As UConn football’s season winds down, the goals of head coach Randy Edsall get progressively more complicated. Of course the Huskies want to win now, to collect their first victory over a FBS opponent this Sunday against SMU (noon on WatchESPN), but as questions swirl about the long-term viability of the program, the pressure is also on to develop the team in order to win later.
“That’s what all this is all about, getting young men the opportunity and see them thrive, help them accomplish the goals they want to accomplish, learning how to work as a team, if you have that established you’ll be successful,” Edsall said.
As for this Saturday, Edsall will be facing off against his offensive coordinator from last year, Rhett Lashlee, who joined new SMU head coach Sonny Dykes’ staff after just one season in Storrs.
“He’s doing a good job offensively, they have good players and a good scheme,” Edsall said.
The Mustangs are 4-5 so far in 2018, 3-2 in conference. They’re looking to make a bowl game for the second year in a row after former coach Chad Morris dug them up from 1-11 depths in 2014 to 7-5 last year, only to get promptly hired away by Arkansas.
SMU brought in two offensive gurus at head coach and offensive coordinator, returned their leading passer and rusher in quarterback Ben Hicks and running back Braeden West, but their offense has not reaped great rewards so far in 2018. The Mustangs rank 119th in the country in yards per play and 84th in points per play, a symptom of players getting used to a brand-new system.
Hicks’ favorite target — receiver Courtland Sutton — moved on to the NFL last year, and No. 2 target James Proche has had to pick up the slack, catching 62 percent of his targets for 781 yards and nine of Hicks’ 15 touchdown passes of the year.
“Hicks is throwing the ball well, he’s their leader and he’s doing a good job,” Edsall said.
Of course, playing against UConn’s defense should help any offense looking to spark a possible bowl run. UConn’s opponents are averaging 2.82 yards per play more than their season average in their games against the Huskies. In other words, UConn would make an offense like Rutgers (4.1 yards per play) look like West Virginia (6.9) when they step on the field.
Strangely for SMU, their defense has been somewhat of a different story. The Mustangs have allowed a respectable 5.5 yards per play (good enough for 62nd in the nation), and have been better against the run than the pass. This is due to the excellent work by upperclassmen linebackers Kyran Mitchell and Richard Moore, who lead the team with a combined 22.5 tackles for loss and 35 run stuffs.
As UConn heads into these next couple games, Edsall will have to reckon with the class facing down the end of their college careers. The Huskies have 11 seniors, all playing their last couple games as a member of the Huskies.
“The only thing that I told them is that I appreciated everything they did, and go out and finish the season the way you’ve worked now,” Edsall said.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.