Editor’s Note: This article will usually come out much earlier in the week, perhaps even on the same day of early games, but was delayed this time due to the holiday weekend. We sincerely apologize and hope you will still read our #content and offer your thoughts.
Overall, it wasn't an ideal start to the 2017 season, but the fact that the Huskies got the win makes things look a lot better. Here are our takeaways from UConn’s opener.
Dan Madigan: The defense reminded me a lot of last year's unit, and that isn't a good thing. UConn left a fair share of wide receivers open for short but easy gains. I do think a little bit of this was due to Junior Joseph getting hurt and Foley Fatukasi getting ejected early in the first quarter, but it's not the whole reason for the lackluster performance.
Jamar Summers and Omar Fortt looked pretty good overall and if Joseph is out for an extended period of time, this performance could be more common than not for the defense. Luckily, he seems to be back in action for this weekend against USF.
Aman Kidwai: The move to the 3-3-5 came with unfortunate timing, as the Huskies lost three key contributors in Obi Melifonwu, Jhavon Williams, and John Green. They really could have used those guys during this transitional season. The corners seemed solid but there’s a youth movement at safety and growing pains to be expected. Still, this unit is going to need to step up against the high-powered offenses on UConn’s schedule for this season to surpass its meager expectations.
New Offense, Slightly Better Result, Same Frustrations
Dan Madigan: The offense did look different, even though the results were pretty similar to last year through the first three quarters. Pindell and Shirreffs both looked comfortable in the up-tempo offense, and I was a fan of the bubble screens and short passes to players like Tyraiq Beals, Hergy Mayala, and Arkeel Newsome, who can all make defenders miss in space.
I was also pretty surprised at how little Rhett Lashlee and the offense looked downfield when Pindell was under center though. Maybe it's due to the fact that the offensive line is still not good, but I also am curious to see if he has the strength/accuracy to make those throws. Even though Shirreffs has a similar problem, Lashlee took more chances downfield with Shirreffs and I think that will be more common going forward.
Daniel Connolly: There was hope the new offensive scheme and line coach JB Grimes would make the offensive line serviceable for the first time in a long time. However, Thursday night felt like much of the same as Arkeel Newsome struggled to find running lanes and David Pindell found himself running for his life at times. Unless they can improve significantly over the course of the season, the offensive potential will be capped.
Change Aplenty at the Skill Positions
Madigan: It was pretty interesting to see that Pindell almost exclusively targeted Beals and Shirreffs frequently targeted Mayala. Those two wide receivers’ production really might come down to who's under center more often. Running back Nate Hopkins was fantastic, but I was surprised to see so little of Arkeel Newsome. He was effective - especially in the passing game - but the offense might have just thought that Hopkins was too hot to keep out of the game. I think we will see more of Newsome against USF, even though Hopkins has been elevated to co-starter.
Connolly: Coming into the season, the running back position behind Arkeel Newsome was up in the air. One of the backups listed was redshirt freshman Nate Hopkins, although he wasn't expected to be anything more than the second or third runner. But after breaking out for 130 yards and three touchdowns, Hopkins has the look of the next great running back for the Huskies. If he can be the workhorse back, it allows the staff to use Newsome in different ways that are better suited to his skillset.
Bryant Shirreffs Saved the Season
Kidwai: Losing to Holy Cross, given everything that transpired over the past nine months, would have been an absolute disaster. Through 2+ quarters Thursday night, it looked like that was going to happen. The Huskies may have recovered to win a few games, but the fan base would have had a hard time drawing optimism from a four-win season if it included that loss.
In addition to succeeding on the field, Randy Edsall’s UConn Football re-boot needs to restore the faith of the fan base. Hardcore fans may have had their faith shaken, but at least it wasn’t broken. For more casual fans, a loss would have prevented them from checking out a game later in the season, such as Homecoming, Missouri’s visit to the Rent, or the Boston College game at Fenway. It would have sucked the life out of attendance like the end of last year did.
So give all the credit in the world to Bryant Shirreffs for staying with the team in a backup role for his senior year and having the poise to lead a comeback under dire circumstances. He’s been through a lot with this program and has his weaknesses, but he’s always been a warrior on the field. Given how Shirreffs has been competent for the Huskies that one time last year, against Navy, when UConn used a modern offensive strategy and put up 20 points in about 20 minutes last Thursday, he’s earned the right to lead the Huskies against USF on Saturday.