Huskies: A step forward in defeat
Peel away the layers. Get past the 38-21 final score and the resulting 1-2 record. Avoid or at least temper the impact of eight sacks. It’s all there and part of the picture. But, the bigger picture looked better for UConn and there was some sunshine behind the rains that came down on Rentschler Field late Saturday afternoon.
There were not so soft whispers about blowout with Boise State in town this weekend. The big-name Broncos blew into New England on the heels of a 676-yard performance in a 37-24 victory over Colorado State while averaging 537 yards of offense in its two games.
Meanwhile the Huskies were coming off of a less than inspiring 19-16 victory over Stonybrook after being handled by BYU in the opener, with obvious struggles with the offense, particularly the offensive line.
Throw in the idea that your starting quarterback Casey Cochran called in a career after another concussion and while hope may spring eternal in the UConn camp as it should be, the fannies in the seats weren’t exactly talking Bowl talk.
A lot pointed to another Saturday in the UConn football doldrums. The game pointed otherwise.
This was a three-play game. No domination, no doldrums. A fumble and two interceptions. A trending scenario that needs to be rectified for sure. But not a situation that calls for some kind of major overhaul.
First-year coach Bob Diaco is the prince of positive even on the darkest of days. He could find the feel-good needle in the haystack. His optimism on this day was well-placed.
The Huskies’ defense limited the Broncos to just 292 totals yard, a couple of football field plus below the average. Only 52 yards came on the ground while smothering running back Jay Ajayi to just 39 yards on 18 carries. Ajayi had bolted for more than 200 yards against Colorado State.
UConn held the ball for 35:54 to 24:06 for the Broncos. There was a lot to hang your jersey on.
“Hopefully the ones that were there had a chance to see our DNA, see what we are going to be, what we can be,” said Diaco. “The wins are coming, we are getting better every game, we’re getting better every week. The defense is moving its game forward, I’m proud of the way they played today.”
Diaco handed out plenty of plaudits to the kicking and coverage teams and punting teams. This was more than positive spin.
Moving forward, the idea is stop the turnovers and stop chasing the opponent from the get-go. Just over two minutes into the game Ansonia’s Arkeel Newsome was took a handoff and was flat out crunched, coughing up the ball in the process. Tanner Vallejo picked up the fumble and scored for a 7-0 Broncos lead.
With UConn trailing just 24-21 in the fourth quarter and the smell of upset wafting through the stadium, Jonathan Moxey picked off a Chandler Whitmer pass at the UConn 37-yard line. Four plays later Boise scored from the 9-yard line for a 31-21 lead.
Finally with 5:07 to go, Donte Deayon took a completed pass right out of Geremy Davis’ hands and bolted 50 yards to seal it.
Three plays – 21 points. You lose.
“Fourteen uncontested points where the defense and special teams are not on the field against any opponent we are going to play it becomes impossible to win the game,” said Diaco. “When you factor another plus field turnover you are talking about 21 points. That has to get solved.”
But it is about three plays, not a structural problem. Simple fact of the matter for much of the game UConn played Boise State even. Fix the plays, have a chance to change the score.
“The offense is working each week to get better,” said receiver Deshaun Fox. “We have to eliminate turnovers. They are just mistakes not a psychological thing. We never hang our heads. When we down are heads are up.”
If post-game reaction is worth anything the faithful was heartened here and that includes the press box. A lot of “better than I thought and “they put a battle” sentiments were echoed. Fan reaction bred similar responses.
UConn didn’t suddenly turn into a good team Saturday. They are still 1-2. The Huskies still make too many mistakes. They give up too many sacks. The offense doesn’t exactly instill fear into the opposition.
But, you look for steps forward here. The Huskies are young and there is much new here. You measure this season in progress not wins as the final judgment. Saturday was a step forward. The idea now is keep moving forward.
South Florida is up next. It doesn’t have to be a win, it has to be progress. Like this Saturday.