A Deflating Debut As UConn Falls To BYU

UConn running back Joshua Marriner is taken down in the first quarter by BYU. (Stephen Dunn)

EAST HARTFORD --- That didn’t go so well.

BYU slammed UConn 35-10 before 35,150 in the season opener for both schools and the debut of Huskies head coach Bob Diaco at Rentschler Field Friday night.

“Everybody’s upset we didn’t win,” Diaco said. “Everybody wanted to win and everybody tried hard but we’re going to. The football team is getting better. It gets better every day. We got better tonight. It’s a better team.”

Cougars junior quarterback Taysom Hill made sure the Huskies got better to a minimum against BYU.

He had plenty to say about that and did a lot about it, too, having a hand in all five BYU touchdowns while accounting for 405 of the Cougars 513 yards of total offense including 28 first-half points.

“Looking at tonight, we weren’t as clean as we wanted to be,” Hill said. “But we did a lot of really good things, really encouraged. If we can continue to play an clean up the penalties we can be a really good football team.”

Hill, a dual threat and potential Heisman candidate threw touchdown passes of 26, 7 and 35 yards while adding rushing TDs of 7 and 26, the latter coming with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left in the game and the Huskies already down 28-10. BYU also had another 150 yards worth of penalties and managed to overcome it all on the legs and arm of Hill.

“The only points that happened in the second half was the touchdown, a disappointing touchdown nonetheless, but they responded. They battled. They fought hard, Diaco said of the players. “I don’t know what it looked like from where everybody was standing, where I was standing it looked like they were locked in, nobody gave up, everybody grinded to the bitter end, they fought hard. They were excited. They were exciteable and really worked on their games.”

Still, the Huskies were overmatched. And as much as they did grind in the second half, the game was essentially done by then, really, because it was too much to overcome particularly for the offense. BYU had 150 yards worth of penalties and overcame them all. UConn had more penalties yards (90) than rushing yards (71).

That’s tough.

UConn’s lone touchdown came on a 1-yard run by running back Josh Marriner (9x27) in the second quarter with 2:33 to go in the half but not surprisingly the Cougars answered when Hill and Terren Houk hooked up for a 35-yard catch and run for a touchdown that stretched the lead to 28-7 leading in the half. Five plays, 69 yards, 1:30 was all it took.

The UConn offense (355 yards) still struggled to put points on the board. The two quarterback system featuring Casey Cochran (17 of 31 171 yards, one interception) and Chandler Whitmer (8 of 17 113) produced, just not many touchdowns.

“I was pleased with the quarterback play,” Diaco said. “They stayed positive, they helped each other. They were instructing, they were looking forward not only to their work but to the work of the other guys.”

Diaco has been very careful in how he talked about the Huskies after taking over the program in December. He’s also been very honest about where the team is, at a base level of understanding in systems and schemes the Huskies now employ.

“We're like an infant in our program,” Diaco said. “We've got a long way to go, but we've got the right people to go there.”

However, the coach also talked about the need to focus on not doing the things that cause losing and the Huskies did plenty of that.

Cochran threw an interception near the goalline to Deshon Foxx after the Huskies fell into a 14-0 hole.

“It's tough, but I don't blame it on anyone” Cochran said, starting his fifth game in a UConn uniform. “They made some good plays, we turned the ball over, and it can happen that quickly.”

BYU didn’t make the Huskies pay for the Cochran pick on their ensuing possession. No, they did that on the drive before though. It was the Huskies opening drive.  Usually reliable Max DeLorenzo fumbled away the first touch.

One play later Hill threw a strike past the face of safety Obi Melifonwu for the 14-0 lead.

With 9:35 left in the first quarter BYU was ahead 14 zip

“We kept our heads up throughout the game,” receiver Geremy Davis said. “It was too early in the game to our our heads down. We kept trying to fight and come back against a good BYU team.  We have some things to work on for next week to eliminate those things from happening again. We have to make corrections ourselves. It is nothing that the coaches have to do.”

With respect to the offense either BYU was better than believed on defense or the UConn just doesn’t have enough of the pieces it needs to compete at this level.

Maybe it was a little of both. This much is true The Huskies can’t afford to squander opportunities from near point-blank range. One of the more interesting positions occurred in the third quarter when the Huskies, behind Casey Cochran (17 of 31, 171 yards, one interception) led the Huskies from their own 19 to the BYU 17, still trailing 28-7, when Cochran was pulled for Chandler Whitmer (8 of 17, 113) who ran for a yard and was sacked twice forcing fourth down. Bobby Puyol came on for a 40 yard field goal but Blake Feagles kept the fake attempt, ran around end and was stopped short.

UConn worked its down to the #BYU 16 behind Whitmer early in the fourth quarter but on a 4th and 12 at the 18 down 28-7 Diaco said he wanted to get Puyol some work so he sent him out for a 35-yard field goal which he made.   

Receiver Geremy Davis had 96 yards receiving but only seven catches. He had three catches in the first half? He was a 1,000 yard receiver in 2013. DeLorenzo was the leading rusher with 38 yards on nine carries. Marriner ran hard but things that helped cause losing also included the Huskies going 2 for 5 in the red zone.

They have to be more efficient that area and better in other places. It was Game 1. The Huskies have 11 to go with a good understanding of where it is and what it has to do going forward.

“When you think about it 21 points were surrendered in six minutes of football in the first half, for 24 minutes it was a toe-to-toe slugfest. I mean you just can’t do that,” Diaco said.