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UConn at East Carolina Tale of the Tape: UConn's offensive explosion

In our first Tale of the Tape in the post-Callahan era, Rondale and Aman take a deeper look at how UConn achieved their most impressive offensive performance of the season.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Last week the UConn Huskies took the field on the road and had their most complete performance to date. After scoring only 10 points combined between games against Temple and Tulane, 21 points was a downright scoring spree.

While the accumulative stats may not back it up, the defense played extraordinarily given the conditions- facing a prolific offense and having to defend 100 plays in the Pirates' rapid fire offense. While impressive, the fact that the defense played well should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has seen the Huskies play all season.

What was much, much more surprising was the display of offensive competency by Chandler Whitmer and company. So continuing with the tradition of looking at one side of the ball each week, the offense was clearly the unit which warranted a closer look.

We'll go through most of the drives individually and then share some overall commentary at the end.

First Drive (1st Quarter - 10:52)

Time

Formation

Down & Distance

Field Position

Play Type

10:52

11 TE Flex Out

1st & 10

UConn 25

Run

10:28

11 TE Flex Out

2nd & 7

UConn 28

Pass incomplete

10:07

01 Spread

3rd and 7

UConn 28

Pass Complete

9:56

Punt

4th and 2

UConn 33

Punt

UConn started their first drive on their own 25 yard line after a fairly effortless touchdown drive by ECU to make it 7-0.

On the Huskies' first play, they spread the ball out in an "11 formation"- one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. In a look they would show a lot of during the game, tight end Sean McQuillan was split out wide on the same side as two wide receivers for the drive's first two plays.

11 TE split

On the second play of the drive, they flipped the formation and Chandler Whitmer took his first shot down the field to Geremy Davis- who was isolated on the open side of the field.  Davis was open and had a one-on-one match-up, but couldn't make the catch as is looked the desperate diving defender was able to knock the ball out as Davis was coming down with it. That play came after an audible call from the sideline- something that happened a lot where the players would line up, then all look to the sideline for a call from the coaches.

On third down, Davis was lined up in the slot and ran a quick out pattern while the outside receivers went deep in an attempt to clear space. Whitmer got the ball to Davis but he was immediately met by a tackler for fourth down.

Second Drive (First Quarter - 5:41)

5:41

11 Spread

1st and 10

UConn 23

Pass Complete

5:11

21

1st and 10

ECU 34

Pass Complete 13 yds to Deshon Foxx

4:40

11/Spread/ 5 yd out to Bradley

1st and 10

ECU 21

Pass Complete Dhameer Bradley for 11 yds

3: 50

13/I-Form Jumbo

1st and Goal

ECU 10

Run/Ron Johnson for 3 yds

3:28

22/Strong I-Form Jumbo

2nd and Goal

ECU 7

Run/Ron Johnson for 6 yds

2:36

22/I-Form Jumbo

3rd and Goal

ECU 1

Run/ Ron Johnson no gain

2:00

22/I-Form Jumbo

4th and Goal

ECU 1

Run/ Chandler Whitmer for 1 yard/ TD

The Huskies opened the drive again in the "11" look they had shown before with the tight end split out wide. On first down, Chandler Whitmer faked a hand-off, the defense bit hard, and Whitmer rolled right in what looked like a run/pass option where he hit Thomas Lucas for a 43 yard gain (!) which quickly got the Huskies into ECU territory. That play completely fooled the defense as Whitmer could have comfortably run for good yardage as well but was smart to find Lucas for a big gain.

whitmer option

The next two plays were quick passes which netted UConn over 10 yards each time and all of a sudden the Huskies found themselves on the opponent's 12 yard line. The first was a quick pass to Deshon Foxx on a one-step drop to the open side of the field and the second came after an audible call from the sideline where Whitmer found Dhameer Bradley on an out route from a short drop out of the shotgun.

Those three big plays were the catalyst for a touchdown drive and proof that this Huskies team can move the ball with some crisp execution. This is the type of offense we expected to see all season given the offensive line challenges- with short throws to give our talented skill players opportunities to make plays in space.

