For UConn Huskies football fans, the season opener versus the UCF Knights seemed like an extension of last season when it came to the defense. UCF had no issues moving the ball and scored with incredible speed.
A lot of fans seemed to be blaming defensive coordinator Billy Crocker, but that’s a bit unfair since it’s the first game of the season with a cohort of freshmen playing significant snaps against a top offense. No scheme can be successful if the players on the field can’t execute.
The problems certainly weren’t caused by the 3-3-5 defense either. The Huskies actually played a four-man front the entire night and either had two or three linebackers on the field, depending on the Knights’ personnel grouping.
The extra man didn’t seem to help them all that much. For the most part, the Huskies were pushed around by the Knights’ offensive line. The visitors had no issues opening holes for the running back and putting the onus on UConn’s linebackers and defensive backs to make tackles in the second level. The Huskies did not have a single tackle for loss on defense in the game.
Here’s a good example of UCF controlling the line of scrimmage.
Luckily, the rest of the defense did a good job of limiting chunk plays on the ground. While UCF would typically get through the line quick, the second-level defenders did a good job of containing the runner to only a few yards.
The pass rush struggled to get much push on passing plays, but some of that was due to the Knights’ quick-strike passing and also potentially a game plan feature to keep McKenzie Milton from scrambling. He only ran seven times for 50 yards, most of which were designed run plays.
UConn’s defensive line did have some success, notably a third-and-one stop on UCF’s third drive and a stuff on their next possession.
Unfortunately, those two plays seemed to convince the Knights to air the ball more. Once they started to do that, UCF needed just three plays to drive 75 yards for the touchdown.
The secondary struggled to keep up with the opposing receivers and weren’t particularly competitive. The Huskies are only credited with one pass breakup the entire night, a nice play by Tahj Herring-Wilson in the endzone. Other than that, the Knights pretty much had their way through the air.
The cornerbacks were left to fend for themselves on the outside as UCF’s play-action forced the safeties to freeze and see the play develop. They also had the cornerbacks play back from the receivers to avoid them getting beat over the top and the Knights took advantage with plenty of short passes.
Milton frequently picked on true freshman Keyshawn Paul before eventually getting pulled in the second half. However, there’s some positives to pull from Paul’s performance. There were times were he was simply beat, but that’s expected with a true freshman.
On a few plays, he was right with the receiver and either made a bone-headed decision and drew a penalty or was simply the victim of great execution. The key will be keeping his confidence up as the season progresses against some weaker offenses.
Ultimately, while the defensive performance wasn’t great, it’s tough to make much of a determination after the first game of the season against one of the best offenses in the country. For a good chunk of the starters, it was their first taste of college ball. It’ll be much of the same against Boise State this week but after that, we’ll get a much better look of what this defense really is.