It's time to raise expectations for the Huskies this season. Not because they beat Villanova, but because of how they beat them.
UConn entered this game as 7-point underdogs even though it was hosting an FCS team. This wasn't just any FCS team, it was a very good, very experienced Villanova team ranked 3rd in the FCS preseason coaches poll. Many predicted a loss, but the Huskies set the tone from the beginning and even though they ceded the lead in the second quarter and were down at the half, finished strong to get the 20-15 win.
The most important takeaway from this game is that Byrant Shirreffs can be trusted to run this offense efficiently and effectively. He also has a strong sense for when to tuck and run, often eluding would-be sackers in the backfield and turning those plays into gains. From a passing perspective, new offensive coordinator Frank Verducci helped Shirreffs get the ball out of his hands quickly, for the most part, and get the ball to UConn's playmakers in space.
Despite an inefficient rushing attack, the Huskies did a good job keeping Villanova's defense honest by staying dedicated to the run. The offense used a lot of misdirection to hold defenders in their place and help UConn's tight ends and wide receivers find open pockets in the secondary.
The Huskies' first drive of the game ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Myers from Shirreffs. Bobby Puyol would miss the extra point.
UConn's Tommy Myers made the first circus catch TD of the season: http://t.co/p4KUWlsWw2 pic.twitter.com/h2yvq4JlEv— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) September 4, 2015
Unfortunately, Myers would bobble another pass at the end of the second half and this time it led to a Villanova interception. UConn could have really used those points as the half ended with the Huskies down 9-6. The Wildcats scored on a safety, which came on an Andreas Knappe holding call inside the 10-yard line, and a touchdown pass from their star quarterback John Robertson- who was their only consistent offensive threat.
The defense looked a little soft at times, especially on the tackling front, but held strong and played intelligently. Considering the difficulties of defending a dual-threat quarterback and the quality of this Villanova team, the Huskies defenders turned in a satisfactory performance- highlighted by DE/LB Luke Carrezola, who was all over the place, and an interception by senior safety Andrew Adams. The defensive line did a very good job of getting push against the Villanova front and helping make tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Myers redeemed himself at the start of the second half with a 69-yard reception, eventually leading to a Ron Johnson rushing touchdown to put the Huskies ahead. They would never trail again. The Huskies would add another touchdown on a nice middle screen to Arkeel Newsome, who saw daylight and sped right through it for a 22-yard score making it 20-9 Huskies.
Villanova scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter but didn't have enough time to complete the comeback.
As weird as it sounds coming against an FCS team, this is a hallmark win for Bob Diaco in his second year at the helm. This could have been a reincarnation of the Towson game- the fact that UConn comfortably beat one of the best teams in FCS says a lot about the progress that has been made by a team which barely made it past Stony Brook last year.
We'll have more coverage later tonight, but for now it's time to enjoy the win. UConn starts the season 1-0 for the first time since the 2012 opener against UMass. The turnaround is just beginning. On to Army.