UConn Outlasts South Florida, 15-10

UConn kept alive its hopes for a second consecutive bowl trip by outslugging South Florida 15-10 in Big East action at Rentschler Field. The Huskies got a 60-yard touchdown run from Lou Allen, a safety, and a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Darius Butler, then stood its ground as the Bulls made charge after charge. A victory over Louisville next Saturday in East Hartford would give the Huskies a 6-5 record and make them eligible for a bowl.

Here is a position-by-position look at how UConn fared against the Bulls:

OFFENSE

 

Offensive line: Looked great early, especially after Allen was sprung by a block by a pulling Matt Applebaum to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead 1:27 into the game. As the game wore on, however, the front five seemed to be living more and more off that one play as running yardage became nearly impossible to attain. Draws to Terry Caulley late were the only rushing plays that worked. Matt Bonislawski was sacked three times, including once in the fourth quarter that may have resulted in a season-ending shoulder or collarbone injury to the junior quarterback. The discipline was there (no holds, one false start), which was a bonus. At best, they fought the war in the trenches to a draw.

Offensive Line Grade: C+

 

Quarterback: The raw numbers were discouraging, if not downright ugly. Matt Bonislawski completed only eight of 26 passes, routinely missing the target on simple "out" routes. Even worse, he tucked the ball under his armpit and ran with it only six times. As we have come to realize, Bones' feet are more potent than Bones' right arm. But most of this discussion merits a gigantic asterisk (*) because Bonislawski finished the game in substantial pain in his left shoulder.

 

Bonislawski said he couldn't throw passes to the sidelines because he couldn't get the proper rotation in his shoulder. Plus, he didn't want to run with the ball because any hit might have broken Bones even more. Still, when UConn absolutely needed a first down to run out the clock on third-and-7 from its own 23 with 1:40 to go, Bones called his own number, rambled for 16 yards, and got a tremendous ovation from a relieved crowd for salting the game away.

 

"I told Coach every time I booted out nobody was there and I could get the first down," Bonislawski said.

 

"Matt Bonislawski is one tough kid," coach Randy Edsall said.

 

Factor in a D for the numbers and an A for determination and courage and ...

Quarterback Grade: C+

 

Wide receivers/tight end: Once again, a virtual non-factor. Jason Williams caught a team-high three passes, but nothing of significance. He also was flagged for a chop block. Tight end Dan Murray had a pair of receptions, but was used more as a blocker again. Brandon Young had at least as many drops as catches, while Brandon McLean had as many false starts as receptions (one each). Bonislawski's inability to hit the target made a bad situation worse --- the kind of help the receivers don't need.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Grade: D

 

Running backs/fullbacks: With Caulley under the weather and unable play regularly, Allen was supposed to split time with Cornell Brockington, according to Edsall. But the 60-yard burst changed that strategy. As the game grew into a slugfest along the line of scrimmage, tough yards were necessary, and Allen was UConn's best choice to get them. He didn't come anywhere close to busting free for another 60-yard gain, but he did finish with a career-high 101 yards.

 

Caulley averaged 7.2 yards per rush on a day when yards came at a premium, but he carried the ball only five times. Brockington never made an impact, and Bonislawski was disturbingly silent until his game-clinching keeper in the final two minutes.

Running Backs/Fullbacks Grade: B-

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive line: If you didn't before, now you know why Dan Davis is known as "The Beast." The sophomore defensive end was a load for the South Florida offensive line to handle, and his sack on Courtney Denson when the Bulls went for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 6 with six minutes left was a pivotal play. South Florida tried a trick play that was supposed to end with Denson throwing the ball back to quarterback Pat Julmiste, who, in the best of all USF worlds, would have been left uncovered in the end zone. But Davis drove Denson into the turf before any thought of a pass could even be harbored.

 

"He reminded me of Alfred Fincher out there," linebacker Danny Lansanah said. "We just fed off his energy."

