Tale of the Tape: UConn offense vs. USF

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Discovering exactly how Tim Boyle performed in his first ever start for the Huskies.

Let’s waste no time in getting right to what you want to know.

How did Tim Boyle perform in his first start?

Frankly, pretty damn well.

Not exceptional. But well.

Now, a stat line of 15-43 for 149 yards and zero touchdowns does not paint a pretty picture.

Yet, the film shows that of those 28 incompletions, only 11 were a direct result of poor quarterback play. The other 17 throws to hit to the turf either had their release hurried by bad pass blocking, struck a receiver in both his hands or were simply denied by good defense.

Ask any freshman quarterback in the country how he’d feel about doing enough to put forth a day consisting of 32-43 for over 250 yards and a couple scores, and you’re going to get a lot of goofy, eighteen-year old smiles (and one, marvelous Jameis Winston shrugging his shoulders going "eh"). Not to mention, particularly for a first-year player, Boyle's poise was good, his decision-making sound and there’s no doubting that the physical tools are there.

Of course, no matter how important one position is, or how well any individual plays, football is a team game. The Huskies didn’t achieve victory over lowly USF because they did not do enough to earn it—the kid included.

Boyle rushed or forced a number of throws over the course of the game, in addition to firing two near-interceptions on the final drive.

Deshon Foxx reeled in only one of the nine passes thrown in his direction all game, and dropped a pair of touchdowns.

Tight end Spencer Parker also let a score slip.

The offensive line allowed multiple quarterback hurries against basic stunts, which also produced a pair of sacks.

You’ll notice this short list excludes any mention of the running game. That'll tend to happen when your primary running back enjoys a career day. Lyle McCombs gashed the Bulls for 164 yards, including 135 in the first half. The line did its best job clearing space for him in all of recent memory, which it partly owed to facing lesser competition.

The bottom line here is that 10 points scored is still only 10 points scored. Here’s how they got there.

Keep it up:

Decisive running by the backs

Geremy Davis everything

Wide receiver run blocking

To Fix:

Deshon Foxx and Spencer Parker drops

Pass protection against basic stunts

Boyle’s high throws

Personnel

UConn played almost exclusively out 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back and three receivers) against the Bulls. Weist called for a few two-back sets and two-tight end formations, which always prefaced an outside run or screen pass. As long as Weist is at the controls of the offense, expect this same heavy dosage of 11 personnel for the remainder of the year.

Davis and Foxx were mainstays at wide receiver, while Kamal Abrams lined up for enough snaps to be counted as their most common company. Freshmen Dhameer Bradley, John Green and Brian Lemelle all took their turns spelling Abrams on one drive or another.

As expected, McCombs handled the majority of carries, as he was relieved mainly by Max Delorenzo. We only saw back-up Martin Hyppolite on the one series that followed McCombs’ 52-yard touchdown run, which concluded with a flip over the goal line. This semi-celebration prompted Weist to confront his star runner immediately afterward, and inform him that he was going to watch the next drive from the sideline.

Sean McQuillan remained as the team's top option at tight end, contributing primarily as a pass catcher. Parker did not have his greatest day in any role, but his performance was not enough to call upon the recently converted Elijah Norris.

The offensive line welcomed back Kevin Friend full-time at right tackle, and stuck with its same starting five for nearly the entire game. The only substitution came on the fifth series, when back-up Tyler Samara replaced right guard Gus Cruz on a smattering of plays.

Formations

Check in at any point during a replay of the game and you’re assured to find Boyle in the shotgun. The freshman ducked under center on fewer than five plays, and stood back in an empty set for nearly the same number of snaps. The Huskies’ most common formation involved McCombs in the 'gun with Boyle, two receivers to the wide side of the field and McQuillan aligned with a third wideout on the short side. The second most common set called for three receivers to one side and Davis lined up alone on the other.

