watch the tape, in particular on defense, that we were not the UConn Husky defense that we are,” Diaco said. “One that has force. One that’s ready to force and keep the ball inside. One that tackles. One that doesn’t give up explosive plays. All things that happened today.”