Entering Saturday’s game with undefeated UCF, it was clear the matchup was a tough one, specifically for the defensive unit. The 41-point spread exemplified what many thought would be a complete mismatch at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, but what transpired on the field was far from a laugher. The final score was 49-24, but was not indicative of the competitive level and fight that the Huskies showed throughout the majority of the game.
From the jump, the UConn defense seemed much more confident and sure tackling than has been seen in recent weeks, forcing a quick three-and-out to start the game. An offsides penalty on the ensuing punt mitigated the stop, handing the Knights a first down and their offense was able to move down the field and finish off the first drive to take an early 7-0 lead. UConn answered, marching 74-yards to the UCF 1-yard line, but Nate Hopkins was stuffed at the goal line on 1st and goal and the Huskies suffered a false start on 2nd down from the half-yard line, resulting in the offense settling for a field goal on their opening drive.
On the very first play from scrimmage after UCF responded with another touchdown drive to go up 14-3, the Huskies ran a quick pitch out of the gun to RB Kevin Mensah that was originally ruled incomplete, but upon review was corrected to a lateral pitch with clear recovery by UCF. It was another mistake early that saw QB McKenzie Milton hit Marlon Williams 5-plays later to put UCF up 21-3 with just 20-seconds left in the opening quarter. UConn, however hung tough and pulled to within 28-17 early in the third after QB David Pindell hit Arkeel Newsome on a 60-yard pass play to get the Huskies in scoring range, but mistakes limited UConn from chipping away any further.
“We had an opportunity to finish and we didn’t finish,” head coach Edsall said following the loss. “It started on the very first series. We stop them, have a guy listening to someone making the kick call instead of looking at the ball and we go offsides and have to have the defense go back on the field and they go down and score, so that wasn’t good. Then we have a chance to go down there, 3rd and inches and we go illegal procedure. Early in the game, we were shooting ourselves in the foot with mistakes and we aren’t really a heavily penalized team [8 penalties for 79-yards on Saturday], so we’ll have to take a look and figure out why.”
“We come out in the second half, score to make it 28-17, defensively we played probably the best we have all year in the third quarter and then we couldn’t do anything offensively after we get the touchdown,” he continued. “We couldn’t make a 3rd and 1, couldn’t make a 4th and 1 and then we get in the fourth quarter and we have guys that bust things on defense that led to touchdowns.”
The busted play occurred when LB Chris Britton, who played a great game from his linebacker position, went out with an undisclosed injury and Eddie Hahn came on in his place on a 3rd and 4 with 14:11 to play. UCF RB Otis Anderson hit the hole as Hahn closed in to make a stop, but he fanned on the diving tackle attempt and Anderson busted it out and up the right sideline for a deflating 65-yard touchdown that made it 35-17.
“We couldn’t be consistent again for an extended period of time,” Edsall said. “They are a really good football team and I thought we gave ourselves a chance when it was 28-17, we got the fumble and I think that kind of took the air out of them, but then we threw three incompletions and couldn’t move the ball. We still fought back, but couldn’t get over the hump at 28-17; if it got to 28-24, who knows what could’ve happened, but it never got there.”
The fumble Edsall referenced was an effort play by senior CB Tre’ Bell, on the drive after UConn cut the lead to 11-points. Milton hit Anderson for a 35-yard catch and run, but Bell made a spectacular effort after getting blocked onto the sideline, he fought off the block, chased Anderson down from behind and punched the ball out, which was recovered by Tyler Coyle. It was a play that Edsall was clearly pleased with, as he ended his post game press conference by expanding about that play.
“It just shows you that some of the messages are hitting home,” he said. “Not everything is going to be pretty when you play, but if you give effort from when the ball is snapped to when the whistle blows, you can still make good things happen. That’s why you never give up, you just keep on playing and that’s what guys have to do. As I told them in the locker room, that’s an example of what we’ve been coaching, teaching and preaching all season long. Play every play like it’s the last play you’re ever going to play because if you do that, most importantly, you can look yourself in the mirror and say I played as hard as I could for sixty minutes and you don’t have to turn your head or your back on your teammates when you do that.”
“As long as we do that, some days we may not come out on top, but at least I’ll live with the fact that we gave everything that we had and the other team might have made a few more plays than we did that day, but if you don’t do that, you don’t ever give yourself a chance to win,” he continued. “These kids are trying to give themselves a chance to win, but we still have some things where we are making some mistakes that are killing us, which is frustrating for them, for us and for everybody. We need to keep hammering home about being consistent, doing your job and playing as hard as you can on every play and if you do that, the wins will take care of themselves. We haven’t done enough of that to get any more wins than what we have right now, that’s all and we’ll just keep working at it and keep getting better.
PINDELL TAKES OVER STARTING QUARTERBACK SPOT PERMANENTLY
Quarterback David Pindell made his first start since opening night against Holy Cross and played well, showcasing his elusiveness and displaying he’s certainly taken several steps forward to get better since his first experience at this level. Pindell finished 18-of-31 for 201-yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT and also ran 21-times for 96-yards and another score. It was a performance that was enough for Edsall to proclaim Pindell the starter next week in Boston following the game.
“I liked what I saw out of him,” Edsall said. “He’s going to start next week, I’m going to end the controversy right here, he’s going to start. I was pleased with what he did, he’s going to start and I thought that he got better. To me, he’ll get better. He brings an element where he ran the ball and did some good things. I was pleased with the things that he did, he’s got to step into the ball a little more a couple times, he should’ve underthrown that deep ball, but only way he’s going to get better is by playing.”
“I just go by what I see and what I saw today leads me to believe that he showed enough that he’s starting next week, so I’m ending that right now,” Edsall continued. “Give him credit. I thought he kept his poise, made plays with his arm and he threw a good ball there at the end and made some plays with his feet. I just like the way he commanded the offense today.”
Pindell clearly has more confidence and comfort at this level, which he confirmed after the game
“I felt comfortable with the game plan we had coming in,” Pindell said. “After game one, [coach] put me in back-up, but after that I just wanted to learn. It was good to get my feet wet in Division 1 football since it is a jump and then being able to watch to see how Bryant [Shirreffs] plays. I got back in and there were some things I tried to use and some things I still need to work on.”
What needs improvement?
“I need to step into my throws,” he said. “[On third down], there’s not much we tried to hide from, we knew we were going to run the ball. It’s all about the line getting the extra push to get our running backs through. All our 3rd and shorts, we were going to punch it through, but we just fell short. We had pretty good chemistry offensively. Defensively, they played well for all four quarters. On third and fourth downs, the money downs, those are the ones that are key to winning the game. We just need to convert those.”
Pindell brings another gear from the position with his legs, which was evident when he outran several defensive lineman to try to extend plays.
“After a couple zone reads, I got a feel for what type of defense they were,” Pindell said. “Their defensive linemen are pretty good, but I felt like I could outrun them. With that advantage, I just felt comfortable with the zone throughout the whole game, could outrun them and pull it. Some of the pass plays, in my drops backs, I need to trust the line a little more so I have confidence and step into my throws.”
In what must be an adjustment for the receiving corps, extending their routes and continuing to fight when Pindell does extend plays back there is critical. He thought the group did do a good job of that on Saturday.
“A couple of our naked plays, I dropped back and rolled out and they were showing effort trying to get open, but didn’t want to force it down the field,” he said.
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