Tale of the Tape: Anatomy of a Comeback

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Dissecting exactly how UConn came back from 21 points down against Temple to earn its first victory of 2013.

If a 21-point comeback is secured, yet only a few thousand people are around to witness it between a pair of teams that had previously combined for a 1-18 record, does the victory actually happen?

Watching the celebrations thrown on the UConn sideline post-game last Saturday, you bet your ass it does.

As you know, the Huskies shot down the Temple Owls with a second half turnaround built upon excellent efforts from all three phases of the game. On a frigid night in Philadelphia, at last, they had their win.

Now in our traditional Tales of the Tape, we provide a thorough detailing of the game's every drive to reveal all the steps and missteps the Huskies took until the final gun. For a contest as important as this one was, we've once again done the leg work necessary for this kind of breakdown.

Fortunately, the first half of UConn-Temple is quite easy to explain, requiring the description of exactly zero snaps.

After charting each play, I arrived at the same conclusion that most did once intermission commenced on what began to look like a gruesome tragedy nearly one week ago. The most important thing to know about the opening 30 minutes of "football" the Huskies played then, is that it looked remarkably like this:

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(photo courtesy of technobuffalo.com)

Given all the penalties, turnovers, missed assignments and blown coverages, their 21-0 halftime deficit needed only a chewed, spit soaked cherry pit on top to describe the halftime predicament so perfectly. This half was the worst.

That is, it was the worst with the exception of Tim Willman's strip sack of Temple quarterback P.J. Walker and his subsequent fumble recovery. Willman's sack came 3.9 seconds after the snap, meaning Walker held onto the ball too tightly for too long, which ironically resulted in the pigskin getting ripped from his hands.

This play may have been the one most vital to keeping hope alive that night, considering the sequence of the events that followed. Those events went on to change the course of the Huskies' 2013 campaign for good and went just like this:

OFFENSE 6 plays, 75 yards, 15:00 3Q

The first thing UConn did to get itself back in the ballgame was get its play-calling straight.

Excluding a pair of five-yard losses, the Huskies actually moved the ball rather effectively on the ground during the first half. Never for large chunks, but they consistently garnered the necessary four and five-yard gains that are the lifeblood of most long drives. Then, either some mystifying play-calling or poor quarterback play would stunt the progress of these series, and UConn deservedly went scoreless.

So, to open the second half, Weist returned to his running game.

Smart move.

Five straight hand-offs netted 42 yards (who would have thought?), before Geremy Davis did the rest on his 33-yard scoring catch.

For most of the drive, Temple attempted to rotate a safety down into the box just prior to the snap to serve as a sneaky, eighth defender against the run (didn't work). This tactic will always leave the defense in a single-high shell, which usually produces some variation of Cover 1 or Cover 3. In either case, the offense will face single coverage on the outside, and if you're UConn, this what you want to see deployed against your star wide receiver.

Facing first and 10, the Huskies continued operating out of their regular 11 personnel grouping (three receivers, one running back, one tight end) as Temple went to a Cover 3 defense from its nickel package (five defensive backs).See below:

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Off to the left, Davis ran a "hitch-and-go", which involves a receiver sprinting straight for 8-10 yards, stopping as if he's about to finish a short route and then taking off deep for a long pass. Here you can see Davis setting his trap for the out-of-the-picture corner, who bit so hard he could've crushed a couple packs of Jawbreakers all at once.

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The picture above also demonstrates how much time and space Cochran was afforded in the pocket. Upon Davis' faux-hitch, he gave a slight shoulder fake, before placing beautiful touch on a well-placed ball down the sideline.

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Touchdown.

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"In the name of the Father, son and holy s*** my hands are good."

UConn touchdown, Owls 21-7

DEFENSE 9 plays, 55 yards, 11:37 3Q

Temple decided to attack the Huskies twofold by way of three bubble screens in their first four plays calls of the second half. The initial pair of screens successfully exploited the Huskies' off-coverage and shoddy ability to tackle in space for 30 total yards, while the last fell incomplete. Nevertheless, Walker moved the chains by finding Ryan Alderman for 28 yards on third down, after the wideout badly beat Taylor Mack with a strong, quick release.

Now nearing the red zone, the Owls moved backwards three yards via a pair of incompletions and ill-fated run play that was destroyed by Shamar Stephen. The Temple offense then suffered from a miscommunication on fourth and 13, and was forced to hand the ball back to UConn with more than half of the quarter still remaining. Of course, the Owls had to go for it because of their horrendous kicking game, which hurt them dearly here.

