UConn knows how to lose with panache
EAST HARTFORD — They know how to lose with great panache. They sure don’t know how to win.
When Michael Tarbutt, who had been in the placekicking doghouse, emerged to hit a 41-yard field goal with 12:27 left in the Nor’Easter Bowl on Saturday, UConn had its 17-9 lead.
A good team knows how to finish off a 2-6 UMass team at home.
A bad team with a senior quarterback knows how to finish a 2-6 UMass team without its starting quarterback in windy, rainy conditions.
Only this isn’t a good team. This isn’t a bad team. This is a terrible football team.
The 2018 UConn Huskies know how to lose. They have no idea how to win against one of the 130 FBS teams in the United States.
In explaining why quarterback David Pindell threw only four passes in the first 45 minutes, coach Randy Edsall said, “The first three quarters, the rain, it was hard to throw. And David doesn’t have big hands. When you don’t have big hands and he doesn’t grip the ball with the laces, so that’s one of things that he was having trouble gripping the ball.”
Big feet that have led Pindell to a record 784 rushing yards in a season.
Small expectations. Tiny expectations. That’s the only way for those who love UConn football, who are cheering for its resurrection can maintain their sanity through this season of football hell. If the expectations are the Huskies will go 1-11 this year, 4-8 next year and Edsall will be able to rebuild the Huskies to become bowl eligible in 2020 or 2021, your expectations may be on target.
If your expectations are that none of these 2018 scores matter and the young Huskies will grow under Edsall, yes, you can be satisfied with this 22-17 loss to UMass at Rentschler Field.
Yet it your expectations were that a UConn team, 113th in RPI rankings, could hold a late eightpoint lead at home against an opponent 107th in the rankings, you are out of luck. If your expectations were that with Minutemen quarterback Andrew Ford lost with a knee injury and with a defense that also had allowed alarming numbers this year, UConn had enough to finish off a UMass team with victories over Duquesne and Charlotte … you are out of luck.
When the Huskies finally stopped giving up 50 points a game, they now are demonstrating they can’t close out games against much lesser opponents.
They eventually gave way in a 38-30 loss against No. 21 USF last week in Tampa, but not before they put up a determined fight.
Yet any momentum they gained dropped through a trap door in the second half. The Huskies had leads of 14-3 in the third quarter and 17-9 in the fourth and couldn’t finish UMass off.
“If it did, we’ve got an issue, I don’t think it did,” Edsall said when asked if there was any sense that after a good showing at USF there could a sense this one could be much easier. “We told them it has to be consistent week to week.
“We were playing them hard, holding them to three points. It’s almost where we lost a little something. We were getting after it pretty good and all of sudden …”
Edsall snapped his fingers.
“It went like that.” They can’t finish anybody off, save FCS Rhode Island. The can run the table with L’s now. Edsall, the players, they seemed to accept this L. There was no anger on display. They look to be on a freefall ride to 1-11 and, I know, I know. What do you expect, Jacobs?
At least they gave up a season-low 22 points.
At least they gave up a season-low 444 yards.
And, hey, there was an announced attendance of 24,150.
When your expectations are nothing, how can you be disappointed? When there are maybe 2,000 people in the stands and there as many players on the sidelines as there are bodies in the student section, hey, if nobody sees it did this season really happen? The 2018 Huskies are a philosophy question now.
Immediately after Tarbutt’s field goal, UConn
blew coverage and Zak Simon caught a 67-yard touchdown pass from Ross Comis. The two-point conversion was snuffed. The next time they got the ball, the Minutemen went on an 11-play, 81-yard drive that culminated in a rugby-style touchdown rumble of three yards by Marquis Young.
He essentially got hit at the line of scrimmage and in slow motion over five seconds the entire scrum kept its forward progress over the goal line.
“When somebody is stood up like that and all those guys come and push, you’ve got to take their legs out,” Edsall said. “Be lower. So you can drive guys back. There are things we have to work on and with some of those young guys you can’t do as much as you want until after the season.”
Pindell said the team practiced outside all week in preparation for the Nor’Easter.
“We knew it was going to be terrible weather,” he said. “We practiced in the cold, did the water drill, wet all the balls. It was pretty similar to what we had today.
“I wouldn’t say I have a problem gripping the ball in any type of weather. The balls when they are muddy and raining you can’t really get the grip you want on it. I never really had a problem throwing in the rain. If he asks me to throw, I’ll throw the ball.”
Pindell is not a young guy. He is a senior, who with 120 yards on the ground Saturday already has broken the UConn single-season rushing record with 784. He also had 15 yards — 15! — on four-of-six passing and a backbreaking interception. UMass found a way to get 197 yards passing. UConn went one dimensional until late and it worked well enough until the team fell apart in the final 15 minutes.
First scrimmage play after the UMass go-ahead TD, Pindell rolled right. Zavier Scott was running into double-coverage on the sideline.
“We thought they were going to a certain defense when the corner slips off, but he didn’t,” Pindell said. “He kind of walked Zavier out.”
“David underthrew it,” Edsall said. “He tried to float it in there a little bit. Zavier was on top of his guy. If you overthrow it, that’s fine. The worst thing you can do is underthrow it.”
Bad force. Terrible underthrow.
Still, UConn had a last gasp to get the ball back. On fourth and one, 20 seconds ran off the clock before Edsall called timeout with 1:52 left to prevent a penalty for too many men on the field.
“I didn’t want to call one,” Edsall said. “I wanted to wait. We had a substitution situation.”
And then? Santana Sterling shot the gap, got to Comis. But he handed the ball off to Young just in time for the first down to end this mess.
“You’ve got to keep positive,” Pindell said.
And keep lowering expectations.