UConn Fumbles Away Bowl Bid

Mistakes and inexperience drove the final nail into UConn's coffin Saturday and prevented the Huskies from going to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Of course, a talented Louisville team had something to do with the Huskies' ultimate demise, which came by the score of 30-20 at Rentschler Field. UConn (5-6) fumbled the ball away four times and was burned by too many big plays by the Cardinals to pull the upset necessary to finish with a winning record.

To their credit, the Huskies fought to the very end. Determination could not make up for a lack of execution, however, and the focus shifts to 2006 and beyond.

 

Here is a position-by-position look at how UConn fared against the Gator Bowl -bound Cardinals:

 

OFFENSE

 

Offensive line: Let's start with this: Elvis Dumervil, Louisville's all-world defensive end, finished with one measly unassisted tackle, and it wasn't a sack. Maybe he was too cold to care, or maybe he was coasting through a game that had little meaning to the Cardinals. Or maybe the offensive line, particularly William Beatty, did a masterful job of keeping Dumervil's mitts off D.J. Hernandez.

 

Still, Louisville did manage to sack Hernandez four times, and the Huskies rushed for only 87 yards --- not enough to grind out a victory against a ranked opponent. Center Keith Gray sprained his ankle in the first quarter, resulting in Trey Tonsing's return to the front five, and the transition went smoothly enough (except for one false start by Tonsing deep in Louisville territory in the third quarter). The Huskies weren't flagged for a single holding penalty.

 

Offensive Line Grade: C+

 

Quarterback: Making his second career start, redshirt freshman D.J. Hernandez was light on his feet, as he showed originally against Syracuse back in October, and showed a decent touch with his passes. He also held the ball too long at times and didn't stay in the pocket long enough at other times, seemingly uncomfortable with the offensive scheme. He did throw three touchdown passes, including a 57-yard strike to Nollis Dewar with 4:21 left that may have been the best-thrown pass at Rentschler Field since Dan Orlovsky went pro.

 

"We didn't win," Hernandez said, "so it doesn't matter."

 

Against a quality opponent, it should be noted, Matt Bonislawski never looked this good.

 

Quarterback Grade: B-

 

Wide receivers/tight end: What was this? Jason Williams making a catch and breaking a tackle (according to historians, the first broken tackle in his five years at UConn) to get into the end zone? Brandon McLean catching a slant and cruising 57 yards before getting caught from behind just short of the end zone? Nollis Dewar catching a perfectly thrown 57-yard touchdown pass and making four receptions on the night, after coming into the game with three catches in 10 games? Brandon Young making four receptions, including a couple of clutch third-down grabs? Where has this been?

 

Oh, there were the usual drops (this means you, Dan Murray) and Williams ended up leaving with a concussion, but in a losing effort the receivers finally distinguished themselves after a long, nearly invisible season.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Grade: B

 

Running backs/fullbacks: Yards were hard to come by for the the Huskies on this night. Fullback Lou Allen went forward on most plays, but not far, picking up 21 yards on 10 carries. Tailback Terry Caulley had 14 yards on one tough carry and a total of four yards on his other eight carries. Cornell Brockington spent almost the entire night shivering on the sidelines, never once touching the ball during his rare stints on the field.

 

Not much to show from this group, and a huge question mark hangs over the head of the once-dominant and formerly reliable Brockington heading into his senior year. Saturday was a vote of no-confidence.

 

Running Backs/Fullbacks Grade: D+

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive line: It wasn't as obvious as the four lost fumbles or the blocked field goal try, but the game was lost as much along the defensive line of scrimmage as anywhere else. It's not so much what the Huskies did as what they didn't do: Hold that line. Dan Davis, an untamed "Beast" against South Florida, was reduced to lap dog by the Louisville O-line. He figured in on five tackles. All in all, Santa Claus has as many sacks as the Huskies' front four did Saturday: one each.

 

Captain Deon McPhee did the honors, collecting his third sack of the season. Fellow senior Shawn Mayne chimed in with six tackles. But the front four had little luck penetrating the Cardinals' offensive line, leading to 200 rushing yards for Louisville and 276 passing yards by Hunter Cantwell in his first collegiate start. Low point: Defensive tackle Rhema Fuller didn't figure in on a single tackle. He's better than that --- much better.

 

Defensive Line Grade: C-

 

Linebackers: When the defensive line falters, the linebackers suffer. Though the starting trio of James Hargrave, Taurien Sowell, and Danny Lansanah did its share, it wasn't the driving force of the defense the way it was against South Florida.

 

Hargrave had a sack among his seven tackles, leaving it all out on the field the way a good captain should. Lansanah led all performers with 15 tackles, though all but two of them were assisted, which takes some of the glow off the overall total. Taurien Sowell came up with nine tackles in his final outing in a UConn uniform.

 

"We got one or two turnovers," Hargrave said (it was two --- a fumble and an interception). "But we tried to aim for four or five."

 

Had they met their lofty goal, the outcome would have been different. It's a lot to ask, no doubt, but UConn linebackers are held to higher standards. They have to be great, not ordinary, for the Huskies to win.

 

Linebackers Grade: C+

 

Defensive backs: It was a night to forget for the usually reliable Darius Butler. He was picked on early and often by Cantwell, then suffered a right knee injury on the same play in which fellow corner Tyvon Branch was whistled for interference.

 

If it wasn't Butler's night, then maybe it was Branch's. He led the Huskies with six solo tackles (11 altogether) and played with confidence, if not technical perfection. He broke up two passes, which was twice as many as any other Husky.

 

Once Butler left, the situation only grew worse. Cantwell wasted no time going after his replacement, Courtney Robinson. The true freshman was burned on a 46-yard touchdown pass to Mario Urrutia less than four minutes after Butler left the game. Robinson improved as the game went on, but not enough to make a real difference. Besides, he dropped a pass late in the third quarter that was just begging to be intercepted. The ball hit him right in the chest and bounced away. Given a second lease on the drive, Louisville got close enough for Art Carmody to boot a 38-yard field goal and make it 30-14.

 

Free safety Marvin Taylor intercepted a pass in the end zone and made eight tackles in another above-average performance. Strong safety M.J. Estep made seven tackles, but was never all that much of a factor.

 

Defensive Backs Grade: C+

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Chris Pavasaris rebounded in style from a tough game against South Florida in which he was booed by the home fans. He put four of his eight punts inside the 20, uncorked a 60-yard punt, and did everything in his power to make the Cardinals have to go a long, long way just to get into scoring position.

 

The punt and kickoff coverage teams did their jobs effectively, as has been the case all season. Butler was off to a flying start as the kickoff return man, but he was hurt too early in the game to be a true factor.

 

For every excellent outing like Pavasaris', there was a disastrous one like Brandon McLean's. The sophomore fumbled away a punt and a kickoff, two huge mistakes deep in his own territory against a team that doesn't need his kind of help to put games out of reach. Granted, McLean is a third-stringer playing only because Larry Taylor and Jimmy McClam hurt their knees. But that doesn't excuse him from having to catch a football.

 

In addition, Matt Nuzie had a field goal blocked for the second time in three weeks, the result of a botched blocking assignment.

 

For UConn to be a contender in the Big East in 2006, it is going to have to be a heck of a lot more dependable and consistent on its special teams.

 

                                                            Special Teams Grade: C-


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