If you went into yesterday’s game in Philadelphia knowing the statistics that would be put up by the UConn offense, an objective thought process would lead you to believe that the Huskies would not come out on top on Saturday. Just 244 total yards were produced, only 105 through the air (down from a season average of 325), an average gain of just 3.69 yards per play and the unit put up 21 points. However, by now it’s known that UConn did come out on top 28-24, but how did it happen. The answer is easy, the defense.
There were multiple areas to point to from a statistical perspective that saw a reversal from previous weeks including time of possession and third downs. UConn won the clock battle, albeit by two seconds; 30:01 to 29:59. Thirds downs? A major reason sitting here on a Sunday we are talking about a win. The UConn offense converted 7-of-15 third downs. Defensively, they allowed just 5-of-15 conversions by Temple on third and the Owls also failed on all three fourth down attempts, a marked change from a week ago when Memphis was allowed to convert 15-of-23 opportunities on those same downs.
Then there are the turnovers as UConn forced two, including one that produced immediate points on an interception by true freshman defensive back Tyler Coyle, who returned the pick 34-yards to the house, the first defensive score of the year.
“I jammed the receiver, but my responsibility was the inside guy [Isaiah Wright],” Coyle said following the win. “I turned back, looked at the ball, it was coming and made the play. I knew he was coming up behind me [on the return], but I had to outrun him at the end.”
The second turnover also led to points, as Marshe’ Terry returned a fumble 35-yards that set the Huskies up with 1st and goal at the 9-yard line. Two plays later, QB Bryant Shirreffs found Hergy Mayala for a 6-yard TD pass.
The defense came out confident, much like they did a week ago in the first quarter against Memphis, but this time, they sustained that mentality throughout. Head coach Randy Edsall verified after the game that he stressed the importance of playing all 60 minutes this week and it was also a major point of emphasis from the sidelines throughout the game. Following one of the biggest stops, assistants could be heard yelling “60 minutes, 60 minutes!” repeatedly to the defense from field level. The players took it to heart and came through when it was needed most in the fourth, holding Temple scoreless over the final three drives of the game, with the Huskies holding just a four-point lead.
“One game doesn’t turn everything around, but we need to keep building on it,” Edsall said. “Hopefully this will give us a little more confidence.”
The unit faced adversity even prior to the start of the game as senior CB Jamar Summers came down with an illness just hours before kickoff and was unable to play. It caused the Huskies to insert true freshman Jordan Swann into the lineup and he played to a starter’s level.
“He played well,” Edsall said following the win. “He made a nice hit, caused a fumble, played hard and didn’t play timid. He did a good job.”
Swann started the season as the Huskies main returner on both kickoff and punt returns and looked electric. However, he’s had an up-and-down year to this point, given that he was knocked out of game action a few week’s back after suffering a concussion. After he met with the media following the win, it’d be hard to know he’s a true freshma
“Literally 45 minutes before the game [I found out I was starting],” Swann said. “It was just next man-up. I wasn’t nervous or anything. I know what I can do and my teammates trust me. It’s been fairly easy [transition to college], especially when you have older guys telling you the right and wrong things to do. I have confidence in myself and I know I can get the job done.”
We do all this to win,” Swann continued. “We get up early in the morning to win. We work out to win. Now it’s paying off.”
Much like the Huskies were able to sustain the defensive performance for 60 minutes on Saturday, if they can maintain the momentum into next week against Tulsa, there’s no telling where this moment could take them.
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