For two-plus years now, I've been about as down on UConn football as humanly possible.
Ever since Randy Edsall caught his red-eye to Maryland, the program's trajectory has been plummeting downward, with virtually each day and each game giving you more reason to tune out.
And then the Buffalo game happened. And then UConn AD Warde Manuel fired Paul Pasqualoni as head coach, and sent his right-hand man George DeLeone packing along with him, letting the fans know that the duo o'suck's reign had finally come to an end.
For two weeks now, it's been rainbows and cherubs around UConn football. It's been about the future, about what can now be...and it's been nice to feel good about the program again.
It's because of that I choose to look at yesterday's game in two parts: macro and micro.
From a macro, big-picture stand point there were things to really like.
The first was Tim Boyle.
The numbers weren't anything to write home about, and he seemed to regress as the game went along (more on this later), but overall I was impressed. He has a strong arm. It's not making people forget Bret Favre was an NFL QB great, but it's definitely deep-down-the-field material, and he also throws a really nice deep ball.
He also looked very calm, cool, and collected throughout the game, even though USF was able to get an immense amount of pressure on him almost every third down. He rolled out well, avoided the rush pretty well, and didn't make a lot of bad decisions with the ball.
Were a lot of his throws high? Yeah, they were, but he also got NO HELP from his receivers, who seemed incapable of coming down with a pass that wasn't put right in their hands, and even then it was 50-50 they would corrale it.
There's a lot to work on with Boyle, but he's clearly got promise and, if he can progress, learn from his mistakes, and get used to in-game action, I think UConn has a real, bonafide QB on its hands.
The defense was also very impressive. In fact, for most of the game it felt like I was watching the 2012 version of UConn. Defense domnates, offense does nothing, and you waited for that one crack to show. That one crack turned out to be a field goal drive, but it was enough. Yet, the defensive line played really well, UConn stuffed the run for the most part, they put pressure on Eveld, and Jefferson Ashiru had himself a game. Almost every time you looked up, they were calling his name. He was stuffing the run, chasing Eveld, or breaking up a pass. He was everywhere.
The much-maligned secondary also played pretty well. In the first half, Eveld seemed to have time to throw the ball, but there was just no one open, and the secondary had three opportunities to pick him off, only converting on one. Until the fourth quarter (where have we heard that before?) they did an excellent job of not giving up any deep throws. I mean, Eveld wasn't completing passes even 10 yards down, never mind 20 or 30.
Finally, I really liked the energy with which UConn played. It was matched by a crowd that seemed into the game early on. Yeah, there were some late arrivals, something the fanbase will have to fix going forward, but let's give them a break. It was a PERFECT day for tailgating, UConn was 0-4, and they were playing the equally crummy South Florida Bulldogs. When they showed up, they sounded into it, at least until the game began to take shape.
As for the players, they seemed pumped up. They came out aggressive, especially on both the offensive and defensive lines, and they physically dominated USF. That was good to see because, so often this year, it's been the opposite.
Oh, and an honorable mention to Mike Foley and his offensive line, who played, for the most part, pretty well in this game, especially in the first half. Lyle McCombs was a monster in the first two quarters, seemingly running at will, and there were some HUGE gaps for him to run through. It was also nice to see McCombs finding the holes, waiting for the seams to appear, and then making guys miss again, after so much talk about him being incapable of doing that anymore. His touchdown run was a thing of beauty, combining speed with excellent field vision, where he zigged and zagged his way to paydirt.
So, that's the macro view...the positive take.
The micro view?
It was an absurdly ugly game between two bad teams. Simple as that.
Rich ran it down in his post-game piece...all I know is, having watched from beginning to end, I feel like I needlessly sacrificed two and a half hours of my life on that performance.
