GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Seniors Byron Jones and Geremy Davis hobbled off at the half for the Huskies.
They never returned.
In place, UConn head coach Bob Diaco put in the young-ins. There was sophomore Noel Thomas at wide receiver, redshirt frosh Thomas Lucas at wideout. On the defensive side, true freshman Jamar Summers was in getting an education with sophomore and first-year defensive back John Green also getting time. On defense, freshmen Forlunso Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby played big roles. True freshman linebacker Luke Carrezola had some major snaps.
UConn is young, that's not news. UConn has been young since camp broke in August and the growing pains of youth is what the 2014 season is all about.
The beauty of youth though is that one day it suddenly clicks, that's at least the hope.
UConn almost had it on Saturday at No. 18 East Carolina.
Only a young team would be this audacious to give a team with 42,000 fans waiting for an execution go home ghost white.
UConn lost 31-21 to East Carolina on Thursday night. It was still a loss, and the Huskies are now 1-6 and a loss away from insuring their fourth straight losing season.
"There are no moral victories," Diaco said. "We didn't come here to play well, we came to a win a football game and we didn't."
UConn hasn't arrived. Only winning can make that statement. But for the first time since Bob Diaco took over as head coach we are seeing major strides. For weeks, Diaco has said that the team is getting better. It hasn't shown up much on the field but he assured us it was building. On Thursday, we saw some of that youth's potential.
The Huskies stood toe to toe with East Carolina for four quarters on the road. They made East Carolina run 100 plays and gain 580 yards, and the Pirates needed every single play and every single yard to beat UConn.
But, UConn didn't win. They went to the distance and lost by decision when everyone was expecting a knockout.
The difference was plays down the stretch, missed tackles late in a 10-point fourth quarter and an inability on offense to get moving with the pressure is on. That will get fixed, in time. Right now, it's about making strides and the HUskies took a big leap forward.
"We have a massive amount to build on," Diaco said. "Down the stretch we needed to make more plays, we didn't."
The Huskies had true freshman Ron Johnson run for 45 yards, played freshmen Arkeel Newsome and Josh Marriner. The Huskies had sophomore Noel Thomas grab a 32 yards touchdown pass to go with his 57 yards. Subbing for Davis, Lucas had two catches for 80 yards. Dhameer Bradley added four catches on the day.
Those are young players that next season will be built around.
"They are great. It's exciting for the future for them," quarterback Chandler Whitmer said. " It's tough for me that I only have five more games left. We are starting to hit stride and ave a lot of young talent, it's good for the future of the program."
When Jones went out, Jamar Summers came in and he got worked on. Sophomore Jhavon Williams also got worked on during the 100 play onslaught. It wasn't pretty at times, but the young corners made their share of plays too against the talented Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy.
"They are going to be really good players," Diaco said. "They had their victories tonight too. They just didn't win all the plays and that quarterback (Shane Carden) is spectacular...he's on the move and throwing it on the move and doing a great job there. The wide receivers and quarterback makes for a tough matchup for young corners."
The Huskies gave up 580 yards on 100 plays and 31 points. It's too many yards and too many points. Carden threw for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This wasn't a game where you thought that the Huskies have turned the corner under Diaco.
But, for the first time this season, it performed under pressure. The Huskies looked like they belonged on the field on Thursday night, and until the kickoff, there were many who didn't think that was the case.
That's a small step the Huskies took. There's another one they have to take before excitement will return in Storrs -- win.
"Soon, we will be able to take these games at the end and not give it up," Diaco said.
East Carolina ran 100 plays, an extraordinary amount and one that left UConn's defense bruised and battered after the game. That many plays is going to lead to breakdowns inevitably. It's just too much exposure for any defense.
"It's hard. It's hard. Haven't seen 100 plays, I haven't," Diaco said. "Can't think back a game I've been a part of where we defended 100 plays. They are feeling it. A few of older players went out and made a real difference in the game.You saw it express itself in the second half. But so many good things to point out. We are playing so many guys. The team looked nothing like it looked in so many areas a few weeks ago."
The Huskies had plenty of chances on defense to get off the field but allowed 9 of 20 from ECU.
"Just didn't make the plays, we should have stopped quarterback on the draw (in 4th quarter)," linebacker Graham Stewart said I take credit for that. When we really need the plays we didn't make them."
Davis and Jones were hurt in the first half and didn't return. Diaco didn't give any updates on their status and he won't know more until mid-afternoon on Friday.
Chander Whitmer's 303 yards, and Deshon Foxx's 88-yard touchdown catch were a pair of highlights for the Huskies. Foxx's touchdown was the longest play since Terry Caulley's 98-yard run against Army in 2006. It was the longest pass play since Dan Orlovsky to Jason Williams in 2004, 90-yards. Johnson had a career-high 45 yards on 13 carries.
Andrew Adams (10), Kenton Adeyemi (9) and John Green (6) each set career-highs in tackles.