After a slow first half with a solid defensive showing, UConn looked to take back the game in the 3rd quarter against USF on Saturday night in Tampa. In the course of a 2+ minute span, UConn had an interception (Obi Melifonwu) leading to a 70-yard Arkeel Newsome receiving TD and then forced a fumble leading to another Newsome score, this time on the ground. Just like that, in a game that UConn looked flat, they were leading 17-14 in the 2nd half. Unfortunately for Husky fans, that was where the joy and momentum ended.
Despite 4 forced turnovers for UConn, the South Florida Bulls flexed their muscles and re-took the lead on an 8-yard QB run for Quinton Flowers, who was too much to handle for the Huskies. On the day, the South Florida QB was 23 for 37 through the air for 213 yards, 2 TDs and 2 interceptions, which was ok, but it’s what he did on the ground that killed UConn (16 carries for 157 yards and 3 TDs). Historically, mobile and athletic QBs pick apart the UConn defense and Saturday was no exception.
The high-scoring Bulls kept pouring it on and eventually won 42-27, marking the 11th straight game with at least 35 points, 11th straight game with 440+ yards of offense, and the 12th straight game with 200+ rushing yards. They moved to 6-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to powerhouse Florida State. USF looks like a legitimate top-tier team in FBS and they had a real shot at finishing the year with just 1 loss.
On the flip side, there were some positive things for UConn. The defense forced 4 turnovers after having forced just 3 in the first 6 games of the season, a trend they need to see continue in order to get 3 more wins and become bowl eligible. On the offensive side of the ball, Bryant Shirreffs was 22 for 39 passing with 306 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions. A very strong night for the junior who helped UConn put up 27 points, their highest output of the season. He was looking to pass first most of the night, rather than just tuck and run every single down. When he takes the time and has the blocking, he can find receivers down field for big gains.
In the end, very few people had UConn winning this game on the road against a very powerful offensive team. The final line was -20 for USF, so in that sense, UConn did better than expected and frankly held on longer than I would have thought. There were some encouraging signs going forward for this squad. UConn comes home to play UCF (3-3) next weekend as they look to climb back to .500 on the year.