In a season where any and every prediction about UConn football has been punted well through the end zone and towards the drunks in the upper deck, allow me to carefully offer you one more.
Two months from now, the 41-16 UConn-Cincinnati debacle, featuring eight allowed sacks, three thrown interceptions, 41 points allowed, 10 offensive points scored and a load of putrid offensive play, will hardly register in your memory.
Come mid-December, Warde Manuel will either be continuing his search for a new coach or charmingly wrapping up a press conference meant to introduce the next headman. The focus will be on the future, and anyone’s reflections on this 2013 campaign, however it ends, won’t include this game.
I almost guarantee it.
Too many notable contests surround the Bearcats' forgettable beatdown on the schedule—Edsall’s return, the Michigan miss, the Buffalo blowout and self-inflicted South Florida defeat. Not to mention, the upcoming visit to UCF and hosting of Louisville are the Huskies’ two toughest tests of the year.
And most importantly, this past contest taught us very little about UConn at all.
As expected, Tim Boyle struggled in his second collegiate start, which simultaneously served as his first game away from the roughly sodded confines of The Rent.
From there, the Husky defense couldn’t carry the team through even one half, and UConn subsequently suffered a deflating four-quarter defeat.
The offense continued to take turns committing inexcusable penalties and mistakes, including two false starts and a substitution infraction over the first four drives.
Finally, the collective pass rush joined the likes Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa and halfway decent music from today’s Billboard Top-100 by disappearing without the slightest scent of a clue.
The last three sound storylines familiar? They should.
I’ve repeated those exact sentiments multiple times in this space before. Therefore, it serves only as fruitless exercise to dive into the drives (offensive or defensive) that in the first half enforced those points or in the second half were more or less executed in garbage time.
So, here is our modified, condensed version of this week’s UConn Tale of the Tape, highlighting the main reasons why the Huskies performed as they did last Saturday. Both the offense and defense contributed mightily to the this game’s fatal, deciding factor—Cincinnati’s monumental early lead.
1.) Big pass plays off play-action
The most obvious answer here is simply too many big pass plays allowed, and that assertion would be most definitely correct. But the more accurate assessment is big pass plays allowed that were preceded by play-action.
Similar to how opposing defenses have consistently targeted the UConn offense with pressure, opponents have repeatedly hit the Huskies over the head with play-action passing in 2013. They recognize a standard UConn rush typically won’t get home even after a fake hand-off. They see the Husky linebackers on fi;lm usually react a tick slow before dropping back. They also know the unit typically can be found zone coverage (optimal defense for play-action passing).
Through six games, no one team has play-faked to UConn more times or more successfully than Cincinnati.
Overall, the Bearcats recorded eight throws of 20 yards or more, which included five play-action passes that went for 56, 27, 32, 30, and 41. Three of those completions went for touchdowns.
On the opening snap from scrimmage, Brendon Kay connected downfield with Mekale McKay for 56 yards to set a rather ominous tone for the rest of the miserable day. During the play, the Bearcats took advantage of the aforementioned defensive shortcomings, in addition to the fact the Huskies were in their favorite "quarters" or "Cover 4" coverage. They hit UConn with a classic Cover-4 beater, the double-post.
The run-fake quickly reeled in Ty-Meer Brown from his safety position, which left Obi Melifonwu as the long defender over the deep middle. McKay ran hard at the freshman and quickly gained inside leverage against him, forcing Melifonwu to open his hips late.
Then, given Kay was gifted tons of time to throw, and it was a simple matter of pitch and catch.
A few plays later, Kay struck again with a beautifully aimed throw to the back corner of the end zone for six points. You’ll see this play come up later.
On the Bearcats’ fourth drive of the game, they were able to package a deep play-action pass and score all in one. From the UConn 41-yardline, Kay dropped back, saw a receiver open once again thanks to smart play design, (post-wheel against zone coverage), and he hit him in stride with an excellent throw.
