Remember all that optimism and enthusiasm UConn football fans had coming into the 2014 season? Well, that has quickly become a thing of the past. Taysom Hill, Brigham Young University’s all-everything quarterback, threw for 308 yards, including three touchdowns and no interceptions, and rushed for 97 yards, including two touchdowns, to lead BYU to a 35-10 trouncing of the UConn Huskies before 35,150 fans at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Friday night. It was the opening game for both schools, and the contest was televised nationally on ESPN.
Never mind that the Cougars were playing without a good chunk of their team. Running back Jamaal Williams, nose tackle Marques Johnson and wideout Devon Black were all suspended for the Connecticut game for unspecified “honor code violations” relating to a July 11 party in Provo. Those violations most likely included underage drinking, as the consumption of alcohol is expressly forbidden in the university’s honor code. In addition, both of BYU’s cornerbacks—Jordan Johnson and Rob Daniel—were suspended for the Connecticut game.
They were hardly missed.
UConn won the opening coin toss, and new head coach Bob Diaco opted to kick—so the Huskies could be the receiving team in the second half. That put the ball in the hands of Hill, BYU’s Heisman Trophy candidate and a prototypical run-first, throw-second quarterback with a decent arm but with amazing rushing ability.Never mind that the Cougars were playing without a good chunk of their team. Running backk Jamall That turned out to be a bad decision.
Hill proceeded to guide BYU through the Huskie defense like a hot knife through butter, leading the Cougars to a 15-play, 75-yard drive on their first possession culminating with a seven-yard touchdown jaunt by Hill himself. Freshman kicker Trevor Samson, perhaps feeling the jitters of his first college appearance, kicked a low line-drive that nearly hit the crossbars but none-the-less made it over to give BYU a 7-0 lead with 9:56 remaining in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kick-off, UConn’s Deshon Foxx took a short kick to the 12 yard line and returned it 22 yards to the UConn 34. But the Huskies’ great field position was not to be as Jazzmar Clax, a redshirt sophomore fullback playing on special teams, was called for an illegal block—a 15-yard penalty sending the Huskies back to their own 19.
That put Casey Cochran, the former New London and Masuk star who guided the Huskies to their only wins of the 2013 season in their last three games, and the Husky offense onto the field for the first time with 9:47 remaining in the first period. Then, on UConn’s first offensive play of the game, redshirt junior tailback Max DeLorenzo, the former Berlin High star, had the ball knocked out of his hands after picking up eight yards. BYU’s Bronso Kaufusi recovered, and the Cougars had it first-and-10 at the Connecticut 26.
Before the game, Diaco had listed the Huskies’ No. 1 priority as protecting the ball. Uh-oh.
On the very next play, Hill threw a little play-action at the Huskies, then found 6-6 WR Mitch Mathews in the end zone for a 26-yard score. This scoring drive lasted all of six seconds. This time Samson put the PAT safely through the uprights, and the Cougars led 14-0 with 9:35 left in the first.
Ugly? Murphy’s Law? This was more like a train wreck. The Huskies—who went into the season opener a 14-point home dog—seemed to be unravelling before our very eyes.
On the next drive, UConn was the beneficiary of yet another short kick by Samson, with the Huskies starting the drive on their own 34. They mounted a solid drive, going 35 yards on four plays before Cochran, under pressure from both sides, overthrew intended receiver Foxx and into the hands of BYU Senior DB Greg Bills to give Connecticut two turnovers in as many possessions.
What was all that about protecting the ball?
And from there it was all downhill.
After appearing to stop the Cougars on third-and-seven from the BYU 9, Connecticut committed yet another critical error—a personal foul giving the Cougars renewed life at first-and-10 at their own 33.
The Huskies finally stopped BYU—well, it was more like the Cougars stopping themselves thanks to a holding penalty followed by a personal foul call—and after a 38-yard boot by BYU punter Scott Arellano that was downed at the Connecticut 29, the Huskies took with 3:40 left in the period.
DeLorenzo came back into the game and picked up five. A five-yard pass to Foxx gave the Huskies a first-and-10 at their own 40. But then it was three-and-out for UConn. A 32-yard punt by Justin Wain was waved for a fair catch by Mitch Juergens, and the Cougars had a first down at the BYU 22. A 43-yard catch-and-run gain by Juergens was negated by a personal foul (illegal use of the hands) by Broc Stringham—his second penalty in the first quarter—sending the ball back from the UConn 35 to the BYU 11.