A 39-yard field goal would've gifted the hosts a 17-point lead and surely put a dent into Husky spirits.

Temple turnover on downs, Owls 21-7

OFFENSE 3 plays, 6 yards, 8:22 3Q

By pure, unfortunate chance, Max DeLorenzo tripped on the outstretched leg of right tackle Dalton Gifford and failed to convert on a third and short. Soon after, Cole Wagner came on to make his final punt of the game.

UConn punt, Owls 21-7

DEFENSE 6 plays, 4 yards, 6:33 3Q

The combination of two Temple drops and a 10-yard Reuben Frank sack (initiated by Smallwood) stalled this series and negated some pinpoint Walker throws. Frank's sack would most certainly be filed under those considered "coverage", as the young Owl gunslinger hung in the pocket for nearly four seconds before escaping to his right.

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This maneuver gave a green light to Smallwood to chase after him. The star linebacker had previously been in a short zone and made first contact on the takedown, which was finished off by Mr. Frank.

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Temple punt, Owls 21-7

OFFENSE 8 plays, 58 yards, 3:44 3Q

Weist immediately took advantage of his team's recent, rushing success by dialing up a play-action pass on first down. Provided with all the time in the world to throw, Cochran fired a strike at the far sideline, where Davis stood amidst broken zone coverage and quickly moved UConn to the enemy 30-yardline. Two DeLorenzo runs then yielded only four yards and preceded a batted Cochran pass at the line on third down.

Teetering on the fuzzy fringe of field goal range, the Huskies went for it on fourth and six to keep their hopes of added points alive. And guess who flew out of the nearest phone booth with an "S" spread across his chest and a red cape in tow while he saved the day on a 16-yard first down catch?

Geremy Davis. Correct.

A first down run cut UConn's nine-yard path to paydirt immediately in half, before progress stalled on a missed fade throw to Davis. Now approaching a critical third down, Cochran called timeout to receive new, huddled orders from Weist. The coach directed his young quarterback to stick the ball in DeLorenzo's belly one more time and see what happens.

After he secured the ball, the redshirt sophomore runner made a quick cut to his left and took advantage of the open space expertly cleared for him by Jimmy Bennett and Steve Greene.

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One-score game.

UConn touchdown, Owls 21-14

DEFENSE 3 plays, 5 yards, 0:43 3Q

Tim Willman crushed a scrambling Walker from behind to shut down this Temple series that opened with a stuffed inside run and diving seven-yard completion. The takedown was Willman's second sack of the game. Owl punter Paul Layton left the door wide open for disaster when he muffed the fourth down snap. Though, he was able to scoot away from oncoming pressure and boot a measly 20-yard kick.

Temple punt, Owls 21-14

OFFENSE 16 plays, 50 yards, 14:16 4Q

Three runs, one first down. It was more or less "rinse and repeat" for the Husky offense to begin their final scoring drive of the game.

Next, a five-yard Lyle McCombs run was sandwiched between a pair of costly Cochran incompletions intended for Davis. However, a wholly unnecessary personal foul penalty, committed by Temple defensive tackle Hershey Walton (doesn't a name like that belong in a different century?), gave the series new life and an additional 15 yards.

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"Personal foul. Hands to the face. Defense, number doofus. 15-yard penalty. First down."

Walked to the Owl 18-yardline, the UConn offense hammered its way to third and goal at the one, following four DeLorenzo hand-offs. Here, McCombs took his shot at gaining the end zone, but was forcefully stonewalled.

On fourth down, Weist made the poor choice to call for a fade route to Davis; a play that predictably failed miserably. How so? Well, while I'm sure the two have hooked up on this play multiple times in practice, Cochran is 0-3 on fade throws in games—and it's not a close 0-3. He missed badly on two occasions against SMU and once already in this game; not by inches, but by feet.

Yet, the series was not over. Another boneheaded Temple penalty came to the Huskies' rescure, this time in the form of pass interference.

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And the surprises were still far from over.

Despite his consistent, game-long success with picking up yardage, DeLorenzo gained maybe three inches on two subsequent runs. These failures to score, in addition to a snuffed out quarterback sneak, rung up another critical fourth down, where Weist made a much better call: an inside zone-read.

