On a crisp and sunny autumn afternoon, UConn football treated their fans to a competitive football game for Homecoming Weekend. Unfortunately for Husky fans, their guys fell just short to their conference rivals from the University of Houston, 24-17.
“I’m proud of our kids because they battled their tails off and they competed for 60 minutes. They’ve competed before, but we actually battled and played and were able to stay in it so we never lost,” head coach Randy Edsall said. “We didn’t get a win, but at least we gave ourselves an opportunity to do that today when we haven’t before.”
If you’ve been following UConn (1-6) football up to this point, there haven’t been very many close games. After starting the season with a three-point win over FCS school Wagner and an eight-point loss to Illinois, the Huskies endured four straight four-possession losses. Then Houston (3-4) gave UConn their first close game since Sept. 7.
“We’re a work in progress and it isn’t going to happen overnight,” Edsall said.
Player development is more important to the Huskies going forward than their win-loss record, but I’m sure that everyone on the team is sick of losing. After the game, players knew encouraging things had happened out on the field for them, but it’s hard to feel good after a tight loss.
“We played fairly well, but at the end of the day we still lost, and that’s the frustrating part,” freshman receiver Cam Ross said. “We came so close, only lost by one score and didn’t get blown out or anything but we still lost, and that’s hard.”
Ross led UConn’s receivers with nine catches for 75 yards. Fellow freshman receiver Matt Drayton caught a 17-yard touchdown, and receiving back Art Thompkins had seven catches for 54 yards and a score for the Huskies’ air attack.
Quarterback Jack Zergiotis was especially critical of his play following the loss. Kevin Mensah and Thompkins got the running game going (combined 28 carries for 139 yards), and his offensive line gave him a pretty clean pocket all game (zero sacks for Houston’s defense), but Zergiotis missed quite a few open guys deep throughout the game.
There were a few plays that stood out as missed opportunities. Jay Rose, Ardell Brown and Ross all had at least one play each where they got wide open downfield for presumable touchdowns, but Zergiotis’ throws were just a yard or two too long.
“I can’t miss those throws downfield. I can’t miss them, and I think that made a difference today. It would have been a different game,” Zergiotis said.
Regardless of the deep misses, Zergiotis went 27-44 for 270 yards and threw two touchdowns with one interception. He also added three rushes for 29 yards. The true freshman also displayed smart pocket presence, moving around and avoiding sacks by getting the ball out early often.
“[Zergiotis] competed and he battled and made some really great throws out there too. The more he plays, the better he’ll get,” Edsall said.
For Zergiotis to take the next step in his development, he has to take advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves.
“I’ve got to get the ball to my guys and I couldn’t do it today. I think there were at least five opportunities downfield where I had guys open and I overthrew them,” Zergiotis said. “I have to get better moving on to next week, no doubt.”
Edsall echoed that missed opportunities were a theme in this game.
“When you get opportunities, you have to take advantage of those opportunities. We just didn’t do that today,” Edsall said.
UConn had the ball down by seven on Houston’s four-yard line for a first and goal with around 2:00 left to play in the third. With four downs, the Huskies were only able to advance the ball to Houston’s two for a deflating turnover on downs.
Still down by seven with just around nine minutes left to play, Edsall elected to kick a field goal on Houston’s 22-yard line on fourth and six. The 40-yard attempt ultimately sailed wide right, taking all of the air out of UConn’s sails.
Though the game will go in the loss column, the Huskies took the field with pride and played just about as well as they had all season. Despite the outcome, there are actually a lot of good things to take away from this one.
“We’re proud of the guys’ effort. We gave ourselves a chance to win, but just didn’t do enough in terms of executing and trusting our fundamentals and technique,” Edsall said.
Here are a couple of positives. UConn outgained Houston on offense 438 to 284, and ran 75 plays to Houston’s 53. They dominated time of possession on offense and got off the field on third downs on defense (Houston 3-11 on third downs).
The 17 points by Houston is the lowest scoring total that UConn’s defense has held an opponent to all season. Defensive lineman Kevon Jones, who recorded a sack in the first half and got himself comfortable in Houston’s backfield for the rest of the game, liked what he saw from his defensive unit.
“Everybody played hard and executed their assignments. I think that gave us an advantage to actually go out and get stops,” Jones said.
While Houston failed to sack Zergiotis all game, UConn was able to be disruptive in the Cougar’s backfield, totaling three sacks and five tackles for losses, with two by Jones.
UConn will take the silver linings from this game and move on to a productive week of practice to prepare for their next challenge: UMass. Connecticut will play their neighbors to the north on the road this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @seanjanos.