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Big plays beat UConn as Syracuse wins, 31-24

POSTED September 25, 2016
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson


            EAST HARTFORD – The offense didn’t get it done. The defense didn’t get it done. UConn did not get it done.

            The numbers here are a bit of a smoke screen that leads to a different conclusion. But there is no fog around the final score – Syracuse 31, UConn 24 at sun-filled and almost people-filled announced crowd of 31,899 at Pratt and Whitney Stadium Saturday afternoon.

            Here’s the struggle. The Huskies did get something done, particularly on the offensive end. They rolled up 425 yards of offense and controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes (38:29).  They ran 91 plays to just 66 for the quick-snapping Orange who came into the contest averaging 93 plays a game.

            UConn receiver Noel Thomas caught 14 passes for 111 yards, the second most in Husky history. With a dominating second quarter a two-touchdown deficit was erased on a pair of impressive drives, 53 yards capped off by Ron Johnson’s two-yard run and 68-yards with Arkeel Newsome (15-81) going in from six yards out.

            There was plenty of positives to hang your hat on, just not enough to hang a victory on. Once again the Huskies (2-2) failed to put enough points on the board and the one drive they absolutely needed came up short.  

            Trailing, 24-17 in the fourth quarter the Huskies used a bit of trickery when Tyler Davis threw to Tommy Meyers on a fake field goal attempt to move the ball to the Syracuse 8-yard line. Three Ron Johnson runs moved the ball to the 2-yard line and one of those suddenly in vogue drama-drenched finishes seemed to be sprouting. Didn’t happen. On a fourth down, quarterback Bryant Sheriffs rolled right on a pass option only to be stuffed by Zaire Franklin ending the drive right where it started at the two-yard line.

            “Going back I would buy some more time and throw it to the back of the end zone,” said Sheriffs. “I came up short. The linebacker and came up and made a good play and I didn’t make a good enough play. It came back to haunt us. It really cost us the game.”

            Sheriffs assessment of the impact of the play may be a bit harsh considering what happened next. With more than four minutes left in the game, the Huskies had Syracuse on its own two-yard line, lending itself to more than just a little hope of another opportunity on a short field.

            It didn’t happen. The Huskies’ defense has had its moments so far this season. It’s moments on this day were the kind where you need to go look at the film then bury it in an old landfill.

            On a third-and-seven, Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey (26-40-407 yards) found Amba Etta-Tawo down the left sideline for 59 yards. With 2:14 to go Dungey went in from the six-yard line for the clinching touchdown.

            It was a bad ending to a bad day for the UConn defense which gave up 469 yards, most through the air. They never quite were able to get a handle on Etta-Tawo who caught 12 passes for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

            Both touchdowns came early as Syracuse threatened to blow the Huskies out of East Hartford. Before half of the UConn fans were done downing their last burger in the parking lot, 51 seconds into the game and on the fourth play to be exact, Etta-Tawo beat defender Jamar Summers  for a 57-yard touchdown catch.

            It didn’t get any better. On the Orange’s second possession the duo clicked again for a 30-yard score and a 14-0 lead just 4:12 into the game.

            “I didn’t come fully mentally prepared, I was physically prepared but mentally I wasn’t there. I was mentally out of my game,” said Summers. “Being at the corner position and seeing that ball thrown over your head is not the best feeling.”

            The Huskies recovered enough to trail just 17-14 at the half and tied the game at 17 when Bobby Puyol connected on a 27-yard field goal with 5:11 to go in the third quarter.

            But the comeback was waylaid when UConn turned the ball over. On a third-and-eight from the UConn eight-yard - line Sheriffs’ pass out into the right flat was tipped by Franklin and intercepted by Cordell Hudson who went 22 yards for a touchdown and a 24-17 lead.

            It all wasn’t hard for UConn coach Bob Diaco to put a finger on.

            “We had too many plays that caused losing, that make it impossible to win that need to be eliminated or at a minimum minimized,” said Diaco. “Two explosive play passes that created the (early) scores. I didn’t look at the statistics but I anticipate you are going to see control of the game, a control of the plays, a control of the field, a control of the clock and exactly what we wanted to do. Then we had a couple of plays that created a 21-point get. You can’t have those type of plays that cause losing and win.”

            It gets no easier for the Huskies. AAC power Houston is up Thursday night followed by Cincinnati and USF. In the end the only number that counts are the final two and the Huskies are looking for the higher one.

            It’s about making plays. UConn didn’t make the big ones Saturday.

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