While the Wildcats would have loved to walk away with a win, they just couldn’t produce enough big plays to put them on top of the UConn Huskies. Villanova fell to UConn, losing 20-15.
The game was fairly even on offense, with the Huskies taking a slight 307-303 advantage in total yards.
However, at first UConn made it feel like it wasn’t going to be so close early in the game. After forcing an immediate Villanova three-and-out, UConn pounced on the opportunity to score in its first drive of the game. The Huskies wore out the Villanova defense with a long drive. Most of the work was done by running back Ron Johnson. The sophomore was able to carve up the Villanova defense for 34 yards on the drive.
Bryant Shirreffs complimented Johnson through the air and eventually found Tommy Myers, who was able to rumble his way to the end zone for a 14 yard score. Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon blocked the following extra point attempt.
Villanova’s next drive was once again cut early, this time because of a fumble by John Robertson. UConn recovered the ball but was not able to do anything with it.
After getting the ball back, Villanova seemed to finally get it going. A 36-yard pass off of a trick play by running back Gary Underwood to receiver Kevin Gulyas got the offense going. The spark didn’t last for long, as the drive stalled and the kicking team was called upon. It appeared that Villanova’s kicking woes are still lingering. Steve Weyler missed the 24 yard field goal attempt.
This wasn’t the worst news for the Cats though. After a holding call in the end zone, Villanova got its first points of the season in the form of a safety. Although it was an unconventional safety, it reignited the Wildcats’ spirit.
Building upon the momentum gained from the great play of the defense, Robertson and the offense marched downfield with relative ease. During the drive, ‘Nova was able to convert a crucial fourth down and ended the drive on a Robertson pass to a wide open Matt Gudzak on the far side of the field for a touchdown.
UConn responded however, bringing the ball into the redzone with an opportunity to at least tie, which would be huge considering the Huskies would be getting the ball to start the half. However, cornerback Jason Ceneus was able to intercept a tipped a pass and prevent the Huskies from putting any points on the board. Villanova clung onto a 9-6 lead going into the half.
To start the second half, the Huskies made quick work of the Villanova defense. In just four plays, UConn was able to go 75 yards for a quick touchdown. A rushing touchdown by Johnson gave UConn a 13-9 lead. From there, the Huskies would not look back.
After exchanging a couple of empty-handed drives, Villanova was able to move the ball. However, in what was a theme throughout the second half, the Wildcats were not able to gain the short yardage needed for a first down. Attempting to go for it on fourth down, Robertson had his pass intercepted by Andrew Adams.
The ensuing drives for both teams came and went without a whimper. Villanova did eventually regain control of the ball early in the fourth quarter. Once again, the Wildcats found themselves in another fourth-and-short situation. Robertson initially lined up in shotgun, only to quickly go under center. Before even planting his feet, the ball was snapped and it was mishandled. UConn capitalized on the miscue and stopped Robertson from advancing.
The Huskies had no problem with making the Wildcats pay for their mistake. On third-and-long from the ‘Nova 27, Shirreffs connected with Arkeel Newsome on a check down pass and watched him waltz his way to the endzone. UConn took a 20-9 lead as the game seemingly looked out of reach.
Andy Talley’s team did not go down quietly. The offense was able to muster a touchdown, led by the scrambling skills of Robertson, who eventually pushed the ball across the end zone. However, the Wildcats missed the two point conversion, making the score 20-15.
In what was a questionable call, the Wildcats elected to kick the ball away instead of an onside kick. With 1:40 remaining in the game, it was up to the Villanova defense to force a three-and-out or go home.
Ron Johnson powered his way to a first down to secure the game. Johnson finished with 69 yards and one touchdown off of 23 carries. After a couple of kneel downs, the Huskies watched the seconds tick away.
John Robertson completed just 17 of 32 passes, accumulating 153 yards along with one touchdown and one pick. Robertson did do the heavy lifting in the run game, gaining 66 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown. Gary Underwood left the game in the second quarter after a chest injury he sustained while throwing a huge block on a UConn’s Graham Stewart.
Bryant Shirreffs was solid in his debut as UConn’s starting quarterback. He threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. He added 33 yards on the ground, including a few third down conversions.
Villanova begins FCS play with a game on the road against the Fordham Rams on September 12. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.