"No question," Moore said when asked if the defensive unit let the entire team down. "Everybody always says the defense will carry this team. No, it's about us carrying each other. [UConn's offense] came up big for us tonight and we didn't execute on our half. We've got to minimize the mistakes and penalties."
Mistakes. Penalties. Poor execution.
UConn (2-3) could fault itself for all of the above in the final non-conference game of the season before 36,648 on a gloomy day at Rentschler Field. Most importantly, the Huskies couldn't stop Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder, who came to New England for the weekend and did his best imitation of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Carder completed 37 of 51 passes for 479 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage was a career high for the prolific junior. It's the third time in his career he has passed for five TDs in a game. Carder connected with wide receiver Jordan White 12 times for 173 yards and 2 TDs. But Robert Arnheim (10 for 113 yards) and Chleb Ravenell (9 for 123) each got their share of attention as well.
"When it's those kind of numbers, it means you weren't able to get to him enough and weren't able to harass him enough," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I thought we slowed [Carder] down a little bit in the second half, but he did a good job of getting the ball to other people as the game went on."
Western Michigan (3-2) stepped out of the Mid-American Conference and snubbed its collective nose at the BCS bullies from the Big East. It was Western's first victory over a BCS team since 2008. Running game? Who needs a stinking running game? The Broncos beat UConn with 11 rushing yards on 22 carries.
And before their final possession, which started with 45 seconds remaining, that rushing total had been zero yards. Zero.
The first quarter, which ended in a scoreless tie, went relatively well for UConn. The Huskies held Western Michigan to 28 yards (minus-2 rushing). After that, Carder just had his way. And UConn's defense, playing without injured cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, couldn't do anything right.
"It's unbelievable, especially [considering] how we started out on offense," Carder said. "I was messing up a lot and the guys stuck behind me. I got great play from my wideouts, offensive line and everyone. I can't think of a better way to go into conference play."
That might be the case for the Broncos, but UConn now has a long list of issues heading into the Big East opener Oct. 8 at West Virginia. Oddly enough, quarterback no longer seems to be the biggest headache for Pasqualoni and the coaching staff. That's because Johnny McEntee had a career day himself. The junior made his fifth consecutive start of the season and even though he couldn't match Carder, McEntee had an outstanding day. He led the Huskies to 24 points in the second half, including 17 unanswered that gave UConn a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
McEntee finished 22 of 39, passing for 300 yards and four touchdowns. He called Kashif Moore's number eight times for 112 yards and two TDs. Tailback Lyle McCombs and wide receiver Nick Williams also caught touchdown passes.
"The way they were playing tonight, some things opened up in the passing game," McEntee said. "We threw some short outs to Kashif and he made some big plays. That kind of got the offense rolling. I think we had a pretty good game plan going into it. We knew pretty much what they were going to do."
UConn knew all about Western Michigan's quick-tempo offense and Carder's ability to pile up the yards. But the Huskies defense didn't do the things they need to do to shut down the Broncos attack.
"They have a good offense," linebacker Jory Johnson said. "But our offense didn't do the job. We didn't make their receivers uncomfortable and we didn't get after the quarterback like we usually do." >p>Said Sio Moore: "We don't worry about other team's tempo. We play a style of defense where we worry about dictating the tempo. They did a great job and hats off to them. But at the same time, it was about us. We've got to do a better job and make sure we can manage ourselves the right way."
Despite the mistakes, despite the 10 penalties for 95 yards, UConn had a chance to tie the game with 1:35 remaining. The Huskies moved to the WMU 41 in five plays. Then McEntee found tight end Ryan Griffin open over the middle. Griffin caught the pass and looked like he had a path to the end zone. He was stopped at the 13 and as he went down safety Rontavious Atkins stripped the ball away and recovered the fumble.
"In that situation, as a competitor sometimes you try to do too much," Pasqualoni said. "The ball is the most important thing and sometimes going the extra yard isn't worth it. But that's easy for me to say standing here now. If that was me with the ball, I probably would have done the same thing."
UConn isn't that from being 5-0. Unfortunately, the record is 2-3 and the toughest games are still ahead.
"The message [to the team] is we have to keep going," Pasqualoni said. "Sometimes the tough battles make you better. There's a saying that the hottest fire makes the strongest iron. We've been in some hot fires and real battles. I think it helps you."