If you've ever been in for any kind of internal medical procedure, you know there are a litany of rules you have to follow leading up to your appointment.
Sometimes you're not allowed to eat certain things. Sometimes you're asked not to drink certain-colored liquids. Many times you're limited as to what over-the-counter medications you can ingest.
When your doctor examines you, he or she needs a clear view of what's going on. All unwanted obstacles need to be removed so the professionals can get to the bottom of your problem.
Why bring this up?
Well, for one thing, watching UConn vs. USF kind of felt like a medical procedure- one that involved a lot of closed eyes and praying everything would be over soon. But, the main point is that, evaluating UConn on offense right now is all but impossible because of the big obstruction in the way, the offensive line.
Granted, the horrific play of the o-line against South Florida is part of the story, and is rightly all a part of the evaluation of Bob Diaco's "new look" Huskies. The fact that UConn's big men in the trenches simply can't match up against even moderately talented competition shows how far this program still has to go in order to achieve its desired goal - football viability on a national scale.
But with the line leaking like a submarine with screen doors on each side, it's all but impossible to judge any other players or any coaching schemes, which makes judging the possibilities for success not only this year but next year as well very, very difficult.
Take, for instance, the quarterback position. I have never been a huge fan of Chandler Whitmer - poor decision-making in the pocket, penchant for the big turnover, a habit of overthrowing his receivers - and I believe there is a legitimate argument to be made regarding Tim Boyle moving into the starter's role for the rest of the year. However, how can anyone accurately evaluate Whitmer when he spends most of his time ducking out of the way of oncoming defenders? And despite some clear advantages Boyle has in terms of arm strength and overall ability to hit his receivers in stride, does anyone honestly believe he'd spend the next eight games doing anything other than running for his life, same as Whitmer?
I doubt it.
Against USF, UConn inexplicably abandoned the pass and consistently ran on third and long. With the rain pouring down it's not completely shocking that the Huskies turned to their running game almost exclusively, but there can be no doubt the biggest reason why the playbook was stripped down to bare bones is because the coaching staff had no faith in their line to protect Whitmer, even on a three-step dropback. When the QB did go to throw, he most times faced immediate pressure and was flushed from the pocket.
Now, had the line blown open holes the size of small airplanes for the running backs to dash through, their porous pass blocking could have been somewhat excused. Instead, Husky running backs had no where to go ... a trend that started in Week One.
Against BYU, UConn runners had 71 total yards on the ground, averaging 2.3 yards a carry. Against Stony Brook, an FCS opponent, it was 81 yards for only a 2.2 yard average. In the Boise State game, the Huskies' total net yards gained on the ground was 115. Good, right? Problem is they also lost 67 yards and averaged an atrocious 1.3 yards a carry. While that might have been the Mona Lisa of putrid running performances so far this year, the effort against USF, where they totaled 57 yards on the ground, gaining each one of them at a 2.2 yards-per-attempt rate, was nearly as dreadful.
Like the quarterback position, how can anyone judge Josh Marriner, Max DeLorenzo, or freshman Arkeel Newsome given the stonewall of defenders they are being asked to overcome each game? Are they overrated, underrated, correctly-rated players? Do they offer big promise for the future, or has their talent been overhyped and overblown?
I would also contend that this issue spreads to the entire team. Without a quarterback able to stay upright, it's hard to judge who, other than Geremy Davis, has the makings of a very good wideout. And with an offense that continues to struggle to both score points and sustain drives, the defense is bound to get overused and tired. Will we get as good a read on that unit when they are asked to constantly keep games close all by their lonesome?
Bob Diaco and company have talked a lot about "process" and getting a read on what their players can and can't do. I look at them as football doctors, trying to figure out the illness before settling on a cure. Problem is, at least from the offensive side of things, there's a big, fat, deadly obstruction blocking everyone's view. Unfortunately, it's the only thing UConn's o-lineman seem to be blocking these days.
Maybe that will change. Maybe all these guys need is some good coaching up. Maybe, given a few more weeks in the system, the line we saw play against USF will be a distant memory, and a more robust, down-and-dirty squad will emerge, ready to protect their quarterback and blast defensive linemen off their spots. Maybe all of this is fixable.
Until then, however, we won't know what UConn has at any of these positions. The patient is definitely still sick, and finding a cure is proving to be very difficult.