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From this 3x1 set, the Huskies have a serious tendency to throw only at Davis on either a slant or skinny post. USF allowed a couple of these kind of completions before making an extra effort to blanket him on UConn's second-to-last drive, and ultimately, forcing an incompletion. This play was apart of the Huskies only three-and-out series of the game.

When UConn ran the ball…

The Huskies’ finest day rushing the football over the last two seasons was a product of many different elements. But the two clearest factors were the gameplans laid out by each sideline. There’s more on what the Bulls attempted to do down below, but Weist mixed his runs types extraordinarily well. Early on, he set the tone with a dedication to running left behind weakside of every formation.

By aligning a tight end to the right side and handing the ball off in the other direction, he ensured that McCombs would face fewer defenders, and run behind the team’s best lineman, left guard Steve Greene. This strategy produced tangible success, despite the fact it did not employ a typically needed double-team at the point of attack. These runs then led USF to overcompensate in the second quarter by loading up on the weakside, something you almost never, ever see.

Against these fronts, Weist then hit the Bulls with a couple strong side runs, which then gave the Husky blockers a considerable numbers advantage at the point of attack. The first play of this kind resulted in McCombs’ 52-yard touchdown scamper to open the second quarter.

After halftime, the UConn running game slowed down for three main reasons: fewer run playcalls, a decline in the quality of blocks up front and a twofold shift by the Bulls defense to bigger fronts and more pressure. This Xs and Os adjustment was critical to keeping the Bulls in the game, and was not countered well enough by the Husky coaching staff.

When UConn passed the ball…

We’ve detailed the pass drops above, so there’s little purpose in discussing the Husky butterfingers further. Excluding the final drive and his early overthrows, Boyle seemed very steady in the pocket. The high passes were not a consistent mechanical issue as they would normally indicate. Rather, they simply seemed to be a product of the freshman’s admitted gameday nerves.

Yesterday, coach Weist announced that wide receiver is now essentially an open competition, and its hardly difficult to understand why. Davis will hold onto his job, but Foxx and Abrams did nothing to secure theirs. The freshman Bradley has impressed with his smarts in the classroom and quickness in practices, but his only catch against USF came on the final drive.

Meanwhile, it is a hard but essential truth that some spots along the offensive line would be open competition if there were any sort of depth behind the five starters. In each game this season, Husky offensive linemen have struggled to block end-tackle and tackle-end (TED) stunts. You can see them below:

TED stunt from the Michigan game.

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End-tackle stunt (courtesy of footballislife.blogspot.com)

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Injuries to the unit have not helped whatsoever, but pass protection technique from a group of veterans like this simply must be better.

USF’s gameplan:

Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan dared UConn to run against smaller fronts, and Boyle to throw against eight-man coverages for almost the entire first half. In these efforts and those meant to cover the spread Husky formations, he often deployed sub-packages that featured extra defensive backs and fewer linemen. Below, the Bulls counter the Huskies’ favorite formation and personnel group with a nickel package.

Sub_package_medium

The Huskies had success running against these groups, but USF held a clear advantage when it went to base 4-3 personnel. Below is a picture of USF reacting to UConn's recent running success by deploying its base defense against the same spread UConn offensive set from earlier.

4-3_base_medium

Later, the Bulls started run blitzing the Huskies in obviously running situations. In the second half, these blitzes forced six hand-offs to go for two yards or fewer and a couple passes to fall incomplete. USF also sprinkled in five-man rushes on first and third down that primarily features blitzers from the outside. These pressures, along with the end-tackle stunts, consistently produced desired defensive results. Otherwise, the Bulls played lots of Cover-2 with both man and zone coverage underneath.

FIRST DRIVE 9 plays, 34 yards, 3:20

Boyle opened the book on his college career with a 10-yard play-action pass rifled on the run to Davis, who then neatly toed the sideline. Two solid McCombs gains later, the Huskies seemed to convert a third and short when a McQuillan holding penalty reeled back a 10-yard Foxx rush. Upon replay, it’s clear that Foxx would not have run very far sans the hold, but still likely would’ve earned a new set of downs.

