"What the f*** is wrong, and why isn’t this working?!"
- Redshirt junior C Alex Mateas coming off the field in the third quarter of last Thursday’s game.
If you find yourself, like Mateas did a few days ago, still looking around to find out what in the hell went wrong against Towson, here are your options.
A) Draw conclusions of varying accuracy from a now faded, incomplete memory of the game.
B) Recall any anger, frustration or complete shock you felt Thursday night, and make broad, but understandable, generalizations.
C) Read up on the reports of others born from option A, perhaps a little bit of B, and certain chunks of the game’s box score.
Or, D) Watch the entire contest again in the days that follow. Let time pass to remove the emotion from the loss, and examine every play to determine how 33-18 finally came to be.
This sounds as thrilling as a documentary on paper mache. But, seven hours of sitting in front of and rewinding game film later, that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Now, first things first: Forget Towson’s "FCS" or "CAA" membership for a moment.
Whether you like it or not, the film shows that the Tigers are as good as any team in the bottom tier of FBS college football—period. Don’t believe me?
Recall the Huskies’ opening massacre of UMass a year ago. Did UMass’ new FBS status then mean anything to you or actually make them a better football team than the 37-0 loser that they were? What about during their traumatic 45-0 loss at Wisconsin last Saturday? No, no, and sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph—no.
It’s a simple, and most often correct, perception of FCS teams—they’re poor. But, Towson is indisputably better than the FBS Minutemen, just like a handful of other teams on their level.
Lastly, consider this: No one would ever label UConn basketball as just "another AAC team" because of the crummy conference they’re in now that's largely constituted by crummy teams. Kevin Ollie and co. are rightly recognized for the high-quality group that they themselves are. So, forget guilt—don’t commit the fallacy of mediocrity by association. Instead, focus on the caliber of this Towson team, which I’ll tell you is greater than the perception "FCS" typically incurs.
Now, before you jump on that or any point below (which by every count your right), know two things.
From this view, UConn should absolutely have beaten the Tigers; just like it should any lower-FBS equivalent like Army, FIU and Memphis. There’s no question about it. Next, amongst the handful of worn phrases every football coach carries in his back pocket, there is one that will forever ring true—the tape doesn’t lie.
With that last bit in mind, here are the basic truths we found studying the UConn offense versus the Towson defense, and a subsequent breakdown of every Husky drive:
- By no means was the offensive line at fault for all five of the sacks allowed. Find out exactly how many down below.
- The offense’s biggest failures came in the second quarter. They turned the ball over deep in their own territory and only came away with a field goal after 1st and goal from the one yardline. These miscues allowed Towson to gain critical points, and later, stay very comfortable in its playcalling since the underdog held a lead the rest of the game. You can’t afford that against a running team.
- In the second half, Chandler Whitmer began perceiving pressure that wasn’t there, which threw off his ability to throw from the pocket and at times, his mechanics. This hampered the Huskies’ passing efforts more than anything.
- While the above observations are true, the demise of the unit stemmed from a slew of mistakes in all areas. Missed blocks, drops, bad decisions, poor technique and more. No one was close to perfect, and back-up right tackle Xavier Hemingway had the worst day of all.
- While they did stick to their pressure scouting report, the Tiger defense mixed up its coverages constantly. Giving credit where it’s due, this was a very nice job by defensive coordinator Matt Hachmann to help his outmatched secondary and keep the Huskies’ protection schemes off-balance.
- I think the athleticism of the Towson defense surprised UConn initially, and gave them problems almost all night. Furthermore, each Towson linebacker could letter at a BCS, not just FBS, school. I kid you not.
FIRST DRIVE 3 plays, 9 yards, 1:18
On the first play of the game, Whitmer did need a bit more zip on his near-interception, but it was more just a good play by the corner. Towson’s close off-coverage put him in prime position to defend a route like that. Otherwise, the run blocking was very good on the subsequent plays. The reason the Huskies went three-and-out was a missed block by Xavier Hemingway. Towson linebacker Telvion Clark flashed on this series, a theme throughout the game.
SECOND DRIVE 9 plays, 92 yards, 4:01
Deshon Foxx began UConn’s best drive of the night with a very nice north-to-south run on a jet sweep. Clark showed up again with good burst on a tackle. A swing screen went for a three-yard loss after TE Sean McQuillan whiffed on his block. Then, Whitmer’s second pass was overthrown due to an over stride with his front foot. It very well may have been a good thing though, because McQuillan, who was running a seam route, was not open whatsoever. The first UConn completion of the year came next with a beautiful strike to Geremy Davis, who was amidst four zones.
Right guard Cruz tipped that he was going to pull on the next play, a run to the right. Another great throw was completed to Davis when T.J. Weist called for some hi-lo concepts against the Towson zone defense— as predicted in our scouting report. Whitmer’s footwork showed up again as a problem, when he missed an easy throw. Finally, the touchdown pass came against poor technique by the corner in Cover 3; However, it was also a great post-corner route run by Shakim Phillips.
THIRD DRIVE 3 plays, 5 yards, 1:52
A nice eight-yard gain on a swing pass to McCombs is nearly wiped out on the following run play, which went for a three-yard loss due to a missed blocking assignment. Finally, Whitmer gets sacked despite ample time and space in the pocket; he stepped into the one vulnerable place. Pocket presence has to be better.
