UConn Squanders Chances, Hands South Florida The Win

The Hartford Courant

After all the missed opportunities and miscues, UConn still had a chance to beat South Florida.

It didn't matter. This team is better at trying to find ways to lose than it is at trying to find ways to win.

Having just dodged a game-ending bullet when an interception ended their previous drive, the Huskies were hit by another on their next possession. The drive started at the Huskies' 25 and ended with a bullet from quarterback Chandler Whitmer that was batted by South Florida's Todd Chandler off the dome of UConn center Tyler Bullock and into Elkino Watson's waiting arms. The turnover came with less than a minute to go to preserve the Bulls' 13-6 win before 36,190 at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night.

"We couldn't catch a break," Whitmer said. "It's tough when fluke things like that happen where it's just not in your favor … it's frustrating."

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni acknowledged that the Huskies are in a tough spot now in terms of the postseason and wasn't happy about a team that continuously shot itself in the foot and blew multiple scoring opportunities late. He talked about having a team faced with adversity and how was it going to respond.

"You just come back and you fight again next week and you do everything you can do to get a win," Pasqualoni said. "I mean that's all you can do, you know? That's everything you can do, and I think clearly the kids are trying to do that."

The Bulls' six-game losing streak comes to an end as they improve to 3-6, 1-4 in the Big East. UConn slips to 3-6, 0-4, and with another loss can officially kiss its postseason hopes goodbye, if not already.

The defense was solid, holding the Bulls to 283 total yards and 13 points. Not a lot more could have been asked of that bunch, although it did drop a couple of interception opportunities.

Still, their effort should have been enough to help the Huskies win.

"It is what it is," UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown said. "All we do is focus on what we can do to help our team. You know? That's the focus, and that's where our energy is. What can we do to help our team and what can do to improve."

Six points, though? This offense had little problem moving the ball against the Bulls (327 yards of total offense); scoring points in this team's problem. The Huskies are averaging a mere 8.25 points in Big East games and have been outscored 59-3 in the second halves of game since the Buffalo game in Week 5. That's the last game the Huskies won – way back on Sept. 29, a span of four straight games.

UConn has now lost four consecutive Big East conference games for the first time since 2005, a record since joining the league in 2004. Pittsburgh, probably smarting from an overtime loss to Notre Dame, comes to East Hartford on Friday night.

Whitmer (24 of 38 for 284 yards, two interceptions and four sacks) was harassed or on his back the whole night.

The offensive line? Well …

"They were bringing pressure we haven't seen before," junior tackle Kevin Friend said. "We have the right schemes out there — we just have to go one-on-one with them. We've got to win the battle. We fought hard, gave all we had. It just seemed like the ball rolled their way sometimes."

Fortunate to be down 10-6 midway through the fourth quarter, the Huskies took a shot deep, something they don't do enough, but Whitmer's pass was intercepted deep by Jon Lejiste.

The crowd cheered wildly. The Bulls were the only team in the nation that had not intercepted a pass before the Whitmer offering. A block in the back by senior tackle Jimmy Bennett and then a late hit by Friend resulted in 25 yards more on top of the return, setting up the Bulls at the UConn 36.

The Bulls got a 50-yard field goal out of it from kicker Maikon Bonani to extend their lead to 13-6 with 4 minutes, 26 seconds to play. UConn still had a chance to win the thing on its next possession, but it ended up in Watson's hands.

Gunning down to the 22 with about a minute left and a timeout, Whitmer looked to attack again, and Nick Williams [6 receptions, 48 yards] made a first-down grab.

"We were hot [under pressure to get the play off quick]," Whitmer said. "They were bringing pressure and were trying to get it out to Geremy [Davis, 7 receptions, 98 yards], and the guy just got his hands on it and it bounced right to the guy."

Pasqualoni was asked why the Huskies seemingly rushed there, with a little time and a timeout.

"I'm not sure we rushed. We had one timeout to go. We had to score. I wanted to save the timeout. I didn't want to get in a situation where you had to burn a timeout, so I wouldn't say we were rushing … I think you want to try to conserve every second you can at that point. If you're going to risk, being out of control, I agree with you, you slow it down but we were by far not out of control. We were on top of it."

The Huskies were in the midst of one of their better drives early in the fourth quarter, when at their own 38 on a second-and-1, running back Lyle McCombs (18 carries, 47 yards) never got the handle on the handoff. Tashon Whitehurst recovered.

The Bulls got three points – a 28-yard field goal by Bonani — out of the possession to take a 10-6 lead with 7:53 to go, but those points came with a price. Senior quarterback B.J. Daniels (19 of 29, 199 yards) was knocked out of the game with a leg injury after a solid run deep into UConn territory, to their 8.

The Huskies' six points came on a 50-yard field goal by junior kicker Chad Christen in the first quarter and a 37-yarder in the third.

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