Backed up to third and eleven, the freshman quarterback scrambled cleanly for nineteen yards once his receivers cleared out the underneath Bulls defenders in man coverage. A Boyle overthrow and Gus Cruz false start combined to set the table for an 11-yard McCombs run on second down, which was sprung by an excellent McQuillan block. Foxx then watched another ball sail slightly over his head to end the series.

SECOND DRIVE 4 plays, 14 yards, 1:12

Armed with spectacular field position thanks to a Byron Jones interception, the Huskies produced their first points of the game on this drive. The first play was a "check with me" zone-read called from the sidelines as the play clock wound down, and it resulted in an 11-yard Boyle gain.

Good defensive discipline on the part of the Bulls stymied a play-action rollout and inside zone run on the subsequent snaps.

Then came the first dropped touchdown of the game, courtesy of Parker. The throw by Boyle didn’t necessarily wow, byt it was sufficiently accurate, fitting in between two defenders.

Parker_drop_medium

Chad Christen knocked through a 32-yard field goal to push the score to 3-0, good guys.

THIRD DRIVE 7 plays, 34 yards, 2:38

McCombs raced 26 yards over the first two plays from scrimmage behind zone-blocking. Center Alex Mateas nearly brought the second hand-off to a screeching halt when he was easily driven back, but the junior runner dodged his way out of trouble and gained the corner. Later, Foxx took his turn dropping a surefire touchdown on a deep pass, before Delorenzo followed with a first down sprint that was aided by a superb Lemelle block on the outside.

Next, Boyle recorded his first freshman mistake of the year by taking a five-yard loss that could’ve been avoided with a simple throwaway. The young signal caller then did pass the ball incomplete on back-to-back plays, as USF had covered McQuillan tightly and garnered pressure with a TED stunt.

FOURTH DRIVE 4 plays, 24 yard, 1:57

The drive that bore the only Bull touchdown of the game opened with the best-blocked UConn run of the season. McCombs again sprinted out of the gates early, this time for 28 yards on a single hand-off. Two great seals were made on the left side of the line, before a second-level block was thrown to clear acres of space. USF countered successfully on the next play with its first run blitz of the game, which halted Delorenzo for only two yards. Boyle fumbled the following snap on what was supposed to be an inverted veer play, and then quickly fell on the loose ball.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, he couldn’t manage that kind of recovery twice in a row.

Facing third and eight, Boyle stepped back from the shotgun against a simple four-man rush.

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However, he took two steps too far, and Bull defensive end Ryne Giddins got the better of Bennett. In response, Bennett pushed Giddins far upfield, past where Boyle should've been.

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Instead, as you know, Giddins sacked the UConn quarterback who stood three yards deeper in the pocket than designed. Giddins knocked the ball away, and watched teammate Aaron Lynch scoop and score.

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FIFTH DRIVE 5 plays, 75 yards, 1:45

Following a pair of three-yard runs to the left and a first down McQuillan reception, McCombs charged behind the right side of the UConn line and broke free for 52-yards touchdown run. As discussed above, the Huskies manufactured a numbers advantage with their previous play calls against a shifted USF defense.

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Running behind the uncovered Cruz, McCombs was easily able to gain the second level and dash into open space.

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From there, no. 43 did the rest. Solid cut back running, vision and speed brought him crossfield for the score.

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SIXTH DRIVE 5 plays, 18 yards, 2:42

Here we had "The Hyppolite drive". A 10-yard Davis catch was sandwiched between two runs by the senior back-up to produce a manageable second and short. USF sent an all-out blitz that brought Hyppolite down behind the line, and rung up third down. Another pressure call stifled a screen pass and ended the series.

