Amidst a lot of excitement and fanfare with UConn's prospects for the 2016 season, the Huskies' performance in the opening game left much to be desired despite taking the win.
UConn received the opening kickoff, but after trading punts Maine got on the board first. A 48-yard completion helped the Black Bears flip the field and then a 20-yard catch and run by Josh Mack got them into the end zone. They took that 7-0 lead to the end of the first quarter, much to the dismay of UConn faithful.
Early-game jitters, right? Ehh, maybe, if early-game jitters last until the fourth quarter. Otherwise, UConn put forth a mostly abysmal performance which it was lucky to come away from with a win.
The Huskies tied it up in the 2nd quarter with a 75-yard drive highlighted by some nifty scrambles by Shirreffs and an 18-yard completion to Noel Thomas. Shirreffs scrambled once more on third down from the five yard line and took a punishing hit trying to get into the end zone, only to lose his helmet and be called down at the one despite making it past the goal line. Luckily, Ron Johnson punched it in on 4th and goal to make it 7-7. The drive killed 8:55 off the clock as the second quarter ended tied at one touchdown apiece.
The start of the second half made it seem like UConn was ready to shake off the rust and take control as it should against a vastly inferior opponent. How wrong we were.
After trading a few punts, the Huskies took the lead thanks to an efficient drive which saw the Huskies gain 16 and 24 yards on consecutive plays before Ron Johnson hit paydirt for the second time with a 21-yard scamper.
But Maine answered right back. A pass interference called on John Green on 3rd and 7 extended their drive before quarterback Dan Collins threw a prayer into double coverage that somehow made it into the hands of Jaleel Reed for a 40-yard touchdown to end the third quarter.
Unperturbed, UConn seemed to have found its offensive rhythm, as the next drive saw the Huskies march 62 yards down the field before disaster struck.
UConn decided to get cute with a play-action call. But this wasn't just any play-action attempt. Shirreffs stood still for a solid two-count to really sell the fake hand-off but Maine wasn't buying any of it as Shirreffs took a hard blindside hit, fumbled the football, and watched as Maine returned it 80 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the 4th quarter.
While college football Twitter enjoyed a great long laugh at our expense, the Huskies scrambled to get back into this one—literally.
After two completions for a total of six yards, a running theme for the UConn offense on this lovely September evening at PAWS ARF, Shirreffs scrambled for 35 yards to get the Huskies to Maine's 13-yard line. Three plays later, Arkeel Newsome tied the game with his first rushing touchdown of the season. Newsome finished with 40 rushing yards, well behind UConn's leading rusher, Shirreffs, who had 95.
Maine answered back with a lengthy drive, getting into UConn territory, but a field goal attempt to take the lead was blocked, giving the Huskies possession on their own 30 with 1:38 remaining.
A big third down catch by Noel Thomas kept UConn's ensuing drive going to eventually set up Bobby Puyol for the game-winning 37-yard field goal. Puyol's kick sailed high and true through the uprights to give UConn its most terrifyingly bad win in recent memory. Thomas finished with nine receptions for 70 yards.
Ultimately, this is not what UConn faithful wanted to see after a promising 2015 season and an offseason full of hype. We'll have more on this later, but suffice it to say this team still has a lot to work on. Luckily it's early in the season, and at least after one game UConn is 1-0.
It could be worse.