UConn ends its season on a sour note
East Hartford — A miserable end to a miserable season.
That about sums up what happened on Saturday for the UConn football team.
At least the season is over for the Huskies, who suffered a humbling 38-13 loss to Tulane, a team that had lost its previous 14 American Athletic Conference games. They dropped their last six games to finish at 3-9 overall, 1-7 in the league.
It was an emotional final gathering in the locker room after the game.
“Tough game, tough year...,” coach Bob Diaco said. “The team tried hard and strained. Nobody quit; Everybody fought. You look at the guys in the locker room, hugging and crying. … It was a long, hard year. Expectations were spectacularly high. And obviously performance and production was spectacularly low.
“The minute I step away from this podium, I'm going to get started on 2017.”
Only a small percentage of the announced crowd of 20,764 at Rentschler Field stuck around for the final whistle. They were rewarded with the first UConn touchdown in over a month.
The nation's worst scoring offense broke a remarkably long drought on junior Arkeel Newsome's 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. They had gone 16 plus quarters and 51 straight offensive drives without a touchdown. They also had been outscored 109-0 since their last points — a field goal in a 41-3 loss to East Carolina on Oct. 29.
Newsome rushed for a season-best 166 yards and scored two touchdowns. Wide receiver Noel Thomas, Jr., capped an outstanding career with nine catches for 60 yards, giving him 100 receptions on the season and extending his single season mark. Senior safety Obi Melifonwu also had a big day, finishing with a school single game record-tying 24 tackles.
“I didn't know I had 24 tackles, but it's definitely something I'm proud of,” Melifonwu said.
But that was about it as far as highlights for UConn. The Huskies saluted their 18 seniors during a pregame ceremony.
“We wanted to send the seniors out the right way, with a bang, but it didn't work out,” Newsome said. “I apologize for letting them go out like that.”
Tulane (4-8, 1-7) snapped a six-game losing streak, piling up 255 yards on the ground and 421 yards overall. Lazedrick Thompson accounted for 108 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
From the opening kickoff, the Huskies looked overmatched against a weak AAC program. They faced their biggest halftime deficit of the season at 24-0. They committed three of their four turnovers overall and had a field goal and punt blocked before intermission.
The Huskies finished the season without scoring a touchdown in the first quarter and being outscored 76-9.
Tulane jumped out to a 10-0 lead after its first two drives with some help. A blocked punt on UConn's first possession eventually led to Andrew DiRicco's 23-yard field goal and then Josh Rounds scored on a 1-yard run.
The Huskies mounted one of their best drives, starting from their own eight and reaching the Tulane 12. But the drive stalled — sound familiar? — and Jarrod Franklin blocked Bobby Puyol's 29-yard field goal attempt.
Nine plays later, Tulane was in the end zone. Rounds ran it in from four yards out for a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
The Huskies showed some offensively life in the second half. Newsome broke free up the middle and took off for a 62-yard scoring run. Freshman quarterback Donovan Williams threw his first career touchdown pass, connecting with Newsome for a 20-yard scoring strike.
The 13 points represented more than the Huskies had scored in the previous three games combined.
With 10 offensive starters back this season, the Huskies expected to be more productive. Instead, they regressed, being outscored 130-16 in the last four games.
It was another rough day for Williams, who completed 11 of 26 passes for 104 yards and also threw two interceptions. He led the Huskies to just 13 points in his three starts after replacing Bryant Shirreffs. New offensive coordinator David Corley was in charge during that same span.
Diaco became emotional when asked about his departing seniors, calling it an incredible honor to coach them.
Now the question is whether Diaco, who's gone 11-26 in three seasons, gets a chance to fix things. When asked if he expects to be back, he responded: “No doubt. I have a contract until 2021. Unless my calendar is wrong, it's 2016. There's a spectacular amount of work that needed to be done, that we're doing. We're in Year Three.
“… This is big undertaking that we've made a lot of ground with. From a record standpoint, no one was expecting this. We slide back. … We've got to get better at playing football, and we will.”
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