Randy Edsall was not backing down from the state of the UConn defense following the 38-18 loss to Virginia on Saturday, a game where the Huskies surrendered a UVA school record 455 passing yards by QB Kurt Benkert.
“I’m not going to sit up here and lie to you,” Edsall said on Wednesday.
The numbers are ugly. The Huskies are getting taken advantage of in the passing game with an FBS worst 129th ranking, surrendering 406.5 yards per game. The next worst team defensively allows 35 yards less per contest. While the secondary can be blamed for a lot of the issues, there is another aspect that is allowing teams to consistently put drives together.
Tackles for loss (TFL’s) are a major disruptor for opposing offenses and is an area that sees the Huskies again close to the very bottom in the country. At second to last in the nation, UConn is accumulating just 3.0 TFL’s each time out. It’s allowing opponents to stay ahead of the chains and keeping teams in 2nd and 3rd and manageable situations. Edsall addressed this fact during his press conference on Wednesday.
“Some of that is we are hesitant,” Edsall said, acknowledging it’s a major issu. “Some of it is we don’t maintain certain rush lanes and some guys are thinking too much and not turning it loose. That’s one of the things that we have to do, if we are going to be better defensively, we need to get them off the chains a little more than we have. We need to get better with that.”
Earlier in the day, Edsall had expressed his concern that players were not recognizing various situations as quickly as he would like.
“Where we have a little more experience is in the front six,” Edsall said. “Those are guys that were playing in a different system [for their entire career’s here]. It’s basically getting them to understand that you have to call out and recognize things. That’s one of the things with us as coaches with some of these guys, you think you can do certain things and then when you see them actually do it, it might be too much [for them]. We’ll do less, as long as they can play faster.”
The players believe they are improving each day in this area, but as Edsall said earlier in his comments, it’s not improving fast enough for his liking.
“I’ve had a couple guys come to the coaches and let them know they are much more aware of certain situations this year than they’ve ever been, but we still have a long way to go, even though they say that. You have to communicate, you have to know what you’re doing. In the first drive last week, we blew the same coverage three times, all on conversion downs. If we just did what we were supposed to do, we would’ve been off the field.”
Improving communication is one of many things that need to be addressed on defense, but if that improves quicker than expected, the remainder of 2017 could play out differently than current expectations.
EAST CAROLINA’S 0-3 RECORD, OVERALL PERFORMANCE, MEANS NOTHING TO EDSALL
The Pirates come in losers of all three games in 2017 by a combined 107 points, more than 34 points per game. Just like the Huskies, they are suffering from defensive lapses, evidenced by opponents averaging 60 points per game over the last two. Following the 56-20 loss on the road at West Virginia, ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery made a change to his defense, promoting Robert Prunty to defensive coordinator and demoting Kenwick Thompson. In Prunty’s debut, the Pirates gave up 64 points to nationally ranked Virginia Tech and have fallen to 128th defensively. Still, Edsall understands anything can happen on game day and it’s still a team that beat up the Huskies in Greenville a year ago,
“I never mention record to our team. We need to take care of ourselves because if we don’t it doesn’t matter did before. You need to study the opponent and what they are going to do. When it comes to Saturday’s, records don’t mean anything. You need to go out and work the plays to the best of your ability. I don’t even bring that up.”
SENIOR ANTHONY WATKINS WILL MISS SUNDAY’S CONFERENCE OPENER
Senior safety Anthony Watkins suffered a concussion on Saturday and was forced to leave the 38-18 loss to Virginia in Charlottesville. Edsall discussed the situation at this morning’s press conference in Storrs as the Huskies will get even younger in their secondary, as true freshman Ian Swenson will get the start, backed up by redshirt sophomore Aaron Garland.
“Tony [Watkins] got hurt and he’s in the concussion protocol,” Edsall said. “He didn’t practice today so Ian [Swenson] is the guide that’s the starter. Right now I would say that Aaron Garland would be his backup. I thought that Ian did a pretty good job considering just being a freshman and being in there the other day. I think he has the ability to be a really good player. He’s very athletic, has good spped and is a tough kid too, which I really like that about him. This is important to him, so I’m really looking forward to see how he continues to develop. Tony is really the only guy that won’t be out there this week. Everyone else is in good shape.”
This is a prime opportunity for Garland, who like Swenson, arrived at UConn as a highly touted recruit out of Illinois. He participated in all twelve games a season ago, but mostly on special teams as he registered just one tackle in the home loss to UCF. As Edsall continues to evaluate the entire roster in game situations, play well on Sunday and he could play himself into a bigger role moving forward.
EDDIE HAHN EARNS BIGGER ROLE AT LINEBACKER
In previous weeks, the depth chart portrayed Darrian Beavers OR Eddie Hahn at one of the back-up linebacker positions. In Wednesday’s version ahead of Sunday’s game, the OR was no longer present and only Hahn’s name was listed. It’s a testament to his improvement throughout training camp and then taking advantage of the time he’s gotten on the field, something Edsall hinted at.
“It’s better for Darrian [Beavers] to be down on scout team getting reps because right now Eddie [Hahn] is our second linebacker,” Edsall confirmed. “Before, we were thinking about alternating those guys, but Eddie played and did a decent job in the game, so Eddie needs all the reps he can get instead of splitting reps. Darrian then has the ability to get his reps down with the scout team, but he’s still going to be involved on special teams.”
EDSALL CONTINUED PRAISE OF FRESHMAN RB KEVIN MENSAH
On Monday’s AAC Teleconference, Edsall said that true freshman running back Kevin Mensah was the fastest player, who also has the biggest burst on the team. He touched on Mensah during Wednesday’s press conference, prior to the Worcester, MA native meeting with the media after his UConn debut where he reached the end zone from 30-yards out.
“He has speed and explosion,” Edsall said of Mensah. “We saw it from the day he came in here. He would’ve been playing from the beginning had he not gotten hurt during training camp. You can see that he has burst and has some explosion. He still has a lot to learn now, don’t get me wrong, but he brings things that we don’t have at that position.”
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