Head coach Bob Diaco has referenced this in just about every interview this season. He talks about UConn being a "process organization."
It was easy to mock the process after the rough start to the season. But after two bye weeks and a really solid defensive performance in a loss to Tulane, UConn demonstrated that the process is paying dividends last night against a tough opponent in a hostile environment. The Huskies played a complete game and fought right up until the end against nationally-ranked team in East Carolina. Diaco summed it up perfectly after the loss, "We just get better every week, every day and it just wasn't enough on the scoreboard again. There are no moral victories... but these guys are winners. There is success in our program and our program building."
If you told me Geremy Davis would have just one catch for 5 yards, and that Chandler Whitmer threw for over 300 yards, I'd say you're nuts. But last night, the Huskies found legitimate production from a number of different receivers. Senior Deshon Foxx had the longest play of the game with an 88-yard touchdown catch to tie the score at 21, but it was our young receivers that gave UConn consistency in the passing game. Sophomore Noel Thomas, redshirt freshman Thomas Lucas, and freshman Dhameer Bradley combined for 9 catches, 158 yards, and 1 tocuchdown, including a 45 yard reception by Thomas Lucas on UConn's second drive of the game, a play that really jump-started the offense on a touchdown drive.
Noel Thomas continued the big plays with a 32 yard catch to make it 14-14 early in the 3rd quarter. With these young guys showing some life, UConn's receiving core has a bright future. With six incoming commitments from wide receivers, including the 6-foot-5 Frank Battle, the 6-foot-6 Aaron McLean, and the 3-star recruit Tyraiq Beals.
Chandler Whitmer finished 18/30 with 303 yards and 2 touchdowns! He even added the first rushing touchdown of his career! We are officially in Whitmer's swan song, and if he can keep this kind of play up I think it will be a fun final 5 games watching him leave it all on the field. How about that block he threw in the second half?
Whitmer showed great command of the new offensive attack, taking more shots downfield than any game in his career, and was a fearless runner with 35 yards on the ground. On Tim Boyle's only series, he looked marginally less comfortable than Whitmer. The offensive line also gave Whitmer the most time he has had to throw the ball all year, which was a major key in allowing this offense to click.
The Injury Bug
The Huskies lost arguably their two most talented seniors at halftime in last night's loss to ECU. Cornerback Byron Jones, who was a major key in UConn's attempt to slow down ECU's prolific passing game, and Geremy Davis, arguably the Huskies' best NFL prospect, had to leave the game. Earlier today we found out Jones is out for the season. Davis is day-to-day with an ankle injury.
Even without these two leaders, younger players like the aforementioned receivers and corners Jhavon Williams, Jalen Summers, and John Green did their best to keep UConn in the game. If Davis and Jones could have stayed on the field for the second half, however, UConn would have had an even better shot to win this game.
No one expected UConn to be so close to scaring the No. 18 Pirates on their home field, as evidenced from the 27.5 point spread. ECU looked undisciplined, tallying up 105 penalty yards, and their defense couldn't contain the big play. As of today, ECU would represent the "Group of Five" in a New Years Day bowl as they are the highest ranked team, but a lackluster performance against this UConn team does not help them very much. Both No. 24 Marshall (7-0), and Colorado State (6-1), have a chance to jump ahead of ECU if the Pirates continue to struggle against the lesser competition in the AAC.
UConn's inexperience may have cost them the win in this game, specifically in two categories-- penalties and tackling-- both related to discipline. The Huskies committed three personal foul penalties and a false start that took them out of field goal range.
There were also a number of costly pass interference calls on UConn's young cornerbacks Jhavon Williams and Jalen Summers. The corners, however, had a hefty challenge going against a pair of elite receivers in Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy, who combined for 324 yards on 21 catches.
Missed tackles, mostly on quarterback Shane Carden, also hurt the Huskies by allowing ECU to keep plays, and drives, going. The most costly, perhaps, was on ECU's final scoring drive. With the Pirates facing a 3rd and 10, defensive end Reuben Frank, who had a solid game, had Carden bottled up until he broke free and scampered for 14 yards and a back breaking first down.
Though the Huskies could not get the victory, there is no question that it was a positive night for UConn as the team showed some promising signs in what otherwise has been a disappointing 1-6 season thus far.
Check out our post-game recap with Mark Rogers TV!