Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Special teams miscues prove costly to UConn

The most remarkable part of the well-discussed fake field goal called by UConn coach Bob Diaco in the final minute of Saturday's loss at Missouri is that the Huskies were still in position to win the game considering all the mistakes the Huskies committed.

The majority of these blunders occurred on special teams. There was the blocked punt for a safety when Missouri rushed just two players and appeared to be setting up a return, the blocked extra point, missed field goal, two failed fake field goals and two penalties for running into Missouri punt returner Aarion Penton. That list doesn't even include UConn averaging 27 yards per punt or failing to return either a punt or kickoff since a 2013 loss to Buffalo.

Nobody was more surprised at all the issues on special teams than Diaco who spend a decent amount of his time on a weekly basis working with special teams and in particular punter Justin Wain.

At yesterday's press conference I asked Diaco if more time than normal was going to be spent on special team considering last week's nightmarish performance.

?I have already as it relates to Sunday and Monday in terms of the coaching staff," Diaco said. "You play a game like that in SEC country on the road and you have special teams blunders and you can't do that. Not that you would have won the football game but you don't get the punt blocked and it is 7-6 and all things being equal, the ball is on the 25 and you are kicking for win - whether the ball goes in or not, it is not even a choice. If you don't get the PAT blocked, it is 9-7 and all things being equal, again the ball is on the 25 and you are kicking for the win.

"The penalties, just silly stuff ..."

I asked Diaco if he was surprised at the large number of breakdowns on special teams.

"I was surprised by it," Diaco said. "I didn't think that would be an issue and clearly it was. We have never had an elevation issue (on extra points), maybe we were a little tight, we will see. Bobby (Puyol) has never had an elevation issue. Bobby normally has great elevation and ball trajectory but for some reason the last two times, it hasn't looked like that because it really wasn't a protection issue, it has been but on Saturday it wasn't. We will get it right. I have confidence in him, he is a diligent guy and cares so much so he will be just fine."

Diaco and his staff alerted his punt coverage unit that Penton is not a big fan of fair catching punts. Perhaps that played a role in the 30 yards of penalties issued when UConn twice run into Penton as he fielded a punt.

"He will not fair catch it so when he catches it, he is going to try to return it," Diaco said. "We made them aware. They were penalties too, they were legitimate penalties"

However, the most costly miscue came when UConn failed to block 335-pound Missouri defensive lineman Josh Augusta on the final fake field goal enabling him to put immediate pressure up the middle on Tim Boyle forcing a desperation heave that was intercepted.

"They are supposed to zone to the right and he just got beat on the play and couldn't reach fast enough and put Timmy under immediate duress," Diaco said. "He still has a chance with a top shelf ball to our guy, 6-5, 6-6 (Alec Bloom) and he has great hands. The one that was disappointing was the execution on the first one (fake field goal), he (Bloom) had a real chance and he was behind their defense and that would have been great."

I never got around to asking Diaco about the lack of a return game but the numbers are staggering. In three games UConn has 24 yards on two kickoff returns and has yet to return a punt this season.

I did some research and UConn ranks last among 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in yardage gained from kickoff and punt returns this season.

                       KO  PR TOTALUConn            2-24  0-0   2-24
West Virginia 1-25  3-36 4-61
California       3-50  4-11 7-61
Wake Forest   2-41  9-30 11-71
LSU               4-49  3-25  7-74
BYU              4-59  4-19  8-78
N. Mexico St. 3-51  4-34 7-85
Baylor            4-79  2-10 6-89
Michigan St.  4-95  1-1   5-96
Arizona          3-72  1-26 4-98


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