Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mistakes continue to haunt UConn

During the only day with access to UConn's assistant coaches during preseason camp I ruined the mood of quarterbacks coach Don Patterson when I informed him that one out of every three touchdown scoring drive by UConn opponents a season ago started in Husky territory. Then I amended the trip down memory lane to say that it didn't include the five defensive touchdowns and one TD on special teams surrendered by the Huskies.

"You have to make them play on a long field," Patterson said. "Statistically it has been proven that the closer you are to the goal line when you take the field the better your chances are to score. Opponents scored five defensive touchdowns last year? That is something I didn't want to know about. They shot themselves in the foot too many times. The first thing you have to do is prevent losing and that all starts with not beating yourselves, having a high football IQ, not having unforced errors."

Well, UConn has already surrendered three defensive touchdowns in three games (a pair coming in today's loss to Boise State). UConn's defense has given up nine touchdowns this season and and four of those drives start in UConn territory.

"Giving up 14 points without the defense or special teams against any opponent we were going to play it becomes impossible to win the games let alone a national branded powerhouse," UConn coach Bob Diaco said after today's loss. "When you factor in another plus-field turnover you are talking about another 21 points, 14 completely uncontested and the other with a plus-field setup,that has to get solved. We are working hard to solve it. It is hard to win football games when you do that. Those are the things that cause losing."

The miscues have occurred in a variety of different ways. Three different tailbacks (Max DeLorenzo vs. BYU, Josh Marriner against Stony Brook and Arkeel Newsome in the Boise State game) coughed the ball up early. In the case of DeLorenzo and Newsome it looked more like just an outstanding defensive play. Chandler Whitmer had two costly interceptions as UConn was in position to potentially upset Boise.

"They are not fun," Whitmer said of losses caused by missed opportunities and costly mistakes, "We play to win the game. We knew Boise is a great opponent and we had them, we have to be able to finish and there is not much else to it."

Perhaps lost in the what might have been mode is how well UConn's front seven played. This was going to be a barometer because Boise runs some of the same stuff that BYU did en route to putting up 513 yards of total offense (a number that may have approached 600 if not for a flood of BYU penalties).

When I watched Boise's game against Colorado State last week I really wondered if UConn would going to be able to hold the Broncos in check./ Well, they did much more than that.

Boise State came into the game averaging 537.5 yards of total offense on 87 plays in the first two games of the season. Against the Huskies it managed 292 yards (120 coming on four pass plays). Perhaps most astonishing of all was that a week after running 60 plays IN THE FIRST HALF against Colorado State the Broncos managed a total of 56 plays in the game. UConn's run defense was something to behold. When I watched Jay Ajayi play against Colorado State he reminded me so much of former University of Miami and NFL running back Edgerrin James it was scary. Only one player at the FBS level had more combined rushing and receiving yards heading into the game than Ajayi. Well, he finished with 52 yards on 20 touches.

"We flew around and had fun today," UConn junor nose tackle Julian Campenni said.

Another understated part of the defensive effort was how the front seven kept quarterback Grant Hedrick from beating the Huskies with his legs and he finished with minus four yards on five carries

Linebacker Jefferson Ashiru led the Huskies with 1.5 tackles for loss. I thought defensive end/outside linebacker Reuben Frank played so much better than his final line of no assisted tackles and three assisted stops might indicate. One of the few issues I have with UConn's effort defensively was it seemed like on the most crucial plays that Boise's record-breaking receiver Matt Miller got lined up on safeties and linebackers.

Offensively I was happy to see Thomas Lucas and Brian Lemelle get worked into the game plan. Lucas was one of those players receiving the most buzz during preseason camp and he hauled in five catches. Lemelle only had three yards on his two catches but in the first two games Lemelle (one of the crown jewels of last year's recruiting class) was kind of a forgotten man.

Tight end Alec Bloom made his presence felt as the true freshman's second-quarter touchdown reception put UConn in front.

Diaco went out of his way to rave about what he saw from Tim Boyle. The sophomore quarterback finished 6 of 9 for 33 yards and had two costly drops late in the game. It's going to be interesting to see how the quarterback derby shakes out the rest of the way.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the eight quarterback sacks and 13 tackles for loss. It was a strange game for the line as there were stretches when the protection was outstanding but obviously too many other times when multiple plays came free. Teams are going to continue to dial up as much pressure of possible on 3rd and long until UConn handles those situations much better than they have to date.

The good news is that Andreas Knappe returned and played a large chunk of the game at right tackle and the only player I noticed being held out is senior defensive end Angelo Pruitt who missed his second straight game with a lower leg injury


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