COLUMN: PATIENCE WILL PAY FOR THIS VERSION OF UCONN FOOTBALL

In college football, there is one word that is dreaded more than any other. It begins with a ‘P’ and is one that fans of the UConn program have heard for a decade and have certainly grown tired of; patience. We are just four games into the Jim Mora era and the fanbase has seemingly hit every possible reaction in less than a month. From giving props for a close loss after jumping out to a 14-0 lead over Utah State, to being disappointed in a 25-point win a week later, to beside themselves after the 48-14 defeat at the hands of Syracuse. After Saturday, a game against if not the absolute best, certainly a top-4 team in the country, the familiar comment of the last handful of years has started to reappear.

To be clear, what happened Saturday was expected. From yours truly, the most optimistic of all optimists, in an appearance on a Michigan preview show, these were the thoughts shared on what the final score would be.

“A similar score to what you saw against Hawaii (52-10) is in order. Wouldn’t be shocked if Michigan is able to get in the high-50’s, with UConn a score or two. Anything better than that would be a win in the fans’ eyes. It’s going to be a tough day in the office for the UConn football program.”

The point? The result was as expected and that was even before UConn lost the nation’s second leading rusher after just one carry, adding to an epic amount of injuries that have taken out almost every prominent playmaker the Huskies expected to lean on heading into the season. Despite that, there are certainly concerns to point to, just a third of the year through Mora’s first season.

Special teams have regressed year-over-year, which is inexcusable, regardless of injuries. The last three weeks the Huskies have surrendered a blocked field goal and fumbled punt return (CCSU), a muffed punt (Syracuse) and a blocked punt and punt return for touchdown (Michigan). Each of those on their own are game-changing plays. At a time when UConn needs to play a perfect game against power-five competition, those plays are more than disastrous.

Offensively? The staff needs to be better at putting players in position for success, even with the injury total that has stacked up. UConn has very rarely gone with 10-personnel to spread defenses out. It’s not their system, but when you’re having trouble getting separation, creating mismatches with opposing defenses is paramount. Very rarely have they motioned a back out of the backfield to try to get matchups with linebackers with their speed backs down the field.

There are a few receivers that were expected to see some additional time, especially with the injuries to date. Texas transfer Dajon Harrison is your fastest of the group and seemingly a great route runner from what was seen during camp. He’s only contributed on the Jet the last two weeks. Darius Bush certainly built a nice rapport with Zion Turner during camp, as the two were connecting on multiple occasions during each open practice in August with the second unit. He hasn’t played much.

Despite the lack of production, UConn still has talent at receiver on the offensive side of the ball. Aaron Turner, Kevens Clercius, Harrison, Bush and Jacob Flynn. These are players that are going to be able to take advantage of one-on-one matchups as the schedule moves on, particularly as the talent level becomes much less than they’ve faced the last two weeks. Without their top receivers, particularly Cam Ross and Keelan Marion, instead of going against the second or third best cover guy on the field, Turner is now the focal point of a secondary, while Clercius is being shadowed by the next best. Against the top-end talent of college football, these are mismatches, as there has been zero separation down the field. As talent becomes an even playing field, that alone is going to help the passing game significantly, post NC State.

That said, a passing game that resulted in just 24-yards is equally as inexcusable as the lapses on special teams. Talking with offensive coordinator Nick Charlton after the season opener at Utah State, he clearly takes pride in his work, is very smart, is hard on himself when things don’t go well and can’t live with missed opportunities. Game plans heading into two of the four games this season have been completely blown up within the first two drives of each; Ta’Quan Roberson going down on the 10th offensive play against Utah State and Nate Carter going down on his first carry against Michigan. Those aren’t excuses, but a reality that the unit as a whole has had to deal with.

So where do the Huskies turn? As mentioned above, the schedule eases up after Saturday and certainly after Fresno State, a team that was driving down 21-10 to open the second half at a rejuvenated USC, before starting QB Jake Haener went down with a significant leg injury. That leaves half a season to get things right and prove that even despite the injuries, the program is further along than anyone expected heading into 2022. The preseason predictions from this end are still available; four wins. Leading into the season, fans would have been thrilled with that and it’s still a very real possibility.

The Huskies front seven is capable of dominating games at the line of scrimmage. They did so against CCSU as they should have and as the group continues to get better and more experience, FIU, Ball State and UMass will certainly be more than competitive, particularly up front. In the secondary, expect some true freshmen like Isiah Davis and D’Mon Brinson to get more action. In limited time, Davis demonstrated Saturday he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and delivered a big hit against the run. Brinson, a longer, athletic corner, did have to leave the field in the fourth quarter and his status will be known at practice tomorrow. Their development will not only help as this season progresses, but certainly as the page flips from this season in just two months.

No one likes losing 59-0. That said, UConn was nowhere near the only one to get blown out on Saturday across college football. If this happens in the second half of the year, against the back half of the schedule, sound the alarm. Something tells me, it won’t. The culture Mora talks about is strong, the team is sticking together and even despite the injuries, will be a unit that gets better each and every week. Have patience UConn Nation, better days are ahead. Even though the disaster of Saturday is still fresh in everyone’s mind, it may happen sooner than anyone thinks.

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3 months ago
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