UConn's receivers were putrid. Boyle and the team should have had two early touchdowns on USF, but Spencer Parker dropped a sure-fire, no-doubt-about-it TD pass, and then Deshon Foxx followed that up by missing on a pass by Boyle that required him to leave his feet, but it was still a pass he needed to make. Foxx dropped another deep pass later on that wold have placed UConn at the five. It was short, and would have been a nice play, but again...a wide receiver needs to make those plays.
That was really the story of the game. It seemed Boyle was a little off on a lot of his throws, which isn't surprising given it was his first time taking the field, and his receiving core couldn't help him out.
The errant throws and inability to catch the ball prevented UConn from doing what it should have done - dominate a bad USF team. It seemed that every time there was a positive play, two negative plays would follow. For instance, in the first quarter UConn had a nice drive going into USF territory...then Boyle foolishly ran out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away, turning it into a five yard loss. Then, there was a holding call on the O-line, then there was a missed 49-yard field goal. USF ball.
That's the way the whole game went. Every positive play was followed but by two bad plays. Every nice slant pass to Davis was followed up by a bad pass or simple drop. Even the offensive line, which played its best game by far this year, couldn't stop from making some dumb plays, including on the fumble recovery for a touchdown. Not only did they allow deep penetration from the back side, making the way for Boyle to be hit as he was getting ready to throw the ball, but then the lineman (I don't remember who it was) fell on the ball, had it, then FUMBLED IT AWAY AGAIN, leading to a defensive TD.
It was also not the greatest debut for TJ Weist and his staff, in my opinion.
I'll leave the last drive alone since that's what everyone is going to focus on. The failure to communicate that a quick spike was needed at that moment is on Weist and his staff who have to know they have a young kid at QB who's not going to be thinking very clearly at that moment (he had just thrown what could have been three picks if USF hadn't just muffed the opportunities). The general ineptitude of the whole drive is on Boyle to a large degree as he not only threw more balls to the opposition, but also ran the two minute drill with about as much urgency as a zombie on downers.
But there were other things, like the questionable (in my opinion) decision to go for the early 49-yard field goal instead of play field position, punt USF deep in their own zone, and let your defense dominate. It was clear by that point already that UConn was either going to need a short field or a defensive touchdown to score. Then there was the fact that the coaching staff never seemed to adjust to USF's adjustment on the running game. In the first half, they destroyed the Bulls with that draw play up the seam. In the second half, USF made the adjustment and routinely stuffed McCombs on that play. Yet UConn never tried something different to get the running game back on track. It led to a lot of lost yards and third and longs, where USF ended up right in Boyle's face.
There were also strange play calls, like Boyle throwing the ball backwards for a six or seven yard loss on what seemed to be a planned wide receiver pass. I'm all for some fun trick plays, but UConn was moving the ball at that point in the first half with the run and pass. Why try something like that, then?
Then, in the third quarter, on a third and two, UConn put Boyle under center, had him drop back and try what looked like a screen pass to the running back. It was horribly executed and UConn had to punt again. Bad play call led, not shockingly, to bad execution.
It also seemed to me like UConn's fast-paced, no huddle offense took a REALLY long time to get moving. I know the point of no huddle is to keep the same defensive players on the field, but it's also to wear them down. Boyle would get his guys up to the line and then stand there for 15 seconds looking at the sidelines. That needs to be corrected.
It was just a comedy of errors. Even the defense, which DOMINATED this game and can hold its head up very high after that performance, messed up the last drive of the first half when they should have a.) stopped USF at the five yard line, forcing a punt from the end zone, or b.) made an easy pick six and scored a TD on a putrid pass by Eveld.
So...yeah. It was a different look UConn team but many of the same problems remain. If you're looking for the positives, again I think Boyle showed some really nice things and some promise in terms of talent. The defensive was a beast, the O-line, for the most part, played well, and McCombs finally looked like...Lyle McCombs.
Yet, UConn is now 0-5. A bad, sucking 0-5 and if they can't win against USF it's hard to see where or when, exactly, that elusive victory is going to come.
The beat, unfortunately, goes on.