The clock read 1:22 to play, the Huskies trailed 22-15 and UConn quarterback David Pindell took the shotgun snap, standing 93-yards away from tying or winning the final game of the 2017 season. The drive did not start well, a throw away, but Pindell promptly hit Quayvon Skanes on a beautifully thrown 34-yard pass on the very next play, setting the Huskies up at their own 41 and just over a minute to go. He went on to connect with Aaron McLean twice, the second, a 7-yard gain on 3rd and 10, giving Pindell a must convert 4th and 3 from the Cincinnati 39-yard line. He came through again, completing a 24-yard pass over the middle to Keyion Dixon, who fought and dragged two Bearcat defenders to the sideline, reaching out of bounds at the 15, stopping the clock and preserving the Huskies final timeout.
Following three consecutive incompletions, UConn faced 4th and 10 with two seconds remaining. Pindell threw to the left corner to Hergy Mayala, who tried to fight his way through a defender and there was enough contact to warrant a pass interference in the end zone, meaning one final untimed play from the 2-yard line. Pindell took the snap, bought some time, rolled right and hit Mayala for the touchdown, leaving head coach Randy Edsall with a decision to make, down just one point. He made the call to go for the win, holding up two fingers and instructing the offense to remain on the field.
At the same time, a flag was thrown. Mayala, who was quickly mobbed by teammates, had looked down at his defender, perhaps saying something in the process as the official interpreted it as taunting, throwing a flag for 15-yards. Knowing Edsall and having seen how he has handled celebration type penalties before, he has absolutely no room for it. After the game, he reinforced those thoughts.
“You shouldn’t have to have that learning moment,” Edsall said after the loss. “We talk about that stuff all the time. That’s what’s disappointing. Things like that are individualistic acts and that’s not what this program is all about. When you do an individualistic act like that, now you see how it can cost the team. Catch the ball, hand the ball to the official and now we can go and play another play. But when you do that, when you try to do something that’s not what the game stands for and represents, that’s what held us. It was a selfish act.”
The penalty made the decision for Edsall to play for overtime, calling on K Michael Tarbutt, who had already converted on field goals from 37, 26 and 53-yards. His lone miss on the day had come from 49 and Tarbutt had drilled the 53-yarder that would have been good from 60. There he stood, 36-yards away, having put his early season struggles behind him. He had been in this situation before in the third game of the year, a 33-yarder against East Carolina with the Huskies trailing 41-38. That kick went wide right. Today, the extra point from 36-yards away snuck just outside the left upright, giving the Bearcats a 22-21 victory, sending the UConn senior class off with a stinging loss, similar to what they had experienced earlier in the year. As the players walked off, Tarbutt stood on the field, alone, head down in disappointment.
“I’m proud of the way they played and how hard they played and all those things,” head coach Randy Edsall said after the loss. “But you give yourself that opportunity and you can’t do anything there. Just hand the ball to the official. We were going to go for two, I was going for two, I was going for the win. I thought we had momentum. I thought we would’ve got two. And then we lose that opportunity to do that and unfortunately, we miss the extra point. It’s disappointing.”
You can look to the missed kick as the reason the game ended in a loss, but today really is about something head coach Randy Edsall had been preaching all season long, finishing. Finishing defensively, finishing drives offensively and finishing games overall. Defensively, UConn gave up 15-fourth quarter points. The Bearcats changed their philosophy late in the fourth and opened up their offense a bit, going at a faster pace and spreading the field with the passing game to set up their run. It worked. Cincinnati scored touchdowns on two of their three fourth quarter possessions, after having the ball for only 3:14 in the third quarter.
From a statistical perspective, this game should have been UConn’s and nine times out of ten, it probably falls that way. The Huskies outgained Cincinnati 449-yards to 335 and converted on 14-of-27 conversion downs, while allowing just 4-of-11. UConn also dominated possession, winning the time of possession battle, 39:40 to 20:20, which allowed the Huskies to run 103 plays to just 54 for the Bearcats. UConn also scored on all four red zone opportunities, while turning the Bearcats over on one of their four. The turnover differential was also even. The difference? When Cincinnati converted in the red zone, they scored touchdowns on all three. UConn came up with field goals half the time.
There’s no doubt this one hurts and in a program that hasn’t made a bowl game since 2015 and hasn’t had a winning season in seven years, it’s going to sting. But even in the face of defeat, there were positives to look at that gives reason to believe things are looking up. LB Ryan Gilmartin showed he has the skillset and strength at just 5’11” to play middle linebacker in this defense. He impressed throughout the first half filling in for senior Junior Joseph, who was required to sit out the first half for the targeting penalty he received a week ago. Gilmartin made several stops, including at or behind the line of scrimmage in short yardage situations. It was a promising showing of things that could be on the horizon in the future for the North Carolina native.
Offensively, it’s hard not to like the poise Pindell showed late. Driving and leading his team down 93-yards in just 1:22 in a must execute situations speaks for itself. Throwing the ball, he didn’t have his best day, but he still went 27-of-51 for 273-yards and the one touchdown. He also ran 22-times for 95-yards and another score. The one major mistake he made was a throw on the run into nowhere in particular that was picked off. The turnover led to the only touchdown of the first half surrendered by the Huskies.
“I thought he did some really good things out there today,” Edsall said on Pindell’s play. “There are things he can get better at. I was disappointed with his decision there at the end of the first half. When it’s third and seven, throw the ball away and we punt it and all that, don’t try to make a play. That’s the thing that we have to continue to get better at. I think David has a chance to work hard and get better, and I think he will do that. And you have to do that, because if you don’t, you have other people that are going to be competing to try to take his job. That’s the biggest thing. The more competition that we can create, the better we are going to be.”
Pindell got help from a myriad of receivers as ten different players had at least one catch on the day, especially Keyion Dixon who pulled in a game-high 8 catches for 67-yards, including the 24-yarder on the final drive. McLean, Mayala and Kevin Mensah each had four receptions and the thing about this group is they all return for another year.
Defensively, there were some mistakes, including a miscommunication on the back-end of the defense that resulted in the 13-yard Hayden Moore to Kahlil Lewis first-half touchdown that saw Lewis alone in the back of the end zone. Edsall called that and a few other errors out after the game.
“These guys have to understand the situations that they are in,” he said. “We had a man make a great play and intercept the ball in the end zone and try to run it out instead of just going down. We had a play down at the other end when they scored a touchdown, we made a check and we shouldn’t make a check in that part of the field. There’s just things we need to work on and continue to get better at with these young men. But like I said, I’m very proud of these young men and their effort in there and how they kept battling right to the very end. We just came up short.”
With the season over, the script now flips to 2018 and how the program can move forward.
“Now the season’s over, we have to get a lot bigger, stronger, a lot faster, most especially stronger and faster,” Edsall said. “They have this week off because of the time management plan and what you have to do, but then the following week we are going to get going and get right into it before they head home for the holidays and finals and all that stuff. We expect to get better. I know we are losing a lot of seniors. Those guys, I appreciate everything they have done in their time here. I was very sorry we couldn’t go out with a win here today, but we’ll be right. We’ll get it right.”
MATT SCHONVISKY / SITE CREATOR