Despite leading for more than half of the game, UConn football’s quest for their first win of the decade will have to wait at least another week, and likely a lot longer. The Huskies fell to fellow independent and longtime rival UMass 27-13 at McGuirk Field in Amherst, Massachusetts, with the Minutemen securing their first victory since 2019 and UConn falling to 0-7 on the season.
Even though the Huskies had a lead at halftime and through a chunk of the third quarter, UMass outplayed UConn for the full 60 minutes. The Minutemen outgunned the Huskies in every major category, nearly doubled UConn’s time of possession, and outscored them 20-3 in the final three quarters of play. UMass accumulated over 400 yards of total offense, including 247 rushing yards, despite just racking up over 400 total yards on the ground in their first five games this season.
While UConn went into halftime with a lead despite their very best efforts to not do so, the Minutemen were the first to strike, as Ellis Merriweather punched in the first of his two touchdowns on the day to go up 7-0. The Huskies answered on the ensuing drive as quarterback Steven Krajewski hit Keelan Marion for a 34-yard touchdown less than a minute later to tie it up at seven. The Huskies would tack on a 38-yard field goal from Joe McFadden with 1:56 left in the first to take the 10-7 lead.
Steve ➡️ Keelan ➡️ Endzone— UConn Football (@UConnFootball) October 9, 2021
Stev drops a 34-yard dime to get us on the board! pic.twitter.com/wekLuVE4Zi
The Huskies offense basically fizzled out after that strong first quarter, and nearly lost the lead just before halftime after a Krajewski threw an interception deep in UConn’s own territory. But the defense stood pat, forcing a 26-yard field goal attempt that missed wide left to preserve the Huskies’ lead.
In his first full game since taking over for the injured Tyler Phommachanh, Krajewski threw for a total of 128 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Without Phommachanh’s running ability, the offense reverted to the kind the Huskies ran earlier this season under Randy Edsall, with constant runs up the middle and rarely attacking downfield. While it wasn't all bad — running back Nate Carter did post 136 rushing yards on 20 carries despite missing a good chunk of the third quarter — the step back that the offense, and really the entire team, took as a whole was incredibly disheartening.
UMass managed to tie things up right at the start of the second half, putting together a 10-play drive that culminated with a 21-yard field goal to tie the game up 10-10, the game’s only scoring play of the third quarter. During the entire third period, UConn did not post a single passing yard, and their rushing attack took a blow due to an injury to Carter. After UMass turned the ball over on downs with eight minutes left in the third quarter, UConn ran on five of their seven plays on the next drive, totaling 33 yards and ending with a missed 53-yard field goal from McFadden.
The Minutemen used their success on the ground to wear down an already mediocre UConn defense, with Merriweather and Zamar Wise, UMass’ designated rushing quarterback, combining for 235 yards and three scores on the day. After UMass kicked a 24-yard field goal to open the fourth and take a 13-10 lead, Merriweather punched in his second score of the day after Krajewski threw another pick deep in his territory to go up 20-10.
UConn showed some signs of life on the ensuing drive, marching down 75 yards in under three minutes, but was forced to settle for a field goal after Krajewski’s pass attempt on third down couldn't be reigned in by tight end Brandon Niemenski. Another McFadden field goal made it 20-13, but Wise scored the final touchdown of the night with a one-yard run with five minutes remaining to cap off a five minute drive and secure the Minutemen victory.
It’s really hard to say that this is the worst of the season — after all, this very team lost by 10 points to an FCS school less than a month ago — but losing to UMass, an awful program by any metric that has seen much, much less success than UConn, in this fashion makes it feel like it was worse. Yes, UConn was missing its interim head coach, a starting offensive lineman other key players (like Phommachanh) for this game, but the Huskies remained the favorite due to their strong performances the last two weeks and failed to put together anything on offense or defense that was even remotely encouraging.
When UConn hung tight with Wyoming and Vanderbilt, the team’s flaws remained obvious, but it was a little easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This UMass loss changes all of that. And next week, long time rival Yale comes to Rentschler Field for homecoming, where the Bulldogs are 2-2 on the season and played Holy Cross closer than the Huskies did, losing 20-17 three weeks prior. In terms of the games left on the schedule since Lou Spanos took over, UMass might have been the Huskies’ best chance at a win. And now, with this demoralizing loss, an 0-12 season becomes an incredibly real possibility.