The UConn Huskies lost to Syracuse on Saturday in a game that didn’t resemble these teams’ Big East battles at all. The Huskies’ historically solid defense allowed 55 points while the historically modest offense did alright and even left some points on the board finishing with 21.
Despite quickly falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, the Huskies battled and had chances to get closer, but the defense failed to prevent big plays and even without them the Orange were moving the ball quite easily.
So what have we learned about the Huskies (1-3, 0-1 the American) after they wrapped up the first quarter of the season?
Signs of Defensive Life?
Dan Madigan: After getting steamrolled in the first quarter, the defense did look a little better than it has in the past season, but still gave up 636 yards of total offense. That total was the lowest they’ve given up to an FBS opponent this year. So yes, I guess that technically is progress, but it’s going to take a lot more games and experience for this young unit before they can help UConn remain competitive in a football game.
To me, the most encouraging play of the game was Ian Swenson’s forced fumble at the 2-yard line. It’s good to see these young players hustling and not giving up regardless of the result on the scoreboard.
Dan Connolly: The first few drives for Syracuse looked like UConn’s other three games this season, where the opposing team drives down the field and scores almost at will. The Huskies gave up 24 points in the first quarter and couldn’t get anything resembling a stop at a few critical points that could’ve kept the team in the game.
But after Ian Swenson forced a fumble on the goal line, UConn’s defense forced the Orange into a three-and-out on their next two possessions before the half. With such a young defense, even just a little bit of success can go a long way. If they keep playing hard and start making a few more plays, the unit should slowly improve as the season carries on.
Aman Kidwai: If the defense isn’t the worst in the country, UConn might some games this year, but it remains to be seen if that can happen. I think we saw signs that maybe UConn can stop a less powerful offense if they respect the match-up enough. For all the talk about how young/bad the defense is, they’ve also been going up against fast, high-powered offenses, some of the best in the country.
The greatest hope for the defense going forward is that there are worse offenses on the schedule and maybe UConn can stop some of them enough to be competitive in a few games.
First Look: Marvin Washington
Madigan: Overall, I think Washington looked pretty solid, especially for a redshirt freshman. I was impressed with that touchdown throw to Tyler Davis — throwing a long touch pass like that and hitting Davis right on the money after sitting on the bench for three quarters has to be pretty difficult to do. I know there were fumbles and the interception, but I think some of that comes from Washington not getting many (or any) first team reps since Pindell has been so good this year. If he can continue to improve, and get some playing time across the season, UConn might not lose a step offensively after Pindell graduates.
Connolly: The only time Edsall has really mentioned Marvin Washington has been related to his minor off-the-field issues. He didn’t play in the spring game due to grades, so this was the first time most people have seen him play.
He impressed with a strong arm and good running ability but accuracy was a bit of an issue, especially on throws outside the numbers. However, his touchdown throw to Tyler Davis was a dime, so the arm talent is there.
He made some mistakes but that’s par for the course with a redshirt freshman in his first career game. He showed enough to not only be a quality backup this season, if he keeps his head on right and continues to develop, he could be a really good quarterback for next season and beyond.
David Pindell Will Win
Madigan: David Pindell is really good. I think this gets lost in the shuffle of how bad everyone else, and what the story on him from last year was, but this dude can play. He’s such a threat with his legs, especially on designed runs, and can make most if not all of the throws necessary to make this offense work. He can really throw on the run and has a good rapport with his receivers. It’s a shame he’s a senior this year and has limited support from the offensive line and defense on the other side, otherwise he could make even more of an impact.
For now, Pindell makes this team watchable. That 75-yard touchdown run was incredible, and he made some great throws to help keep the offense moving along. I think Pindell and Zavier Scott will link up for a few more scores this season.
Kidwai: It really is a shame that UConn is somehow competent offensively and the defense is such trash. This year’s version of Pindell is an absolute joy to watch and the kind of talent that could have made a big impact for any UConn team since 2005, it’s just our bad luck he happens to be on this coaching-turnover-depleted, rebuilding team.
Going back to the earlier point about being able to compete against teams with a worse offense, Pindell can really make the difference in those games, and maybe even help steal one against a heavily favored opponent. He deserves a lot of credit for working hard through last year’s adversity and finding personal, if not team, success as a senior.
Kevin Mensah Proving Himself
Connolly: Despite going against a strong Syracuse front seven, Mensah still ran for 76 yards on 19 carries, good for 4.0 yards per carry. A few times, he gained some yards out of nothing and when he did have some room to run, he usually picked up a good chunk of yardage. This season, he’s averaging nearly five YPC (4.9) and is the essentially the only running back, with Zavier Scott taking most of the receiving back duties.
Even though he’s only a sophomore, Mensah is proving himself to be a good running back. He’s strong but also has breakaway speed to pair with quickness. If the offensive line can consistently create holes in the run game, Mensah is going to be a huge threat for this team.
Kidwai: Mensah has a great running style, often seems to be falling forward or grabbing that extra yard or two somehow some way. He’s a balanced back, and as he puts weight on will be even better between the tackles. Can he be the next great UConn running back? That might depend on the abilities of the offensive line over the next two years.
Outlook for the Future
Madigan: I still think there is a very real chance this team does not win another game this season, but it seems like things are heading in the right direction, albeit slowly. The offensive line needs to get better to give Pindell and the running game a better chance to make plays. Seeing Matt Peart get beat repeatedly was a little concerning, but he will have to bounce back if this unit wants to improve.
As for the defense, they just need to get more experience and put together more stops. Oh, and stop giving up 600+ yards of offense every game. That being said, it is a super young unit, and this experience could pay off next year and beyond with so many young but soon-to-be experienced players playing together.
Kidwai: With eight games left in the season, UConn is ranked 129th in S&P+ overall efficiency (76th offense, 130th (last) defense), here are the rankings of the Huskies’ upcoming opponents:
UConn Football Upcoming Opponents
The next three games look pretty tough, particularly the match-up with Memphis, who may hand the Huskies a second straight demoralizing beating after dropping 70 on them last year.
After that is a nice soft-looking stretch run of schedule, starting with UMass, who will be the UConn’s homecoming opponent in a game that’s likely to be very high scoring. After that, the next four opponents have bottom-20 offenses, which should give the Huskies a chance.
The Cincinnati game could be interesting, maybe UConn can make something happen at home... Memphis and USF will be bad losses, but after that Randy Edsall and his staff have an opportunity to deliver on the progress that Husky fans who are sticking through this season are looking for.
All five of those final games need to be competitive, with respectable final scores, and even a few victories. Despite the ugliness we have seen so far this season, UConn has a legitimate chance to end on a high note. Hopefully they take advantage.