UConn football may be preaching a new attitude and a new atmosphere under first year head coach, Bob Diaco, but, it was still a couple of old nemesis’ that spoiled the debut of the new and improved Huskies in their season opening loss to visiting BYU Friday at ‘The Rent’ in East Hartford. Two costly turnovers and a disappearing defense on a key Cougar scoring drive just before the half were the main culprits in UConn’s 35-10 loss before an announced crowd of just over 35,000 on what was otherwise a perfect late summer evening for football.
Whatever good feelings there were for UConn going into the game quickly dissolved as the high powered Cougars, behind quarterbacking sensation Taysom Hill (97 rushing yds with 2 TD’s, 308 passing yds with 3TD’s), took the opening kick and marched 75 yards, with Hill capping the drive on a seven yard run.
“That was big for us”, said Hill, “As an offense, our mark this season is to score 24 points a game. We try to simplify (it) by each half. And to score on that first drive gave us a ton of momentum.”
Hill factored into all five BYU (1-0) scores.
UConn (0-1) answered with costly turnover number one. Max DeLorenzo (9 carries, 38 yds, Fumble), given the top starting job after the off season departure of troubled running back Lyle McCombs, took the hand-off on UConn’s first play from scrimmage and fumbled giving the Cougars the ball on the UConn 26. Hill wasted no time hitting Mitch Mathews on a crossing route on BYU’s first play, staking the Cougars to a 14-0 lead with just five and a half minutes gone in the game. The new look Huskies seemed to look a lot like the old look Huskies.
Enter costly turnover number two. A penalty on the ensuing BYU kick off gave UConn great starting position on their own 39. Sophomore Casey Cochran, named the starting quarterback two weeks ago over senior Chandler Whitmer, moved UConn’s offense down to the Cougar 26 on four plays. Just as it looked like Cochran would make Diaco look like a genius, a throw under pressure ended up in the hands of Cougar DB, Craig Bills, at the BYU 10.
Diaco addressed the offensive woes, “It speaks to the things that cause losing. And that’s what we are talking about and working on. That’s where we need to go and we aren’t there yet.”
After a pair of punts by both squads BYU struck again in the second quarter. A UConn punt gave the Cougars the ball on the Huskies 46. Five plays later Hill connected with a seven yard strike to Adam Hine pushing the lead out to 21-0 with just over nine minutes left in the second.
Same old, same old
After another UConn punt, BYU fumbled on their next possession giving UConn the ball on their own 48. With Whitmer (8-17, 113 yds) under center UConn finally got on the board, as running back Josh Marriner (9 carries, 27 yds, TD) finished a six play drive with a one yard plunge with just over two and half minutes left in the half. With the scoring drive there was a feel that the Huskies had finally stabilized the game and would go into the half only down by two touchdowns, starting the third with the ball.
Instead the second nemesis reared its ugly head as the defense pulled critical a disappearing act, allowing Hill to move the Cougars with ease 69 yards on five plays in a minute and a half. Hill connected on all four pass attempts of the drive including a 35 yard touchdown dagger to Terenn Houk, sending the Huskies reeling and into the half down 28-7.
It was hardly a clean half for either team as the squads combined for 16 penalties totaling 160 yards.
UConn opened the second with Cochran back under center starting on their own 19. Cochran moved the Huskies down to the Cougar seventeen with a first down, before Whitmer came in to take the snaps. Three plays later the Huskies were staring at a fourth and sixteen at the BYU 23. Instead of chancing a 40 yard attempt, a fake field goal run by Blake Feagles failed miserably giving BYU the ball back on its own 17.
That seemed to be UConn’s last gasp as the teams played to a stalemate in the second half with UConn finishing it’s scoring on a Bobby Puyol 35 yard field goal in the fourth and BYU scoring later in the quarter on Hill’s second rushing touchdown of the game.
Despite the setback Diaco looked at the positive saying, “They fought hard. The deficit at the end of the first half was 21 points. And the only points of the second half was a touchdown. But they responded, battled and fought hard. From where I was standing, it looked like they were locked in and nobody gave up.” Adding, “Things are changing. I hope you saw it. This football team is getting better; it gets better every day and we got better tonight.”
Diaco insisted the outcome did not reflect the progress the team has made overall, insisting the repackaged Husky brand was still growing with great things just over the horizon.
“Our program is like an infant. We have a long way to go but we have the right guys to go there, there isn’t any doubt about that. These assistant coaches are smart guys and they love these players.”