If, as UConn head coach Bob Diaco said following last week’s opening season loss to BYU, that Huskies football is in its infancy, then Saturday’s lackluster win over FCS opponent Stony Brook, was, at best, little more than a baby step in the growth of the program. Unusually high heat and humidity may have played a factor, but UConn showed little punch in the 19-16 afternoon win over the visiting Seawolves before a crowd of over 23,000 at ‘The Rent’ in East Hartford.
UConn (1-1), playing without starting quarterback Casey Cochran, unavailable due to an undisclosed upper body injury, put the ball in the hands of veteran Chandler Whitmer (12-27, 142 yds, TD). UConn opened the game with the ball and the junior QB, who split time under center with Cochran last week, wasted no time engineering a 40 yard drive resulting in a 42 yard Bobby Puyol field goal putting the Huskies up 3-0.
Said Diaco on Whitmer’s play, “I think (Whitmer) played well. He was smart with some of those runs he had and he’s an elusive quarterback.”
In a hole
The Huskies forced a punt on the Seawolves first possession but great coverage pinned UConn on its own one. The field position was ripe for disaster and sure enough it didn’t take long, as Running back Josh Marriner was stopped for no gain on his first carry, was nearly tackled for a safety on his second carry and proceeded to fumble on his third carry with Stony Brook DB Naim Cheeseboro recovering the loose ball in the UConn end zone, staking the visitors to the 7-3 lead midway through the first quarter.
Things got worse for Marriner on the ensuing kickoff when an injury ended his day although Diaco said he was cleared to play late in the game with the team opting instead to err on the side of caution.
Following the touchdown both teams traded punts before a touchback gave UConn the ball on its own 25. On the second play from scrimmage a Whitmer fumble on a pass play gave the Seawolves the ball on the UConn 20. Four plays later a 33 yard field goal by Przemyslaw Popek put Stony Brook (0-2) up by a touchdown with two minutes left in the first.
The inauspicious start had the sweltering crowd, that in reality looked barely big enough to fill the old on campus Memorial Stadium, wondering if UConn was on the verge of losing to an FCS opponent (33-18 loss to Towson) for the second straight year.
“The team today showed a lot of grit and grind”, said Diaco. “Our brotherhood and culture shined through and they were able to play hard for four quarters. They gave it all they had and finished strong.” Adding, “It was hot out there and was really a strain on the players, who showed great fight and showed that they are doing the little things that were the difference”
The game time temperature was 87 degrees coupled with the humidity making it feel more like the upper 90’s and even hotter on the playing field.
Back on track
The Huskies regrouped in the second quarter capping an eleven play drive with a 27 yard Puyol field goal cutting the Seawolves lead to 10-6. The teams combined for five punts after the field goal, notching a combined twenty for the game, before UConn showed a spark moving the ball 70 yards on four plays with a 30 yard touchdown catch by Geremy Davis (6 catches-113 yds) capping the drive.
“(Davis) is a weapon”, said Diaco, “He’s strong and big, he can catch, he blocks he runs crisp routes and he’s a challenge. He would have had six more catches but we were just slightly off target.”
Max DeLorenzo (10 carries-23 yds) was a huge factor in the drive with a 17 yard reception following that with an 18 yard run. UConn’s extra point attempt was blocked, but the Huskies still took a 12-10 lead into the half.
The turning point came in the third, as Deshon Foxx scrambled to recover a punt that sailed over his head, grabbing the ball and returning the kick 72 yards putting UConn up, 19-10, just over five minutes into the second half. It was UConn’s first TD punt return since Nick Walker’s 58 yard return against Maryland on September 15, 2012.
Said Foxx on his return, “(Luke Allen) definitely kicked it deep on me and he outkicked his coverage pretty much. I got a lucky bounce and I noticed I had a lot of space in front of me. I was just able to make one guy miss and then there it was.”
The oppressive heat seemed to be taking its toll as both teams put on a punting exhibition before the Seawolves began an impressive fourth quarter 88 yard, 14 play touchdown drive that pulled the visitors within three with just under two minutes left. Popek’s extra point attempt hit the upright leaving the Seawolves trailing 19-16.
Davis recovered the on-side kick giving UConn the ball on its own 41. A three and out possession gave the Seawolves one last desperate gasp starting with the ball on their own five with 0:44 seconds left. They would get no farther than the line of scrimmage as four incomplete passes ended Stony Brooks hopes of an upset.
Following the teams win and his first win as a head coach Diaco said, “Dinner will taste better”