Saturday, September 06, 2014

Some thoughts on UConn's first win

I know they say the most important statistic is the final score but there were some other numbers that are somewhat troubling after UConn picked up its first win of the season.

First, UConn was outgained 109-29 in the fourth quarter and showed the inability to put away Stony Brook . The Huskies ran 10 offensive plays in Stony Brook territory in the second half and yet the only points came on a Deshon Foxx punt return and the ensuing extra point by Bobby Puyol. With plenty of opportunities to put away the FCS team coming off a 13-7 loss to Bryant, the Huskies were left to hold on after a 14-play, 88-yard touchdown-scoring drive brought the Seawolves within three points late in the game. The Seawolves got the ball one last time down three points but four straight incompletions ended any hopes of either forcing overtime or rallying for the improbable victory.

I haven't watched the replay of the game yet but there were so many missed opportunities, throws just a matter of inches from being completed, some costly drops and other throws that were just missed.

Another number to chew on is that UConn attempted 36 running plays (not including a kneel down at the end of the game) and 13 came from Chandler Whitmer. Whitmer, to put it nicely, is not known for his prowess as a runner and even he found it humorous when I asked him the last time he led his team in rushing attempts.

"I don't know, wasn't my plan," Whitmer said with a laugh. "I don't think I've ever done that, it is not my style to be honest but we will look at film and see what we can do."

Whitmer also had a clever response when asked about one of his runs in which he took a huge hit.

"To be honest, that is my old JUCO teammate (Max Martinez) so I was going to give him a little (highlight)," Whitmer joked after the game. "I wanted to put a move on him but I did it a little too late. I have to take care of my body because we are low on QBs."

Yes they are. Casey Cochran was out with a reported concussion and Diaco was not ready to offer an update on his status for next week's game against Boise just yet. Whitmer played the entire game at quarterback and Tim Boyle, who the Huskies would prefer to redshirt, was the only other quarterback to take snaps before the game in 11 on 11 drills.

The good news about Whitmer is he did not take unnecessary sacks or force throws into double coverage which is something he has been known to do. It is obvious that he has been instructed to tuck the ball and go if the protection is breaking down. As for the rest of the running game, Arkeel Newsome and Max DeLorenzo had runs of 22 and 18 yards and the other 21 runs by the tailbacks netted just 13 yards.

Diaco was in no mood to put all of this on the often maligned offensive line.

"You may have your story written already to bash the offensive line, I don't think it is fair," Diaco said. "They had the box packed with all kind of people which created opportunities in the passing game which we exploited some and could have exploited a bunch more. It is feast or famine and you create a situation where the running is very tough sledding. If you go back and watch the tape, you are going to see a lot more points left on the field that didn't go up on the board that we had an opportunity to make and we just didn't make."

The secondary continues to have issues playing the ball when it is in the air. UConn's defensive backs were in good positions most of the time to make plays only to react slowly when the ball is in the air resulting in some completions that simply should not have happened.

The good news is that it is always easier to make corrections coming off a win than following a loss.

As for the positives, the special teams were exactly that. Other than a shanked punt wiped out by a Stony Brook penalty, Justin Wain had a very good game. Bobby Puyol hit a pair of field goals and three touchbacks on five kickoffs. Arkeel Newsome, who moved into a starting role on kickoff returns, continues to look dangerous and Foxx's 72-yard punt return for a TD was a thing of beauty.

The defensive line, even playing without the injured Angelo Pruitt, made their presence felt early and often as defensive linemen had five of the team's nine tackles for loss led by Mikal Myers and Julian Campenni, who combined for 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage..I was also impressed with what I saw from true freshman Luke Carrezola who was out there a ton, especially in the second half and did a solid job maintaining his position against running plays.

Geremy Davis still continues to make tough catches across the middle and also caught a touchdown pass on a sweet pitch and catch from Whitmer, his former roommate.

I also think it is encouraging that despite the heavy substitution pattern, I believe UConn only has two pre-snap penalty in the first two games and I liked how UConn began to get more aggressive in the passing attack as the game wore on and although it resulted in a loss, I liked seeing Arkeel Newsome get the ball on the screen again and would love to see the screen game utilized more moving forward.

As for the injury situation, Diaco said he chose not to bring Josh Marriner back after he was shaken up on a Newsome kickoff return but Marriner could have gone back in and that Pruitt and offensive tackle Andreas Knappe could have played but were held out for precautionary reasons. Knappe, who also missed the season opener, could practice without restriction on Tuesday and could be in line to play for the first time this season when the Huskies host Boise.

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