Sunday, September 24, 2017

A record low for strugglng UConn defense

Maybe it was the glass is half empty aspect of my personality taking over but with a little bit of time on my hands yesterday, I reseatched the most yards a UConn defense has given up in a three game stretch since playing at the FBS level.

I had no idea at the time whether it was going to be one of those times when my research would become useless trivia. Well, as it turned out, it was time well spent.

With the Huskies giving up 596 yards of total offense, UConn has given up 1,669 yards of total offense in the first three games including 1,239 through the air.

Both happen to be the worst numbers surrendered since UConn began playing at the FBS level in 2002. Each time the three-game swing against Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Syracuse in 2009 happened to be the time when the UConn defense was statistically at its most porous - until now.

The Huskies have given up 70 more passing yards and 17 more yards of total offense than in that forgettable three-game stretch eight years ago. It should be noted that the Huskies won two of those games back in '09, winning 33-30 at Notre Dame and topping Syracuse 56-31.

With redshirt freshman Tahj Herring-Wilson taking over for struggling senior Tre Bell, UConn was playing three freshmen (Herring-Wilson, Tyler Coyle and Ian Swenson) and a sophomore (Marshe Terry) who played sparingly on defense a season ago to finish the game so I guess it is understandable that the Huskies are struggling with their assignments in the secondary.

With safety Anthony Watkins out with a concussion, the first and second team secondary consisted of six freshmen, two sophomores and two seniors. Still, I never would have envisioned the Huskies being ranked dead last in passing defense and 127th among 130 FBS teams in total defense after three games. Things aren't going to get any easier as UConn has to go on the road to play SMU on Saturday. The Mustangs feature Courtland Sutton, who could be one of the first receivers drafted in the 2018 NFL draft who happens to be third on the Mustangs with 217 receiving yards in the first four games and is second with 13 receptions behind LSU transfer Trey Quinn.

It wasn't all bad news. The 596 yards of total offense by the Huskies are the fifth most in program history and it is the third most since making the jump to the FBS level.

Senior running back Arkeel Newsome set the UConn career record for receptions by a running back as he tied a career high with eight receptions (giving him 94, three more than Joe Markus' total from 1978-82). He also had a career best total of 170 receiving yards making him the first UConn player who was exclusively a running back to record more than 1,000 receiving yards. Among active FBS running backs, only Washington State's Jamal Morrow and Ito Smith of Southern Mississippi have more receiving yards than the 1,148 compiled by Newsome.

Also, true freshman Kevin Mensah ran for 107 yards and redshirt freshman walk-on receiver Mason Donaldson had six catches for 106 yards. My curiosity got the better of me so I did some checking and although this is the 44th game since 1970 that I found that UConn had a player with 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game but the first time two freshmen accomplished the feat. Taking it one step further, the Huskies are the only FBS team this year with a freshman with a 100 yards rushing and another frosh with 100 yards receiving in the same game. The only team to do it during this season is Oklahoma  as CeeDee Lamb had 131 receiving yards against Tulane and Trey Sermon ran for 148 yards against Baylor.

Back to being the bearer of bad news, the announced crowd of 14,036 is the smallest to watch UConn play at Rentschler Field and is just the second time the Huskies have played in front of an announced crowd of less than 20,000. Ironically, the last time it happened came in 2013 when the Huskies also put on quite the offensive show in beating Memphis. A year ago the Huskies averaged just 26,796 fans per game, the lowest since the move to the FBS level. Currently the number is 19,235.5 through two games. There was a feeling that a Sunday game against a winless East Carolina team wasn't going to pack the place but still averaging fewer than 20,000 fans per game is simply unacceptable. It seems like ages ago since UConn had 28 sellouts in 45 home games from 2004-2010.

It was a tough day on the injury front as well. UConn coach Randy Edsall said, 'it doesn't look good' about the knee injury suffered by starting center Ryan Crozier. Edsall thought the injury that knocked star receiver Hergy Mayala was a high ankle sprain and those are injuries than can linger. Defensive back, kickoff and punt returner Jordan Swann left the game due to a concussion. I thought Dan Oak had a solid showing in Crozier's absence and obviously Donaldson stepped up in a big way for Mayala.


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