UConn football team stumbles in second half, loses to Ball State: What we learned

It was a tale of two halves for the UConn football team on Saturday, as the Huskies attempted to reach .500 and put together a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2015.

But in heartbreaking fashion, UConn folded late in the game as Ball State staged a 25-21 comeback victory. 

After scoring 21 points in the first half, UConn (3-5) was scoreless in the second half with two turnovers eventually resulting in points for Ball State.

The Cardinals scored 15 points in the second half, including the go-ahead touchdown by running back Carson Steele with 2:40 left in the game.

The UConn offense earned 323 yards of offense, with 270 of those yards coming in the first half. The UConn defense allowed 182 total Ball State yards in the first half and 174 in the latter half (356 total yards). 

"This was severely disappointing," UConn coach Jim Mora said. "This is the most disappointing loss of the year. We had a chance to go 4-4, get to .500 at the bye, and we didn't get it done. There are a lot of guys hurting in that locker room."

UConn is off next week before hosting Boston College.

Here's what we learned from the loss to Ball State:

First Half Dominance

In the first half, the UConn offense looked the strongest it had at any point this season, totaling 270 yards of offense, 149 rushing and 121 receiving.

"We were moving the ball on the ground and through the air in the first half," Mora said. "In the second half we didn't move it on the ground or in the air. I think a lot of that had to do with penalties and execution."

After entering the halftime locker room with an 11-point lead, the UConn was silent in the second half.

Despite the loss, true freshman quarterback Zion Turner's passing game took a leap forward Saturday as he set or matched personal bests in completed passes and passing touchdowns. 

Turner completed all 12 of his first half pass attempts for 121 yards and two touchdowns, leading his time into the locker room with a 21-10 lead.

His top two targets continued to be Aaron Turner and true freshman tight end/wide receiver Justin Joly. 

Aaron Turner has become the clear favorite for Zion Turner, as the self-proclaimed "brothers" connected for seven completions and 55 yards with the game's opening touchdown on a 19-yard catch and run in the first quarter. Aaron Turner now leads the team with three receiving touchdowns. 

Joly, on the other hand, caught his first touchdown pass of his college career. Zion Turner's second favorite target caught three passes for 33 yards.

Zion Turner's first incomplete pass did result in an interception however, deflecting off a receiver on his first pass attempt of the second half. 

In total, Zion Turner finished 18-for-22 with 129 passing yards following a run-heavy second half. 

It has not seemed to matter who is in the backfield, and that trend continued for the first 30 minutes of play on Saturday. 

With Nate Carter, Brian Brewton and Devontae Houston all sidelined with injuries, ball carrying duties fell on true freshman Victor Rosa and graduate student Robert Burns. 

In the first half, the duo combined for 109 rushing yards on 13 carries with a touchdown. Burns contributed 59 yards on six carries with the touchdown while Rosa ran six times for 50 yards. 

At the end of the game, the duo had combined for 143 yards on 28 carries. In his first career start, Rosa rushed for 72 yards on 17 carries but also coughed up a fourth quarter fumble in UConn territory to set up Ball State's second touchdown.

Second Half Collapse

"It is hard to even know what to say right now, in the second half we were not good enough to get a win on the road," Mora said. "We couldn't get first downs, we didn't get stops when we needed them, and we had far too many penalties."

While the defense was consistent in terms of yardage allowed, two UConn turnovers and a handful of penalties led to the Huskies being outscored 15-0 in the second half. 

Zion Turner's first pass attempt of the third quarter was picked off, with the resulting drive finishing with a Ball State field goal to cut into the UConn lead 21-13.

In the fourth quarter with the same score, Rosa's fumble set Ball State up with the ball just outside the red zone. The drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown rush by Steele.

With 2:40 to play, Ball State completed an eight-play, 59-yard drive with a 17-yard rushing touchdown by Steele, who finished the game with 179 rushing yards on 32 carries with three touchdowns. 

"At the end of the fourth quarter there he made some plays, and they were just running the same play there, duo," Mora said. "He got going. We had done a pretty good job of stopping the run most of the game, but you have to stop them when it matters. There is no excuse for stuffing the run the entire game and then giving up the runs we did late. The first guy that has to be looked at is me."

In the second half, the UConn offense totaled just 53 yards, rushing for 45 on 20 carries while Zion Turner completed just six passes for eight yards. 

"We were behind the sticks the entire second half," Mora said. "When you do that, it is really tough to win against a good team on the road. It was completely unacceptable. It is not okay to come close, it is not okay to fight hard. We are here to win football games. The second half was completely unacceptable."

Penalty problems

UConn entered Saturday's game having averaged five penalties a game, but it was a different story Saturday as the Huskies were hurt by 12 penalties resulting in 110 yards. 

"It doesn't matter what you did in the past, it matters what you did on that particular day, which is today," Mora said. "We have to fix it, we can't say this is just an anomaly. If you say that, it is going to happen again, and we are not going to accept that."

UConn committed six penalties in each half, with three in the final quarter while Ball State was penalized just twice, both times in the first half. 

"I put us in a bad situation, hands to the face, we go back 15 yards," Burns said about his fourth quarter penalty. "That limits the kind of calls that we can make. We need to limit things like that."

Honoring Bristol PD

Jim Mora and his coaching staff wore Bristol Police Department hats on the sidelines to honor the two policemen who died in the line duty in Bristol earlier this week. Dustin DeMonte, 35, and Alex Hamzy, 34, were killed in an apparent ambush Wednesday night.

"Our program, we want to send our thoughts and prayers to the Connecticut law enforcement, specifically to those in Bristol that lost their lives," Mora said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and their loved ones. It is really important that the community band together right now after this tragedy and that it doesn't go on unhonored by us at UConn."

Bristol is just an hour away from Storrs and is the home of UConn freshman Rosa, who graduated from Bristol Central High.

Up Next

While UConn's hopes of entering the bye week with a .500 record with its first four win season and three-game winning streak in seven years, those goals will have to wait. 

"We have two weeks before our next game and we have to do a great job at addressing the issues that showed up today," Mora said. "In regards to penalties, not being able to sustain the momentum we had in the first half and ultimately what led to us losing a game that we had a chance to win."

The bye week will be welcomed by a banged up UConn roster, which hopes to see the possible return of a few injured players. 

"It is important after playing eight games in a row," Burns said. "It allows us recover, get our bodies right, get our minds right and make the necessary adjustments."

Beyond the bye week looms Boston College, which is 2-4 and had its bye this week. 

Boston College has wins over Maine and Louisville this season, while suffering losses to Clemson, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, and Florida State.