Third Drive (2nd Quarter - 13:26)

13:26

11/TE Flex

1st and 10

UConn 39

Pass complete Deshon Foxx for 7 yds

13:00

N/A

2nd and 3

UConn 46

Penalty/False Start

12:56

12

2nd and 8

UConn 41

Pass/ Interception

The 2nd quarter contained three disappointing offensive drives for the Huskies, all for different reasons. Their inability to score wasted some really solid play by the UConn defense.

Once again the Huskies opened in the "11" formation with McQuillan out wide with two receivers. Whitmer hit Deshon Foxx on another quick bubble screen, and Foxx ran behind two blockers for a gain of 7. A false start penalty on Geremy Davis sent the Huskies back five yards then Chandler Whitmer was intercepted on 2nd and 8.

At first glance the Whitmer interception may have seemed like bad luck- he had an open receiver out of the backfield and the defensive lineman made an incredible play to tip it and catch the ball for the pick. While the degree of difficulty of that play by the defender was high, it could have been avoided as it appears Whitmer had both Geremy Davis and Sean McQuillian open on short routes, and it appeared the passing lanes were there.

whitmerpick

Fourth Drive (10:52 - 2nd Quarter)

10:52

11/TE Spread/Screen

1st and 10

UConn 20

Pass Complete to Marriner for 6 yds

10:27

11/Singleback

2nd and 4

UConn 26

Run/ Marriner for 5 yds

9:56

11/Singleback

1st and 10

UConn 31

Run/Marriner for 2 yds

9:25

11/TE Flex

2nd and 8

UConn 33

Sack

8:47

11/TE Flex

3rd and 12

UConn 29

Pass Complete/Marriner for 4 yds

Punt

4th and 8

UConn 33

Punt

Tim Boyle took the field on this drive, going 2/2 for 10 yards- all to Josh Marriner. UConn kept things fairly simple, running every play out of the shotgun and various formations using the 11 personnel. This drive stalled after Tim Boyle took a sack on 2nd and 8. On that play, ECU rushed five guys and collapsed the pocket up the middle- forcing Boyle to try and find a running lane to salvage some yardage. He was unsuccessful. It looked like his first read wasn't there and then with the pressure coming in he made the decision to take the sack.

boyle pocket

Ryan Crozier was pushed backwards by the man who would ultimately get the sack, but it looked like Boyle pulled down with the ball a little early- he could have taken some more time and made a throw. This is part of why Boyle hasn't been able to earn more playing time- he needed to find someone to throw it away to or hang in the pocket a little longer to get the ball out to an open receiver.

Fifth Drive (6:41 - 2nd Quarter)

6:41

12

1st and 10

UConn 19

Pass incomplete

6:35

21/Singleback

1st and 10

UConn 34

Run/Johnson for 2 yds

6:04

11/Singleback

2nd and 8

UConn 36

Pass complete/Foxx for 12 yds

5:56

10/Singleback Shotgun

1st and 10

ECU 37

Run/Johnson for 2 yds

5:22

11/Singleback

2nd and 10

ECU 37

Pass incomplete

5:13

10/Singleback Shotgun/ 4 WRs

1st and 10

ECU 22

Run/Johnson for 2 yds

4:39

11/TE Flex

2nd and 8

ECU 20

Penalty

4:39

10/Singleback Shotgun

2nd and 23

ECU 35

Pass Incomplete

4:34

11/Singleback Shotgun TE Flex

3rd and 23

ECU 35

Pass complete/Marriner for 5 yds

This third drive, the last one of the 2nd quarter, was a disappointing one to leave without any points. UConn had a number of senseless penalties last week, and while some of them were pretty sensitive calls from the refs, these simply need to be avoided. Their impact was felt the most on this non-scoring drive.

UConn gained 30 out of 46 yards on this drive from two pass interference penalties, so it wasn't all that impressive to have made it as far as they did, but to have 1st and 10 on the 22 and leave without points is unacceptable.

