Game Review: Illinois Illini vs UConn Huskies, 9/7/2019 3:30pm
Final Score: Illini 31 Huskies 23, Attendance 23,108
Weather: Sunny, 76 degrees
I love it when a plan comes together, by Tree
The University of Connecticut plays at Pratt Whitney (P&W) Field in East Hartford, Connecticut about 20 miles away from the campus in Storrs. In previous run-ins with alums, they had led me to believe that was the reason for why UConn games are not a lot of fun. Accordingly, I had very low expectations for this game. However, it was one of those days when everything conspired to create a very enjoyable afternoon of college football. The weather was dynamite. Sunny, mid 70’s with just a few clouds in the sky. I had concerns that Hurricane Dorian might hug the coast and make this a very wet game, but it had made a sharp right turn up to Nova Scotia leaving us unscathed. P&W is a smallish stadium which fits the size of UConn. Past experience has shown that such venues had limited aftermarkets with both online sellers and scalpers and that meant buying tickets at the gate for face value. We knew getting tickets wouldn’t be an issue; it was just a question of how much. The tickets through the University were running in the high $30’s. Online tickets with fees were about the same and it came down to location. The stadium is small enough that even the cheap seats were still going to provide a good view. The north eastern sun is pleasant in September, not like the ovens of SEC stadiums, so shade was not an objective. The primary concern was then focused on line of sight to the single video scoreboard in the stadium. The University seats had much better options, but also higher prices. So I was monitoring all week between the two options. Knowing that patience is rewarded in this game, I waited until Saturday morning and picked up two tickets, 30 yard line, upper deck, for the princely sum of $20, all in, on Seat Geek. The UConn experience was on an upward trajectory.
The Huskies understand their base and provide an outstanding tailgating experience for families and casual fans. There were multiple cash lots just off of the paved stadium lots that offered $15 spots in wide open grassy fields. There was no pressure to sandwich in cars and there were nice alleys of green to set up tents, play cornhole, and have the occasional game of catch. My buddy Bob and I quickly set up the SoManyStadiums flag along with a table and chairs for a modest but efficient tailgate. Not wanting the hassle of grilling we stopped in East Hartford for some classic east coast grinders. I had perused my options on Google maps landing on a local joint, Nardelli’s Subs and Deli, instead of a sandwich chain. The tailgating gods were smiling on us as the subs and box of Italian cookies were delicious. There is a lot of good food in the South but for a really good grinder, it is east coast or nothing. After some relaxing and chitchatting with our tailgating neighbors, we took an easy walk into the stadium.
As we entered, I went through my standard routine, picking up a reasonably priced $6 souvenir cup full of Coke. I tried to get a cheap hat, but $31 was out of my price range (a later foray to Walmart proved to be equally unsuccessful.) The stadium itself is only a little dated. While the concessions appeared to be all from the same vendor, there was a great deal variety. They also sold beer, but that is hardly a rarity these days. Our seats were on the thirty yard line on the bottom of the upper deck but easily good enough. They were simple bench seats. There was a slim section of seats with seatbacks and we could have walked over to sit in them as many were open. However, with a good view of the video scoreboard, we were happy where we were at. There were also a number of video ribbons with down and distance, etc. The stadium was maybe a third full, perhaps a little more. The Huskie band was pretty good and was involved throughout the game. Jonathan the Huskie actively roamed the sideline and often mixed it up the cheerleaders. He left the dance team alone.
The fans were vocal but there wasn’t much evidence of traditions. They did do the standard “Another UConn first down”. However, I give kudos for their goal line cheer of “Stick in, Stick in, Stick in” The band kicked off the cheer and it was picked up by some of the fans. It is not the most sophisticated of cheers, but is does have some clumsy, sophomoric appeal. The “Minute of Mayhem” where the crowd was encouraged to yell for minute, was an absolute bust. There were also TV time out standards such as the dance cam and the kiss cam. The best promo though was the “Beat the Player” contest where a fan had to provide more correct answers than a previously video-taped UConn player. This week’s task was to name as many NFL teams in a minute. These two mooks could only come with eleven and thirteen teams respectively. While he may have been an international student, the guy really just looked like he was overserved at his tailgate. But what was the player’s the excuse for only naming thirteen pro teams? Imagine him at the NFL combine – “Wait? Seattle has a team?!?”
Getting to East Hartford is not difficult but it will probably involve planes, trains and automobiles. At a minimum it will take two out of three unless you fly to Hartford. I spent the weekend with friends outside of Albany, New York. It was an easy two hour drive to the stadium. Signage once we got to the stadium was reasonably good. It looked like you could get to cash parking in the stadium lots through various entrances. As I mentioned the actual campus is nearly 30 miles away and the school offers shuttles for the students. There was also a clearly identified ride-sharing lot. We had heard attendance is pretty spotty because of the distance but there seemed to be a fair amount of students at the game.
Illinois won the previous week, crushing the Zips 42-3. UConn had also won, scraping by FCS Wagner, 24-21. Based on that, I had concerns that the game would be a blowout. UConn opened with a three and out. Illinois got one first down and threw a pick six. It was the kind of plays UConn was going to need to win this game. The other thing they needed to do was score touchdowns and not field goals. Unfortunately, that’s what they did. They picked up six more points on field goals to go up 13-0, but I had the feeling it would not last. It would not, as Illinois finally woke up and ripped off 24 straight points. It looked this game was going to go south fairly quickly. There had already been a couple of turnovers. Illinois would fumble the opening drive of the second half to let UConn climb back into the game with a touchdown, cutting the score to 24 -20. Illinois also tended to lose their composure from time to time which resulted in dumb penalties and which further added the less athletic UConn.
