Entering Saturday night, those who study match-ups knew UConn was going to have to score and score A LOT in order to stick with Mizzou. Despite their 2-5 record, the Tigers’ offensive philosophy is something that has given the Huskies and their young secondary absolute nightmares. Explosive plays is what they live on and by my count, Mizzou accumulated twelve such plays throughout the game on Saturday night. Head coach Randy Edsall talked about the tough match-ups both from a skill and speed standpoint earlier in the week and echoed those same sentiments following the loss.
“We knew it was going to be a game where we were going to have to score,” Edsall said. “The matchups weren’t in our favor and we were going to have to make plays and we didn’t get that done. That’s why it ended up the way it did.”
Missouri QB Drew Lock finished 31-of-37 for 377-yards with 5-touchdowns and no interceptions. Impressively, the Huskies limited WR Emanuel Hall, who entered with the highest yards-per-catch average in the nation (28 YPC), to just 5-receptions for 37-yards (7.4 YPC), but it was WR Johnathon Johnson (5-catches, 128 yards, 1 TD) and leading receiver J’Mon Moore (8-rec, 96-yards, 2 TD’s) who picked up the slack. That was the main problem last night, slow down one guy and another will undoubtedly pop-up. Or three others in this case if you add in 6’5″ TE Albert Okwuegbunam, who took advantage of his size to grab two-touchdowns of his own inside the red zone, on a very similar, if not the exact same play call.
All week, the Huskies talked about keeping things in front of them to prevent plays over-the-top and to try to neutralize, or to some extent limit, what Missouri could do with their speed. Even then, however, receivers were able to run through gaps in the defense, including on Johnson’s 72-yard catch and run that made it 45-5 with 10:26 left in the third quarter.
It was a disaster all across the board, including offensively, as QB Bryant Shirreffs finished just 19-of-39 for 202-yards. He entered ninth in the nation in completion percentage (.682), but he and the offense were hurt by several drops, which kept him under 50-percent (.487) for the first time all season. Edsall thought maybe a dozen occurred throughout the game during his postgame press conference. But it wasn’t just the receivers, as Shirreffs was surprisingly inaccurate at times for the first time in 2017 and there are two factors that could have been the cause; pocket breakdowns and Missouri’s speed defensively, which all leads to quick decisions and releases. However, the Huskies quarterback and senior leader wasn’t going to make excuses for the offenses struggles after the game.
“We didn’t have a good offensive performance,” Shirreffs said bluntly. “I put a lot of the blame on myself. I missed some throws that I usually make. I’ll have to look at the film [on the pocket breakdowns]. There were a couple times that I may have felt a little rushed, but I try not to let that impact my throws. I made some uncharacteristic passes. I made some tough ones, but missed a lot of easy ones that I need to make if we are going to win.”
Despite the loss, which drops the Huskies to 3-5, all is not lost on the year and it goes back to the match-ups mentioned at the start. Outside of UCF, which is going to present an even bigger challenge than what was seen last night against Missouri, the Huskies aren’t going to face a similar team that has given them major issues this season defensively.
Next week, USF comes in on senior day off their 28-24 loss to Houston, which ended the nation’s longest winning streak, but it’s a game that features an offense that is more traditional, something UConn has been much more successful defending during the year. It’s not the offense that Willie Taggart was running before he moved on to Oregon in the offseason and you will not see star quarterback and preseason Heisman candidate Quinton Flowers throw for 400-yards or even close to it. From an outside observer, a lot of that has to do with Charlie Strong and his philosophy, which has hindered the Bulls offense and Flowers’ ability to accentuate his skillset. Saturday will be competitive if Edsall, the staff and the senior leaders are able to keep the Huskies in the right mindset. Despite the Bulls 7-1 record, there will be opportunities this week and it all has to do with match-ups.
After this week, the Huskies travel to Orlando to face UCF in a game that time of possession will be paramount. It’s why you saw the UConn offense try to slow their pace a bit last night and you’ll likely see the same in two weeks, as it’s one of the ways the Huskies can try to shift and shorten the game a bit in order to remain competitive. After travelling to Florida, UConn faces another two offenses in Boston College and Cincinnati that again, are not looking to throw the ball all over the yard. They are two of the more favorable match-ups from a scheme perspective the Huskies will face all year.
One step at a time, however, as a win on an early senior day this Saturday is paramount towards any bowl aspirations. Leave it to senior defensive end Luke Carrezola to summarize what the mentality should be this week as the Huskies look to turn the page.
“I’m going to watch the film, do what I can to make sure I come out better for this team and this defensive line,” he said. “There’s no doubt I love these guys; Foley [Fatukasi], Cole [Ormsby], [Kevin] Murphy, Sheridan [Lawley] and James [Atkins], all of them. I’ve grown to them playing this game over the last four years and I’m going to give them everything.”
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