Despite a valiant effort on the road, UConn fell to the No. 22 Missouri 9-6 Saturday afternoon. While it is a tough loss, the fact UConn could hang with the SEC East champion on the road for 60 minutes is an incredible feat.
To start the game, the Huskies (2-1) forced Missouri (3-0) into back-to-back three and outs, but an excellent punt by Missouri forced the Huskies down to the 2-yard line. The offense couldn't move the ball out of the hole, and UConn was forced to punt from the back of the end zone, Justin Wain's punt was blocked, and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone, forcing a safety.
After the free kick, the Huskies defense stepped up, and cornerback Jhavon Williams intercepted quarterback Maty Mauk. A few plays later, Ron Johnson found the end zone on a short run to give the Huskies the lead, but Bobby Puyol's PAT was blocked for the third time this season, keeping the score at 6-2.
After trading punts a few times, the Huskies began with the ball. The Huskies were stopped, and lined up in punt formation. Justin Wain received the snap, but instead of punting it, tucked it and ran for 13 yards and the first down. The offense stalled again, and the punt unit once again came on the field. This time Wain actually punted it, but the ball bounced off a Missouri player's foot, and was recovered by Brice McAllister. After a two-yard run by Ron Johnson, and two straight incompletions from Bryant Shirreffs, the Huskies decided to go for it on fourth down, and decided to bring in junior quarterback Tim Boyle. Boyle hit tight end Alec Bloom in the end zone, but Bloom could not hang on to the throw, forcing the turnover.
The Tigers mounted a drive at the start of the second quarter, but Missouri attempted a 40-yard kick at the beginning of the quarter. The ball bounced off the upright, but did not go through, keeping the score 6-2.
Defense took over for the rest of the quarter, as neither team had a drive further than 32 yards. The teams went into the half with the two teams deadlocked in a defensive battle.
The Huskies received the kick, and put together a good-looking drive, and set up long-kicker Michael Tarbutt for a 40-yard field goal, but the freshman missed his first career attempt.
Missouri took advantage of the field position, and promptly started marching the ball down the field. The Huskies' defense forced the Tigers to a 4th and goal at the 1, but could not stop Mauk on the option around the end to give the Tigers the lead, 9-6.
Their next series, the Tigers found themselves back in fourth and goal on the 1, but this time, the Huskies defense stood tall, and forced a turnover on downs.
In the fourth quarter, the defense continued to keep the Huskies in the game, stopping Missouri on 4th down on the UConn 33.
The Huskies got the ball with 4:33 left, in what would be the game deciding drive. The offense came out of its game-long funk, and Shirreffs moved the ball down the field quickly to bring the Huskies into Missouri territory. The Huskies had a 2nd and 5, but a killer penalty dropped it to 2nd and 10. On 3rd and 10, Shirreffs ran for six yards, bringing up 4th down. Lining up in field goal formation, the Huskies tried a fake kick, with Boyle trying to throw down the middle to Bloom, but it was intercepted, subsequently ending the game.
Although it's quite a painful loss to take for the Huskies and their fans, there are a lot of positives to be drawn. UConn was a 20-point underdog. Instead of keeling over, it took Missouri down to the wire on the road. If this game is played at Pratt and Whitney Stadium, there's a good chance UConn wins this game. People can question Bob Diaco's play calling throughout the game, but to upset a good team, you need to take risks. Even better, with this game being on ESPN, the entire country saw UConn hang tough with an SEC team. Getting positive attention back on the team will bring the fans back to The Rent, which is a huge step in rebuilding this program. There's still plenty of work to be done, but it looks like UConn football has finally returned to a respectable level.