By Desmond Conner, The Hartford Courant
ORLANDO, Fla. – UConn went from ugly to the ugliest it has been in just a matter of days.
These Huskies, for as much time and effort as they and the coaching staff put into a game, they should be getting things right a lot more than they are.
They aren’t, and Saturday proved things aren’t going to get right any time soon.
Until they do, the blowouts, will continue. This team hasn’t been as good as the teams it has faced, so it has little room for error. But the Huskies made a bunch of those during No. 21 Central Florida‘s 62-17 drilling of the Huskies before 37,794 at Bright House Networks Stadium.
UCF (6-1, 3-0 American) rang up 527 yards on the Huskies — Cincinnati had 525 last week — and qualified for bowl eligibility for the fourth time in five seasons. UConn (0-7, 0-3) was officially eliminated from bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season. In the past two seasons, that determination didn’t come until the final regular-season game.
With five games left, UConn is staring down the barrel of its worst season since joining Division I-A in 2002. The Huskies are a loss way from tying their worst start in 36 years — 0-8 — and Louisville will be the team faces next to deal with that one.
As long as we’re being nostalgic, the 45-point margin of defeat ties the worst the Huskies have had in Division I-A. Remember when West Virginia clubbed the Huskies 66-21 in Morgantown in 2007? You may also remember UConn earned a piece of the then-Big East title.
Things certainly have changed.
You know they have when the defense, the trusty defense, has an awful day again. Sure, quarterback Blake Bortles (20 of 24, 286 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks) tore up the Huskies. The Huskies contained Storm Johnson (28 yards) on the ground but he rushed for a TD and caught another one in first quarter.
J.J. Worton (119 yards) is not the Knights’ key receiver, but his 61-yard catch and run for a touchdown in the third quarter were indicative of the kind of day it was. The Huskies were in position to make the tackle but didn’t, and the kid kept running until he got in the box.
“You’ve got to make plays when you have a chance to make plays,” said Hank Hughes, UConn’s defensive coordinator. “Certainly there are a lot of things that have to be examined going back and looking at the tape. I don’t want to come off saying it was this or was it that. … You can’t play that kind of defense and expect to win any football game.”
UCF does have a plethora of offensive weapons.
“That’s no excuse,” Hughes said. “There is no excuse when you give up those kinds of points. I’m not looking to make any excuse. They have good players, they have a good scheme. They’re a good team and taking nothing away from but obviously we didn’t do our best.”
The Huskies have given up 116 points in their past three games and have given up 40 or more in all three road games.
For the most part, Bortles whipped the ball to his receivers in space and let them do work. Most of the time, the UCF receivers beat their man. Bortles hit seven different receivers. Jeff Godfrey has six receptions for 54 yards; three of his catches were touchdowns.
“We came out flat,” junior safety Ty-Meer Brown said. “I have no answer for that. It’s disappointing. We left plays on the field, gave up a lot of plays … it’s disappointing. We didn’t make the plays we needed to make.”
Said safety Byron Jones: “Yeah, that’s us. You can’t miss tackles like that. We’re out there to make plays and do the normal stuff. The normal stuff on defense is tackling. You have to do that and we didn’t do that today.”
UCF scored on its first nine possessions. UConn won the toss and deferred; UCF promptly went 75 yards in seven plays, with Johnson carrying it in the final 10. The Huskies answered with a field goal, a 40-yarder from Chad Christen, his first from that distance in five previous attempts this season. UCF answered that with a five-play, 70-yard drive. On third down, flushed out of the pocket and his receivers covered, Bortles raced to a wide-open corner of the end zone for a 14-3 lead with 7:39 left in the quarter.
The Huskies and interim coach T.J. Weist have been talking about momentum. On the following series, the Huskies went three-and-out and the Knights took advantage.
Following a 26-yard punt return by Worton of Cole Wagner’s 50-yard punt, the Knights used more than six minutes to go 49 yards. Bortles, again, facing pressure in which he wasn’t touched, floated a pass over the defense’s head into the hands of Johnson who scored.
And the rout, as they say, was on. UCF added 24 more points in the second quarter and led 48-10 at the break. Lyle McCombs (88 yards) had a 9-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
On the prior play, UConn quarterback Tim Boyle (7 of 21, 47 yards, two interceptions, two sacks), had a good part of skin come off the thumb of his throwing hand. He had it bandaged up and said it had some effect on his throws, but eventually it was fine.
Casey Cochran came in and hit Brian Lemelle with a 46-yard catch-and-run for a score, but there were few bright spots on offense.
This was, basically, the Huskies’ ugliest game of the season, and they’re running out of opportunities to clean up nice.
“Our guys have a lot of pride,” Weist said. “We’re going to come back and work. Nobody on this team is giving up. There’s going to be some good things that happen from a win standpoint. We just want it to be sooner than later. We still have a great sense of urgency. That’s what this game is — you’ve got to get refocused every week.”