UConn football Senior Day turns sour as Huskies lose to USF

South Florida wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) stiff-arms UConn cornerback Tyler Coyle during the first half of the Bulls' 37-20 win over the Huskies on Saturday at Rentschler Field. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
South Florida wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) stiff-arms UConn cornerback Tyler Coyle during the first half of the Bulls' 37-20 win over the Huskies on Saturday at Rentschler Field. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

East Hartford — Walking down the sideline in the second half, coach Randy Edsall spotted an emotional Jason Thompson.

Senior Day turned sour for Thompson and his fellow UConn football seniors.

The Huskies couldn't keep up with South Florida, suffering a 37-20 American Athletic Conference defeat on Saturday before 18,430 fans at Rentschler Field.

A concussion suffered in the first half forced Thompson, who started his career as a walk-on and played backup running back on Saturday, to finish his regular season home finale as a spectator.

"I stopped to talk to him and could see the tears in his eyes on the sideline," Edsall said. "I know how much that hurt him not being out there. I told our team in the locker room, this guy represents everything that's right about UConn, UConn football and playing the game."

"And what we need is ... we need more guys like that. When you have guys like that, and you get more guys like that, then that's when you become really, really good. I had to bring that up because that's something as a coach that touches you."

The Huskies (3-6, 2-4) may have players that care deeply about the program, but they lack the overall talent, skill and athleticism to beat one of the conference's best programs at this stage (the Bulls are 8-1, 5-1).

They certainly don't have anyone like South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers, who piled up a school-record 516 yards of total offense. The elusive senior rushed for 131 yards and passed for 385 yards and three touchdowns while completing 24 of 37 passes. He also threw an interception.

So many times Flowers bolted out of the pocket, evaded defenders and picked up big first downs. The Bulls converted 9 for 14 third downs.

"Frustrating is not the word," linebacker Vontae Diggs said. "I can't use the word that I want to use. He's shifty. He's Houdini, really. You think you've got him and then he's going the other way. He never really breaks stride. ... He's one of the most explosive players in the country, in my opinion."

The Huskies continue to make mistakes that turn close games into lopsided affairs.

Take what happened late in the second quarter.

Trailing 17-7, UConn drove into scoring range and faced a third down and five from the USF 31. But junior wide receiver Aaron McLean couldn't hold on to Bryant Shirreffs' pass and the ball deflected into the arms of USF's Deatrick Nichols for an interception.

"That's a catchable ball," Edsall said. "That hurt. That changed the momentum. ... Our margin of error is very small. And we can't afford to make those kind of mistakes and expect to win."

USF opened the second half by marching 68 yards in 13 plays, with Emilio Nadelman booting the second of his three field goals on the day, connecting from 25 yards out for a 20-7 edge.

The Huskies were in position to answer on the next possession, but freshman running back Kevin Mensah (22 carries, 96 carries, one touchdown) came up short inches short on fourth down at USF 24.

South Florida scored on its next two drives to pull away as Flowers threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to D'Ernest Johnson and a 95-yard scoring pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Poor tackling allowed Valdes-Scantling to break open the short pass play.

The Bulls finished with 602 yards of total offense compared to 324 for the Huskies.

Edsall pulled out the Yogi Berra line — Deja Vu all over again — when summing up his team's play.

"We did some good things, but it gets back to those things that have hurt us — big plays against our defense, not being able to get off the field on third down and letting them convert, move the ball past the 50-yard line and not finishing drives off," he said.

"But I thought we competed for 60 minutes. Give South Florida credit. They're a really good football team. Very athletic, very fast. We just didn't match up with some of the things athletically against them."

UConn finished without Shirreffs (17-for-23, 133 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception), who suffered a concussion on an ugly hit from Vincent Jackson at the start of the fourth quarter. Officials flagged Jackson for a personal foul and targeting, ejecting him from the game.

David Pindell (3-for-4, 37 yards) came off the bench and helped direct two fourth quarter scoring drives. Mensah bolted in from 23 yards out and Pindell raced in from the 10 for his first career touchdown.

UConn's other touchdown came from redshirt senior tight end Tommy Myers, who hauled in a 2-yard touchdown pass from Shirreffs in the second quarter. It was his first touchdown reception since 2015 and third of his career.

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs kisses his son Brayden, 8 months, during  Senior Day ceremonies prior to the Huskies' 37-20 loss to South Florida on Saturday at Rentschler Field. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs kisses his son Brayden, 8 months, during Senior Day ceremonies prior to the Huskies' 37-20 loss to South Florida on Saturday at Rentschler Field. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

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