The UConn Huskies traveled to Dallas to take on SMU Saturday. Despite the loss, there were some notable signs of improvement. Here are our takeaways from the game.
OK, maybe we don’t totally suck
Dan Madigan: This was an encouraging step forward from the ECU game. The defensive and special teams play is still concerning, but the offense is really making some impressive strides. It’s certainly hard to keep claiming moral victories, but this team looks much better than it did before, even with the defense playing the way it is. For a young team in year one with a new coach, I don’t know if you can ask for much more.
Dan Connolly: For those who may have doubted him, it’s clear Randy Edsall has the program back in the right direction. It hurts because you can see the potential they have with the chunk plays, two-point/fourth down conversions and overall offensive competence. But for every positive play, there are two or three negative plays, like the roughing the kicker which led to a touchdown, or the blocked punt which spurred the late-game collapse.
If they can avoid those back-breaking plays, or at least limit them, then they may start to resemble the team we expected to see before of the season.
Aman Kidwai: After losing to ECU at home, it seemed tough to imagine UConn winning another game in the balance of the season. The way the Huskies competed on Saturday at least shows there may be some wins left on the schedule.
The defense finally showed signs of improvement
Madigan: Up until the last quarter, the defense was not nearly as bad as it has been, but that isn’t saying much. Cole Ormsby and Darrian Beavers played well, with Ormsby putting a ton of pressure on the quarterback for most of the game. The secondary continued to struggle, but some of that is because Courtland Sutton is a future NFL wide receiver. The defense looks a little better, but overall the play is still concerning. Even with the offense doing well, it’s going to be nearly impossible to win games if the defense doesn’t keep improving.
Connolly: Despite what the final score may say, the defense didn't play that poorly. The game only really got out of hand when the offense turned the ball over and gave SMU a short field to work with. Going up against a team that came in fifth in the nation with 48 points per game, holding them to 35 through three-and-a-half quarters feels good. They made enough stops to allow the Huskies to stay in the game into the fourth quarter. Definitely a step forward for the unit.
Kidwai: I liked what we saw out of Tahj Herring-Wilson at corner. Given it was his first start, and he had to go up against a guy who’ll be playing on Sundays next year, he did enough good to overcome the bad and definitely seems to have helped solidify things back there. That there were semblances of a pass rush was also a pleasant improvement.
Offense = good
Madigan: Offensively, it was another quality performance, especially in the second half. I’m no football whiz but it seems like Rhett Lashlee’s offense features a good chunk of play-action, so having success on the ground made things easier for everyone. Shirreffs looked pretty solid once again, especially on that touchdown pass to Keyion Dixon. I also liked how Quayvon Skanes and Tyraiq Beals played, and while it is unfortunate to be without Hergy Mayala, it’s nice to know that there’s still enough talent out wide to get the job done.
Kidwai: That throw from Shirreffs to Dixon was by far his best ever as a Husky. He’s running the offense confidently and efficiently and Rhett Lashlee is putting everyone in a position to succeed. We saw the emergence of Aaron McLean, who is also due for some red zone action given his 6-foot-5 frame.
It’s one of those cliches after a team loses a star receiver, but Noel Thomas’ departure opened up the door for a lot more guys to get involved and it seems to have greatly benefitted the offense to spread it out.
Go for it!
Madigan: To me, the most encouraging moment of the entire game was Edsall and Lashlee going for it on fourth and 1 midway through the third to score their second touchdown of the game. A year ago, that is almost certainly a field goal attempt. It was nice to see the staff have some faith in the offense and try to be aggressive and stay in the game. Fortunately this time it worked out, but either way, I love that decision.
Kidwai: I’m team go for it as often as possible. Giving up possession isn’t worth the 20-ish yards of field position gained by punting in enemy territory and seven points is always more than three.
Bryant Shirreffs is UConn’s best QB since ...?
Connolly: Bryant Shirreffs is quietly moving up the UConn football record books. With his 408-yard performance, Shirreffs moved up to fourth place on the Huskies' all-time passing list with 5,270 passing yards. He also joins the elite company of Dan Orlovsky, Matt DeGennaro, and Shane Stafford as the only UConn quarterbacks to surpass 5,000 career passing yards.
What's most impressive is that the three ahead of him on the list were all four-year starters, whereas Shirreffs has only started for parts of three seasons.
He's making the most of his last season, on pace for 3,495 passing yards which would set the school record for passing yards in a season. Of course, it would be a shock if he did reach the mark, but it puts into perspective just how good he's been this year. He's making a claim to be UConn's best quarterback since Orlovsky.
Kidwai: Hats of to Shirreffs for sticking with the team, battling through two demotions, and now playing the way that he has. He’s fourth in the country in passer rating and has put up over 400 passing yards in each of the past two games with a 68.7% completion rate and five touchdowns.