Right before University of South Florida's first possession on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the stadium played the song "Bastille" by Pompeii. The lyrics state, "But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing has changed at all? And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you've been here before? How am I going to be an optimist about this?"
This was quite fitting as the University of Connecticut would have their third fumble on an opening possession - in four games - to set their opponent up for a touchdown. In the game where UConn did not fumble on their first possession - against Stony Brook - the Huskies fumbled on their second possession to allow a Seawolves defensive touchdown.
UConn lost to South Florida last year, without the Bulls' scoring an offensive touchdown, so the start on Friday did not bode well for the rest of the game. If I told you that one team held the ball for nearly twice as long (39:02 to 20:58), threw twice as many passes (18 to 9), outgained their opponent by over twice as many yards (271 to 132) and had twice as many running plays (53 to 27), while also converting 17 first downs to their opponents six and not allowing the other team to convert a single third down, you would think this game would be a blowout of epic proportions. However, when the final whistle blew, USF only defeated UConn 17-14. It took a 30-yard touchdown pass on a 4th and 10 play, and the opening turnover to put UConn in an early 14-0 deficit to end the first quarter. But a Byron Jones 70-yard interception return with five seconds left in the half help cut the lead in half, heading into halftime. UConn finished the first half with 18 offensive plays and five punts.
A pivotal play occurred with about 12 minutes left in the game. USF was at UConn's 47, looking at 3rd and 16. A draw play allowed USF's running back to gain 17 and it led to a six and half minute drive and a Bulls' field goal. That play felt like it could have been a momentum changing play for the Huskies.
While sitting up in the press box, it became apparent (and almost astounding), that USF was running every play to the strong side of the line. It seemed as if the only time that USF ran away from the strong side there was a holding call. Knowing this, I was hoping UConn would be able to get more three and outs.
At one point in, I caught myself saying, "I feel like it is bad that I like when we are on defense. I think we have more of a chance to score." This could have been due to the conservative play calling. While interviewing coach Bob Diaco, that became a focal point of my intrigue. UConn did not complete a pass until just under the seven minute mark of the third quarter. Chandler Whitmer finished the day 6 for 9 for 88 yards and as score - with four of those completions and 75 of those yards coming on the final drive.
At the press conference, Diaco was asked, why he sat on the passing game for as long as he did. He responded by saying, "It was just hard. I don't want to take any more negative plays. At the beginning of the game, each time we dropped back to pass, he (Whitmer) is under duress, sack, errant balls on the run, negative plays. I want to get the ball to line of scrimmage. At a minimum, punt. We have a holding, we got sacked. It becomes an issue, when you have a developing offensive line."
I believe you want to get the ball into your playmakers' hands one way or another. The fact that Geremy Davis had one target until the end of the fourth quarter was - in my opinion - poor play calling. Deshon Foxx is one of the fastest players on the team and you don't try to get the ball into his hands either? I had the opportunity to ask Diaco about this at the press conference. I asked him if it would be possible to get the ball into their hands more often next game, even if they ran reverses. He responded by saying "if it is a monsoon, then maybe not. We're just trying to run base plays."
Next game, I hope he does utilize Davis and Foxx more. I also believe that Arkeel Newsome is UConn's best running back (he finished the game with 30 yards on four carries) and I hope he gets more of an opportunity to play against Temple.
An interesting point of note. ESPN reported that Tim Boyle did not travel with the team. Diaco clarified that Boyle was at the game and was "not unavailable." Stating, he was cleared to play. He was hobbled with a lower leg pain, stressing it was not a lower injury.