Few gave UConn Football much of a chance going into the game against Cincinnati this past weekend but the Huskies fought through some early adversity to come back and grab their most convincing win of the season. Here’s what we learned from UConn’s sixth game.
Changes in the Secondary Worked
Bob Diaco and his defensive staff made the decision to move star corner Jamar Summers to safety and put senior John Green in at cornerback. The inexperience at safety had been hurting UConn badly so credit to the coaches for making a drastic change and to Summers for doing what’s best for the team. Cincinnati’s passing attack gained decent yardage, but was not particularly efficient, completing 29-of-56 attempts (51.7%) for just 5.6 yards per attempt.
Diaco said after the game that they realized Green was one of the best four members of the secondary, and one of the best 11 defensively, so they had to get him on the field. This likely indicates the change will be permanent moving forward. Summers at safety, with his ball skills and ability to read plays, should be scary for opposing offenses, and UConn’s secondary woes should be over if it can continue to play this way.
Offensive Line Stepped Up
A large part of the Huskies’ offensive struggles could be explained by the offensive line’s inability to make a push in the running game or pass protect. This week, the offense boasted a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard passer and both were possible in great part thanks to solid play from the line Saturday.
The return of Tommy Hopkins from injury helped, and Cincinnati may not be the scariest defense, but for the line to play this well against anyone is a positive sign.
Offensive Evolution in Progress
Despite a very poor start, the overall offensive performance turned out alright. The play calling set the players up nicely to succeed and was not the issue when the Husky offense once again stumbled out of the gate.
UConn Football needs a semi-competent offense to be a competitive team this season and the Huskies looked like one, eventually, on Saturday. They did a great job of getting the ball to Noel Thomas and Arkeel Newsome, the two hundred-yard performers of the day and by far their two biggest threats. Thomas now has 55 receptions for 631 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
The coaches seem to have embraced the opening up of the offense to many benefits, including seeing fewer defenders in the box, which has helped the line. It was also nice to see Tyraiq Beals make a big play, as he had been one of UConn’s most regrettably underutilized offensive options, with a 0.7% target rate in the first five games.
We Live by the Shirreffs, We Die by the Shirreffs
If ever there was a time to yank Shirreffs and give backup Garrett Anderson a chance, it was after Shirreffs’ second interception in the second quarter. But the coaches showed faith in the redshirt junior despite a very shoddy start to the game and he responded nicely, finishing with two touchdowns through the air.
In Shirreffs, the Huskies have a poor man’s Tim Tebow. He’s not going to break a 40-yard run, but he is a heady, opportunistic player who can lead the offense well and is a legitimate threat with his legs. He is definitely the best option on the roster under center right now, even with his clear lapses in accuracy, particularly downfield.
This is Who We Are
UConn Football games are not going to be pretty. It may look impossibly bad at first, but Bob Diaco has a strategy and it’s kept all but one game close this year and could have led to 1-2 more wins if it wasn’t for some minor boneheadedness. The defense got off to a poor start, but seems to have turned a corner and the offense is showing signs of life. Perhaps UConn could keep it closer than expected against South Florida next week. Either way, the Huskies will have a shot to win in every game after that.