EAST HARTFORD -- Following two restful weeks dedicated to the fixing of its mistakes, UConn looked ever the same last night over a 31-10 loss to no. 20 Louisville.
The Huskies turned the ball over five times and watched a first quarter Cole Wagner punt get blocked for a touchdown, as they dropped to 0-8 on the season. Freshman quarterback Tim Boyle completed 14 of 29 passes for 113 yards and three interceptions. He was harassed all night by a Cardinal front that seemed to repeatedly flash an “EZ pass” en route to the backfield while recording seven sacks.
"They just brought pressure,” said interim UConn coach T.J. Weist. “We tried to mix it up, inside and outside and they just made the adjustment. We tried to run, and they just brought inside pressure on us. They called a better game than us."
The Louisville defense suffocated the Huskies to a 31-3 deficit through three quarters, over which they allowed only 124 yards of total offense. Lyle McCombs and Max DeLorenzo combined for 68 rushing yards on 25 carries. This was the first game that both running backs failed to score a touchdown since the Towson loss.
Meanwhile, Louisville quarterback and future NFL lottery-pick Teddy Bridgewater connected on 21 of his 37 throws, accumulating 288 yards, one touchdown and an interception. His receivers recurrently let him down by dropping pinpoint passes, including four in the first half alone. Fellow soon-to-be pro Devante Parker hauled in five balls for 71 yards and the lone passing score of the game.
Parker’s touchdown came early in the second quarter and stretched the early Louisville lead to 14-3. The ensuing UConn drive lasted only two plays, as Boyle tossed his first pick to cornerback Charles Gaines. The Husky defense then stiffened, allowing the Cardinals to move the ball just nine yards over five plays.
Linebacker Yawin Smallwood finished with 10 tackles and led his group to another strong performance. Excluding a 20-yard Bridgewater scramble in the second half, Smallwood and co. stifled the Cardinal running game from start to finish. Louisville racked up 81 rushing yards on 30 carries. More importantly, the UConn defense allowed only 17 of the 31 Louisville points on the night.
"No question, our defense played well tonight,” Weist said. “When you don't drive the football and keep putting the defense out there, sooner or later their going to break. No defense can handle that. I thought we were consistent and kept stopping that offense. They did their best and I'm proud of them."
The Cardinals first got on the board halfway through the first quarter with a clean block of Cole Wagner’s second punt. As the loose ball bounced deeper in UConn territory, Gaines scooped it up and coasted to the end zone for six points.
The Huskies answered right away with a 14-play, 57-yard drive that concluded in a Chad Christen field goal. DeLorenzo dragged his unit all the way inside the red zone with seven carries for 28 hard earned yards. McCombs failed to gain much ground with a pair of subsequent hand-offs, and Boyle misfired to freshman Brian Lemelle on the resulting third down.
From that point on, Louisville posted 24 unanswered points to empty the frozen bleachers at The Rent. Had it not been for the 12 team penalties, the Cardinals’ margin of victory likely would have been much larger.
Just over two minutes before halftime, Bridgewater captained a six-play, 56-yard series, capped off by a Senorise Perry touchdown run. Perry scampered around the right end untouched to push the score to 21-3.
Then, thanks to a fumbled McCombs punt return, the Cardinals owned two of the final three drives of the half. Neither offensive opportunity produce any points, but Bridgewater did put a scare in the hearts of the few Husky faithful remaining with an on-target Hail Mary attempt that fell incomplete.
After intermission, Louisville cornerback Terrell Floyd intercepted a pair of Boyle passes, including one that went back for a score. This was the only meaningful touchdown of the last thirty minutes. Back-up UConn quarterback Casey Cochran fired a 14-yard strike to Kamal Abrams with 35 seconds remaining, well after the Cardinals had sent their second-teamers onto the field.
As he spoke to the press, Weist grew visibly frustrated while describing his team’s performance. However, he conveyed a much different message about his feelings to the team post-game.
"First thing I told them was I was proud of them.” Weist said. “And we are as a staff because they gave the effort, they never quit throughout tonight and that's what we look for. It's the same things. Nothing changes in football. You have to make football, keep momentum when you have it. We have to play again next week and we have to just keep pushing."