DALLAS — A new quarterback and an effective game plan gave Connecticut new hope Saturday.
But in the end, a series of mistakes led to the Huskies' downfall in a 38-21 loss to SMU.
Redshirt freshman Casey Cochran actually exceeded the second-half yardage of the Mustangs' Garrett Gilbert, the national leader in total offense. Making his first start, Cochran had 143 yards to 110 for Gilbert after halftime.
UConn trailed 21-7 at halftime. And until 3:50 remained in the game, the Huskies trailed by just 7 points.
At that point, SMU's Chase Hover kicked a 27-yard field goal, set up by Connecticut's 14-yard punt.
Three plays after that, UConn committed its first turnover. Under pressure, Cochran threw an interception that SMU's Stephon Sanders returned 35 yards for a touchdown.
"They blitzed," Cochran said. "I was trying to get it out early, I got hit and I either need to throw it out of bounds or go down."
Sanders said, "I was just playing the defense like we're supposed to. It was a fire zone there, and when that happens, the ball comes out quick.
"I just took one step at a time. The first was having to catch it. I just saw the end zone and kept running."
SMU (4-5, 3-2 American Athletic Conference) improved its chance of becoming bowl eligible for a fifth consecutive year. The Mustangs must win two of their final three games.
UConn (0-9, 0-5) will not be going to a bowl.
SMU's Gilbert threw four touchdown passes, two each to Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman. The quarterback ran for 23 yards and completed 33 of 52 for 353 more yards. Gilbert's total of 376 yards was less than his average of 409.4 entering the game. He threw no interceptions.
Cochran completed 25 of 42 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two fourth-quarter interceptions.
"I thought he made some good decisions, he played smart," UConn interim head coach T.J. Weist said. "He's still a redshirt freshman out in the true pressure of a game, and he tried to force things."
The Mustangs came in with a minus-7 turnover differential, but did not turn the ball over for the second consecutive game. UConn gave up the two interceptions.
"This week, that was the difference in the game," SMU head coach June Jones said.
SMU scored first with 3:35 remaining in the first quarter on Gilbert's 1-yard pass to Holman. He made a leaping catch at the back of the end zone and came down with one foot in bounds.
On the previous play, Gilbert had appeared to score on a run from 24 yards out. A review showed that he stepped out of bounds a yard short.
The first quarter ended with the Mustangs leading 7-0.
They extended the lead to 14-0 on Gilbert's 4-yard pass to Johnson. It capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive.
The Huskies answered with a 75-yard drive that ended with DeLorenzo's 2-yard touchdown run. Penalties on SMU for a horse collar tackle and pass interference in the end zone helped UConn move into position to score.
In hurry-up mode, Gilbert drove the Mustangs 70 yards in 10 plays and 2:10. A 5-yard TD pass to Johnson produced a 21-7 lead 18 seconds before halftime.
Gilbert finished the half 25 for 37 for 237 yards and 3 scores. Johnson caught 10 passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns.
UConn stopped the Mustangs on their first possession of the second half.
Weist said, "Defensively at times I thought we stopped them. We wanted to keep their offense off the field; they put yardage on everyone."
The game plan helped the Huskies to a 31:45-28:15 advantage in time of possession. The Mustangs' 460 yards were below their season average of 484.
Cochran then led a 62-yard drive. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to tight end Sean McQuillan.
The Huskies had another chance to score in the third quarter, but a fourth-down pass was tipped and fell incomplete.
That gave the Mustangs the ball on their 26 yard line. Two short passes, with two missed tackles turning the plays into long gains increased SMU's lead to 28-14.
Der'rikk Thompson slipped a tackle for a 54-yard gain to Connecticut's 20. On the next play, Holman broke a tackle for his second touchdown of the game.
Johnson said, "They were playing a lot of Cover-4 that wouldn't let us out behind them. They did a good job not letting us get deep."
He finished with 12 catches for 71 yards. Holman had 8 for 88 yards, and Thompson caught 5 for 113.
UConn's offense wasn't bothered by the two-TD deficit. The Huskies scored on a 26-yard pass from Cochran to team receiving leader Geremy Davis. It was his first touchdown this season. He led UConn with six catches for 77 yards, bringing his season totals to 47 for 697.
Davis said, "If we had that same play in the first half as we did the second half, it would have been a different story. We just woke up and made some plays, eliminated the dumb mistakes we shouldn't be making."
Cochran said, "We should be happy with our performance. It all comes down to starting quicker. It's tough when you always have your back against the wall."