1. Bryant Shirreffs needs to slide
Shirreffs has run for 232 yards in the last three games, as UConn has added a new dynamic to the offense with designed quarterback running plays and options. The issue is, when Shirreffs scrambles, he does not slide. He dives forward and usually leads with his head, as we have seen since the first game. It is not only dangerous for his personal wellbeing to not be sliding, but it is also hurting the team. In the last two games, Shirreffs has fumbled the ball after being hit while scrambling. Saturday, he fumbled at the Cincinnati 27-yard line in a 14-7 game.
2. This team is still a year away...but that's OK
While hopes were high after a 2-0 start, and spirits stayed relatively buoyed after competitive losses to good teams, it's looking like UConn is in for a 4-8 finish. Finishing 5-7 would be a pleasant surprise, because it would mean beating one of East Carolina, Houston or Temple. Those results may not sway casual observers on the direction of this program, but that doesn't mean Bob Diaco hasn't been doing a solid job turning this thing around.
Cincinnati is one of the best teams in the American. The Huskies simply aren't at their level yet. This UConn team is still young and has had to deal with a tough schedule. Luckily, there is a nucleus that will be staying together for the next couple years. We can start talking about disappointment if the Huskies completely fold the rest of this season or fail to meet what will be heightened expectations in 2016.
3. Coaching decisions and the offensive line are persistent issues
Against Cincinnati, the trend of calling unnecessary timeouts because the play isn't in quick enough continued. Also, kicking a 30-yard field goal with 8:48 left in the game down 27-10 is basically throwing in the towel. This comes on the heels of a few questionable play calls and clock management errors last week against USF which were part of an overall failure to put points on the board despite 528 yards of offense.
The offensive line continues to be a weakness that UConn is actively game-planning around. The tackles are not providing a lot of protection on the edge in passing downs, and teams are starting to wise to what UConn is trying to do offensively in the screen and swing pass game. While fans are calling for more variety in the offense, perhaps the offensive line is not allowing it.
4. Red zone execution needs to improve
With Cincinnati holding a 14-7 lead, the Huskies received a gift-wrapped opportunity to tie the game after an errant long snap on fourth down gave UConn the ball on the Bearcats' 10-yard line. A run to the dependable Arkeel Newsome got UConn to the 6, but a holding penalty followed by a short swing pass set up 3rd and goal at the 11, where Shirreffs hit Tommy Myers for a 1-yard completion.
That. Can. Not. Happen.
Not only do you need to get those 10 yards to score a touchdown, but you need to throw the ball into the end zone, or at least a lot closer, on 3rd and goal. Where are the tight ends when we get to the red zone? What about the two freshman receivers who are over 6-foot-5? UConn needs to send those guys downfield and ask them to win a jump ball against defenders who are mostly below 6-feet tall.
5. Noel Thomas needs more targets
UConn's leading receiver on the season and one of its top playmakers was held to four receptions for 38 yards. This offense looked absolutely lost at times and probably could have looked to him a little bit more in the short passing game to get things going. Shirreffs has also been missing on a lot of his throws lately, which doesn't help.
There are dynamic, talented skill players on this offense. The Huskies need to find a way to maximize their abilities because only putting up 13 points against a defense that was allowing over 30 per game on average is not a good look.