If UConn football suffers their most depressing and disheartening performance of the season but no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?
With rain and wind keeping the few fans that braved the conditions huddled in the concourse, UConn football delivered a performance against UMass indicative that they, too, might rather have been elsewhere than Rentschler Field on Saturday.
Despite a strong performance on the ground from quarterback David Pindell and running back Kevin Mensah, the Huskies (1-7) let a rare chance of a victory slip away against UMass (3-6) in the fourth quarter. An 81-yard, 11-play drive gave UMass their first lead with less than four minutes left in regulation and a poorly placed throw by Pindell the next drive firmly sunk the Huskies’ hopes of victory.
Despite the heartbreaking ending, head coach Randy Edsall put it plainly after the game:
“We had too many missed opportunities today that we didn’t take advantage of,” Edsall said. “Offensively, defensively and special teams. Had opportunities there and just didn’t finish the game out at the end.”
The Huskies started the game prepared for a war in the trenches. Running backs Kevin Mensah and Zavier Scott were able to spring multiple runs over 10 yards to put the Huskies in the red zone. Mensah got the scoring honors, punching it in from one-yard out on 2nd and goal.
The Minutemen also had a methodical drive their first chance with the football, driving all the way to UConn’s three-yard line. However, the Huskies defense was able to stand tall and limited UMass to just a field goal on the drive to make it 7-3.
As the rain picked up, it got increasingly difficult for both offenses to perform. Neither team could find the back of the endzone as the two teams played a tug of war with field position.
On the other side of halftime, with the swirling wind and rain dissipating. Huskies started the second half just like the first; with a touchdown. Pindell did the most of the leg work. A scramble of 22-yards from Pindell got the drive started and a 25-yard run from the senior quarterback finished it off with a touchdown it make it 14-3.
While the Huskies continued to work the ground-game, the Minuteman opened up their playbook in the less severe weather conditions. UMass quarterback Ross Comis dropped a perfectly placed ball into receiver Andy Isabella’s hands that looked like a touchdown, but was eventually called back for holding. It wouldn’t matter a few moments later, as Comis hooked up with Isabella for a 38-yard touchdown reception. Kicker Mike Caggiano’s extra point attempt failed but the damage was done: the Minutemen had made it a one-score game.
UConn’s offense went three and out on their next possession, allowing UMass the chance to take the lead with six minutes left in the third quarter. It looked like the Minutemen were going to do just that as seven plays had them knocking on the door of UConn’s redzone.
Desperate for a turnover, the Huskies’ defense received a saving grace from a 288-pound angel. Cosmis threw a ball right into the hands of Kevin Murphy for the defensive lineman’s first career interception, swinging momentum back in UConn’s favor.
“We got a really good rush from the right side. I was in my pass rush lane and I saw [Cosmis] was either going to get flushed to me or throw it,” Murphy said. “He let it go and I just tried to jump and bat it down and just tapped it to myself and caught it.”
With renewed life, but with passing options still inexplicably limited, UConn marched down the field with Pindell and Mensah alternating rushing attempts. Kicker Michael Tarbutt nailed a field goal that cut through 41 yards worth of drizzling rain to make it 17-9 with 12:27 to play.
It only took one play for the Minuteman to erase that score. Receiver Zak Simon got behind UConn’s defense and Comis hit him in stride for a 67-yard touchdown. The Minutemen’s two-point conversion was stuffed at the line, trimming UConn’s lead to two.
UConn’s ensuing drive lasted a grand total of three plays. Mensah and receiver Aaron McLean got UConn five yards, but Pindell was sacked on third down.
With over 10 minutes remaining, UMass’ following drive was calculated, methodical and a dagger to the hearts of the fans who remained in the stadium.
With the game on his shoulders, Pindell lofted a ball near UMass’ sideline, intended for Zavier Scott. The ball was underthrown and UMass defensive back Moses Lee plucked it out of the air.
With a short field in front of them, the Minutemen on the field were able to run out the clock. The players still on the sideline spent the final minutes of the game stomping their feet and dancing in a circle.
Pindell, Mensah and Scott combined for 259 rushing yards. Pindell surpassed Pete Petrillo for the most single-season rushing yards. Petrillo finished with 676 yards in 1967 while Pindell has racked up over 784 yards on the ground this season.
The Huskies threw six total passes in the game, including Pindell’s interception. After the game, Edsall told reporters that the conservative play calling was partly due to Pindell’s lack of ability to grip the football in the slick conditions.
“The first three quarters you know it’s hard to throw in the rain and David [Pindell] doesn’t have big hands,” Edsall said. “And you know, when you don’t have big hands, and he doesn’t grip the ball with the laces. So that’s one of things, he was having trouble gripping the ball.”
However, once Edsall’s press conference ended and the players entered the interview room, Pindell told a different story.
“I wouldn’t say I have a trouble gripping the ball,” Pindell said. “When it’s muddy and it’s raining you can’t really get the grip that you want on there. I’ve never had a problem really throwing in the rain. If you ask me to throw I’ll throw the ball.”
So, does UConn’s self-inflicted and mostly unseen loss make a sound? It certainly wasn’t the sound of anger; both players and coaches took a resigned tone after the game. But it sure looks like a coach and his quarterback disagreed on why they lost just minutes after an opponent had a dance party on their sideline.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.