Running on empty: Second-half comeback falls short, favored UConn remains winless after 24-17 loss to FIU

EAST HARTFORD – The UConn football team bounced back from a miserable first half and brought Saturday’s game within one score in the fourth quarter, but the hill was ultimately too tall to climb and the Huskies fell to Florida International, 24-17.

UConn had a chance to tie the game with the ball inside FIU’s 20 yard line on its final possession, but a potential game-tying touchdown pass to Justin Joly was nullified by a holding penalty, and the Huskies’ final pass to Ross came up short of the first down, allowing FIU to run out the final 51 seconds.

The Huskies, seven-point favorites, eclipsed last week’s rushing total (50) with 64 yards on their opening drive but had to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Joe McFadden and the offense went silent.

UConn punted six times in the first half and had just 119 total yards (33 passing) compared to FIU’s 294 before the break. With most of the Rentschler Field bleachers cleared after halftime, the Huskies’ offense woke up and finished with 343 total yards (170 passing, 173 rushing) compared to FIU’s 364 total.

Running back Devontae Houston, who had 45 rushing yards on UConn’s opening drive, finished with 126 rushing yards on 19 carries plus 37 yards receiving and a touchdown.

FIU marched down the field in six plays on its opening drive with quarterback Keyone Jenkins punching in the opening score from the goal line. Jenkins took advantage of breakdowns in the Huskies’ secondary with touchdown passes of 45 and 64 yards in the second quarter, the latter completing a three-play drive that took just 25 seconds and made the score 24-3 at halftime.

Jenkins finished 15-of-27 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. UConn’s defense held him to just 24 yards and a rushing touchdown on 12 carries.

Roberson, making his first start after Joe Fagnano went down for the season with a separated shoulder, completed just 4-of-14 passes for 33 yards in the first half. The passing game improved in the second half as Roberson finished 15-of-32 with 170 yards and a passing touchdown.

Roberson found receiver Brett Buckman for a 40-yard completion despite a roughing the passer penalty on FIU that advanced the ball into the red zone. A second roughing the passer call against the Panthers gave UConn a first down on the goal line and defensive lineman Jelani Stafford plowed in for a touchdown.

Stafford, who made 2.5 tackles for loss on defense, carried the ball three times for two first downs and the score.

After the defense forced FIU’s sixth punt of the game, Houston took a screen pass from Roberson 37 yards into the endzone and made it a one-score game, 24-17, with 14 minutes to go. UConn’s defense allowed just 70 total yards in the second half.

UConn (0-3) will look for its first win when it hosts Duke next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.