For all the progress Bob Diaco's team has shown this season, UConn's loss to USF Saturday stings in a way unlike losses of the last two years.
Most fans expected a win, and anyone who watched the game knows UConn played well enough to get that much-needed win.
As has been well-documented, UConn's offense had an incredibly productive day, with 528 total yards and 13 out of 14 drives running plays in opposing territory, and the defense was making stops pretty consistently until the end. But it seemed as though questionable coaching decisions and mental errors in all three phases cost UConn the game.
But isn't that a better way to lose than by being outclassed and overwhelmed by a team that is clearly more talented?
It should be somewhat refreshing to feel this way after a game compared to worrying if UConn has the talent to be competitive or win a game at all – the way UConn fans were feeling after losses last year.
UConn's bowl hopes are circling the drain, but this year's team has shown a competitive fire that has me believing that it won't end the season in a tailspin. It would take three wins and at least two upsets in five remaining games, but crazier things have happened.
This weekend's opponent, Cincinnati (4:30 p.m., CBS Sports), has been one of the best teams in the American Athletic Conference's short existence. This year, the Bearcats are right below a crop of three teams currently in the AP Top 25 (Memphis, Houston, Temple), and have three losses to very good teams. This year's team is an offensive juggernaut, with two good quarterbacks and a dangerous trio of receivers Diaco said may be the best receiver group the Huskies face all season.
Diaco also made the first change to the offensive depth chart, as Thomas Lucas was replaced in the No. 2 wide receiver role by "Hergy Mayala OR Tyraiq Beals." Beals being there is no surprise. The true freshman from Orange, New Jersey has been brilliant at times for the Huskies so far. Though Mayala has not necessarily produced as much on the field, he's a mature player, having spent one post-graduate year at Trinity-Pawling in New York. Diaco says he and Beals are on the field because they're better than the rest. In an increased role, Beals and Mayala can help UConn on third downs and in the red zone.
It has been puzzling not to see the offense look to its taller receivers or tight ends in red zone situations. The Huskies occasionally emphasize the tight ends in the offense, but then seem to ignore the position for long stretches of time. Throwing a jump ball to a 6-foot-5-inch receiver should give UConn a better chance of getting the ball in the end zone.
Scoring shouldn't be the issue this Saturday, though. Cincinnati allows 31.8 points per game. The key to this game will be UConn's defense stepping up to the challenge of facing one of the best offenses in the country on the road.
The Huskies' secondary, which had been relatively untested, allowed numerous big plays to USF in the loss. Touchdown passes of 44, 29 and 44 yards helped USF stay ahead and then build a lead late. As was the case against BYU, the Huskies will likely keep up the bend-but-don't-break approach, even against a prolific spread attack. The Huskies will need to find a way to consistently get to the passer, but they should be able to keep the game close, like they did for most of the BYU game. If they can play with greater consistency, maybe it can result in a win.