SEVENTH DRIVE 7 plays, 21 yards, 3:14

McQuillan bailed the offense out with a drawn pass interference call on third and ten, despite the fact that Boyle’s ball was far from catchable. With a fresh set of downs, Boyle moved the chains again via a backside slant thrown to Davis for 12 yards. Two snaps later, Foxx fumbled a backwards pass on a bubble screen, which cost the Huskies 11 yards on the ensuing fumble recovery. McCombs failed to snag a high screen pass with one hand on third down to welcome on Cole Wagner and the punt team.

EIGHTH DRIVE 1 plays, -2 yards, 0:16

Boyle took a knee to conclude the first half and run out the clock.

NINTH DRIVE 6 plays, 13 yards, 3:10

Four straight runs yielded 22 yards despite some shoddy blocking by Mateas and Cruz. The Huskies went to the air off play-action on second down, which resulted in an incomplete pass in Davis’ direction. Mateas finished the drive on a sour note, as he and Greene failed to pick up and inside stunt between two defensive tackles and allowed a nine-yard sack of Boyle.

TENTH DRIVE 5 plays, 11 yards, 1:28

The lone highlight of this series came early on another slant completion to Davis for 15 yards. After inside Bull pressure forced the Huskies back four yards, Foxx and Abrams took turns dropping passes.

ELEVENTH DRIVE 7 plays, 30 yards, 4:05

Boyle found Davis again for 24 yards on a play designed to beat Cover-2, which was the exact coverage the Huskies drew to open this drive. UConn attacked USF deep again on the following play, but Foxx failed to haul in an underthrown ball, even with both hands on the pigskin. McCombs and McQuillan teamed to pick up 11 yards on the next couple plays. Then, a negative run, poor Abrams route and coverage sack all combined to thwart the series. The Bulls only rushed four on the Boyle takedown, but they executed a nice end-tackle stunt to generate pressure.

TWELFTH DRIVE 11 plays, 43 yards, 4:03

The freshman quarterback pulled off his second third-down-saving scramble of the day for 16 yards to avoid a three-and-out. A Parker drop soon followed, and set up a 12-yard McCombs scamper. On the resulting first down, Boyle hit Davis for nine, and then watched Green drop another ball deep downfield. The Huskies moved the chains by just a foot on a sweep left behind a rare two-tight end set. Three snaps later on a third and five, another end-tackle stunt pulled the plug on UConn’s efforts by forcing a throwaway.

THIRTEENTH DRIVE 3 plays, 0 yards, 0:32

Boyle fired two passes into coverage, and escaped unscathed solely due to his beginner’s luck. The Bulls twisted their defensive tackles on the final play, which predictably produced another incompletion.

FOURTEENTH DRIVE 10 plays, 46 yards, 1:46

Working from his own five yardline, Boyle continued to save his worst for last with throws far off the mark and into heavy coverage. Facing fourth and two, the freshman then stood cool, calm and collected in the pocket upon firing an eight-yard strike to McQuillan. He failed to hook up with his tight end once again before misfiring to Davis. A 14-yard McQuillan catch against soft zone coverage moved the chains on third down. Two plays later, Bradley caught a first down strike at midfield with 18 seconds left, but the Huskies wasted 11 ticks making a decision. The last-second Hail Mary throw was a good one, but no UConn receiver properly situated himself along the endline to catch a ptential deflection, which was the exact result of the play.

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Bottom line: The time for finally scoring more than 21 points this season was most definitely last Saturday. UConn should've scored at least 24, and repeatedly got in its own way. 

It sounds disappointing, but given the mistakes were largely within their control, there is at least hope for these Huskies under Boyle.

From this view, It's difficult to imagine the receivers enduring a worse day down the road than they did last Saturday, and McCombs seems to have shed the vision problems that plagued him earlier. The offensive line continues to struggle with the same sorts of pass rush techniques, but overall showed improvement. This group’s play against a bigger, more talented Cincinnati defensive front this weekend will be a mcuh better barometer of their progress under coach Foley.

Follow Andrew on Twitter for all things UConn Football: @UConnFB_Andrew

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