Heartbreaker In Hartford: Baylor Drops 28-31 to UConn Huskies

Tim AzevedoCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2008

It was almost exactly like I dreamed.

4th and long with just over a minute to play. Too far for a field goal; not enough time to punt.

Art Briles makes the gutsy call. Robert Griffin confidently steps us into the pocket, the ball is snapped, the receivers race down field.

The game is on the line and every Huskie fan in Connecticut knows it as they cheer wildly.

But my dream suddenly becomes a heart-wrenching nightmare when the pass is incomplete. 

The Bears solemnly trudge off the field 2-2; the Huskies manage to scrape through the near-upset for a perfect 4-0 and possibly a top 25 ranking.

I don't know if Coach Briles would call it a "moral victory", but the game should turn heads toward two under-ranked, and upcoming teams.

Baylor TE Justin Akers said it best, "There’s a few plays we should have had, a few costly penalties and stuff we usually don’t do.... You always want to play up to your potential - all the time – but.... [a]ny time you can play a team like this, play them this close for this long and come down to the last few plays on national TV… someone’s going to notice us."

With that, let's take a look at the specifics.

The Good:

1. The Baylor O tore through a vaunted UConn defense for TDs in each of the four quarters.

Remarkably, against a solid pass-rush defense, Griffin managed to actually develop his passing game, going 208 yards for 3 TDs. In fact, a Robert Griffin TD pass was only the second TD allowed by the Huskies-- all season.

Griffin, a true freshman, also showed poise in a hostile environment to go 8-14 on 3rd downs.

2. Perhaps more importantly, the Bears demonstrated they weren't a one man offense.

RB Jay Finley put up 85 yards on 11 touches, while the receiving corps showed depth in WR -and basketball player- Kendall Wright (114 yards, 1 TD)  and TE Justin Akers (61 yards, 2 TDs), adding to the proven talent of WR David Ghettis.

3. On defense, the team leaders continue to impress.

LB Joe Pawelek had a huge game with a resounding 13 tackles, 2 for a loss, and a pick for 33 yards. Fellow LB Antonio Johnson also picked up an impressive 9 tackles.

Elsewhere, DE Leon Freeman (7 tackles, 1 for loss) and DE Jason Lamb (3 tackles, 1 for loss) proved themselves by stepping up when it counted. OT Jason Smith continued to make a case as a future first-rounder and FS Jordan Lake made 9 hard-hitting tackles.

4. Art Briles' coaching staff couldn't get enough compliments from ESPN2 announcers for some great calls with well-designed plays.

The team was obviously well-prepared to play and that intangible, yet crucial, sense of confidence seemed to exude from the Baylor benches.

The Bad:

1. The Bears couldn't find a way to stop standout RB Donald Brown (150 yards rushing) or dual-threat QB Tyler Lorenzen (73 yards rushing).

While arguably among the most talented rushers in the game, Baylor will face more quality rushing teams-- even in the "pass happy" Big XII. Improvement is a must.

2. Unsurprisingly, Baylor special teams continued to underwhelm. A few poor kicks and several missed tackles gave the Huskies unmerited field position to start most drives.

3. Finally, on the ground, Robert Griffin just didn't look like Robert Griffin . With "only" 46 yards rushing and a rushing TD, Griffin's performance was merely good.

The talented UConn defense may have had something to do with it. And after putting on a show against Wazzou, Griffin won't slip under anyone's radar from here on out.

Another explanation is that Briles wanted to diversify the play calling this game with more passing plays, which he did.

On the other hand, I interpret it in terms of Griffin becoming a team player. He did a fantastic job of keeping his eyes down field to pass for 15 when he might have ran for 10.

Whatever the case, it speaks highly of him that everyone expected greatness out of only his third start.

But the number one reason for Griffin's low stats, in my opinion, is....

The Ugly:

1. The Baylor offensive line.

After a good first half, the offensive line seemed to fall apart on every other play in the second half. Griffin had to constantly scramble to turn big losses into small ones-- much less make a play. This makes Griffin's passing stats all the more impressive.

I knew the O line could be a question mark this year but, at least for Friday's game, they were a definite liability. In their defense, however, many are young players who will improve with some more playing time; their experience will catch up to their talent.

But whatever some people claim, youth is not an excuse for....

2. Penalties, penalties, penalties.

Eight penalties for 77 yards, to be exact.

I was initially impressed that the Bears only had one penalty in the first half. That quickly gave way to disappointment when heavy penalties came in at critical times. They may well have cost Baylor the game, especially on that last drive.

I usually fault penalties to coaching, but here I wonder if the players deserve an equal portion of blame. The players often seemed upset after making penalties, not because they thought they were bad calls, but as though they knew better. 

I can guarantee you they won't make the same mistakes again though. Losing is its own, bitter reward.

The conclusion:

It would be a tough loss to take for any team, especially one with hopes of going Bowling. At the least, though, they have reason to hold their heads up. The Bears demonstrated promising talent, positive attitude, and progressive coaching.

As UConn coach Randy Edsall said in a post-game press conference, "[W]e are going to have to go down there and play [Baylor] next year and I’m not looking forward to that."

I'll take that as high praise. And for once in Waco, "there's always next year" is more than an excuse. It's a promise.


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