The UConn Huskies dropped a game in disappointing fashion to a very weak opponent front of a modest Sunday crowd at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. Hopefully this is the low point of the Edsall Era reboot. Here are our takeaways from the action on the field.
Offense Making Strides
Dan Connolly: Rhett Lashlee seems to be doing a good job turning things around. Albeit against the second-worst team in the conference, UConn gained 596 yards of total offense and scored 38 points. In their final three games last season, the Huskies only scraped 570 yards together along with just 13 points (h/t @FearTheWaveBlog).
The talent pool on offense isn't drastically different. All the major contributors are players who were on the team a season ago that are finally being put in a position to succeed. We can only wonder what the last two seasons would've gone like had the offense been performing at the level it is now.
Dan Madigan: I know it wasn't always pretty. I know that I was one of roughly 5,000 people sweating profusely at the Rent. I know UConn didn't win. But at least that was a fun game. I can't remember the last time I saw a football game that exciting involving UConn. The result certainly wasn't ideal, but from a fan perspective, nearly 600 yards and all that scoring made it fun to watch. For a program that has been pretty boring for the last five years, that's definitely some sort of progress.
I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the offense doesn't suck anymore. It's very rare to give up nearly 600 yards on defense and have a chance to win the game, but UConn was able to do just that with 596 yards of offense on their own. I thought the Huskies did a good job of establishing the run, and I think the three-back combo of Kevin Mensah, Nate Hopkins and Arkeel Newsome offered a good balance of speed and size to keep ECU off guard.
The offensive line looked much better than it has in the first two games, and I think those few extra seconds really helped Shirreffs a lot in the passing game as he racked up over 400 yards through the air.
Billy, Your Defense... Woof.
Madigan: The defense has really reared its head as a major problem for this team. Maybe it's because the personnel needed for Crocker's 3-3-5 to thrive isn't there yet, but there is still plenty of talent on that side of the ball; it should not be this bad. UConn got torched once again through the air, and Jamar Summers and Tre Bell were exploited throughout the game. Something clearly has to change for the country's worst pass defense. I really believe the talent is there for a dramatic improvement.
Aman Kidwai: We are officially in a Bizarro World where the UConn defense lags behind the Husky offense in quality and dependability. Billy Crocker’s defense is a sieve right now. Pressure on the quarterback is non-existent in passing situations and opponents are converting third downs at an alarming rate. In two games against two FBS opponents, the Huskies have allowed 15 third-down conversions on 28 attempts, just under 40%. UConn is also allowing 7.78 yards per play in those two games, both of which saw the opponents take their foot off the gas in the late minutes. Otherwise, they were gaining big yardage in chunks at will. That needs to stop.
Connolly: I'm beginning to get extremely concerned about how many points some teams are going to put up on the Huskies this season. SMU, Tulsa and especially USF have high-octane offenses that can move the ball efficiently through the air. If they couldn't stop East Carolina from putting up 41 points on 596 yards of offense, how can we expect them to stop Quinton Flowers and the Bulls' attack? There have been some ugly blowouts over the last six seasons during the Pasqualoni/Diaco disasters, but if this keeps up, the worst may have yet to come.
A Missed FG Didn’t Cause the Loss
Madigan: Missing the kick was definitely a bummer, but you have to feel for Michael Tarbutt there. To his defense, he really hasn't had much in-game experience and did not kick any field goals/extra points last week against Virginia. I wonder how much of it had to do with long snapper Nick Zecchino not being available. Tarbutt will have plenty of chances to be the hero over his career and this is just a small blip on the radar. That miss isn't why UConn lost, it was the defense that did them in.
New Offensive Playmakers Everywhere
Connolly: One of the more positive stories this season has been the breakout of Kevin Mensah over the last two games. The Worcester, MA native essentially missed his senior year of high school after he tried transferring to a different school. Because of this, he didn't receive much attention on the recruiting trail and had plans to do a post-grad year. However, Edsall gave Mensah the chance to come to UConn instead and he's made the most out of it as a true freshman. He broke off a 30-yard touchdown against Virginia and racked up over 100 rushing yards on Saturday.
On the season, he's rushed for 156 yards on 22 attempts, good for 7.1 yards per carry. He splits carries with Nate Hopkins as the lead back for the Huskies and his role should only increase as the year progresses and Arkeel Newsome gets more use as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
Madigan: I'll be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about Mason Donaldson prior to Sunday's game, but I was impressed with his performance. He seems to have good chemistry with Shirreffs and looked like he had a knack for creating separation and getting open over the middle. It'll be interesting to see how he does against better opponents, but I think Donaldson has good enough hands and other skills to be a consistent contributor.
Newsome got more touches than he has the past few games and made the most of them with 170 yards on eight catches but I still think he needs more looks. He can make plays in any part of the field and is a constant big-play threat. Mensah was impressive once again on the ground, and I think having Hopkins as a bigger back for short-yardage situations is a nice option to have.
Kidwai: I really like the way Kevin Mensah reads his blocks and takes what the offensive line and defense give him. I also agree with Madigan that the line looked a lot better on Sunday. Mensah’s emergence and Newsome’s breakout performance, in this offense, are really encouraging. I still think Quayvon Skanes and Keyion Dixon are due for breakout performances down the road. They’ve both shown flashes; it’s only a matter of time. It’d be great to have Hergy Mayala back, but the Huskies should be able to withstand his absence should he be out for a few weeks.
Bryant Shirreffs missing that first pass of the game to a wide open Mayala is really a back-breaker, especially when Mayala went down on the next play. Shirreffs needs to find a way to hit those longer passes, that one was a gimme and should’ve started the game on a much better note than it did.
Looking for Answers
Kidwai: Losing to the team which previously held the title of worst team in the confernece now bestows the honor upon Randy Edsall and the Huskies. There were encouraging pieces to UConn’s performance, but they came against the weakest FBS opponent on the schedule. The Huskies will be underdogs in every game the rest of the season and could really struggle to capture another win in the balance of this season. If the defense can improve, that may change, and perhaps UConn could pull out a win against Temple or maybe get up for the game against Boston College and grab the upset. I’m just not sure how the secondary is going to improve or how the experienced front is going to find ways to get more pressure on opposing passers.