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November 9, 2013
Turnovers Prove Costly
Louisville (8-1, 4-1) may be No. 20 in the BCS Rankings, but when it was all was said and done the Cardinals did not do anything extraordinary to keep the UConn Huskies (0-8, 0-4) winless. Instead, it was early mistakes and constant turnovers - six of them - that took the Huskies out of the game and left them staring at a 31-10 loss on Friday night at an empty Rentschler Field.
"We just gave them points," interim head coach T.J. Weist said. "When you play a team like Louisville, a top-ranked team, the No. 2 ranked defense in the country, there's a reason, and they proved it tonight. The only chance we had was to not beat ourselves, and early, we beat ourselves."
UConn's first of six turnovers halted the Huskies' early momentum on the opening drive of the game. After starting on their own 39-yard-line, UConn systematically rammed the ball down the throats of the No. 2 ranked defense in the FBS.
With the ball on Louisville's 19-yard-line, quarterback Tim Boyle handed it off to backup running back Martin Hyppolite. Hyppolite burst through the line before running into Louisville's Marcus Smith. As Smith brought Hyppolite down, he stripped the ball, and defensive tackle B.J. Dubose fell on it at the 9-yard-line. The turnover effectively erased an impressive drive, desolating a team that seems incapable of stopping their self-destruction.
"When you have momentum and you get a turnover like that, it takes the wind out of your sails," Boyle said.
Although Louisville did not capitalize on their ensuing possession, UConn was not finished handing out free gifts.
On the Huskies' very next possession, a low snap on fourth down by long snapper Adam Mueller was too tough to handle for punter Cole Wagner. The ball squired through Wagner's hands, and as he hurriedly recovered it, he tried to get a punt away. His attempt was blocked by Brandon Radcliff and recovered by cornerback Charles Gaines, who returned it seven yards for a touchdown.
Another special teams' error occurred on a punt return at the end of the first half. The UConn defense pinned the Cardinals deep in their own territory after a three-and-out, forcing them to punt with 34 seconds remaining from their own 7-yard-line.
With an opportunity for good field position and the chance to squeeze in a potential field goal, running back Lyle McCombs called for a fair catch at the Louisville 42-yard-line. Teammate Javon Hadley inadvertently collided with McCombs, and as McCombs crumpled to the turf, the ball hit his backside and was recovered by the Cardinals' Jordan Streeter.
The special teams' unit was not the only ones to struggle, however. Boyle could not find a rhythm against a strong, fast and aggressive Louisville defense, which seemed to toy with the true freshman the entire game. Boyle was only 14-of-29 for 113 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions, including a costly pick six.
"We've got a young quarterback that we've committed to in the last four weeks," Weist said. "He's got to do a better job of not turning that football over and making better, sound decisions."
The pick six was especially frustrating because it occurred immediately after UConn recorded Teddy Bridgewater's third interception of the season on a poor decision that safety Andrew Adams gobbled up with 27 seconds left in the third quarter.
With the ball at their own 11-yard-line, Boyle threw a pass that was a little high for Shakim Phillips, who got his hands on the ball but could not corral it in. As the ball tipped off of his hands, it sailed towards Louisville's Terell Floyd, who could not make a clean catch. Instead, the ball bounced around in his hands, appeared to ricochet off of UConn's Spencer Parker (who was in the same area) and went back to Floyd. After another bobble or two, Floyd finally caught the ball and returned it uncontested for 17 yards into the end zone. The touchdown made the score 28-3, effectively putting the game out of reach.
"They came up big on defense and the turnovers they got for us were amazing," Bridgewater said in a postgame interview. "Those guys did a great job. The defense really helped the offense tonight."
By that point in the game, a large majority of the fans that had turned out to see their Huskies take on the Cardinals in a televised game on ESPN2 had already abandoned their seats and packed it in. By the start of the fourth quarter, the stadium was desolate.
"You want the crowd to cheer for you, you want people to stick around [then] you've got to be exciting on offense [and] you've got to make plays," Weist said.
Despite the offense's ineptitude and costly turnovers, and the poor play of the special teams' unit, the defense actually turned in a solid performance against Bridgewater and company. Although the future NFL first rounder had a good day (21-of-37, 288 yards, one touchdown and one interception), the defense only let up 17 points to the No. 16 ranked offense in the nation. The Huskies' defense put in a performance that should have kept the game competitive if it were not for the mistakes of the other units.
"I'm very proud of our defense throughout the whole game," Weist said. "When we go three-and-out on offense and we're not productive, we're not effective or efficient and we keep turning the ball over and putting our defense in bad field position, no defense can really stand up to that."
While the defense rebounded from the shellacking that they took two weeks ago at the hands of No. 21 UCF, it is back to the drawing board for Weist, who still serves as the team's offensive coordinator along with his interim head coaching duties.
"It's my responsibility as a head coach to find ways to put us in a position to make better plays on offense," Weist said. "We're not getting it done."