***

The Huskies did get the ball one more time in the half, but kneeled it with only 6 seconds left on the clock. We aren't counting that in the upcoming first half totals, but we will count the 2nd and 8 play which ended in a 15-yard personal foul because we're trying to understand the team's offensive tendencies.

First half totals:

26 offensive plays called (11 run, 15 pass)

0-4 on third downs

8 first downs

***

Sixth Drive (15:00 - 3rd Quarter)

15:00

11/Singleback Shotgun

1st and 10

UConn 25

Run/Whitmer 2 yds

14:40

10/Singleback Spread

2nd and 8

UConn 27

Pass complete/Bradley for 1 yd

13:40

11/Singleback Offset TE

3rd and 7

UConn 28

Pass complete/ Thomas Lucas for 37 yds

13:02

21/Singleback

1st and 10

ECU 35

Run/Johnson for 3 yds

12:32

10/Singleback Shotgun Spread

2nd and 7

ECU 32

Pass incomplete

12:26

10/Singleback Trips Right

3rd and 7

ECU 32

Pass complete/ Thomas for 32 yds/ TD

In the first quarter, Chandler Whitmer hit Thomas Lucas on play-action run/pass option for a 43-yard gain on that first touchdown drive. To open the second half, the Huskies ran the same play, again to the short side of the field, but this time the corner stayed on his man and the edge defender was able to contain Whitmer for a 2-yard gain.

On second down, they ran another bubble screen which Bradley bobbled but there wasn't much space for him anyway. With about six quick passes so far in the game, the Huskies were using the quick pass in lieu of the running game because the offensive line struggling to create lanes.

The Huskies converted their first third down of the game when Whitmer hit Thomas Lucas downfield for a 36-yard gain. Lucas made a nice play on the ball, which was slightly off-line from Whitmer on the fade route. Coming out of the shotgun, Lucas was the lone receiver on the left side, it looked like a similar play call to the one in which Geremy Davis couldn't come down with the ball on the first drive. The formation was the same, and both times Whitmer tried to exploit man coverage, this time the receiver came down with the ball.

After a short run, and a drop by Deshon Foxx it looked like UConn's drive might stall but Whitmer found Noel Thomas on another fade route, this time for a 32-yard touchdown. Once again, Thomas was the lone receiver opposite trips (TE split out) and the Huskies were able to exploit single coverage. It was Thomas' first career touchdown.

In other news, I'm actually starting to think ECU's defense isn't that good.

/checks ECU's results

Shoot.

Seventh Drive (8:51 - 3rd Quarter)

8:51

11/ TE Flex

1st and 10

UConn 33

Run/ Newsome for 1 yds- toss out of the gun

8:20

10/Trips Right

2nd and 9

UConn 34

Pass complete/ screen to Newsome for 1 yds

7:46

10/ Singleback Shotgun Spread

3rd and 8

UConn 35

Run/ Whitmer for 5 yds

Punt

4th and 3

UConn 40

Punt

Despite nursing an injury, Arkeel Newsome gave it a go for one drive in the second half. They tried to get him the ball a couple of times with short passes and screens but it didn't materialize into much and the Huskies went three and out. Newsome didn't re-enter the game.

On 3rd and 8, UConn ran another read-option pass which Whitmer kept. Both inside receivers in the 4-wide set flared out for short passes and it seemed like they might have represented a better chance to get the first down. It's hard to imagine Whitmer running 8 yards for a first down without something going very wrong defensively.

The Huskies showed a lot of the same formations all game, with a lot of shotgun and, again, a heavy emphasis on the short passing game- which ECU was beginning to anticipate and shut down as the second half progressed.

Eighth Drive (3rd Quarter - 4:02)

4:02

10/Singleback Shotgun Spread

1st and 10

UConn 12

Pass incomplete

3:56

11/Singleback Shotgun Spread

2nd and 10

UConn 12

Pass complete/ Foxx for 88 yds/ TD

TOUCHDOWN UCONN!!

