The UConn Huskies fell to 2-2 after a disappointing home loss to Syracuse. Here are our key takeaways from the game.
Things which cause losing
Through four games we can see easily with a couple of different bounces how the team could be 0-4 or 4-0. Unfortunately, a few trends have persisted which are keeping the Huskies down right now and need to be fixed as soon as possible.
First is the defensive touchdowns, as in three out of four games seeing the Huskies give one up. It’s hard to criticize this one too much, since there is a degree of randomness to turnovers, tipped balls, how a fumble bounces, but at the same time there are playcalling and execution measures which can lower the chances of this happening.
The next looks at the Husky defense, and the number of big plays allowed once again. Syracuse opened the game with two effortless touchdown drives by taking large chunks of yardage at a time. A key third down late in the game was converted with a 59-yard completion in what would become a 99-yard touchdown drive to put the game out of reach. Preventing the big play is a staple of Diaco’s defensive strategy and in three games so far the defense has failed to do it.
Lastly, the offense has yet to score a point in the first quarter through four games. Luckily, it has found a way to score in the later quarters and the answer for how to fix the slow starts is sitting right under our nose.
Time for the offensive philosophy to change
We have seen when the offense is at its best, when it is spreading out the ball and getting it into playmakers’ hands quickly. Yet for some reason the coaches insist on reverting to the traditional run-oriented approach. The worst instance of this came when UConn was looking to tie the game in the fourth quarter and unsuccessfully ran the ball four times starting with 1st & goal from the 8-yard line.
The offensive line is simply not good enough to support a run-first offense. With the success we have seen using the quick-pass attack, the coaching staff needs to look at the evidence and adjust accordingly.
Part of the reason Diaco wants to use the old school, run-heavy approach is that it helps keep the clock running and ultimately possessions down for the other team. What we are seeing is that the quick passing game can accomplish the same thing while also keeping defenses guessing and actually opening up the run game. It’s a strategy which has been adopted by many teams across the country and at all levels of the game and the Husky staff would be wise to adopt as much of it as possible.
The Huskies have a lot of talent at the skill positions, but besides Noel Thomas those options are being woefully underused due to the staff’s unwillingness to change.
Going for it on fourth down!
The Husky offense went for it on fourth down six times Saturday. Given all the criticism for its conservative style (see above), the coaching staff does deserve credit for taking advantage of opportunities to keep drives alive. They even dialed up another field goal fake with great success!
Defensive let down
Though there are signs that this defense will be really good, this game saw a few major let-downs. On Amba Etta-Tawo’s first touchdown, it looked like cornerback Jamar Summers was expecting help over the top, so there may have been a miscommunication there. Either way it still led to a big play and quickly put the Huskies in a hole. Later on, Summers was beat a few more times by Etta-Tawo for another touchdown and that key third-down conversion as Etta-Tawo broke a Syracuse record for receiving yards in a game.
A staple of what Bob Diaco wants to do defensively is prevent big plays and then force teams into putting together long, sustained drives, the latter of which is tough to do for college teams, particularly against good defenses. Unfortunately, Syracuse was able to best them with big plays and long drives.
Path to bowl eligibility looking tough
Saturday’s game gave UConn a chance for another win over an ACC opponent, but perhaps more importantly the Huskies needed this win to stay on track for a bowl appearance.
Diaco’s squad is now facing a very challenging three-game stretch coming up with games at Houston, home against Cincinnati, and at South Florida. It would be great to steal a win there, but those are three games which would be tough for a lot of good teams to capture a victory in.
UConn has three more games after that run which will be tougher than expected against UCF, East Carolina, and Temple before ending the season with Boston College and Tulane. Are there four more wins here? Perhaps, but it won’t be easy.