Welcome to the first Hot Takes Tuesday. Every week, I'll react to the UConn events of the past seven days, with fiery opinions about everything. So there's no confusion, after each bit I'll rate the heat of each, because nothing's worse than having a scalding sports take thought of as just a normal opinion.
The USF loss cost UConn a bowl game.
The loss to South Florida essentially seals this one. In order to be bowl-eligible, they'll need to win three out of their final five games, including trips to Cincinnati, Tulane, and Temple, and home games against East Carolina and Houston. The odds of doing that are not so great. In the deepest season for AAC football in its brief existence, the Huskies have a tough conference schedule to go through, with two games remaining against currently-ranked teams.
The Tulane game should be won (yes, even on the road), but it would take a terrific upset for UConn to beat either Houston or Temple, two of the American's three Top 25 teams. Cincinnati won't be an easy game either, given that the Bearcats' three losses came at Memphis, at BYU, and against Temple, and they have a win over Miami. That's the good Miami, although they beat Miami of Ohio too. East Carolina is 4-3, with a win over Virginia Tech, and all three of their losses coming on the road to teams that are much better than UConn (Florida, Navy, BYU).
That leaves one game that can even be penciled in as a win. It's going to take two upsets and a road win for UConn to be bowl eligible, and the odds are stacked against them.
Heat of take: Lukewarm
The secondary is killing the UConn defense.
Given UConn's struggles against the run, you might think that the front seven has been the cause of the defensive breakdowns. I say no. Despite all the talent they have, the secondary has been making it easier for the opponent to score.
That's not to say they don't have bright spots. Jhavon Williams has been terrific in coverage, and Obi Melifonwu has noticeably improved, even if he's not where I hoped he would be at this point. But the defensive backs' miscues have been leading to big plays and scores a few times a game. Three of South Florida's four touchdowns on Saturday came on pass plays of 25 yards or longer, with two of them coming from over 40 yards out.
Although Andrew Adams has two interceptions so far this year, both came in help situations, as he struggles to play the one-on-one game both in pass protection and run contain. Not to pick on him, but several times he was either beaten by his man, or struggled to make a tackle in the open field. South Florida's first touchdown was scored, in a considerable part, because Adams overran the guy with the ball.
There's talent in the UConn secondary, without a doubt. But they need to start playing smarter, or they'll continue to give up touchdowns because of their miscues.
Heat of take: Smoldering
Arkeel Newsome should be the focal point of the offense.
There's legitimate talent at every skill position on the UConn offense for the first time since the Randy Edsall era. That said, Arkeel Newsome has shown that he is already a starting-caliber halfback at the high end of the FBS level, and he has really stood out this year.
Newsome has proven that he is a strong option as the primary ballcarrier and a quality receiver out of the backfield, and his talent needs to be utilized even more than it already is. I don't want to take the ball out of Bryant Shirreffs' hands, as he's been great, but more focus on Newsome will help establish the run even better, and will slow the game down against stronger opponents, giving UConn a better chance of staying competitive into the fourth quarter.
Again, Shirreffs has been very, very good, and I don't want to take away from his passing attempts. But the run game still has to be established early in college football, and Newsome is the backfield weapon that UConn has been searching for since Jordan Todman left for the NFL.
Heat of take: On the verge of steaming
The struggles of the offensive line have to be placed on the coaching staff.
It's pretty evident that the UConn offensive line has been...a weak point for the entire season and has been one of the team's weakest units for some years in a row. Right now, though, they have enough talent to be adequate, and they have enough size to not be overmatched by opposing lineman. So why does that continually happen?
Beyond the lack of penalty discipline (false starts are often mental errors, holding calls are often making up for getting beat by the defense), the offensive line struggles in many ways. Players exhibit poor blocking technique, most often in pass protection, and not to belabor the point, but there's a lot of false start penalties.
This would be a lot more manageable if there was depth at the position to compensate for the mistakes-- someone plays poorly, he can be substituted out for a series or a few downs-- but UConn doesn't have that. The season-ending injury to Ryan Crozier definitely did not help, but he is just one player, and the coaching staff sees him as an interior lineman. That means there simply has not been a point where the coaching staff has considered a replacement to Richard Levy or Andreas Knappe at the tackle position.
To put it another way: either there is an option at tackle that can be at least as good as the current starters and the coaching staff is ignoring him, or there is not a better option to protect Shirreff's blind side in passing downs than Richard Levy (who consistently gives up sacks and hurries in the pass rush, often without even putting a hand on the blitzing lineman), and I'm not sure which is a bigger indictment of the coaching staff.
The issue is I don't know where exactly the blame lies. Offensive line coach Mike Cummings for developing linemen at a below average pace? Bob Diaco for not placing an emphasis on recruiting offensive linemen? Paul Pasqualoni for...well, pick your poison with Pasqualoni. It's probably a combination of the three, but something is going wrong with the offensive line, and it goes beyond just poor play. Other teams have had ways of getting around their poor offensive line. UConn doesn't have a choice but to let it define their offense.
Heat of take: Blistering