Shortly before the half, the Cincy senior completed play-action passes of 17 and 32 yards. The latter was a soul-crushing touchdown just before the half to extend the Husky deficit to 27-3. And then things still managed to get worse before they got better.
After intermission, the Bearcats forced a three-and-out and promptly marched downfield for another six points. Guess how they finished that drive?
A 27-yard touchdown throw off play-action. See below, and pardon the crappy photo quality:
2.) Poor pass rush
Can’t say much more about this area. It stunk.
The lone time the Huskies had success generating quarterback pressure was with an Andrew Adams blitz off the edge in the second quarter. Adams flew in from his slot position against a bunch set, and he nearly took Kay down after the Cincinnati quarterback was done finishing… you guessed it…a play-action fake.
On the ensuing third down, defensive coordinator Hank Hughes again brought five rushers and forced a throwaway.
To be clear, it is difficult and risky to blitz with a depleted secondary. To do so on a consistent basis would be stupid. But for the life of me, I can’t understand why UConn didn’t bring more secondary pressure in this game.
The best ways to combat a mobile quarterback are sitting back in heavy zones and blitzing with faster players to chase him down. Last Saturday, Kay didn’t hurt UConn with his legs, but that was only because he didn’t have to. He had all day to throw against the heavy Husky zones, and I don’t know why more corners and safeties weren’t sent after him to rush his decision-making.
3.) Great pass offense execution by Cincinnati.
Coaches and TV analysts will often say that there’s no defense for the perfect pass. UConn found that out on Cincinnati’s first two touchdowns, shown below. Although Kay had plenty of time to the deliver the scoring strikes, he did an impeccable job of placing the ball squarely where his receiver, and only his receiver, could catch it.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to credit the offense for making plays.
4.) Slight Bearcat errors covering up UConn first half miscues.
A rare offensive facemask penalty and underthrown Kay passes negated the two defensive pass interference calls that initially furthered early Cincinnati series. Had the Bearcats executed properly, they probably would’ve found themselves cushioned by a few more first half points. But, such is football.
5.) Strong interior run defense
I think Julian Campenni and Shamar Stephen do a pretty damn good job.
Oh, you know that already? Sorry, I see it nearly every week.
1.) Small, avoidable mistakes piling up to kill drives.
Big picture, this is the biggest problem the Husky offense faces: inconsistency. UConn has not been able to simultaneously execute all player assignments over a lengthy stretch of play for the entire season due to minor mistakes from different areas. After six games, there’s still been no escaping it. Now, the same errors from the USF loss did not hold last Saturday in the Queen city. The problems against Cincinnati were different, and they will be detailed soon. But, the overarching theme here remains the same, and it must be mentioned first.
Summarized briefly: penalties were committed, blitz pick-ups were missed, balls were poorly thrown, play-calling grew questionable at times and blocking up front could have been better. To be fair, lack of execution happens everywhere in football, but not to the level it is right now for the Huskies. Inconsistency is far and away their biggest overall problem.
2.) Terrible play within 25 yards of the endzone.
On their second series of the game, UConn failed to punch the ball in due to a missed block by back-up guard Tyler Samara on first and goal from the two yardline.
Next, Samara committed a false start penalty to back the Huskies up to the seven, where they were forced to throw. On the resulting down, Boyle threw behind Spencer Parker in the end zone for a very unfortunate incompletion. The Huskies used the same route combination that produced their first touchdown against Michigan, and once again created an open man. But, the freshman quarterback couldn’t finish the play with an accurate pass. Solid third down defense by the Bearcats denied any hope of six points by forcing a throwaway.
Two drives later, Boyle faced a third and seven and took an unforgivable sack at the Cincinnati 25-yardline. This pushed the line of scrimmage to the fringe of Chad Christen’s range, instead of comfortably inside, where the senior would’ve at least attempted a 37-yarder. On fourth down, he lined up from beyond 40 yards and missed.
