Sunday, November 05, 2017

Tough final act at Rentschler Field for UConn seniors

Perhaps if the Huskies had been playing a quarterback not named Quinton Flowers, the 24 players honored before their final game at Rentschler Field would have left their home away from home with a victory to celebrate.

However, Flowers racked up a South Florida program record 516 yards of total offense. It was the sixth most by an FBS player this season and fourth most in American Athletic Conference history.
Still, there were plays that the seniors will get to remember for the rest of their lives.

Tight end Tommy Myers isn't targeted often in UConn's offense and perhaps that was why no USF defender paid attention to him on a 4th and goal play that resulted in the first of UConn's three touchdowns.

UConn's final defensive play was capped by a hustling Vontae Diggs knocking the ball out of Darius Tice's hands. The ball hit in the end zone and then caromed out of bounds giving the ball back to the Huskies and preventing another touchdown by the Bulls.

Junior Joseph finished with nine tackles giving him 295 in his career. He moved by Abbott Burrell, Mark Michaels and Uyi Osunde and into 15th place on UConn's career tackles list. He's got some work to do to move up even further as next up is Brad Keatley's 311 tackles.

Joseph reflected on the day's festivities and his run at UConn following the game.

"I've played with a lot of guys and have seen their senior days and different guys that I have played with since I have been here and it is special," said Joseph, who made his 37th career start matching the UConn record for a defensive player set by Dwayne Gratz and also accomplished by Jhavon Williams. "It is kind of surreal that it is my last time in this stadium all the memories I made with guys like Byron, Andrew, Obi guys who are in the NFL and it is a privilege playing with those guys and playing my last game here is surreal. I soaked it in before the game, just tried to focus on the game."

It's been a tough year injury wise for the senior class as running back Arkeel Newsome, linebacker E.J. Levenberry and safety Brice McAllister were unable to play. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and running back Jason Thompson were knocked out of the game with concussions.

With UConn's home game against Boston College on Nov. 18 at Fenway Park, there will be no more Rentschler Field experiences for the senior class.

Now the goal is to avoid making the wrong kind of history. UConn came into the season with six straight losing seasons, the longest streak in program history. It was first accomplished from 1930-35, again from 1974-79. One more loss would make it a program record seven straight losing campaigns and next up is undefeated UCF on the road. In the last four seasons, UConn has lost 32 games which is tied for the third most in a four-year span at UConn. If the Huskies lose their final three games, it will match the record for losses in a four-year run set two years ago.

Speaking of unwanted history, Marquez Valdes-Scantling's 95-yard touchdown reception is the longest given up by UConn during the FBS era. It's been reported Tres Moses of Rutgers' 87-yard TD catch in 2004 was the record but that is not true. Actually it isn't even the longest play by a Rutger receiver against UConn as in 2011 Brandon Coleman went 94 yards for a touchdown. If anybody is wondering, the 95-yard catch and run is the longest offensive TD by a UConn opponent since New Hampshire's Jerry Azumah had a 96 yard scoring run in 1996.

It wasn't all bad news. Quayvon Skanes had 172 yards on kickoff returns, the most by a UConn player since Tyvon Branch's 184 yards against Rutgers in 2007. Speaking of Skanes, he also had two catches giving him 30 this season. That is a program record for freshman as Kashif Moore had 27 receptions in 2008. With Keyion Dixon now at 20 receptions, it marks the first time since 2002 that more than one UConn freshman has 20 catches. Terry Caulley, Jason Williams and Brandon Young all topped the 20-catch plateau that season.

With Kevin Mensah getting the start at tailback, six true freshmen have started on offense or defense which is a program record. Mensah finished with 95 yards rushing including a 23-yard TD run. He did a much better job running up the field after having too many East-West type runs in recent weeks.

"You never go East-West," Mensah said. "He (running backs coach Terry Richardson) tells me to hit the hole and go, get as much yardage as I could. He has been telling me to relax, I am a (perfectionist). He tells me that can't happen, he said I have to be patient, being in your comfort zone and be relaxed. When that comes all together, you play your best."

It's very possible that UConn could be without Newsome, Thompson and Nate Hopkins against UCF meaning an even bigger workload for Mensah. Seeing Thompson on the sideline and unable to return to the game hit Mensah pretty hard.

"He is my roommate so everything he does I follow because he works so hard, being a walk-on and getting a scholarship, you can tell he loves this games and he wants to be on the field. Him not being on the field hurts all of us."


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