Huskies show improvement but fall to Boise State, 38-21.
EAST HARTFORD: The energy was back at “The Rent” on Saturday afternoon as the University of Connecticut Huskies finished the first part of their 2014 campaign on a positive note, even if they did come out on the right end of the scoreboard.
Boise State, a team that came into the game averaging over 500 yards of offense, were held to just 292 by a highly motivated UConn defense, but took advantage of three turnovers that led to 21 points in a 38-21 win before 30,098.
The Huskies defense held the Broncos to just 52 net yards rushing and held Jay Ajayi to just 39 after he rambled for 209 a week ago against Colorado State.
It was though, the first time that the UConn faithful had really made their presence known as the upset minded team from Storrs hung with the high powered team from out west.
“I felt an energy in the stadium today,” head coach Bob Diaco said, “We are so appreciative of it, the players fed off of it and it does not go unnoticed.”
Boise State came in more than two touchdown favorites but the Huskies defense has made great strides since the home opener three weeks ago against BYU and forced consecutive three and outs on the visitor’s first two drives.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, another early in the game turnover put them in a hole early when Armand Nance leveled Arkeel Newsome in the backfield, causing a fumble that was recovered and returned by Tanner Vallejo 31 yards for a touchdown.
It marked the third straight game that a turnover was turned into a touchdown by the defensive team and against a juggernaut like Boise State, it would make the climb that much harder.
“Obviously, giving up 14 uncontested points without the defense or special teams on the field makes it impossible to win games,” Diaco said, “When you factor in another plus field turnover, you’re talking about 21 points.”
The Huskies would answer though, with a 12-play 60-yard drive that ended with a 39-yard field goal by Bobby Puyol, who has connected on all five field goal chances he has tried.
Boise State and their high powered offensive didn’t see the field until there was 6:46 left in the first quarter and ran a total of just eight the entire first fifteen minutes.
Remember, this is a team that ran 62 plays last week in the first half. They ran just 56 to UConn’s 74 on Saturday afternoon.
The first four drives by the Broncos ended in punts, the fourth led to the home team’s first touchdown.
“The defense, playing basically the same system they played in week one, looked nothing like it looked in week one,” Diaco said, “So the defense is moving its game forward, not that the offense is not, but the defense is moving its game, not that the offense is not, but the defense is moving forward and I’m proud of the way they played today.”
Deshon Foxx (6-107) and Chandler Whitmer connected on a 48-yard pass play down the left sideline to get the drive going, Whitmer found Alec Bloom over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown pass and with 9:54 left in the half, the Huskies had the lead.
With Ajayi firmly under control by the UConn defense, it was Grant Hedrick who went to work on the offensive end and put together consecutive drives of 65-yards to give the Broncos a 21-10 lead at intermission.
At the half, UConn was dominating time of possession with a 20:34 to 9:26 advantage but the visitors still had the lead.
The Huskies would add a field goal to cut the lead to 21-13 after forcing another punt (seven in all) when Puyol connected from 24-yards out.
Holding an offensive machine like the Broncos in check for 60-minutes is just not an easy task and Hedrick was starting to find his groove when he drove his team 58-yards in eight plays, setting up a 38-yard field goal for a 24-13 lead. Still, the Huskies were hanging around, bending but not breaking.
What they needed was a play and the got it when Rhodes Williams fumbled the punt by Justin Wain (seven punts, 42 yard average) that was recovered by Jon Hicks at the Boise 30.
Two plays later, Whitmer found Geremy Davis for a 10-yard touchdown and when Newsome caught the two-point conversion, the home team trailed by just three at 24-21, entering the fourth quarter.
“Things that cause losing,” is a quote head coach Bob Diaco’s has used many times in talking about what he is trying to change at UConn.
The lessons are still being taught and learned, sometimes the hard way, as they did on the Huskies next possession when Whitmer was picked off by Johnathan Moxey at the UConn 27-yard line.
Hedrick didn’t waste much time in converting the take away into points four plays later when he hit Matt Miller from nine yards out for a 31-21 lead that had the fans looking towards the exits.
Give the UConn defense credit though, they stayed true to the cause on Saturday and gave the ball back to the offense after stopping Bosie on a fourth down play at the UConn 34-yard line.
Whitmer and company took over but tough luck struck again when Donte Deayon wrestled the ball away from Davis (it would go down as an interception) and returned it 50-yards for the game’s final points.
So after three games, how does the coach view his team’s progress? Ahead or behind schedule?
“I would say we are further ahead than I thought we would be,” Diaco said. “I’m very excited about the team and the future. Not only the future years ahead but the future of 2014. As we move from the preparation, and there is not one person in that huddle that feels good, there isn’t one person who isn’t better than where we were three weeks ago. Coach or player.”