Day of Frustration

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – It should come as no surprise that the Connecticut locker room at Rentschler Field was not a pleasant place to be Saturday afternoon after North Carolina State (1-1) defeated the Huskies 10-7.

Senior offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett said it took much longer than usual for him to get dressed into his street clothes after the game. That's the admission of a painful loss.

"The effort we put forth wasn't what I thought it would be," Bennett said. "Coach [Paul Pasqualoni] was talking after the game and it was just dead silent. A lot of guys shaking their head. He was obviously upset with the offense and didn't know why we didn't perform like we're supposed to.

"Honestly, we all don't. It's a group thing. It's not just one person or one group on the team. We've got to put it together, all 11 on the offense have to work together and freaking move the ball down the field. We're capable of doing it. We've done it before. We have to be able to do it. We're going to work toward that and that's the goal."

The irony of the offense's failure, which included three interceptions and one lost fumble, was that it absolutely ruined a terrific performance by the UConn defense, a unit that proved the season opening effort against UMass was no fluke with six sacks and one fumble recovery, along with 11 tackles for loss and four pass breakups.

"Frustrating afternoon, to put it mildly," Pasqualoni told reporters. "N.C. State is a good solid team. You can't turn it over four times against a team like that and expect to win. It was a three-point game in the end. Too many miscues and squandered field position in the first quarter. We just didn't come up with anything. . . . Just a frustrating day."

With dark skies threatening all afternoon, the Huskies (1-1) forced a crowd of 34,202 to witness an exercise in offensive ineptitude. It never stormed but that would have given the fans a polite excuse to scurry for the exits. Many did leave early, but they ultimately might have regretted that decision when the Huskies put together a three-play, 63-yard drive for their only touchdown with 7 minutes left to play.

And UConn did have one final shot at tying or winning the game. If the Huskies had pulled it off, it might have gone down as the most undeserved victory in college football history. But on fourth-and-four with 94 seconds left in the game, quarterback Chandler Whitmer tried to thread a pass to wide receiver Geremy Davis and it was broken up by the Wolfpack's All-America cornerback, David Amerson.

After avoiding Amerson's side of the field most of the day, that was a bad decision by Whitmer. But the same could be said for almost everything the Huskies did on offense.

"I kind of forced that one," Whitmer said. "But I'll live to fight another day."

The numbers do not lie. UConn's total offense amounted to 239 yards (35 rushing and 204 passing). That's right, 35 rushing. For the record, that is not UConn's lowest total on the ground since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2002. The Huskies had just 12 yards at West Virginia on Nov. 2, 2005.

Tailback Lyle McCombs gained 60 yards on 20 carries. That's 3.0 yards per carry. The only other rusher in the positive yardage category was receiver Michael Smith with three yards on one carry. McCombs was the UConn scoring attack, driving into the end zone on a 5-yard run after setting up the TD with a nifty catch and run on a 43-yard pass reception in fourth quarter.

"I'm surprised," McCombs said about the sputtering running game. "But there's definitely a reason for it. We just have to learn from these last two games and I have no doubt in my mind we will get the running game going soon."

Whitmer completed 15 of 27 passes but was sacked three times and intercepted three times. The Huskies punted eight times, were 2 of 12 on third down conversions and 0-for-2 on fourth down conversions. In addition to the three interceptions, tight end John Delahunt fumbled after a pass reception and the ball was recovered by the Wolfpack to set up the game's first TD, a 46-yard pass from Mike Glennon to Bryan Underwood with 8:34 left in the third quarter.

A day that offered a huge opportunity for the Huskies instead turned into an enormous downer. With the next two games on the road, starting next Saturday against former UConn coach Randy Edsall at Maryland (2-0), UConn is suddenly facing a crisis in its non-conference schedule.

‘It's frustrating because we let this one get away," linebacker Sio Moore said. "This game was 7-10. We came back and we fought. It was a close game. On defense, we have to make sure we take care of little details. We can't games like this get away. We're a fighting team."

The question is how long this magnificent defense can keep up the good fight without support from the offense.

Pasqualoni warned all week that there were problems with UConn's running game and they needed to be fixed. Whitmer said he thought everything had been ironed out but admitted the "live bullets" of game day got to him.

"We had a really good week of practice," Bennett said. "Honestly, we did. Obviously it's a different defense. We worked through the things we had to change from UMass. We picked it up, fixed it and then we moved on to N.C. State and practiced really well.

"There was nothing we didn't expect. The practice speed is a little slow and they were slanting. We watched the film [against Tennessee] and they weren't slanting as hard. But against us they were slanting a gap and a half. It's difficult to see that in practice."

And it was difficult for UConn's defense to watch. Yawin Smallwood (career high 14 tackles), Jesse Joseph, Byron Jones, Trevardo Williams and Moore were on top of their games again. The only slip up came on the coverage by Taylor Mack and Ty-Meer Brown on the long touchdown pass. Give credit to the Wolfpack for executing an outstanding play.

"We knew this was going to be a tough game," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. "We knew this would be a grind-it-out game. That's how they play football up here."

Unfortunately, the Huskies couldn't grind this one out for a victory. As a result, the loss will just grind on them a while and that's the last thing they need with Edsall and Maryland waiting for their arrival next Saturday.

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