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UConn Wildcat Watch: Mixed results against UMass

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As mentioned elsewhere, everyone seems pretty happy with UConn's 37-0 blowout win over UMass Thursday. I am too!

The Huskies' defense played a near-perfect game, and Chandler Whitmer looked just fine at quarterback. But there is kind of an elephant in the room here offensively, which is why we're debuting TheUConnBlog's "Wildcat Watch," a (hopefully) weekly look at breaking down George DeLeone's attempt to cash in on Tebowmania.

Now, I don't mind the Wildcat per se. As a change-up, a go-to short-yardage plan, an opportunity to confuse defenses, it is a useful package of plays. Scott McCummings is athletic enough to run an option-like offense, and the speed of Lyle McCombs and Nick Williams gives UConn threats to break off big gains.

But that's (mostly) theoretical; through 13 games of the DeLeone era, the execution of the Wildcat has left much to be desired.

While charting Thursday night's game, I was able to quantify why several of us were so infuriated in the game thread (which was echoed by several of our Twitter followers):

Whitmer, playing in first college game, completed nine passes of 10 yards or more. A very encouraging effort. He was immediately replaced by Scott McCummings after seven of those nine completions.

Someone smarter than I will have to explain how that is a good idea. After beating the defense for a big play, doesn't it make more sense to keep Whitmer in, giving the illusion that UConn might someday throw two passes in a row? Isn't it self-defeating to set teams up with a medium-range completion and follow it up with a formation with a predictable play-call (since all but one of McCummings' snaps Thursday night were spread-option runs)?

I don't want to sound like I'm overreacting since it's just one week of data, and it's also a week in which the Huskies didn't need to be terribly creative. Hopefully, it won't be a trend.

Below the jump, a breakdown of the rest of the Wildcat stats for Game 1:

  • McCummings took 19 of the Huskies' 69 offensive snaps Thursday night (Whitmer took 42, Johnnie McEntee took 8 in mop-up duty). Eighteen of those 19 snaps were running plays, mostly read options with a few designed QB draws.
  • When McCummings handed off to McCombs or Nick Williams on a jet sweep play, the Huskies had success: 6 carries, 50 yards. This rushing total accounted for roughly 1/3rd of the Huskies' rushing total on 1/7th of the carries.
  • Running up the middle was a much tougher proposition, with McCummings' keepers and McCombs' inside handoffs accounting for just 14 yards on 10 carries. None of the runs up the middle went better than four yards, though they did account for both of the Huskies' offensive touchdowns (a pair of one-yard runs).
  • There was one passing play with McCummings' play package, the jet sweep reverse pass that ended with Whitmer connecting on a jump ball with Ryan Griffin for a 34-yard gain. Last year against Fordham, there was also just one pass with McCummings at quarterback - a 56-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Griffin that came after a well-executed option playfake.
  • In total, the Wildcat package accounted for 100 yards, just over 5.0 yards per play. Non-Wildcat plays went for 274 yards on 50 snaps, about 5.5 yards per play.
  • What conclusions can we draw from this performance? As is the case with I-AA opposition (yes, yes, technically UMass is in the MAC. They're still a I-AA team until they've reached their scholarship allocation), not much.

    It's likely that the outside runs were successful due to the lack of speed on the edge, which is usually the case for teams in the early-stage of a I-A upgrade. See: every UConn-West Virginia game prior to 2010.

    It's somewhat disturbing that UConn's offensive line was unable to create any holes in UMass' defensive line, leading to those middle runs being stuffed. It's possible that increasing the ratio of pass plays called out of this formation would help open defenses up a bit; at 18 rushes to 1 pass, teams can stack defenders in the box and make McCummings make a good pass. (And if McCummings is unable to hit his targets, the formation is useless between the 20-yard-lines.) Hopefully this week's play selection was due to the level of opponent.

    And finally, from a play-calling standpoint, it seems to make the most sense for McCummings to start the occasional drive (maybe one per half?) and go from there, rather than disrupting Whitmer's rhythm with constant switches. It would certainly be less exasperating.