On this game-tying touchdown, Chandler Whitmer made an accurate throw to beat zone coverage on a 9 route. The safeties never dropped back to play over top. The emphasis on the short passing game helped open up deep routes for UConn and this time it resulted in a big-play touchdown.

Unfortunately, this would be the final scoring drive for the Huskies in this game. In the interest of positive energy, we aren't going to go through the failed drives in detail- suffice it to say that ECU contained our offense, and UConn wasn't really able to pull any other tricks out of the bag.

Ninth Drive (1:05 - 3rd Quarter)

1:05

10/ TE Flex

1st and 10

UConn 31

Run/ Johnson for 1 yard

0:41

11/Shotgun Spread

2nd and 9

UConn 31

Run/ Johnson for 22 yds

0:10

11/ Shotgun Offset TE /3 WR

1st and 10

ECU 47

Pass complete/ McQuillan for 4 yds

4th qtr/15:00

21/Strong I

2nd and 6

ECU 43

Run/ Marriner for 2 yds

14:42

11/Offset TE

3rd and 4

ECU 41

Pass incomplete

Punt

4th and 9

ECU 46

Punt

Years from now we will remember it as "The Block."

whitmer block

Okay, wow. Awesome. But how did we get here? Let's take a look

0:36- Whitmer takes the snap out of the gun, hands it off to Ron Johnson for a run down the middle

whitmer block 1

0:33- Johnson cuts inside, breaks a tackle and reverses field

whitmer block 2

0:32- Johnson sees some space on the outside and Whitmer notices he's in the danger zone- Whitmagic keeps his head up looking for his victim

whitmer block 3

0:32- armed with nothing but his heart, Whitmer launches himself at the defender to free up his running back for what would be a 22-yard gain.

whitmer block 4

With the game tied at 21, this first down could have been critical to UConn's upset. Instead ECU adjusted to the Huskies' offensive strategy and kept them off the scoreboard the rest of the game.

***

Second half totals:

32 plays (20 pass, 12 run)

This was at 13 pass to 10 runs before the final drive, which started with 1:25 left in the game and UConn down ten)

6 first downs (4 on the final drive)

3-9 on third down (1 3rd down conversion on final drive)

***

Full game totals:

58 plays (35 pass, 23 run)

3-12 on third down, 1-1 on 4th down

14 first downs

***

Bob Diaco said his team wasn't preparing for East Carolina, and that may be true, but the coaching staff definitely put their team in a position to win with their strategies. They knew ECU blitzed a lot, so to slow down the rush they called a lot of screens, hitches, and quick outs to make things easier on the quarterback and to counter the blitz. They stayed dedicated to the running game for this reason as well, to set up the zone-read plays.

The Huskies came into game knowing they couldn't run block well, but their commitment to the run game was admirable and helped to keep the defense honest. The quick passes also served as their pseudo run game. They tried to spread the defense with their formations to open up running lanes, but were mostly unsuccessful.

The constant ECU blitz allowed UConn to get a lot of man-to-man coverage on the outside and they took advantage. The short passes also caused the safeties to bite up, allowing Deshon Foxx to get man-to-man coverage on the outside on his 88-yard TD.

If UConn could run-block better, this offense really could be explosive. There definitely is some speed on the outside, but the running game was dead. The O-Line was particularly good at pass blocking, but not being able to run the ball kept UConn from churning the clock and allowed ECU to run 100 plays.

Again, this was the kind of offense we had been expecting all season, and maybe finally Bob Diaco had his team to a point where he felt they could execute. This was a welcome progression for the Huskies last week, hopefully they can keep it up against UCF.

Quick hits

  • The running backs need to get better at pass blocking.
  • UConn needs to consider running more roll out plays for Chandler Whitmer. This made the pass protection and Whitmer look better.
  • Guard play is lacking, they aren't pulling fast enough.
  • Blocking was really bad on tipped pass that led to interception.
  • Offensive line never got a push. There were no second level blocks.
  • Whitmer exploited blitzes well. Hit Thomas, Lucas, and Foxx on 9 routes for big gains against man coverage while ECU sold out on blitzes.