It’s been two days since the 70-31 loss to Memphis on Friday night, where the Huskies surrendered 711 yards and a program record amount of points. This afternoon, head coach Randy Edsall held his usual post-game call, with an added emphasis on defense. I’ll have a full break-down of what didn’t work against the Tigers, as well as some of things that actually did go well defensively, particularly in the first quarter later in the week.
Today, Edsall focused on time of possession as one of the key areas that hurt the Huskies and that time of possession is directly correlated to the performance by both sides of the ball on third downs.
“In the first quarter, we were pretty good, but then the second, third and fourth quarters, we didn’t even have the ball for five minutes in any of those quarters,” he said. “When you lose the overall time of possession 36:50 to 23:10, that makes it tough. We need to do a better job of sustaining drives and we need to do a better job of getting off the field on third down. When you are only 2-of-13 on third down offensively for 18-percent and 1-of-3 on fourth downs, you don’t help yourself. On defense, we had opportunities, they were 13-of-20, 65-percent and 2-of-3 on fourth down, so we had our opportunities, but we need to make more plays. That’s something that myself and the coaching staff have got to figure out, how we can help them do that.”
In the first quarter, Memphis marched down the field after the Huskies took a 7-0 lead, converting all-three third downs. However on the Tigers’ second and third drives of the quarter, UConn performed well defensively, holding them to back-to-back three-and-outs and just seven total yards. In the quarter, the Huskies were effective bringing pressure, particularly off the left-side of the defense in both pass and run blitzes. S Omar Fortt impacted a play on the very first drive forcing a quick and errant throw and Diggs made a tremendous play darting between multiple blockers to bring running back Tony Pollard down for a 6-yard loss on the second drive.
It’s those types of plays the Huskies will need more of, particularly forcing opposing QB’s to make quicker decisions by making them feel less comfortable in the pocket. Getting opponents off schedule and behind the chains will be key for the defense to be successful, as they were even on Friday in several third and long situations. Does that mean more blitzes and pressure off the edges from not just linebackers, but roaming safeties, as was seen with Fortt on the first drive? With the young and inexperienced secondary, the Huskies will need to be careful there, but Edsall recognizes that can be managed.
“The problem is that if we keep our contain on the edges, then we might have had a sack,” Edsall said in response. “We got some pressure [on Friday], but then we didn’t execute one other part of it to help ourselves and get a sack or be as high as the quarterback, or understand to get on the high-shoulder because then the guy will spin out where you want him to go up inside. You’re going to have to bring pressure and guys are going to have to hold up. Do you want to do a lot of that with what we have right now? Probably not, but we have to pick and choose certain situations and do that. Guys just need to step up and do their job. If you use good fundamentals and good technique, you’re going to have a chance to make a play or at least be right there to make a tackle if it is complete.”
That all ties back to players executing and being put in the position to be successful to get off the field on third downs, something that was stressed throughout the call this afternoon.
“It’s different guys taking different turns of not getting it done,” Edsall said. “It’s not just one guy. We had three third downs on that first drive to get off the field, we didn’t and it was a different culprit each time. That’s the thing where we have to get consistent. It’s one of those things where we might get a little too high on a guy and he comes underneath us and we don’t have help there. We have to have, at least with body presence, force him to the outside. Our guys need to be better aware in those situations. Sometimes guys panic and they think they need to go too far, they’ll cross over and a guy will come underneath them when they really don’t have to do that. Just relax and do your job and if you do that, then we’ll be in a better position to make a play and get off the field. It might be something with a rush lane or keeping contain on the quarterback.”
Part of the fix may be substitution patterns as Edsall has identified certain players that react to pressure situations differently than others.
“It seems it’s tough for us to get all eleven to do what they need to do to get off the field on third down,” Edsall continued. “Why can’t we do it consistently throughout the game? There’s times in every game where we’ve done it really, really well. Maybe we need to sub a little more on defense because sometimes guys do well with their pressure and if we need to play guys a few more snaps and get some of those guys out of there so they stay fresh throughout, then that’s something we will have to do. I’ve been looking at that the last couple of weeks.”
The Huskies return to practice this afternoon in preparation for Saturday’s game in Philadelphia, hoping the changes they implement this week take hold and lead to better execution, particularly on third down.
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