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UConn Offense Starts Season with Promising Performance

After taking a second look at the Huskies’ season opener, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for the offense.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Over this past Labor Day Weekend, The UConn Blog’s team had the pleasure of re-watching the UConn-UCF game. Daniel Connolly took a look at the defense earlier, and today we’ll cover the offense.

1st Quarter

UConn’s opening drive started off really well, with the Huskies’ attack looking quite put-together until an unfortunate fumble by running back Zavier Scott on his first career carry.

Pindell showed great signs leading the offense by making plays with his arm and his legs. This pattern continued throughout the game as the Columbia, MD native was clearly UConn’s best player on the field.

On the second play from scrimmage, he took a designed run and got behind some very good blocking 26 yards downfield. He then completed two passes for 8 and 14 yards to wide receivers Kyle Buss and Hergy Mayala. He hit Buss on the run in space after a play action to his left and a short roll-out to his right—it was a great first down play. On the next play, he faked another hand-off out of the shotgun, stood back in the pocket under some pressure and hit Mayala down the middle.

Perhaps an equally encouraging play occurred on the ensuing first down. Ryan Van Demark got beat right off the snap by the defensive end and Pindell maneuvered to avoid the rush, rolled right, and pretty calmly threw the ball away.

This combination of well-executed, well-managed plays on the first drive, along with his performance the rest of the day, should be very exciting for Husky fans.

The second drive went three and out. On 2nd and 6, Pindell was again quickly rushed out of the pocket. First the middle of his protection collapsed, then his blindside got hot. Pindell was able to get a solid attempt off even though it fell incomplete. On third down, he sailed one that was nearly intercepted.

On the first play of the third drive, we got our first and only look at Khyon Gillespie, a true freshman running back from Hartford. On 2nd and 4, Pindell dropped back but pulled it down quickly and gained eight yards in what was looked like a designed run. Unfortunately this drive ended after 30 yards as UConn decided to punt from the UCF 46 on 4th and 5. Boo.

2nd Quarter

UConn’s fourth drive took up the final 1:49 of the first quarter and ended 7:32 into the second with the Huskies’ first points of the night, a 44-yard Michael Tarbutt field goal. The Huskies inched their way down the field, taking 13 plays to go 49 yards. A couple of procedural penalties on Tyler Davis eventually caught up with them as they were unable to keep the drive going after 1st and 15.

On 4th and 6 from the UCF 27, Dunn decided to go for the points. I understand the importance of getting on the scoreboard so I’ll let this one slide, but UConn has to be more aggressive if its going to pull off any upsets ever.

UConn followed that up with an outstanding 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Pindell to Davis.

On the first play, Pindell hung in the pocket, backed up to avoid the rush, and hit a wide open Buss streaking across the field from left to right. Buss broke open a little earlier, but Pindell couldn’t step into his throw under the pressure. He did a nice job of avoiding the rush and finding a way to get the ball pretty far downfield throwing off his back foot.

Four plays later, UConn converted a 4th and 2 from the UCF 42. Huzzah! Pindell faked a quick handoff going left, rolled right, and hit Aaron Maclean on a jet route in such a way that the tight end was able to run for a few extra on his way to a 12-yard gain.

The touchdown came after a quick fake and blind roll-out after which Pindell faced a rusher immediately. He did a great job of quickly getting the ball out to Davis in the flat around the 5-yard line and the Long Island native found the end zone from there.

The last drive of the second half went well, moving 50 yards downfield, but ended with a Pindell interception. He rolled a little to his right under pressure, but this one was overthrown and into the hands of UCF’s free safety at the Knights’ 7-yard line for an unfortunate end to the first half.

The second half of this game quickly got not competitive as UCF raced out to a 42-10 lead in the third quarter. For the sake of my sanity and given the fact that the Knights started using backups by this point, we’ll end the analysis here.

Summary

The highlight of the night was obviously Pindell, who looked great in his season debut and hopefully put the memory of last year’s sub-par start behind him. He made solid, smart throws, managed the game well, and did an amazing job contributing as a runner, rushing for 157 yards and a score to go along with his 266 passing yards and touchdown while completing 66 percent of his attempts. He had a few lapses despite mostly good ball placement on his throws, but this was such a promising performance overall.

Were it not for two avoidable turnovers, this could have been a much closer first half. The offense gained 258 yards in those first 30 minutes of play and held a large advantage in time of possession. This was partially because UCF was scoring very quickly, but good on UConn for sustaining some drives and getting the defense some rest. Many longer drives that stalled were due to unforced errors or could have been aided by slightly more aggressive playcalling.

Aside from that 1st quarter punt call, the play-calling from new offensive coordinator John Dunn was solid. He seems to have a strong understanding of who his best players are and how to maximize their abilities. Luckily, the Husky offense has so many passing options, and that allows the gameplan to be fluid from game to game and will prevent UConn from establishing patterns on film for future opponents.

We also saw a lot of motion, misdirection, and play-action, which are all good moves because they open up running and passing lanes and keep the defense on its toes.

The offensive line performance was fine, though it definitely got beat badly at times. That group is lucky to have Pindell’s ability to extend plays behind them.

Lastly, the running backs need to bring a little bit more to the table. Kevin Mensah looked solid at times, but only averaged 3 yards per carry on 20 attempts. Zavier Scott will need to recover from his rough start, as he finished with negative yardage on three carries. True freshman Khyon Gillespie got one carry; it will be interesting to see how his role shapes up across the season in a wide open contest for playing time in the backfield.