While the UConn Huskies did not win their season opener in the dominating fashion we would have hoped for, they did dominate at times and showed enough to give us hope for an improved team across the season.
Simply put, the game should not have been close as it was, and UConn most importantly needs to tighten up the things it can control: bad interceptions, after-whistle penalties, and their penchant for giving up big plays defensively.
UConn more than doubled up Wagner in time of possession, total yards and first downs. The win probability looked like this: pic.twitter.com/rg1U7waWJl— luke swanson (@Lukefrom2011) August 30, 2019
Running backs Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins will be central to the offense
Aman Kidwai: Mensah looks like someone who can handle primary rushing duties, and Thompkins clearly adds a new dimension when he’s in the game. Randy Edsall said two injured receivers contributed to their run-heavy approach against Wagner, and certainly they don’t want to show too much of their playbook, but the run game is going to be a focal point of the offense. Beaudry is no stud as a passer and the receivers are an unproven, even if talented, group. Plus, we all know this is what Randy Edsall loves to see from a football perspective.
Luke Swanson: 144 yards rushing on 36 carries is impressive from Kevin Mensah, but it only tells part of the story. He looked like a seasoned veteran behind a rock-solid offensive line, patiently waiting for holes to develop and willing to bounce it outside if necessary.
Daniel Connolly: The two running backs are perfect complements of each other, with Mensah being the bruising workhorse and Thompkins the change-of-pace. Mensah looked really good finding the holes and running downhill while also making defenders miss while offensive coordinator Frank Giufre simply needs to draw up plays to get Thompkins into open space and let him do the rest.
Mike Beaudry showed signs, but still has a ways to go
LS: On the surface, 14-21 for 158 yards isn’t the worst line in the world, but his catastrophic mistake early in the put a damper on his first game with the Huskies.
“Man, my first touchdown was to the other team,” Beaudry joked after the game, but he didn’t have a first performance with the Huskies to be ashamed of.
He was mostly on target with short passes, and preferred target Matt Drayton was able to do a ton with those well-placed passes. His long shots down the field to Heron Maurisseau were less accurate.
DC: For how this UConn team is built, I think Beaudry will be totally serviceable at quarterback. Going into the game, we knew the running backs were going to be the centerpiece of the offense and that was certainly the case. Beaudry looked comfortable leading the offense and aside from an awful decision on the pick-six, generally didn’t put the ball in dangerous places.
The biggest concern with him is going to be arm strength. He didn’t put a ton of zip on the ball, which is worrisome for throws outside the numbers once he starts facing FBS defenses. His accuracy down the field also left a lot to be desired, with deep balls not close enough to even give the receivers a chance to catch it.
But UConn’s quarterback history is far from stellar. Beaudry just needs to avoid turnovers and make the easy throws. If he can do that, the Huskies should be more than okay on offense.
AK: It was a promising start for his first game against Division I competition, but Beaudry clearly has his limitations. He needs to be a solid game manager, so obviously that interception returned for six was unacceptable, especially when he doesn’t appear to be able to overcome those mistakes by making plays with his arm. I’ll remain cautiously optimistic about his future, though, as this was just one game.
Defense looks miles better, but there is still room for improvement
DC: No UConn fans should need a reminder about how awful the defense was last year. So the fact that the Huskies forced three consecutive three-and-outs to start the game and only allowed 53 yards of total offense 22 plays is an amazing improvement. It doesn’t matter that Wagner isn’t good or that its QB couldn’t start for EO Smith, last year’s defense couldn’t have done that against anybody.
But in the second half, there were more than a few occasions that were reminiscent of last season. Wagner ripped off a 55-yard touchdown run when the Huskies appeared to have the running back dead-to-rights in the backfield.
UConn gave up a touchdown on this play pic.twitter.com/4GH3tGWAcN— Banner Society (@BannerSociety) August 30, 2019
The Huskies also got nailed for a couple bad penalties, notably an unsportsmanlike foul on Omar Fortt after the play, pass interference on Tahj Herring-Wilson and a late hit after sacking the quarterback eight yards back in the redzone.
The defense also struggled to make the big play as they didn’t force a turnover and allowed Wagner to stick around. Instead, the offense needed to make a handful of big drives to stiff-arm the Seahawks’ comeback.
Make no mistake, there was real, tangible progress from the defense on Thursday night. But it still has a long, long way to go.