The UConn offensive line has long been a glaring weakness for the Husky offense for years. So far this year, however, it has shown encouraging signs of improvement. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has taken a lot of punishment while trying to throw the ball, but overall the line’s performance has been solid.
The Huskies’ rushing numbers suggest run blocking is going pretty well. Running back Nate Hopkins rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns against Holy Cross and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry on the season. Kevin Mensah, a true freshman, ran for 107 against ECU and is averaging an explosive 7.1 yards per carry.
Additionally, left tackle Matthew Peart has been a standout in pass protection, as he has not yet given up a sack or hit, according to Pro Football Focus.
However, the same can’t be said for the rest of the offensive line. Although they’ve only given up only three sacks, it doesn’t tell the full story. Because Shirreffs is such a good scrambler, some would-be sacks have been recorded as rushes for gains. Designed QB runs in passing situations have also helped avoid heavy pressure on third and long. Rhett Lashlee’s playcalling as a whole has also helped, as Shirreffs has been getting the ball out of his hands fairly quickly.
The good thing is, this is an area that can be improved. It’s a problem which even shows up at the highest level, as pass protection has been very poor recently in the NFL; it’s been one of the primary talking points of NFL analysts through the first three weeks of the season.
The problem is worse at the college level, and UConn is no exception. Bad technique, players not identifying blitzes, a lack of continuity are plaguing the team and some Husky linemen are just not athletic enough to block really good defenders.
So, what’s the solution?
It’s going to take time for UConn’s young linemen to get used to the speed of the college game and gain continuity. Ryan Crozier going out with an injury doesn’t help. Pass protection only improves with experience, extensive film study, and an infusion of more talented players. For the line to look better already this year is great, and it’s likely to improve across the season.
The necessary infusion of talent is already underway. Peart has rated well so far on the season and some of the 2017 recruits have shown promise, including Ryan Van Demark who has already made his way into a starting role. More help is on the way in 2018 as well. The Huskies already have two offensive linemen committed, with one being three-star Travis Jones, a 6-foot-5 in-state prospect who turned down a number Power 5 schools in making his commitment to UConn.
It looks like with a little more seasoning and fresh blood coming to the offensive line, the main weakness of the Husky offense could be in much better shape.