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October 12, 2013

Another Close Loss for Huskies

In a game characterized by stellar defensive play and a constant battle for field position, the UConn Huskies (0-5, 0-1) found themselves down by three, 13-10, with the ball on their own 5-yard line and 1:46 left to play. Despite three near interceptions on the drive, true freshman quarterback Tim Boyle drove his team to USF's 49-yard line with a 16-yard, first-down completion to Dhameer Bradley with approximately 16 seconds to play. As time continued to wind down neither interim head coach T.J. Weist nor Boyle called a timeout or lined the team up to spike the ball. With confusion mounting Boyle called the team's final timeout with seven seconds remaining. Due to the clock mismanagement, the Huskies only had enough time for a final desperate heave to the end zone, which fell incomplete.

"I'm disappointed in my execution on the last drive of the game. We were put in a position that we moved the ball down the field [and] we needed a field goal. I hesitated making a call and we didn't get it in on time," Weist said. "This loss is on me."

Weist's mishandling of the clock during the final possession was not the only factor that led to UConn's disappointing defeat in their inaugural American Athletic Conference game. The offense, which started out with a rejuvenated hunger, fell silent for most of the second half.

Lyle McCombs rushed for a career-high 164 yards on 20 carries, as the offensive line created gaping holes for the shifty running back to explode through. The running back's play culminated with an electrifying 52-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter to give the Huskies the lead, 10-7. It was his longest run of the season.

"It was a designed sweep play. The guard pulled excellent, opened it up for me, and then from there I was on to the second level," McCombs said. "The receivers did a great job running downfield blocking for me. My mentality was to get in the end zone by any means."

McCombs led the rushing attack with 135 yards on 10 carries in the first half, but after halftime, those gaping holes that had been so prevalent in the first half seemed to disappear. McCombs managed only 29 yards on 10 carries in the second half, a disappointing end to such a promising start.

In the passing game, Boyle had mixed reviews after his first collegiate start. He was only 15-of-43 for 149 yards, but despite some close calls he did not turn the ball over and put his team in a position to tie the game at the end.

"I thought Tim stepped up, showed maturity, showed poise, handled the pressure and made some throws and made some decisions on some of the different looks that they gave us that were pretty good for a true freshman," Weist said.

His wide receiving corps did not do an exceptional job helping him out. With the exception of Geremy Davis (six receptions for 80 yards), many of his younger receivers dropped catchable balls time and time again. They struggled without the injured Shakim Phillips, who was unable to go due to his hamstring injury that he suffered near the end of the Michigan game on September 21. Deshon Foxx had an especially frustrating game, dropping two potential touchdown passes, and a handful of others. He ended up with only one catch for eight yards.

On the first near-touchdown pass, Foxx slowed down his speed coming out of his cut when he was wide open for a score along the sidelines, and could not hold onto Boyle's throw on his diving attempt to recover.

"He can't, as a young receiver, he can't wait for the game to make that mistake and learn his lesson, because it cost us a touchdown," Weist said. "He's got to learn it in practice."

"We've got to pick it up. I always say as receivers we've got to lead this offense and I feel like we didn't do a really good job of that," Davis added.

The punting of Cole Wagner and the Huskies' overall defensive effort kept UConn alive despite their offensive ineptitude. Wagner averaged 44 yards on seven punts, and had six within the 20-yard line with zero for touchbacks. UConn's defense allowed only 228 yards of total offense from the Bulls, including just 106 passing yards and only 122 yards on the ground on 34 carries (3.58 yards/carry). They did not allow an offensive touchdown.

"The defense and the kicking game gave us opportunities and field position, and we just didn't take advantage of it," Weist said.

The defense came up short only once, but it turned out to be on USF's game-winning drive. On the Bull's first drive of the fourth quarter, they took the ball 65 yards starting from their own 9-yard line, eating up 7:27 on the clock on 13 plays that culminated in a clutch 44-yard field goal by Marvin Kloss to give USF the lead and final score of the game, 13-10.

"The offense was struggling and it was really a defensive game, so a couple coaches and players came up to me and said it might come down to a kick," Kloss said in a postgame interview. "At the time, I didn't think it would but I'm happy it did so I could contribute in getting this win."

For USF, this is the second straight game that they have failed to score an offensive touchdown…yet their record in those two AAC games is 2-0 (with their 26-20 win over Cincinnati last week).

For UConn, they will have to regroup under Weist as they travel on the road to play that same Cincinnati (4-2, 1-1) team at 12 p.m. on October 19. They are still searching for that first elusive win, and no excuse will do.

"There's no reinventing anything. We have to play better," Weist said. "We have to win. We have to win now."

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