Sunday, October 04, 2015

UConn doesn't stray from defensive philosophy

One of the more intriguing questions leading into Friday's game at BYU was whether the UConn coaching staff would instruct their players to get up in the faces of the Cougars' receivers.

The strategy worked wonders for Michigan who pushed the BYU receivers around in a 31-0 victory.

However, when Bob Diaco came to UConn to breathe life into a struggling program he was bringing his "bend but don't break" defensive philosophy with him.

Cornerbacks Jhavon Williams and Javon Hadley were seven/eight yards off on the first BYU pass play. That was pretty much the way the Huskies played during the game.

In the post-game press conference I asked Diaco if there was a temptation to try to use a similar tactic to what Michigan did.

"It is completely different," Diaco said of Michigan's plan of attack and the way the Huskies play defense. "We felt good about our plan which was working."

Diaco has said the ultimate goal is to limit the number of points being scored. Well, at halftime BYU had outgained the Huskies 283-114 and it was a 7-7 game. After three quarters BYU was up to 438-129 and the game was tied at 10.

"They were executing the plan defensively, we felt good about it and it was working for the better part of three quarters." Diaco said. "We need some more offense, a little bit, there is a lot of pressure, a lot of stress on the other two phases but we will get it. It may take a little bit more time, they are starting to groove and they are younger but we will get it. The coaches are coming together, we will take it on ourselves. they are trying so hard, the young men. We will keep doing a better job of finding plays for them and the things we can do to execute well and close out some of these games with wins."

UConn's soft zone made life relatively stress free for BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, who was pressed into duty as the starting quarterback when Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending foot injury in the opening game against Nebraska.

Mangum carved up the Huskies' zone defense on third downs.

BYU faced third down plays of at least six yards on 12 occasions and seven times Mangum converted with a pass, usually to a wide-open receiver. Mangum was 7 of 9 for 91 yards with seven conversions on the first nine 3rd and long situations.

The UConn defense did have its moments as cornerbacks Jhavon Williams and Jamar Summers each had interceptions while Williams had a team-high 10 tackles.

"Our coaches were telling us to play our defense, play fundamentally sound and once the smoke we are going to be all right," Williams said. "That is what we tried to do."

Here is the breakdown of BYU on 3rd and 6 or longer
First quarter
3rd and 6 at UConn 45: Jhavon Williams only a couple yards off but Mitch Mathews caught ball a couple yards past first down marker and broke tackle to gain 13 yards
3rd and 6 at UConn 7: Mathews goes in motion and Jamar Summers follows him but can't stop him until after Mathews gets the first down.
Second quarter
3rd and 7 at BYU 45: Mitch Juergens goes in motion and isn't tackled by Ellis Marder until he is past the first-down line
3rd and 14 at UConn 29: Mangum had Moroni Lalau-Pututau open in the end zone just short-armed the throw.
3rd and 7 at BYU 39: Nice coverage by Jhavon Williams on a slant results in incompletion
3rd and 6 at BYU 38: Williams backed up beyond the first-down mark when Nick Kurtz began his route. Kurtz had the first down before being tackled by Williams.
Third quarter
3rd and 8 at BYU 49: Great coverage by Jamar Summers but Mathews comes down with first-down catch
3rd and 7 at BYU 32: Terenn Houk makes catch two yards past first-down line, broke a tackle and gained 24 yards
3rd and 8 at BYU 48: Mangum rolls right and Kurtz finds spot in zone between four UConn defenders five yards past the first-down mark, breaks a tackle en route to a 25-yard gain.
3rd and 10 at UConn 16: Tremendous tackle by Williams stops Juergens two yards shy of the first down
Fourth quarter
3rd and 9 at UConn 40: Mangum's throw to the end zone lands out of bounds although play worked out pretty well for BYU when Andrew Adams kicks ball into stands to get 15-yard penalty.
3rd and 7 at UConn 15: Francis Bernard with 1-yard run.

A couple of other thoughts from the game.

UConn's running backs need to be better in reading who is coming free on blitzes. At least three times including an early sack and the play resulting in Bronson Kaufasi's interception a BYU player came unblocked from the edge. It's been happening all season and if UConn is to have success moving forward, this is an area that needs to be cleaned up.

I was curious what Vontae Diggs did to get a holding call on a kickoff especially when the flag was thrown from "Salt Lake" as the announcers said. I saw Rhett Sandlin going to the ground so it probably was a hold. What I do know for sure is that two BYU players were a full yard downfield at the time of the kickoff so at worst, the ball should have been kicked off again. Who knows, maybe UConn still gets pinned back inside the 20 but if not, the Cougars would not have started the next drive on the UConn 41.


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