Illinois scored another touchdown but UConn answered with a field goal. With the Huskies only down by one score, the game was exciting until the end. UConn was at a decided disadvantage with their smaller offensive line. Disadvantage is an understatement. The Huskies had a whopping net ten yards rushing, averaging 0.3 yards per carry. They might as well have been playing the ’85 Bears. However, UConn could and did throw the ball all over the field. With the possibility of one pass tying the game, we stayed until the Huskies threw an interception late in the fourth quarter. With six turnovers, it wasn’t exactly a tactical masterpiece but it was entertaining with the occasional big play.
UConn is definitely a small school experience, but it is the best of that experience. Cheap tickets, easy tailgating, a nice enough stadium and a reasonably entertaining product on the field (along with a good friend) made for a very satisfying Saturday. The most unique tradition I saw was when they introduced all the new “Little Huskies” that were born at the UConn Medical School Hospital in the last week on the jumbo video screen. Smiling little cherubs usually aren’t part of the standard game day experience, but it was very cute. The “Stick it In” cheer also made me chuckle. UConn is not a must see but not one to avoid either. Undoubtedly, the combination of a crisp New England fall weekend, friendly environs, and a decent team are exactly what the college football experience is all about.
Game Review: BYU Cougars vs UConn Huskies, 8/29/2014 7pm
Final Score: BYU 35 U Conn 10, Attendance 35,150
Weather: 75, Clear and Mild
A Stadium and a program in an athletics crossroad, by Shady
When you think of the UConn Huskies and sports, the conversation starts and ends with basketball. With multiple National Championships and a number of players in the NBA and WNBA, UConn is ground zero for both men’s and women’s hoops.
When you hear UConn football, it is hard to think of anything too noteworthy. For all of the accolades the basketball teams get, there just isn’t a whole lot to say about the gridiron program. The program was Division II for most of the last century. They moved to I-AA (FCS) for a very short time and were invited to join the Big East in 2004. During UConn’s time in the Big East they did go to a Fiesta Bowl in 2011 but were beaten soundly by Oklahoma. When Big East football folded due to schools jumping to the ACC and Big Ten, UConn and their powerhouse basketball programs were left behind to fend for themselves in the American Athletic Conference mostly due to their lack of success and support on the football field. Athletically speaking, UConn is in no man’s land. They have a nice athletic program overall but were deemed not quite attractive enough to play with the big boys in the Power 5 conferences.
Rentschler Field is the home of UConn Huskie football and a microcosm of the UConn athletic program. The stadium is quite literally in no man’s land. Located in East Hartford, Rentschler Field is 25 miles from the main UConn campus in Storrs and about 3 miles from downtown Hartford. The stadium is just off of I-84 but there is really nothing around it unless you count a Cabella’s and a Technology Center within about a half mile.
The stadium itself was built in 2003 and holds 40,000 people with the ability to expand if needed. It is an average looking stadium. It is simple and functional but has nothing to make it stand out from any other stadium of its size. There is really not a bad seat in the house as you are pretty close to the field wherever you sit. The stadium is double decked on the sidelines with a single deck in both end zones. Concessions in the stadium are decent but nothing to write home about.
Getting into the stadium is somewhat slow as there is only one way in. Parking is done on grass lots all around Rentschler Field and you have to pay to park as there are really no side streets around. Because there is nothing near the stadium to divert your attention from the game, it makes for a pretty good place to tailgate with family and friends if you feel so inclined. The grass parking lots are nice because you can lounge around, throw a football or just hang out. I find this much nicer than parking on an asphalt lot. One thing to note, as slow as it was getting into the stadium to park, I was presently surprised at how fast you can get out and on your way.
The main drawback of the stadium is location. This place felt like a very small NFL venue, not a college football stadium. Being 25 miles from campus means that you lose a lot of college students because they are unwilling or unable to make the trip. Personally, I love college football stadiums that are on or near campus as you can really sense the buildup to the game and soak up the atmosphere. There is just none of that at Rentschler Field.
BYU vs. UConn on Friday night of week one of 2014. Both teams came in hoping for a great start to their season. UConn was breaking in a new coach in Bob Diaco and BYU was looking for big things being led by Taysom Hill, their do everything junior quarterback.
BYU got the ball first and moved 75 yards down the field for a touchdown. UConn’s first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble that BYU promptly turned into another 7 points. Five minutes in and BYU was up 14 points.
BYU scored again in the second quarter to go up 21-0 and the blowout seemed imminent. UConn was finally able to put a drive together which resulted in a touchdown right before halftime to cut the lead to 14. Not content to sit on the ball for the last two minutes of the half, BYU marched down the field in about one minute to score another touchdown and go into the locker room up 28-7.
The second half was somewhat of a bore. UConn managed a field goal early in the fourth quarter and BYU tacked on a touchdown late to win the game 35-10.
Overall I would have to say that the UConn football experience was just so-so. There was some good and some bad but at the end of the day it left me desiring more from the football experience. Unfortunately for UConn, that is the way the Power 5 conferences feel about the Husky program as well.
Editor’s note (Tree): Shea’s commentary is very consistent with what I heard from UConn alums. They feel that the stadium’s location is a real liability for student involvement. Usually when I ask alums about their football experience it is overwhelmingly positive. The UConn response was the least enthusiastic I had heard in some time.