You want a definition of sloppy football? BYU seven penalties for 69 yards; Connecticut three penalties for 45 yards. That’s a combined 114 yards in penalties in the first quarter of the season. And that doesn’t even count Cochran’s pick. The clock seemed to be stopped more often than it was running. Yowzah.
In fact, those penalties were the only reason the Huskies remained in the game at that point. BYU ran 26 plays in the first quarter, with the Cougar offense controlling the ball for 09:36.
Chandler Whitmer, UConn’s fifth-year quarterback from Newnan, Ga., who started four games for the Huskies last year (in which UConn went 0-4), replaced Cochran to start the second period.
A three-and-out (well, not technically because the Huskies did pick up a first down thanks to a defensive holding call on BYU) was followed by a 42-yard punt by Arellano and 32-yard return by Juergens, giving Hill and the Cougars offense (the two seem to be synonymous) a 1st-and-10 on the Connecticut 46 with 10:34 remaining in the half. A 25-yard catch-and-run by Algernon Brown had the Cougars once again on the Huskies’ doorstep. (We’re taking a few liberties here. The ball was actually on the Connecticut 21 but, well, you know.)
After an incomplete, Brown picked up 14 yards, moving the ball down to the Connecticut seven yard line. On the next play, Hill found Adam Hine alone in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown. The PAT by 27 gave BYU a 21-0 lead over the Huskies with 9:13 still to play in the second period.
Finding themselves in a three-TD hole still fairly early in the game, all of a sudden UConn’s mission became not so much to win the game, but rather to keep the score in the respectable category.
Cochran came back in and finally targeted Davis, himself a fifth-year senior (funny how we never see any of them in basketball, huh?), but he juggled the ball while headed out of bounds close to midfield for the incompletion.
The Huskies picked up one first down, but then had to kick the ball away. A fumble by Mathews and a recovery by Connecticut’s Junior Joseph gave the Huskies the ball on the UConn 48 with just under five minutes remaining in the half.
If ever there was a “must-score” situation (and we’re talking touchdown here, not field goal), this was it.
Whitmer was thrown back into the fray. Now, Diaco had said that the UConn offense would have “multiple quarterbacks.” What he didn’t say was that the quarterback situation would be a game of musical chairs. Having two QBs go in and out series-by-series simply cannot be good for the timing and rhythm of the Connecticut offense.
None-the-less the Huskies picked up a quick first down on a 17-yard catch-and-run to redshirt freshman tailback Josh Marriner, advancing the ball to the BYU 35. Five plays later, Marriner took the ball into the end zone, and after the extra point by Bobby Puyol, the Huskies were in “respectable” territory, down by two touchdowns, 21-7.
BYU took the ball over at their own 31 with 2:24 remaining in the half, and Hill, an Eli Manning-esque two-minute quarterback, took the Cougars all the way down on a five-play, 59-yard touchdown drive culminating with a 35-yard catch-and-run by 6-5 junior wideout Terenn Houk. After the successful conversion, BYU took a 28-7 lead into the locker room at intermission.
And the Huskies had exited the “respectable” zone.
“That was the biggest drive of the game,” said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, referring to the Cougars’ touchdown ending the first half. “UConn did a nice job scoring a touchdown right after the turnover. But to answer right back like that negated [the Connecticut effort]. The momentum shifted right back.”
In fact, throughout the entire first half, the Cougars did a better job of stopping themselves than did the Huskies’ defense. And that did not make Mendenhall a happy camper.
“Taysom [Hill] did a great job managing the game,” continued Mendenhall. “The supporting cast around him needs to play much cleaner. That would make his job much easier.
Cochran took over the helm of the Husky offense for the first series in the second half and Cochran led the Huskies down to the red zone where he was replaced by Whitmer.
A couple sacks and minus seven yards later, in comes Bobby Puyol for a 40-yard field goal attempt. Or not. Blake Feagles, a redshirt freshman wideout and holder, took off with the ball but was pushed out of bounds far short of the first down marker.
So Connecticut got absolutely nothing out of the drive. Which was a perfect analogy of their performance in the game to that point.
The rest of the game amounted to little more than extended garbage time, and while Cochran game back into the game late (can you hear that carousel music playing?), UConn’s final drive was stopped on the five-yard line with just less than two minutes left, and that was all she wrote, as Cougars left East Hartford with a sloppy 35-10 victory.
The Huskies now prepare to get back on track when they face D1-AA opponent Stony Brook on Saturday at The Rent. Kick-off is slated for noon, and the game will be televised on SNY and broadcast on the UConn Radio Network.