It was never going to be an easy task for the UConn Huskies football team to go on the road and beat the undefeated No. 18 UCF Knights. Still, the Huskies put forth a stellar effort despite some key errors in a 49-24 loss to the Knights Saturday afternoon at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
UConn (3-7, 2-5 the American) hung around in this game probably much longer than UCF (9-0, 6-0 the American) would have liked, and had several opportunities in the third quarter to bring their early deficit to within a score. Quarterback David Pindell, filling in for the concussed Bryant Shirreffs, kept the Huskies’ offense running like a well-oiled machine at times, as if it was a seamless transition between quarterbacks.
However, UConn had several errors in key moments of the game that cost them a chance at keeping themselves within reach. The first of those mistakes came on the very first possession of the game, after stopping UCF on third down in their own territory. With the Knights about to punt, a silly offsides penalty by not one, but two members of the Huskies’ special teams unit gave UCF a fresh set of downs.
That fresh set of downs was all the Knights needed to get their offense flowing, as quarterback McKenzie Milton methodically tore apart the Huskies’ defense before running back Otis Anderson rushed the ball in from the three-yard line for the opening score.
UConn’s next big mistake was on their next possession, in which they failed to convert for a touchdown on three consecutive plays from within UCF’s five-yard line. After getting stuffed one yard short of the endzone, the Huskies settled for the three points on a short field goal from Michael Tarbutt with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The rest of the quarter wasn’t pretty. Milton and the Knights really showed off why they came into the game as the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation, averaging over 49 points per game. Over the last five minutes of the quarter, UCF managed to drive 75 yards down the field in about two minutes and 23 seconds before Adrian Killins, Jr. rushed it in for another touchdown.
Then, on the very first play of the Huskies’ next drive, poor execution on a lateral pitch from quarterback David Pindell to Kevin Mensah resulted in a fumble that the Knights pounced on immediately. The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but was later overturned, correctly, giving UCF a short field. They took advantage of their field position, too, as Milton found Marlon Williams, who scampered in from six yards to make it 21-3 before the second quarter.
The Huskies made a run at the Knights in the third quarter after scoring quickly on the opening drive to make it 28-17. Their defense was quite impressive in the third frame, as well, shutting out UCF for the quarter, while forcing a fumble in the process. Again however, UConn just couldn’t capitalize on the (rare) successes of their defense, failing to convert on fourth-and-short twice. The Huskies’ running backs were stuffed on both occasions.
After UConn failed to keep the game in reach for the second time, the Knights’ offense erupted back into life as Anderson bolted for a 65-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Two more touchdowns would follow and a relatively close game quickly became a blowout. The Huskies did tack on a consolation score late, but it was all for naught.
UConn, now mathematically out of bowl game contention, will take the short trip up to Boston next week to take on New England rivals Boston College in a Gridiron Series matchup Saturday night under the bright lights of the legendary Fenway Park.