In the second half, UConn picked up its lone offensive touchdown of the game from the 12 yardline with a Delorenzo run to the left. The drive, albeit manufactured under a 34-3 deficit and against a softer defense, was stellar.
But, upon their return to the last quarter of the field at the Cincinnati 25-yardline, Boyle threw a pick into double coverage. The first-year starter can’t be faulted here for trying to make a play when down by 24 points, but it is worth noting he likely left points on the field. As was the case earlier, a simple throwaway would’ve set up a manageable field goal for Christen to make it a three-score game.
From these misplays alone, the Huskies cost themselves anywhere from four to eighteen points.
4.) The second quarter interception
Geremy Davis had already hauled in two passes on deep-out routes when Devin Drane snagged the third thrown to him on this design in the second quarter. With the ball in hand, the Cincinnati corner raced back for what essentially was a pick-six and swung a 14-3 Bearcat lead all the way to 21-3. The Huskies couldn’t sustain anything offensively on the following drive and gave the ball right back to their hosts.
On the interception, Boyle threw slightly behind Davis, though credit must be given to Drane for jumping the route.
4.) Boyle’s poor pocket presence.
Normally an indication of an offensive line that has more holes than an NCAA ruling, but last weekend this number just showed the true green color of a freshman quarterback making his second start.
At least five of the takedowns were Boyle’s fault for either holding onto the ball too long or stepping directly into pressure. Yesterday, interim coach T.J. Weist detailed what was plainly visible in parts of the second half, and that was that the pressure started to rush him and negatively affect his play.
Meanwhile, the blame for one sack lies with Friend when he was beaten on an inside move by Silverberry Mouhon in the second quarter, and another blame for another belongs to Lyle McCombs for a poor blitz pick-up. The only debatable loss was the second sack of the ninth drive, which came courtesy of a free rusher on the right side. Foxx, who pointed right at the blitzer prior to the hiking of the ball, was the only one to acknowledge him pre-snap.
Both Boyle and Kevin Friend failed to recognize the danger and paid the price.
5.) Commendable job done by the offensive line
The official box score will tell you that UConn earned a 1.8 yards per carry average on all rush attempts and allowed the aforementioned eight sacks. However, when you count only the 22 designed Husky hand-offs and remove the sacks from the figure (which for for some odd reason are considered rushes), UConn actually gained an average of 4.8 yards each time it wanted to run the ball. That’s not bad. In fact, that's pretty good.
Furthermore, as we already know, only two to three of the eight sacks taken were a result of poor line play. Thus, given that the Huskies were forced to throw the ball for nearly the entire second half, this actually was a decent game for the men up front. To be even more specific, over much of the first half and UConn’s eighth drive of the game, the front five protected gave Boyle more time than any UConn quarterback has had all season.
Of course, the occasional struggles displayed by the right side were the same you and I have seen all season. So, there’s little to add there. Yet on the opposite end, Bennett and Steve Greene produced perhaps their best game all year, from a run blocking standpoint. The pair helped spring Max DeLorenzo and Martin Hyppolite for more than half of their total rushing yards and DeLorenzo’s 12-yard touchdown. Kudos to them.
6.) Geremy Davis is a monster.
Eight catches for 140 yards and these two highlight snags. The guy is remarkable.
7.) Foxx and DeLorenzo reemerge
Foxx bounced back very well after making far too many costly drops against USF. The junior was the centerpiece for many of the Huskies’ second half drives, as he would reel in Boyle passes and then garner good chunks of yardage after the catch. On UConn’s second interception, Foxx stood out by racing to track down and force a fumble from Mike Tyson, who nearly ran 95 yards the other way for a score.
On the ground, DeLorenzo churned out a mark of 7.7 yards per carry. His decisive running style and much improved quickness allowed him to at times gain the corner and seemingly always maximize his gain. The redshirt sophomore’s power running style didn’t leave him though. Rather, it helped the Huskies keep a couple drives going with key third down conversions.
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