Inclement weather changes the game
Lightning cracked about an hour before UConn’s matchup against UMass Saturday. The heavy rainfall downpoured until the fourth quarter, the first real adversity, in terms of weather conditions, the Huskies have faced this year.
Both teams, as well as their fans (there was no announced attendance, but it was in the low thousands), had to reckon with the bad weather and change the tactics of how the game was played.
“The first three quarters the rain, it was hard to throw,” head coach Randy Edsall said. “So then you do what you have to do.”
Throughout the first three quarters, UConn and UMass combined to complete three passes in the first half, only one of them for the Huskies. UConn had the Minutemen offense well under control when the rain was pouring, holding them to under two yards per play in the first half.
It wouldn’t be until the second half, when the skies let up, that the scoring for UMass started. The Minutemen’s strength as a team has been slinging the rock, and that wouldn’t change even with their backup quarterback in the game, not with receiver Andy Isabella still on the sideline.
UMass’ best player caught huge pass after huge pass in the second half, keeping them in the game and eventually pushing them over the top. His first touch in the third quarter was a beautiful 75-yard rainbow pass that was eventually called back due to holding, but he would get it done for real a few plays later on a similar 38-yard bomb.
The Huskies, on the other hand, were running the ball seemingly at will on UMass in the first act. UConn’s offensive line was bullying around the Minutemen front seven, opening up massive holes in the mud for quarterback David Pindell, who had 126 yards rushing on the day, and Kevin Mensah, who had 85.
“Obviously we couldn’t throw the ball as much as we wanted because of the rain and how much it was muddy and muggy out there, but it didn’t stop our game plan running the ball,” Pindell said.
However, when the rain started to let up and on-field conditions improved, Edsall seemed reluctant to open up the playbook, and runs started to become less and less effective.
The last of the six passes attempted by Pindell was a wobbly one down the sideline intended for Zavier Scott but instead found the hands of UMass linebacker Moses Lee.
Edsall stated that the lack of passes called stemmed from Pindell having trouble getting a good hold of the ball. That, combined with him not gripping the ball on the laces, apparently limited his effectiveness.
The Huskies prepared all week for the cold weather weather on Sunday, practicing outside on the windy field next to Garrigus, as well as having the quarterbacks and skill position players play with wet footballs, Pindell said.
The bad weather also affected Edsall’s decision to go for it on fourth down twice in the first half in opponent territory, a 4th and 3 on the UMass 24 and a 4th and 1 at the UMass 15, neither of which were converted.
“In terms of the weather and statistics that I use, in the first half… I had confidence that our offense could make it,” Edsall said.
When you think of how wet weather could ruin a field goal kick, you usually worry about how the long snapper and holder could be tripped up by the slippery football. That’s only part of what you have to take into consideration, according to kicker Michael Tarbutt, who nailed a 41-yard field goal in the fourth, which would be UConn’s last points of the game.
“The ball is gonna be heavier, people don’t really think about that,” Tarbutt said. “As the grass gets more wet, the grass gets muddier and slippier. You have to be careful with all that momentum.”
Kevin Murphy’s memorable day
One of the five passes caught on the day by UConn players was caught by an unlikely target: Kevin Murphy, a 6-foot-1, 288 lb. redshirt junior defensive lineman, as, unsurprisingly, the first interception of his career.
UMass was knocking on the door at the UConn 29 midway through the third, when Comis dropped back to pass. Murphy was in his pass rush lane when he noticed that Comis would either have to throw the ball away or get pushed directly into him. Comis made eye contact with Murphy, pump faked and then tried to dump it off to running back Marquis Young, but instead put it directly in Murphy’s hands.
“I guess he thought he could dump it over me and he let it go, and I just tried to jump and bat it down and I tapped it to myself and caught it,” Murphy said.
After gaining possession of the ball, Murphy ran into a whole set of new challenges. The weather conditions had obviously made the ball slick, plus he had 6-foot-6 lineman Larnel Coleman hunting him down from behind.
Murphy’s journey finally came to an end on the Huskies’ 42-yard line, getting them out of a hole and setting their offense nicely for the time being.
“It was fun, [but] it was so slippery out there, immediately when I caught it I just tried to get both hands on it and get as many yards as I could to get it back to the offense so they could get some points,” Murphy said.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.