Sunday, October 12, 2014

UConn's "trying not to lose" philosophy not getting it done

Tulane forced 3 turnovers and had 10 tackles for losses against UConn
The last time UConn played a road game Bob Diaco proved he had no confidence in his offensive line by abandoning the pass game after a nightmarish start in the driving rain at South Florida. Last night it may have been even worse.

Host Tulane came into the game having allowed an average of 14.4 yards per completion but barring any missed tackles, UConn would not be taking advantage of the Green Wave's greatest flaw simply because they weren't going to even try to throw the ball down the field.

Clearly spooked by the flood of costly turnovers and incredible amount of negative-yardage plays, UConn took the art of conservative play calling to new heights.

The end result was three points despite running 28 offensive plays in Tulane territory.

If you take away back to back receptions by Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx for 21 and 19 yards on the final drive when Tulane was in prevent defense mode, the Huskies' receivers had 12 catches for 72 yards. Sorry, but six yards per catch is not going to get it done. The two early attempts to throw the ball down the field were not even close to being completed as if appeared that Davis and Chandler Whitmer were not on the same page as the throws landed several yards from where Davis was on the field.

I do understand where the UConn coaches are coming from. Short completions are better than sacks or turnovers and it is painfully evident that they simply don't think the line is up to the challenge right now. There can't be a more difficult way to play football than when an offense is more concerned about not giving up negative plays and losing possession of the ball rather than trying to attack the defense. I seriously doubt these issues are going to be rectified before the end of the season.

It all started against BYU as the Cougars loaded the box and dared UConn to handle the pressure they were bringing and make plays down the field. The Huskies never came up with the answers and teams have used similar strategies. I would expect more of the same moving forward until UConn can make an opponent pay for their over aggressive defensive philosophy.

I don't know if anybody obsessed more over the offensive line in the last two or three years as I have but even I have been a little stunned at just how little progress the unit has made. UConn struggles to run the ball inside where its most experienced linemen are and the pass-protection issues have been rather well documented.

While I did not make the trip to New Orleans for the 12-3 loss to Tulane, reading the transcript of quotes on the Tulane site and it sounds like a similar chorus being sung by Diaco.

"I'm not surprised with anything," Diaco said after the game. "We are playing so many young players, and they have a maturing process; a cooking process that needs to happen. They need to play in the games. There's no other way to simulate it. No other way to simulate the game, except to play in the games. So they have to play in the games. You know what? They're doing a fine job. They're just creating at the point of attack of some game-changing plays."

I understand there is no more difficult task than trying to run a team with players that somebody else has recruited and I think Diaco does deserve some leeway to bring in his own recruits as he attempts to turn things around.

By my count 67 players have seen time this season and 57 of them have remaining eligibility including 42 with at least two years left to play. There's no question that there are some talented players there. Former Ansonia High star Arkeel Newsome is a true freshman who experienced incredible highs and lows last night as he made his first career start as he had more than 100 all-purpose yards for the second game in a row. He also fumbled the ball twice. Fellow true freshman Ron Johnson ripped off a 23-yard run and based how things went last night, it seems likely that Newsome and Johnson will carry the rushing load for the remainder of the season.

With all due to respect to Newsome, Johnson, linebacker Luke Carrezola, tight end Alec Bloom and cornerback Jamar Summers, who each seem to have incredibly bright futures, the most important members among the 20-member true freshman class could be Ryan Crozier, Dan Oak and Trey Rutherford.

As of right now no true offensive linemen are among the incoming recruits so it appears as if the Huskies are proceeding with the group of offensive linemen they currently have. Sophomores Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy figure to be the starting tackles moving forward but UConn will need to replace center Alex Mateas and guard Gus Cruz and I would expect Crozier, Oak and Rutherford to be at the top of the list of candidates.

Crozier and Rutherford have gotten into every game this season and haven't looked out of place while Oak drew praise from Diaco at Tuesday's press conference for his development. While there are still six games to play, it is already time to look towards the future and if UConn wants to have any chance at success, it simply must fix the offensive line issues especially with games coming up against American Athletic Conference front runners East Carolina and Central Florida.


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