Quick refresher: a zone-read is a run play predicated on the quarterback's decision post-snap to either hand the ball to a nearby back or keep it himself to run with. This decision is based on his "read" of an intentionally unblocked defender, who usually is aligned to the backside of the play. Upon the snap of the ball, the quarterback will put the ball in the belly of his back and watch this defender.

Should the defender crash in and commit himself to stopping a potential hand-off, the quarterback will keep the ball and run right by him. On the other hand, should he stay put in order to stop a quarterback scamper, the hand-off is made to the back, who now runs behind the double-team of an interior defensive lineman. Below, you can see left tackle Jimmy Bennett will "down block" on the defensive tackle and allow no. 33 for Temple to breeze by.

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Now, on better than 90 percent of all the designed option-runs (zone-read or otherwise) that UConn has executed in 2013, defenses have gift-wrapped an opening for the quarterback to keep the ball for himself. Seldom did Chandler Whitmer or Tim Boyle take them up on this opportunity (I have the tedious, frustrating charts to show you).

Wisely, Cochran chose differently.

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Touchdown.

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UConn touchdown, Tied 21-21

DEFENSE 5 plays, 21 yards, 6:52 4Q

The biggest play of this game—Yawin Smallwood's pick-six—was not made shortly before 10 o'clock last Saturday night.

No.

Instead, it was born a few days before during laborious hours of film study meant to determine the exact route combinations Temple will go to in critical third down situations. Post-game, Smallwood admitted as much by speaking to the excellent preparation he was provided by linebackers coach Jon Wholley, who had tutored him up for this spot. As the play began to develop, his mind knew what was coming, and then his body did the rest.

Following four consecutive runs that broke through for a total of 21 yards, the Owls badly needed to convert a third and five. To continue their drive, they opted to open in a four-wide set, before quickly motioning their receiver in the left slot over to the right side.

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From here, both receivers in the right slot released vertically; that is to say, immediately ran straight upfield. Given the route combination executed, it's very likely that Temple anticipated a Cover 2 defense from the Huskies, a common coverage teams will play when defending on third down and medium. The depicted red route is intended to draw any defender playing zone over the middle further upfield, thus vacating the space for a second receiver (yellow path) to come in and camp underneath for a short completion.

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Instead, from the small camera views available, it appears UConn stuck with a Cover 1 design featuring mostly man-to-man, a defense they had played almost all game. Smallwood, playing the only zone coverage within the design,  could roam as he saw fit and, upon recognizing that the motioned receiver was about to curl in, make the play.

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59 yards back the other way, and we were now all watching quite a different ballgame.

UConn touchdown, Huskies 28-21

DEFENSE 11 plays, 16 yards, 4:08 4Q

After a near-fumble on the ensuing kickoff return, the Owls opened with excellent field position to make a final stand and prolong the contest. Relying solely on the arm of its dynamic, young quarterback, Temple struggled to move the ball against a Husky defense that had grown well accustomed to guarding against the pass all half. To his credit, Walker did convert an early fourth down and later, a third and short.

Yet, he was fatally victimized once again by Smallwood, this time by way of the sack. The star linebacker shot through untouched on a blitz and utilized his athleticism to snare the speedy Walker. This loss of yards created a tumultuous third down and 20 situation for the trailing home team. Two long incompletions later, and the Fat Lady could be heard all the way down to Broad St.

Temple turnover on downs, Huskies 28-21

Bottom line: UConn 28, Temple 21

There's no doubting that a plethora of factors converged last weekend for what had previously been the unthinkable—a come-from-behind, three-touchdown, UConn victory on the road. To be fair, it will always take a number of things to go right and wrong for any football game to conclude the way it does.

In this case, the biggest elements at play were the Huskies' ability to sustain a successful running game, which set up plays to Davis, defensively making Temple one-dimensional and taking advantage of the timely Owl mistakes— pass drops, penalties and poor special teams.

For a team with such a small margin of error, this recipe seems to suit them well. For even with the wretched first half performance they put forth, UConn still managed to pull out a win. And something tells me that these Huskies would love to whip up a victory batch one or two more times before it all comes to a close on Dec. 7 2013Dissecting exactly how UConn came back from 21 points down against Temple to earn its first victory of 2013. .

For the best UConn Football coverage you'll find anywhere, follow Andrew on Twitter: @UConnFB_Andrew

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