UConn football (1-6) gave possibly their most spirited effort of the season against No. 21 USF on Saturday night. The Bulls ultimately grabbed a 38-30 win on their home turf, handing the Huskies their sixth loss, but a win could be added into UConn’s moral victory column. Playing on a field shared by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Huskies’ turned out a first-half defensive effort that wouldn’t look out of place among football’s elite.
During the Bye Week, the Huskies learned they would be without linebacker Eli Thomas after the junior suffered a stroke prior to a team weightlifting session. In a tribute to his fellow linebacker, senior Santana Sterling wore Thomas’ No. 22 on Saturday, ensuring his presences was still felt on the field. Number 22 was still making plays as well, as Sterling intercepted USF quarterback Blake Barnett at UConn’s 42-yard line on the Bulls’ opening drive.
The Huskies offense capitalized on the short field. Running back Kevin Mensah busted open a 34-yard run that brought UConn into the red zone. The sophomore running back finished off the drive with a 10-yard run for the touchdown.
UConn’s 7-0 lead held steady for almost the entirety of the first half. UConn defense did a great job of bottling up Barnett and the USF offense. Omar Fortt, who also wore Thomas’ number in practice during the week, contributed another interception and the Huskies forced USF to punt three times in the games’ first 30 minutes.
USF finally put together an extensive drive in the final minutes of the first half. A seventy-play, 80-yard drive ended in seven points for the Bulls to make it 7-7 going into halftime.
On the other side of halftime, USF scored again. Barnett found Randall St. Felix for a 75-yard touchdown hookup. The Bulls also gave themselves some breathing room eight minutes later on a 30-yard field goal that pushed the lead to 17-7. However, quarterback David Pindell and the Huskies’ offense immediately responded with a 80-yard touchdown scoring drive of their own. It was the final time it was a one score game until late in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls scored on two touchdown runs, one by Barnett and another courtesy of running back Johnny Ford to push the lead to 31-14 at the start of the fourth quarter. With nine minutes remaining, Mensah found the end zone for the second time that night. Clayton Harris’ extra point attempt missed but the freshman kicker redeemed himself on UConn’s next drive by banging home a 38-yard field goal to make it 31-23 with just over seven minutes on the clock.
Ford once again put some distance between USF and the competition when he busted open a 43-yard run to push the Bulls’ lead to 15 with under five minutes left.
Needing two scores, Pindell kicked UConn’s offense into overdive. An impromptu eight-play two-minute drill resulted in a touchdown off a Pindell rushing attempt. However, they couldn’t force a turnover on USF’s part before the clock hit zero, ending their valiant upset attempt.
Both Pindell and Mensah racked up over 100 rushing yards for the second time this season, finishing with 197 and 120 yards respectively. The previous occurance was during UConn’s sole win against URI in September.
The Huskies are back in action against UMass for their homecoming game this Saturday, Oct. 27.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.