Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another defensive stinker has UConn contemplating changes

It was a foregone conclusion that the UConn defense was not going to be able to match the numbers it put up a season ago with starting cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson and top two sack masters Trevardo Williams and Sio Moore also taken within the first four rounds of April's NFL draft. However, nobody expected the Huskies to have back to back games having surrendered more than 500 yards.

The inability to prevent the big play has been the Achilles' heel of this year's UConn defense.

Through seven games last season UConn gave up 11 runs and 24 pass plays of 10 yards or longer. This year those numbers have mushroomed to 41 and 57 respectively. Wait, there is more. After giving up 15 plays of 20 yards or more including two 40-yard plays in the first seven games of the 2012 season, they gave surrendered 38 plays of at least 20 yards and 8 40-yard plays so far this season. With the next game against a Louisville team led by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who ranks third nationally in passing efficiency, and the following contest against SMU and Garrett Gilbert, the national leader in total offense, the bye week will obviously be used to try to plug the holes in the leaky UConn defense.

"We are concerned about it," UConn interim coach T.J. Weist. We felt like we had some depth issues there (in the secondary). We like the fact that we got Andrew Adams back and he has been playing better but we’ve got to tackle better, we’ve got to make better plays. We’ve been out of position and haven’t been playing smart. I feel like we have been perplexing some young guys.

"There are truly fundamental things that we have to get corrected. The effort we think is there but solid football, blocking, tackling, doing your assignment. It is about recognition and combinations that we’ve got to be able to see, putting yourself in position to make plays, make tackles and following through on offense with basic blocking, catching, throwing, handling blitzes. We do it now anyways but there is more emphasis on going back to the fundamentals and starting over. As coaches we are evaluating personnel, who is the best player to put out there? Who is healthy? If not you are getting to the time of the season to see which young guys are playing better. Are they that good or are they getting better or are they not getting better? Those are two things we are going to focus on, just the fundamentals of football. Is it giving the backups more playing time if we feel like the guys who are getting playing time aren’t playing well? Listen, if you don’t win games, you don’t make plays you have to evaluate the personnel because those are the guys who aren’t making plays at any position. That is what we talked to our staff about, evaluate personnel and see where our weak spots and see the guys who have the most M.A.s (missed assignments) or don’t make plays and who we can put there that gives us chance to make plays."

The last time UConn had a bye week there were changes at head coach and quarterback. It will be interesting to see if new starters emerge on defense when the Huskies host Louisville on Nov. 8.

Perhaps Reuben Frank (the only defensive end with a sack this season) could be more than just a third-down pass-rush specialist and the aforementioned Adams could start at safety (which he would have done had he not suffered a shoulder injury in preseason camp), There's a chance cornerback Taylor Mack could return which would allow freshman Jhavon Williams to slide inside to cover the slot but I'm not sure where else the Huskies could make moves on defense. I like what Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann have done at linebacker filling in for starters Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart and think their athleticism helps out the defense when they are in there.

On offense, this is the second straight week that Tim Boyle has been pulled with UConn getting blown out. We'll see what happens but I'd be surprised if they pulled the plug on Boyle after three games. It looked to me like Boyle was overcompensating after being criticized for holding onto the ball too long in the Cincinnati game but letting the ball go as soon as a defensive player got close to him. The problem with that is that the ball was delivered before the UConn receivers were in position to make a play on the ball.


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