Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thoughts from UConn/Missouri game

Yesterday's game at Missouri was being touted as a game when we would learn so much about the 2015 UConn team.

UConn had the ball down three points with less than five minutes to play. I'd have to think any UConn fan would have taken that scenario in a heartbeat. The ironic part is that the Huskies should have had the lead at that point.

Missouri's lone offensive scoring drive was aided by a blown call as Missouri tight end Sean Culkin lost control of the ball as he landed on the sidelines on a third-down play. Had the pass been ruled incomplete as it should have been, the Tigers would have been faced with a 4th and 4 at the UConn 23. Perhaps Missouri would have settled for the field goal or gone for it on fourth down.  Instead, the Tigers were given a first down.

However, most of the mistakes were of the self-inflicted variety especially on special teams. Whether it was Missouri, rushing just two players, blocking a Justin Wain punt for a safety, having an extra point blocked for the third game in a row and twice running over the punt returner giving the Tigers 30 free yards on two silly penalties, there were some horrible execution on special teams. When you factor in the safety, missed field goal, blocked PAT and two incomplete passes on fake field goals, UConn left a minimum of 12 points on the field due to special teams miscues. Then there is the absolute lack of any production on either kickoff or punt returns. There are 127 teams playing at the FBS level and UConn ranks 127th in yards gained from kickoff and punt returns this season (24 in three games). UMass is the only other team yet to return a punt this season and in the last 14 games, UConn has returned seven punts for minus 3 yards. Oh, on Saturday UConn plays a Navy team which is one of five FBS teams yet to allow a punt to be returned this season.

I'll be honest, I wasn't a fan of either fake field goal although Alec Bloom certainly could have caught the first one. With a fake punt (resulting in a first down) and fake field goal earlier in the game, there was no element of surprise and Bloom had three defenders on him on Tim Boyle's throw. UConn coach Bob Diaco has taken his share of criticism on the fake field goal in the final minute. However, since UConn barely got a hand on 335-pound defensive lineman Josh Augusta on the fake field goal, it is reasonable to assume that he would have easily blocked Bobby Puyol's field-goal attempt. The pressure up the middle ended any chance Boyle had of making a throw that Bloom could have snared. There was also a bad snap on one punt and just a 13-yard effort on another punt.

While the loss has to sting for the Huskies, the fact is that there are some positives especially on the defensive side of the ball.

A couple of guys who really jumped at me for their impressive play were sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers and sophomore linebacker Cam Stapleton. I understand that Missouri's receivers are a very young, untested group but the fact is that Summers and fellow cornerback Jhavon Williams (who had an impressive interception) more than help up their end of the bargain. Stapleton hasn't received a heck of a lot of attention but in limited snaps he continues to make plays and he might have come as far as any other player since the start of preseason camp. It was also encouraging that UConn didn't seem to miss a beat without senior captain and linebacker Marquise Vann as Matt Walsh proved he is more than capable of handling a starting role. Add in the large number of snaps junior defensive lineman Mikal Myers and sophomore defensive end Cole Ormsby received, the Huskies appear to be in good shape even after defensive linemen Julian Campenni and Kenton Adeyemi graduate. It should be noted that UConn had more tackles for loss than Missouri, a team that came into the game leading the nation in that category and doing so with many of the key plays coming from underclassmen.

On offense I remember expressing concern after one of the scrimmages in the preseason camp that Bryant Shirreffs was displaying a tendency of looking Noel Thomas' way too often. I'll admit when I was wrong and I was way off base on that one as I think a pass in the direction of Thomas is a good play as long as he isn't triple covered. Not that anybody asked me, but if you are going for the win in the last minute, I would rather have Shirreffs throwing a pass to Thomas and take my chances that Thomas would come down with the ball. I am also a little baffled why Arkeel Newsome would get three offensive touches. I keep hearing that the plan is to get him involved more but it doesn't seem to happen. I thought he might have been knocked out of the game after he took a hard hit on an attempted screen pass but he was used as a slot receiver at times during the final drive of the game.

I would think that UConn might not see a team with as imposing of a front seven as Missouri for the rest of the season so the lessons learned on Saturday could do a long way.

Finally, I vote on the women's Associated Press poll so I know how thankless of a task it is but I see no possible way that Missouri should be ranked in the top 25.


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