BOSTON – The UConn Huskies football team ran out of the Fenway Park dugout Saturday night looking like a team on a mission, fired up and ready to enter battle with their New England archrival in Boston College.
By the time this one was over, the Huskies (3-8, 2-5 the American) were crawling back to the dugout at a snail’s pace with heads in hands, adding yet another morale-crushing defeat to their season record, losing to the Eagles (6-5, 3-4 ACC) by a score of 39-16.
“Well, that didn’t go as planned,” UConn head coach Randy Edsall said after the game. “Some of the things that have occurred all year showed up again tonight.”
Kicker Michael Tarbutt nailed a career-long 50-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead on the Huskies’ first drive, as UConn came out of the gate fast. The Huskies earned 168 yards in their first four possessions, but failed to score on the three possessions after Tarbutt’s made field goal. Later, a bad hold caused Tarbutt to miskick a 33-yard field goal resulting in a block.
From that point on, the game was all Boston College. UConn’s offense came to a complete halt, gaining just seven yards on its next three possessions. The defensive side wasn’t much better, as the Eagles started running the ball down the Huskies’ throats with a duo of talented running backs in freshman AJ Dillon and junior Jon Hilliman.
“I think it’s those explosive plays. That’s something that we really need to work on,” UConn defensive lineman Luke Carrezola said. “’Cause we’ll play good for 65 plays, but there’s 73 plays in the game or something like that. And those other plays, we just give up way too much yardage. We have to do a better job and I need to do a better job.”
Dillon, a product of New London, Connecticut, ran roughshod all over the Huskies’ defense. The freshman made one Beast Mode-esque 53-yard rush in which he threw one defender to the ground and carried as many as six other UConn defenders into the endzone with him, giving the Eagles a 14-3 lead late in the first half.
“(Dillon) is someone that you have to know how to bring down, you have to go low on him,” Carrezola said. “I think he runs pretty high, but he likes that stiff arm that he’s pretty much known for now. And he’s a good player, he’s a young player…but we didn’t do our best job against that team and we needed to do our best job in order to win the game.”
The Huskies’ poor tackling didn’t help, but Dillon’s ability to break through tackles only made it harder for UConn to stop the BC offense as the game wore on. The explosive freshman, who was recruited by the likes of Michigan and Alabama, trampled the Huskies play after play Saturday night, finishing with 200 yards and two touchdowns on just 24 carries. And he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter.
“As long as you keep establishing that you’re there trying to fight, eventually things are gonna start to open up (as a runner). You just have to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented,” Dillon said when asked about his ability to wear down the defense over the course of a game.
Offensively, UConn quarterback David Pindell flashed moments of brilliance last week against UCF and he did so again in the first quarter Saturday against the Eagles. But, unfortunately for him and the Huskies, in the last three quarters against BC, he looked much more like the quarterback who needed to be benched against FCS Holy Cross in the season opener.
“What they did (in the last three quarters) is they took David away,” Edsall said. “They put a guy out there (to spy) and didn’t let him run the ball. And then what happened is they forced us to hand the ball off and we didn’t get a whole lot of movement.”
Pindell throwing a pick-six midway through the third quarter was the nail in the coffin for the Huskies and their hopes of making a comeback. Ultimately, the junior college transfer finished with 241 yards through the air on 14-33 passing and had three INTs, with just one touchdown. The UConn quarterback also scrambled for 47 yards on 17 attempts.
The Huskies did manage to earn some consolation points late in the game as running back Kevin Mensah rushed for a career-long 70-yard touchdown with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Just two minutes later, Pindell found wide receiver Hergy Mayala for a 42-yard score to make it 39-16 Huskies after the failed two-point conversion.
The Eagles’ win makes them bowl-eligible for the season, while the Huskies will conclude their regular season next week in a game on the road at 3-8 Cincinnati. Officially ineligible for a bowl as of last week, UConn’s rebuild will have to continue next season.