Disclaimer I: If you experienced any pain last Saturday watching UConn take on UCF, the following piece will only bring you more of hurt. But, as always, it will also bring more understanding about the state of UConn football.
Disclaimer II: Luckily for you, this is the shortest Tale of the Tape I’ve ever written.
Disclaimer III: My analysis this week focuses solely on the first 33 minutes of football played last Saturday. At the 12:01 mark in the third quarter, Lyle McCombs had just fumbled to turn the ball back over to the Knights, who already enjoyed a 52-10 lead. Back-up UCF quarterback Justin Holman was immediately inserted, and after one more UConn series, Casey Cochran took the field as well.
Then, it was enter garbage time, and exit meaningful football.
Here are the top six reasons why the Husky offense and defense competed so poorly last weekend.
It was not for a lack of effort.
1.) Breakdowns in the red zone
The rout to spoil all afternoons in UConn country was on early. But at least it could have been delayed.
Had it not been for a pair of third down errors that directly resulted in touchdowns, this would have been a 13-3 ballgame after the first quarter. On the first drive of the game, Storm Johnson rumbled seemingly unstoppable through a pair of arm tackles on for six points. Then, the next two UCF trips to paydirt were paved entirely by a physical mistake by Graham Stewart and mental miscue by either Reuben Frank or Wilbert Lee.
Up 7-3 facing a third and goal from the UConn 10 yardline, Bortles stood in against a five-man UConn blitz. At the snap, Stewart ran untouched at the UCF signal caller from his outside position, before he was juked out and lost contain. As an edge rusher against a mobile quarterback, Stewart had to rush with discipline.
Instead, he allowed Bortles to get by him and scramble in for a touchdown.
On the following UCF series, the Huskies once brought pressure on third and goal. The coverage was the same, man-to-man across the board with a roaming safety, as Yawin Smallwood rushed up the middle along with the four down linemen and Lee off the corner. You can see Bortles pointing to the oncoming defensive back before the snap in the picture below:
The lone exception in coverage on this play was that no one accounted for Johnson. As center Joey Grant hiked the football, Johnson released into the left flat, where no Husky picked him up. Pass rush specialist Reuben Frank realized this mid-rush, as you can see below.
Bortles spun from trouble and lofted the ball to Johnson, who walked inhibited into the end zone with Frank trailing behind.
Given the Huskies’ pre-snap alignment, it appears that Frank or Lee missed the man-to-man assignment on Johnson. Neither Smallwood nor safety Obi Melifonwu was in position to help in coverage.
Later, wide receiver Rannell Hall gained the corner and broke two tackles on a jet sweep that ended in six points. After that, the Huskies allowed two more passing touchdowns with defensive breakdowns. They failed to cover Jeff Godfrey on a widely used "Smash" route concept and allowed him to run free again before the half for another score.
2.) Poor pass rush against Bortles’ brilliance
Each week it is simply rinse and repeat with this pass rush.
Zero sacks, one quarterback hit and far too many instances where the quarterback could’ve picnicked in the pocket.
I tallied just three hurries of Blake Bortles by the Husky defense over the entire game; a game in which they blitzed more than almost every other contest this season. Three. Now the Knights didn’t play-fake Yawin Smallwood and co. to death, as Cincinnati did. Yet they enjoyed greater success against this pass defense than the Bearcats did in their blowout win two weekends ago.
Bortles took a seat after completing 19-23 passes for 225 yards and four total touchdowns. Those stats are remarkable all on their own, and they grow even more astonishing when you consider his four incompletions included two receiver drops and a throwaway.
By the way, that sound you hear is future NFL first round pick and current Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater licking his chops.
3.) Missed tackles and poor angles
Over the first half alone, the Huskies missed 12 tackles of UCF playmakers. Poor fundamentals and angles to the ball were on display all over the place, yes. But I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Knight gameplan seemed to be very intent on testing UConn’s ability to tackle in space. Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe called a combined nine bubble screens, hitches and jet sweeps in the first thirty three minutes, more than half of which went for first downs.
This strategy paid off most when J.J. Worton took a bubble screen 61 yards for a touchdown to begin the third quarter. By my count, the Huskies would’ve saved themselves roughly 115 yards of offense and a couple scores if they’d secured a few more wrap-ups.
4.) Outside run defense
Second only to the shy pass rush, this area has been a thorn in the UConn’s side all year. Last Saturday was no exception. The Knights picked up an average of 7.6 yards per perimeter run against the Huskies before 52-10, while they gained three yards fewer when heading straight up the gut. UCF is an outside running team, but there was more at play here than quality offensive execution.
Here is Bortles scooting around the corner on the third play from scrimmage, a read-option run against poor run discipline:
For two consecutive weeks, opposing offenses have repeatedly and successfully targeted the Huskies in their most common coverages: Cover 1 and Cover 4. Cincinnati hit the Huskies deep off play-action on their first play, while UCF found Breshad Perriman for 50 yards on their second drive with an identical pass design.
The Knights executed a run-fake and double-post concept against Cover 4, as seen below.
Downfield, Perriman quickly gained leverage against Byron Jones, who received no safety help, since Melifonwu was (as designed) preoccupied defending the inside post.
