Sunday, September 22, 2013

Whitmer reacts to game-changing interception

When Chandler Whitmer lofted a pass in Geremy Davis' direction early in the fourth quarter he thought he was putting it in a place where only Davis could come down with it. Michigan's Desmond Morgan, however, had other ideas.

Morgan broke on the ball, reached up with one arm to tap the ball to himself. One play after a 25-yard return, Michigan tied the game and would add a field goal to escape with a 24-21 victory over an inspired UConn team.

Whitmer addressed the interception following the game and said it was more of a case of Morgan making an exceptional play than it being a poor throw on his part.

"I was holding him with my eyes but he made a great play," Whitmer said. "He stuck his hand up there and was able to bring it back down. I am trying to get the ball to Geremy (Davis) and it is tough when you don’t have Shak (Phillips) out there and they can zero in on one guy but they ran a great route but the guy was able to reach up there. I tried to put it up high for Geremy to go up and get it but the guy made a great play.

"As soon as I let it go I thought ‘we have another big completion’ and I was ready for the next play. I’ve been happy with my decision making so far but the kids they are going to make plays, you have to be as smart as possible and try to protect the ball. I am going to try to improve on that and see where I could have done better

"I am a competitor and I was doing everything I could to give our team the best opportunity to win the game. Everybody was fighting for each other and that was positive to see."

This was Whitmer's eighth straight game with an interception and he was sacked four times bringing the total of 14 in three games (UConn gave up 33 sacks all of last season). It was a sack on the final two drives which ended any chance of the Huskies answering with a score of their own.

With Phillips out of the game due to a hamstring injury, there was nobody who could stretch the field. With no running game (UConn ranks 122 out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense), Michigan could get away with dropping seven players into coverage and made Whitmer fit balls into tight spaces.That was what happened on the interception.

"I think the linebacker really made a good play," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I think a lot of times I think you can fit that ball in over the linebacker but this kid just went up and got it with one hand. Are you asking me ‘do I wish he didn’t throw it?’ Yeah, it was intercepted and I wish he didn’t throw it but he fits a lot of other tight ones in there in the course of the game and especially the last one when we had a chance to almost make a first down on the last play and it is the same play. It is a tight window, a tough decision."

Some quick observations about the game. As Register columnist Chip Malafronte wrote, UConn played with much of passion last night than it showed in the first couple of the game. Who knows what UConn's record would be right now if the defense played with the same ferocity against Towson and Maryland as it did against Maryland.

Jefferson Ashiru and Angelo Pruitt had strong game against Michigan
I thought the right offensive tackles played better against Michigan without Kevin Friend out there. UConn used both Xavier Hemingway, who replaced Friend against both Towson and Maryland, and Dalton Gifford. They were beaten for a couple of sacks but it wasn't quite as harrowing for Whitmer as it had been in the first two games.

When last season ended I would have figured that Andrew Adams, Taylor Mack and David Stevenson to be among UConn's best five defensive backs. Adams and Stevenson missed the game due to injury and suspension respectively and Mack was knocked out of the game with what Pasqualoni termed a stinger. Still, dynamic receiver Jeremy Gallon to 31 yards on four receptions and Devin Gardner managed just 97 passing yards. Redshirt freshman Jhavon Williams had an outstanding game and even if Stevenson has his suspension lifted I can't him reclaiming his nickel corner spot from Williams.

Defensive coordinator Hank Hughes seemed to be more aggressive sending his linebackers and defensive backs on blitzes which helped the secondary. LBs and DBs had six of the Huskies' season-high 10 tackles for loss.

Up front Angelo Pruitt, Jesse Joseph and Reuben Frank made impact plays. Frank gives UConn some speed off the edge and I only see his role increasing as the season moves on while Pruitt played as well as I have seen him play in the last two seasons. Linebacker Jefferson Ashiru is making a case for more playing time even when Graham Stewart returns to the field. On the other side of things, this is the second straight game that seniors Tim Willman and Ryan Donohue were way too quiet and I have to wonder if they will lose snaps to more productive teammates as we go forward.

I liked seeing Max DeLorenzo getting a chance to carry the ball as he has six carries to eight for Lyle McCombs. In the first two games McCombs had 36 carries to just three for DeLorenzo. DeLorenzo gives UConn more of a downhill runner. Martin Hyppolite received his second carry of the season and it went for seven yards. I thought Hyppolite was the most impressive of the running backs during preseason camp and he is another big back. It will be interesting to see how the carries get allocated moving forward.

UConn has to improve on third down on both sides of the ball. Michigan ran eight plays of 3rd-and-10 or longer and picked up the first down three times which is an unacceptable ratio. Counting a 15-yard pass interference penalty, Michigan picked up 78 yards on eight plays of 3rd and 10 or longer. On the other side of things, UConn was 1 of 11 on third down. The only conversion was a big one as it was Whitmer's 11-yard TD pass to Spencer Parker. However, the other 10 third-down plays resulted in a total of minus 20 yards with six incompletions, two sacks and a pair of Whitmer to McCombs completions both going for minus 2 yards. UConn ranks 119th out of 123 FBS teams in third-down conversions going 10 for 42.

The best news for UConn's defense is that they are facing a quarterback who is not a rushing threat on Saturday as Buffalo starter Joe Licata has a total of minus 33 yards on 10 carries this season which includes eight sacks.After facing Maryland's C.J. Brown and Gardner, it will likely come as a relief that the Huskies don't need to be as concerned about the opposing quarterback making plays on scrambles and designed runs.


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