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UConn football loses in the last second at Vanderbilt, 30-28

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The Huskies came agonizingly close to their first win but gave up the game-winning score as time expired.

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

UConn football took an early lead and also jumped ahead late in the fourth quarter but still lost to Vanderbilt, 30-28, to fall to 0-6 on the season.

Playing in their fourth game under interim head coach Lou Spanos, the game almost had a storybook ending for the Huskies. An intentional grounding penalty by Steven Krajewski put UConn at 4th and 18. On the ensuing play, Krajewski heaved the ball to the right side of the field. The ball was tipped, but Kevens Clercius miraculously came down with it.

Playing after an early injury to starter Tyler Phommachanh, UConn’s backup quarterback then galloped 17 yards into the end zone to put the Huskies ahead, 28-27. For a brief moment in time, victory seemed within UConn’s grasp.

But as much of a fairytale ending as it would have been, UConn couldn’t hold on. The Huskies' inexperience led to a 47-yard drive culminating in a game-winning field goal for Vanderbilt.

UConn was the better team in the first quarter, as Tyler Phommachanh engineered two solid drives that ended in field goals, putting the Huskies up 6-0.

Meanwhile, UConn’s defense looked like an entirely different unit than the one that played against Purdue, Fresno State, and Army. Players were wrapping up on tackles, Llwal Uguak and Travis Jones, finally healthy, were disrupting Vanderbilt in the backfield. The Huskies held them to just three points in the first quarter.

Phommachanh picked up right where he left off against Wyoming, getting it done in the air and on the ground, but it was the ground game that ultimately ended his night. On a non-contact injury on a quarterback keeper, he appeared to hurt his leg. The young signal caller exited the game, and returned from the locker room on crutches and without pads.

It looked like the wheels were about to come off for the Huskies. Vanderbilt’s offense finally sprung to life with a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter, and UConn only mustered a field goal in response. They were lucky to get even that after Krajewski threw an interception that was then fumbled by the interceptor and recovered by UConn.

The luck swung back in UConn’s favor just before the end of the half though, as an underthrown deep ball from Krajewski turned into a spectacular touchdown catch from Keelan Marion, who reached over the Vanderbilt defender to haul it in, putting UConn within one at halftime, 17-16.

UConn left a lot of opportunities on the table in the second half. Krajewski and the Huskies’ offense reached the Vanderbilt red zone twice in the third quarter, once missing a field goal at the five-yard line and once turning it over on downs.

Vanderbilt took advantage, scoring on consecutive drives with a field goal and a touchdown to widen the gap to 27-16 late in the fourth quarter.

But the Huskies weren’t done. Krajewski set aside his shaky moments to lead a touchdown drive featuring a toe-tapping catch from Marion and an acrobatic touchdown catch from Kevin Clercius, pulling the Huskies within one score with 5:06 left in the fourth quarter.

UConn’s defense held up their end of the bargain, and held Vanderbilt to a three-and-out, and the offense had one opportunity to make it count. After Krajewski’s touchdown run, a personal foul on the kickoff team set up Vanderbilt with tremendous field position, and a pass interference penalty gave them an even better opportunity to kick the game-winning kick.

Running back Nate Carter ran for 123 yards at an impressive 5.1 yards per rush, an impressive clip given the Huskies’ run-game woes all year. Krajewski completed 18-of-34 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, along with the rushing TD. Marion (4 rec, 102 yards, 1 TD), Jay Rose (5 rec, 91 yards), and Clercius (4 rec, 68 yards, 1 TD) were his favorite targets.

Despite the loss, UConn continues to show signs of progress under Spanos. With a road game at UMass on the schedule next week and a home game against Yale the following week, the Huskies will have a chance to get a couple of wins if they can keep playing better. Losing Phommachanh is incredibly unfortunate given the way he’s broken out, but it looks like Krajewski can be solid under center as well.