With his leverage, Perriman sprinted by Jones before hauling in Bortles’ long bomb.
Since the Husky front four cannot generate sufficient pressure, good quarterbacks will sit back and wait for their receivers to come free against these defenses. When UConn did mix up their calls with pressure, they often tipped their intentions pre-snap. Bortles would see the blitzers and adjust accordingly.
Here you can see the Knight quarterback recognizing that Adams is about to come off the edge (along with Smallwood up the middle) as a part of a zone blitz call. But that's not all.
Defensive end Tim Willman is supposed to drop into a short zone over the middle at the same time Adams blitzes from his slot position. As you can see, Willman aligns himself at least one foot farther off the line of scrimmage than his defensive line teammates. This is to intended to hand him a head start in coverage. Simultaneously, it also gives the quarterback a heads up that he’ll be dropping back, not rushing.
Combined with Adams' own head start on his "unexpected" pass rush, Bortles knows exactly what to expect here and completes an eight-yard pass quickly to the right.
6.) The lost field position battle
Neither the Husky offense nor special teams did this defense any favors by affording the Knights incredible field position on almost every drive. On their first nine series of the game, UCF’s average starting line of scrimmage was their own 47-yardline.
1.) Tim Boyle’s regression
Holy bad quarterbacking, Batman.
Overthrows, poor pocket awareness, little blitz recognition and inconsistent mechanics all played a part of Boyle’s 7-21,
47-yard and two interception afternoon.
He took a pair sacks that could have been avoided with a throwaway or more time taken to diagnose the defense pre-snap. The freshman responded poorly to pressure from the get-go, and at one time missed on seven consecutive throws. When facing UCF’s first-team defense, Boyle completed only five of eighteen passes, none of which travelled
more than five yards in the air.
His high throws began on the first drive:
Boyle's delays in getting rid of the ball gave way to the first interception of the day. This picture is taken immediately after the freshman had been given a full three seconds in the pocket, or one half-second before he was hit upon throwing.
He's got to get rid of that ball.
The second pick came as a result of poor decision-making. Albeit, a 28-point first half deficit does call for taking chances in order to make plays, but there were just only a couple ways this pass could’ve ended.
Overall, ‘twas a day to forget; perhaps even deliberately with heavy medication.
2.) UCF defensive mistakes
Call me a negative Nancy if you will, but chart every snap from last Saturday and tell me that UConn still moves the football without numerous Knight defensive miscues. The Huskies’ biggest gain of the day, McCombs’ 57-yard scamper, sped directly into a safety blitz that should’ve had the play dead in the backfield.
Next, UConn’s only touchdown drive against the starting UCF defense was set up by a horrible special teams turnover at the Knight 24-yardline. The biggest gain on this series was a second down roughing the passer penalty on an incompletion. Otherwise, the Huskies would’ve faced a third and sixteen and likely waved a white flag. Instead, they’re walked down to the nine-yardline, where McCombs strolls in for six against a defensive line in the midst of a poorly executed stunt:
Of course, credit is due here to the offensive line here for clearing out a major highway's worth of space. So, kudos to them.
3.) Nine runs of one yard or less on their first 15 rushes
These kinds of runs will kill drives, and when nearly two-thirds of your hand-offs go for three feet or less, you truly have no chance to play ball.
Both McCombs and DeLorenzo found too few holes to run through last Saturday and bounced too many runs to the outside. The Huskies’ worst hand-off of the day, however, landed in the hands of Deshon Foxx, who raced a reverse for negative six yards. More on this play later.
Most importantly, UCF’s superior athleticism really showed up in this area, as the Knights consistently rallied well to the ball and were able make up for their errors against a slower UConn attack.
4.) Regular rotation of mistakes
What else can we say?
There were missed blocks, lots of misfired throws, indecisive running and routes rounded off (looking at you, Mr. Foxx).
The failure to get on the same page continues for this unit.
5.) Questionable play-calling
It’s unfortunate that the score got out of hand so quickly, because I really would’ve liked to see what T.J. Weist had in store for the Knights. The UCF defense is a very disciplined unit, but it still gave the Huskies some space on their very first play, a play-action shot to Geremy Davis. I imagine there were more play-action calls on his sheet, which were rendered useless when each Knight drive ended in a score.
Thus, UConn was forced to exclusively go to the air and play catch-up, meaning his gameplan was crumpled up and tossed to the wind. From this view, I still believe more quarterback runs should have been called to settle Boyle down, either with zone-reads or an inverted veer. Furthermore, the screen game could have been a very effective tool against the secondary pressure that UCF brought on a consistent basis.
Finally, the reverse to Foxx was undeniably terrible. Weist called for his slot receiver to run not only into the short side of the field, but also directly into a cornerback blitz. A corner blitz from the short side is one of the most common in college football and should've been anticipated here. Regardless, the interim coach should've given his team a better shot by flipping the design and giving Foxx greater room to make a play.
6.) Brian Lemelle
The freshman recorded his first career touchdown, a 46-yard catch and run in the early fourth quarter. Credit the first-year wideout for fighting through a bothersome rib injury and play well in his spot time.
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