 

Defensive tackle Deon McPhee was credited with a safety after Julmiste mishandled a high snap in the end zone in the first quarter. Defensive tackle Rhema Fuller recovered two fumbles, including one that he forced, and finished with four tackles. Shawn Mayne led the front four with six tackles, including two for a loss, as the Huskies held the Bulls to 83 yards rushing, 146 below their average.

 

Defensive Line Grade: A-

 

Linebackers: Lansanah was everywhere. In fact, he even started everyone's car so they would be cozy and warm when they filed out after the game. He did it all. He led the Huskies with 12 tackles, he broke up a pass that was nearly intercepted, and he had an interception of his own nullified by an offside call on Davis.

 

James Hargrave finished with his second career interception, a sack, and nine tackles. He stood his ground on the South Florida trick play in the fourth quarter as well, ruining any chance of a potential pass from Denson to Julmiste being completed. As always, Hargrave played with discipline and desire, and bounced back after taking a hard hit in the second half and having to be helped off the field.

 

Could any of this have been possible without the man in the middle? Taurien Sowell returned after missing three games with a high ankle sprain and spearheaded the defensive effort. Andre Hall, the Big East's leading rusher, finished with 93 yards. That wouldn't have happened with Ryan Henegan or (yikes) Anthony Rouzier at middle linebacker.

 

"When he's not in there," Hargrave said of Sowell, "we miss that senior leadership he brings."

 

Amen to that.

Linebackers Grade: A

 

Defensive backs: Not only did Butler run back a kickoff for a touchdown, but also picked off a pass for the fourth time this season. Unfortunately, he fumbled the ball after an 18-yard return, but he proved again why he is the best defensive back on the roster.

 

Free safety Marvin Taylor made eight tackles and broke up a pass, just missing an interception as the ball bounded out of his hands as he hit the turf. Taylor continues to excel and give the Huskies a badly needed presence in the secondary.

 

Elsewhere, the results weren't so good. Strong safety M.J. Estep made two tackles, but missed two others in glaringly important situations. Cornerback Tyvon Branch was victimized by South Florida's only touchdown pass, from Julmiste to S.J. Green in the second quarter. Branch will see more balls come his way as opponents catch on that it's smarter to throw to the corner opposite Butler's. The experience will only help Branch, if it doesn't destroy him.

 

"You have to have a short memory," Edsall said, "especially on the corner."

 

Julmiste was 10-for-26 with three interceptions. The credit deserves to be spread around.

Defensive Backs Grade: B

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

If not for Butler's kickoff return, UConn would have lost the game and the special teams would have been a major reason why. Butler may (repeat, may) be a step slower than Larry Taylor, and he may not have as many flashes moves as "Little LT," but he gets downfield in a hurry and he knows how to make defenders miss tackles.

But once you get past Butler, the news isn't good.

 

Is there a third punter anywhere in Storrs? Chris "Hit The Upright" Pavasaris didn't put any punts into the end zone this week, but that would have been a welcome change from what he did produce: 10 punts for 304 yards. His final punt of the day, when UConn really needed a strong boot to pin South Florida deep before its last-ditch drive to avoid defeat, went 10 yards. Ten yards! Sure, the ball was cold, but a 10-yard punt was inexcusable, especially in that situation.

 

Pavasaris' saving grace came when he forced Amarri Jackson out of bounds at the 8 after a 42-yard punt and 37-yard return, saving a touchdown. The defense dug in from there and kept the Bulls out of the end zone, preserving the 15-10 lead.

 

Matt Nuzie fared no better than Pavasaris. Nuzie's kicks went longer, but they sure didn't go straight. He missed a 38-yard field goal and an extra point. Had he converted both kicks, UConn would have had a nine-point lead in the second half and caused the fans and coaches a lot less stress in the final minutes.

 

Punt returner McLean was tentative on one short punt in the second quarter and had it go off his leg for a turnover when UConn would have had field position in South Florida territory if he had just left the ball alone. He was shaky on other catches too, but made just one big mistake.

 

The coverage teams were OK except for Jackson's return, which nearly cost UConn the game.

Special Teams Grade: D

Darius Butler's Grade: A-


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