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Takeaways From UConn Football’s Season Opening Loss to No. 21 UCF

The offense? Possibly alright. The defense? Not.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn’s 56-17 loss to UCF was just about what we expected it would be when a young, rebuilding team meets an established conference power. At any rate, we learned a few things about this year’s UConn team after their first action of 2018.

David Pindell Was Impressive

Daniel Connolly: What a difference a year makes for Pindell. After getting benched in last year’s opener, and looking just alright after returning to the starting lineup, Pindell was the Huskies’ clear-cut best player against UCF. He made plays on his feet that led to long runs and some unexpected completions as well.

Even when Pindell needed to scramble when the pocket fell apart, he kept his eyes downfield and tried to find an open receiver, something his predecessor, Bryant Shirreffs, certainly struggled with. When Pindell did throw the ball, he was willing to take shots down the field and was accurate with most of his throws — showing noticable improvement from last season. The interception at the end of the half hurts his overall performance, but it’s hard not to be excited about what Pindell could do this season.

Additionally, Kyle Buss looked solid out there as his favorite target, pulling in seven receptions for 113 yards out of the slot. He was able to find space in the coverage and gain some good yardage after the catch. His progress will be interesting to watch across the season.

Mike Sivo: Pindell impressed me with his mobility in and out of the pocket. We’re not yet sure how good or bad UCF is defensively, but on only one or two occasions can I recall him really being at risk for a sack. He showed shiftiness at a level that I’m not sure if we’ve seen out of a UConn QB yet.

Bryant Shirrefs extended drives, whereas I think Pindell can be the focal point on steering the drives. It can open things up down the road. The passing clearly needs work, as UCF caught up to the offensive gameplan in the second half forced him into some bad decision-making when throwing, but I think he has all sorts of potential and I like what he brings to the table.

Connolly: The secondary was pretty bad against UCF, giving up 356 passing yards and not particularly doing much to stop Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton. It’s probably going to be more of the same against Boise State next week. But as bad as it was, let’s reserve judgement on the group until they start facing some non-elite offenses.

It’s a tough draw to be playing so many true freshmen. But when you have to go up against one of the best offenses in the country in the first game of the season? That’s an impossible task. Give this group some time. If by the halfway point they’re still getting struggling against the likes of URI, a rebuilding Cincinnati, or UMass, then it’s time to hit the panic button.

Sivo: Where to begin. Edsall is moving towards playing his own recruits more, which makes sense with his trying to develop talent and make defensive and offensive schemes fit. It was a tough game for freshman Keyshawn Paul, who drew some penalties and got torched on plays downfield and over the middle. That was his first college game, and the fact that Edsall continued to trot him out there in the second half tells me this is a player that he has confidence in.

UCF is going to be good, but I think our porous defense made them look even better than they actually are. They rarely had to work hard for their scores. I think what most upset me was the lack of pressure on their quarterback. He had all day, everyday to find who was open. I also do not recall a single play where we had a chance of forcing a turnover. That’s something that’s going to have to change for the Huskies to be serious competitors.

Tarbutt Starts Strong

Connolly: Last season, it’s not that unrealistic to think UConn could’ve finished with five wins if Tarbutt hit kicks at the end of the games against ECU and Cincinnati.

It’s obviously a small sample size but the Huskies’ kicker was strong in the opener. He nailed a 44-yard field goal that would’ve been good from beyond 60 yards. Having a clean night in the first game of the season should be a huge confidence boost for Tarbutt and is hopefully a sign of things to come this season.

Offensive Line Holds Up

Sivo: I think the O-Line was as high-functioning as we’ve seen it in quite some time. That’s not saying much and a lot of credit goes to Pindell for avoiding sacks, but this was the first game that the Huskies did not allow a sack since that amazing performance against Houston in 2015. This speaks to how the line has grown under Randy Edsall, who we know from his first stint always had big, beefy lineman to power our run game back in the glory days.

Revising Expectations

Aman Kidwai: UConn may not win more games than it loses this year, but it’s not going to be all bad if last night is any indication— the offense looked promising! The Huskies will need to take care of business against FCS Rhode Island and play a competitive game against Syracuse in Week 3 and 4, respective, which both seem like they have a chance of happening. Down the road, games against Cincinnati, UMass, Tulsa, and ECU all have the potential to be wins.

The problem is, UConn is going to get smacked by Week 2 opponent Boise State as well as USF and Memphis in conference play. Those are going to be demoralizing, but hopefully valuable, experiences like this season opener Thursday night. The remaining conference games, against SMU and Temple, will be pretty tough as well. A 4-8 season is fine this year if they don’t look like absolute garbage doing it and make progress across the year. This is an admittedly low bar for any football program, but hey that’s where we are.

Postgame Concerns

Sivo: I am awfully worried by Kevin Mensah’s post-game comments. Guy’s aren’t buying in to the once coach with tangible success in UConn football history? Or is it just Diaco’s guys that aren’t buying in? If Randy can’t turn this ship around, who can?