UConn's play was about as nice as the weather in yesterday’s game against Stony Brook. Sure, there was a breeze that came and went and clouds that blocked a strong sun on a few occasions, but overall, it was mucky and uncomfortable. Things like Deshon Foxx’s 71-yard punt return score to make it a two possession game in the 3rd quarter and Geremy Davis’s gorgeous 30 yard touchdown reception made this one tolerable, but quarterback Chandler Whitmer’s constant scrambling from pressure, the near complete lack of a running game, and the letters "SB" on the opposing team’s helmets made this narrow win a bit difficult to swallow.
The fact is, however, this gritty 19-16 victory over this decent FCS Stony Brook Sea Wolves counts in the win column as much as any other. It’s not easy to see UConn struggle like this against less talented teams, but the more they plays together, the better product we are bound to see. Bob Diaco has been harping on the idea that this season is a "process" and getting that first tally in the win column is just the start.
Here are a few positive and negative takeaways from yesterday’s humid September afternoon:
1) Special Teams: Punter Justin Wain and kicker Bobby Puyol were near perfect today. Puyol nailed both a 27 and a 41 yard field goal while Wain put 6 of his 9 punts inside the 20. Both are new to a starting role this season and gave UConn a pivotal boost against Stony Brook. Combine the kicking with Foxx’s game-changing touchdown return, and UConn Special Teams has itself some confidence heading into Boise State
2) Geremy Davis: When in doubt, call this man’s number. #85 is the most talented player on the field almost every time this UConn offense steps out. With 6 catches, 113 yards and a score, Diaco is going to need to back up his words from last week and get Davis more catches, "To me, looking at black and white on the page, there should be two numbers there. I don’t know what the numbers are but there should be two of them." Any of the balls thrown relatively on target to him today were caught. If the quarterbacks can improve their accuracy a bit more, we will be looking at a 1st team all-conference wide receiver, and possibly more accolades for the redshirt senior.
3) Defense: Other than Stony Brook’s only touchdown drive of the game (14 plays, 88 yards) which happened to be in the fourth quarter, the defense was stout. With only two first half first downs by the Stony Brook offense, the Sea Wolves managed 10 first half points immediately off turnovers from the offense. Mikal Meyers and Julian Campenni dominated the middle of the line of scrimmage while Andrew Adams played excellent from the safety position. The Stony Brook quarterbacks found a bit of room through the air, but in classic UConn fashion, Stony Brook’s rushing attack averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 37 attempts.
1) Offensive Line: Diaco defended his O-line like a good head coach should, "You've got your story written already to bash the offensive line. I don't think it's fair. They had the box packed with all kinds of people, which created opportunities in the passing game, which we exploited some and could have exploited a bunch more." This may be true, but that doesn’t exclude Whitmer’s 3 sacks and constant pressure by a decent Stony Brook defense. I don’t even know if part-time poet Bob Diaco could spin 81 yards on 37 rushing attempts into a positive day for the blockers up front.
2) Rushing Game: This is related to the line's problems, but when Chandler Whitmer is the team’s leading rusher with 29 yards on 13 attempts, there is something a bit off. Promising redshirt freshman Josh Marriner, who scored UConn’s first touchdown of the year last week, had a tough day with -2 yards on 4 carries including a fumble in the end zone resulting in a Stony Brook touchdown. He left the game with an injury. Arkeel Newsome had the highlight of the day with a nifty 22 yard scamper, giving us more reason to expect an increase in the true freshman’s playing time.
Attendance: A little over 23,000 in attendance for the game. Many were gone by the end.
3) Any Receiver Not Named Davis: Coming into the year, UConn had been hoping to establish any second option after Davis in the passing game. Now two games have gone by, and no such player has come along. This week, Any Receivers Not Named Davis combined for 29 yards on 6 catches.
This UConn team, though sloppy, played with passion and were noticeably excited to get that first win. Next week, UConn has a nice chance for an upset at noon at the Rent this upcoming Saturday against Boise State. Hopefully the Huskies can learn some lessons and build up confidence in order to prepare for the perennial blue-turf contenders.