FOURTH DRIVE 3 plays, 9 yards, 1:59
McCombs’ quick feet show up again to help UConn out of trouble and gain six yards on the initial snap. Defensive end Ryan Delaire and middle linebacker Monte Gaddis continued to cause problems on these three snaps. Hemingway looked to have missed another assignment on the last play, which was halted by Gaddis and Clark.
FIFTH DRIVE 1 play, 0 yards, 0:08
This was the interception Whitmer threw on an attempted screen pass at his own 30. Poor throw for sure, but Jimmy Bennett also unfortunately released defensive tackle John Desir (the thief on this play) at the exact time he needed to disengage to affect the throw. So, poor luck was a force here.
The only positive came in the play’s design— the Huskies faked a swing pass to their right, which they’d run successfully earlier on in the game, and came back to the left for a screen. Good creativity.
SIXTH DRIVE 11 plays, 71 yards, 5:16
Speaking of creative schemes, this next drive began with about as cutting edge an offensive design you’ll find today (though the play has been around for a few years): a packaged stick-draw. I’d love to break it down for you, but we need to touch upon the rest of this drive, so here is a good breakdown of the concept.
Before the stick-draw was called, this series actually opened with a false start by Bennett and Cruz. Later, Whitmer made a nice throw to Davis to advance the Huskies on a 3rd and nine. He followed immediately with another strike to no. 85, which was set up by excellent pre-snap blitz recognition. Delaire kept on besting Hemingway afterward, but McCombs ripped off a great 22-yard run on another third down. Nothing groundbreaking was being called, it was just good execution.
Then, the Huskies got to the goalline. This next sequence was inexcusable. UConn got pushed back on a run to the right because Hemingway didn’t lay a finger on anyone. On 2nd and goal, both Bennett and Mateas whiffed on their men, who combined to tackle McCombs just shy of the end zone. Then, the coaching staff failed to get the team ready for third down and ignore the things out of their control—a potential review. The result was a lot of standing around, and a substitution penalty, which cost them five yards.
On third and goal from the six, Whitmer showcased poor mechanics, which resulted in the overthrow to Foxx. The young wideout likely would’ve scored. Instead, the team settled for a measly three points.
SEVENTH DRIVE 2 plays, -5 yards, 0:11
Towson had good coverage on the first play, a one-yard catch for Lyle McCombs. On the next and final snap, they rushed four through a variety of twists and slants. Hemingway gave up the biggest pressure, and the line was ultimately at fault for the half-ending sack by Clark.
EIGHTH DRIVE 3 plays, 4 yards, 0:49
The UConn defense forced a three-and-out to begin the half, but here is where we really saw Whitmer begin to "see ghosts". Happy feet and a premature departure from the pocket preceded an ugly 4-yard pass to McCombs on the first snap. Then, Foxx dropped a catchable ball and the Husky QB rushed another throw on third down. Only plus here was strong protection from Hemingway.
NINTH DRIVE 4 plays, 1 yards, 2:26
Whitmer did a better job of standing in the pocket this drive that featured an 11-yard completion to DeLorenzo, three-yard run for McCombs and two sacks. The first Towson toss of the quarterback was again on Whitmer, who diagnosed a blitz, watched it get picked up and then panicked. On the following play, Delaire crushed Hemingway on his way to drop Whitmer and force a punt.
TENTH DRIVE 6 plays, 42 yards, 2:17
There was excellent run blocking here to begin the series. Whitmer made a strong throw to Phillips for 12 yards and nearly hooked up with him for 45 right after, had it not been for a tough drop on no. 8’s part. UConn was bailed out with a defensive pass interference call, and continued marching. An inaccurate Whitmer throw popped up again, sandwiched by a pair of Husky runs halted by Clark. Then came the fumbled snap on fourth down, which was pitiful.
ELEVENTH DRIVE 3 plays, 3 yards, 1:19
The fifth and final sack appeared on second down as a result of misplays by both Mateas and Whitmer. The redshirt junior quarterback turned his back to the side of the field with multiple open targets, and the UConn center was turned inside out upon hiking the ball. Otherwise, good coverage downfield forced a third down incompletion and Cole Wagner was on to punt again.
TWELFTH DRIVE 7 plays, 68 yards, 1:45
The lone scoring drive of the second half came after Towson’s ultimate dagger. Whitmer completed good, quick throws to Phillips and Davis before leaving a sizable pocket too early for a three-yard scramble. Later, McCombs dropped an easy ball and Phillips caught his second touchdown on a beautiful throw set up by outstanding pass protection.
THIRTEENTH DRIVE 1 play, 7 yards, 0:16
The final play of the game was a meaningless dump into the flat for McCombs.
Bottom line: The UConn offense was both thoroughly out-played and out-coached. There are no bones about it. While the offensive line became a headliner, it was only entirely responsible for three of the five sacks, and Chandler Whitmer performed very inconsistently. Lyle McCombs ran hard, but all players need to improve in time for Maryland in two weeks, since the problems against Towson were largely execution-based.
Check back tomorrow to see if the same issues plagued the defense, or if it was a different beast entirely.
Follow Andrew on Twitter for all things UConn Football: @UConnFB_Andrew