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Takeaways from UConn football’s loss to Wyoming

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The Huskies showed their first notable signs of improvement in years.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn football may have lost, but the Huskies put together their best performance of the 2021 season so far, hanging tough with Wyoming despite being 30+ point underdogs. The team seems to have improved under interim head coach Lou Spanos, a welcome sight as the Huskies enter a stretch of schedule that includes winnable games against Vanderbilt, Yale, and UMass.

Here are some takeaways from the Huskies’ 24-22 loss to Wyoming.

Mazzone’s impact

Madigan: Noel Mazzone has only been on the staff for two weeks, but he’s already made his presence felt on the sideline. Since his arrival, the Huskies’ offense has been increasingly uptempo compared to its style under Edsall and Frank Giufre. Mazzone is frequently seen on the sideline next to Spanos and was constantly encouraging players to keep up the pace. With the offensive line struggling earlier this season and a younger quarterback in Tyler Phommachanh, this new-look offense appears to be better suited to compete going forward.

Aman: One of the key changes any new coach needed to make was bringing the UConn offense into the 21st century. Today it seems pretty clear that Randy Edsall’s approach on this side of the ball was a detriment to his staff and the assembled talent.

Stability at QB

Madigan: Phommachanh’s start against Army was a surprise to many, but the freshman quarterback showed promise in his debut and finished strong to score 21 points in that game. This week, Phommachanh had everything on display, throwing for 171 yards with a touchdown and interception while adding 14 yards on the ground. His inexperience has definitely shown through — he can be a little careless with the ball at times and attempted multiple throws from the pocket without setting his feet — but Phommachanh clearly has the talent to be UConn’s quarterback of the future.

With Mazzone involved and Phommachanh at quarterback, the Huskies have implemented a much more modern offense with more spread out formations and read option plays that rely on Phommachanh to make a decision or a play. This type of offense is likely very similar to what Phommachanh ran in high school at nearby Avon Old Farms, and should allow the Huskies to add more complexity to the offense on the fly later this season.

Aman: Another tiny note I’m going to add that a commentator made was that the emergence of Phommachanh could also be enticing to head coaching candidates. If a reasonably talented and young player with lots of potential is on the roster at the most important position on the field, the situation may not appear to be as hopeless as some people have made it out to be.

Defensive improvement

Madigan: After facing arguably the best rushing attack in the country last week against Army and getting torched for nearly 400 ground yards, the Huskies’ defense was better this week against a Cowboys run game that entered the week ranked 58th nationally in rushing yards per game. The defense still gave up 203 rushing yards, which isn’t good, but it made some impressive stops in the red zone to keep the game close and also forced two interceptions.

UConn did not have the luxury of having Travis Jones, one of the best defensive tackles in the country, available for this game due to injury. Jones wouldn’t have fixed the run game completely but he likely would have forced the Cowboys to think twice before running up the middle. The loss of Myles Bell, who had four tackles, an interception, and a pass break up before suffering a season-ending injury, will hurt this improving unit, but overall, even if the stats aren’t necessarily all there to back it up, the defense looked better. There’s more energy, fewer missed tackles, and a lot of players trying to step up and make plays. That’s a really positive sign.

Aman: Wyoming had just three plays over 20 yards and nothing over 30. That is absolutely incredible compared to any of UConn’s previous performances.

A new season

Madigan: There are two things that are absolutely true from the first five games of UConn’s 2021 season; the Huskies have been absolutely awful for four of those games, and UConn has played an extremely tough schedule so far. The latter is about to change significantly, as the Huskies have a three-game stretch of entirely winnable games — a road game against Vanderbilt next week, at UMass the week after, and then a home game against Yale on Oct. 16.

Even before the season, when there was actually some real optimism around this team, no one in their right mind expected the Huskies to win any of their first four games against FBS opponents. And while the Holy Cross loss remains inexcusable, these next three games serve as a real opportunity for Spanos and UConn to turn the season around. If they can play the way they did Saturday, a win or two could be in the cards this year.

Aman: It sounds dramatic, but Saturday was probably the most exciting UConn game in years in terms of the impact of the potential win. It would have been one of the biggest upsets against the spread in college football this season and also would have been the most unlikely win for UConn football since beating Temple on the road in 2017. As Madigan said, the fact that wins are now back on the table and we maybe aren’t horrified about the Yale game is a good sign. We have seen legitimate signs of improvement for UConn football in the last two weeks. Good things will happen if that can continue.