No. 21 Central Florida topples UConn 56-17 on opening night

Central Florida running back Adrian Killins Jr. (9) takes off for a touchdown during the No. 21 Knights' 56-17 victory over UConn in the season opener on Thursday night at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
Central Florida running back Adrian Killins Jr. (9) takes off for a touchdown during the No. 21 Knights' 56-17 victory over UConn in the season opener on Thursday night at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

East Hartford — No season-opening shocker. Just a predictable and painful outcome for the young Huskies.

Given the current state of the football program, UConn just isn't ready to compete with American Athletic Conference power Central Florida, which is ranked 21st nationally.

Thursday night's final deficit reflected the huge gap between teams.

The mistake-prone Huskies dropped a humbling 56-17 decision before 23,081 fans at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. It doesn't get any easier next week, as UConn visits No. 22 Boise State on Sept. 8.

"Coming into the game, we knew it wasn't a great matchup for us," UConn coach Randy Edsall said, adding, "I don't have any doubt in these guys. They'll bounce back.

"We just have to keep getting better."

It will be an ugly game film for coaching staff to review.

The Huskies never led, trailing 28-10 at intermission before fading badly in the second half. They fell to 4-25 against ranked teams in FBS program history.

UCF, which extended its nation-leading winning streak to 14 games, shredded an inexperienced defense that returned only two starters from last season. The Knights, who led the nation in scoring last season at 48.2 points per game, used a high-tempo attack to quickly march down field. Their first four scoring drives took a total of five and a half minutes. They finished with 652 yards of total offense.

Junior quarterback McKenzie Milton, the returning AAC Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy candidate, threw five touchdown passes and went 24-for-32 for 346 yards before departing.

Positives for UConn included the play of senior quarterback David Pindell, who looked far more comfortable running the show than last season when he lost his starting job halfway through the season opener.

Pindell had a productive night, leading the team with a career-best 157 yards on 22 carries and passing for 266 yards while going 27-for-41. He threw for one touchdown and ran for another but also had an interception. The Huskies had a respectable 486 of total offense.

"David Pindell had an outstanding game," Edsall said.

Mistakes and poorly timed penalties piled up for the Huskies.

On the opening drive, Pindell propelled the Huskies inside UCF territory. His 26-yard run was one of several of his daring dashes in the game.

Then redshirt freshman Xavier Scott, making his UConn debut, fumbled away his first carry at the UCF 39. After that blunder, reserve Kevin Mensah got the bulk of the action at running back.

The Knights needed only two minutes, seven seconds to reach the end zone, scoring on Adrian Killins' two-yard run. The play before that UConn true freshman cornerback Keyshawn Paul, who had a very rough night, committed a pass interference penalty to keep the drive alive.

It appeared that the Knights might be on the way to breaking the scoreboard. On their second drive, they raced 81 yards in five plays, taking just 1:04 to complete the journey. Milton hooked up with Tre Nixon on a 34-yard touchdown pass for a 14-0 edge, beating Paul in coverage.

And that wasn't the fastest scoring drive. UCF needed only 53 seconds and four plays to go 76 yards in the second quarter.

"That's a good team right there," Pindell said of UCF. "I try to tell all of (my teammates) to not get too down about it."

Meanwhile, UConn moved the ball but couldn't finish enough drives to stay in the game at least for the first half.

In the second quarter, the Huskies scored on Michael Tarbutt's 44-yard field goal and cut the gap to 21-10 when Pindell avoided a sack and hit tight end Tyler Davis for a five-yard scoring strike.

Another turnover prevented UConn from closing the gap before half. Throwing on the run, Pindell missed his target and got picked off near the UCF 10.

The Huskies will have a lot to work on before next week's game. With 20 first-year players on the depth chart, there's plenty of room for growth.

They slipped to 11-30 in conference play since the AAC formed in 2014.

g.keefe@theday.com

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