The Misery Ends. UConn falls to 3-9 with 38-13 loss to Tulane.
EAST HARTFORD: It seems like just yesterday that the University of Connecticut football team was dreaming of a second straight Bowl game appearance.
After all, the team was another year older, the program under third year head coach Bob Diaco had made great strides since year one when the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator took over.
They had a chance to be 4-0 at the start of the season, in need of just two more wins to become eligible to play in the post season.
How did it go so ridiculously off the tracks, spectacularly obliterating any semblance of said track in such a big hurry?
That puzzle is what Diaco and his much maligned coaching staff will have to figure out during a long, cold winter in Storrs that will require a lot of soul searching and rebuilding of a foundation that seemed so solid at times early this year, only to crumble over the six game, season ending losing streak.
Diaco spoke to what it felt like as things started to slip away after the encouraging start to the season.
“There’s a point in which you’re like, this must be a dream, no make that a nightmare,” Diaco said. “We were so much better. We were so much better than we were in ’15, entering ’16. It’s incredible and then this string of horrible circumstances and they all played a part, plus a very challenging schedule.”
The final insult, the nail in the coffin, the shot to the head (Walking Dead style) came on Saturday when the Huskies were embarrassed by a Tulane Green Wave team by a 38-13 final.
Redshirts were burned, ribs were displaced and no matter what Diaco tried, it all just seemed to melt down before his very eyes.
How bad was the finale?
Considering the Green Wave came into the came as one of the worst offensive teams in the country (UConn owns that distinction) and had dropped six in a row, one may have expected another captivating 7-3 or 10-7 contest but not in this nightmare campaign for the Huskies.
Tulane was nearly unstoppable in the opening half, throwing up 24-points against an UConn defense that surrendered 92 points in their last three games.
UConn had a punt blocked to set up a score on their first possession and things went downhill from there.
The Green Wave were no defensive wonders coming in, having given up 98 points in their last three but managed to throw a shut out in the first half and churned up 421 total yards of offense, 255 of it on the ground for the game.
Over their final four games, UConn was outscored 130-13. Much has been made of the offense this year and deservedly but the defense was not much better after being a strength last year when they held opponents under 20 points per game.
This year the number sticks out like a sore thumb at 28 points per game while scoring an anemic 14 points per game.
UConn’s scoring draught finally ended at 6:08 on Saturday night and with 6:55 left in the quarter when Newsome broke out of the scrum (Ansonia style) and emerged on the other side, 62-yards later for the touchdown.
Connecticut had gone 51 drives since their last points and it looked for all a while that it may be sometime more.
Newsome would score again in the fourth quarter when he was on the receiving end of Donovan Williams (11-26-104, two picks) first career touchdown pass, this one from 20-yards out but the game out of reach at 31-13.
Newsome contributed a pair of big runs in the first quarter, the first on the Huskies initial offensive play which went for 17-yards, the next late in the first quarter for 36 yards as UConn moved out from their own 8-yard line.
The former Ansonia great had no clue what losing was when he came to UConn and after an encouraging sophomore year, the second part of his junior year was something that took a lot out of him.
His support network back in Charger country is strong though and they continue to have his back.
“I definitely talk to coach (Tom Brockett),” Newsome said. “I talked to him today and he always gives me encouragement and to go out there and give it my all. For myself, I just watch highlights of some of the things I did in high school and it kind of motivates me to be my best.”
Newsome ended the game with 166 yards rushing, 28 receiving yards and 40 on returns as he remains one of the team’s most explosive weapons.
The Huskies had just that initial Newsome first down before their final drive of the opening quarter when they strung together three to end the frame. Thomas connected with Williams on an end around to give the home team the ball at the Green Wave 21 as the second quarter began.
As has been the case for so much of this disastrous season, the good fortune did not last for the Huskies who had a 29-yard field goal attempt by Bobby Puyol blocked and the point’s drought continued.
The Green Wave, suddenly feeling like a tsunami, marched 80-yards to go up 17-0 with 9:01 left in the half.
A 24-0 halftime lead may have well have been 100 at this point and while the second half did see the end zone drought end, it was too little, too late.
How will Diaco and the Huskies do what appears to be nothing short of a rebuilding project after spending the past three years looking to do just that?
It’s a tall, daunting task with no easy answers but the soul searching and more begins on Sunday.
How do the Huskies give their fan base, which started the year with great expectations and have to feel completely let down at this point?
“Tough game, tough year,” Diaco said. “A long hard year. The team tried hard today and strained; no one quit and everybody fought. It was a long hard season in which expectations were spectacular high and the results and production spectacular low. The minute I step away from this podium I am going to get started on 2017.”
NOTES: Obi Melifonwu finished the game with 24 tackles, tying him with three others for the all-time lead.
That your safety has the most tackles on your team isn’t always a good thing but good job by the senior.
An emotional Diaco spoke about the seniors that played their final game on Saturday.
“It was an incredible honor and that’s what hurts and I love them,” Diaco said. “It reciprocates back and they are good men. They have to use this 2016 experience with all of its misery and suffering for their benefit and they will. When adversity strikes them, and it will as life does in their professional life or with their family, they will know how to respond. That’s what we talked about and they know I will be there for them; every one of them. I just feel bad that the year went the way it did for them.”
Noel Thomas finishes his stellar career with a nine catch day, good for 60 yards and totaled 2235 yards on 183 grabs in his time on the field.
Many questions remain for the Huskies.
Will Bryant Shirreffs return after he graduates to play one more year or has that ship sailed with the burning of the Williams shirt?
Who will step up at wide receiver with Thomas gone? Newsome is the team’s second leading pass catcher at 81 followed by a big drop off to Hergy Mayala at 30.
Will the offensive line get better? It has remained a sore spot (ask Shirreffs) for many a year and needs to get better.
The new season starts on Sunday.
Let’s see where it goes.