Last week against UCF, Kevin Mensah was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dreadful game for the Huskies, taking 23 carries for 123 yards, good for an average of 5.3 yards per rush.
This week against USF, he had a harder time finding space, taking his 21 carries for just 79 yards, an average of 3.3 yards per rush. Was it because UConn telegraphed their play calling and leaned heavily on the run, sometimes almost exclusively? Well, you’re not going to hear me say no.
Through the first three quarters, they rushed the ball on the first play of the drive seven out of 10 times. Of those seven times, just one went for over five yards.
Sure, Mensah, Art Thompkins and wide receiver Cam Ross combined for one fewer rush than quarterback Mike Beaudry had pass attempts, but 11 of Beaudry’s 29 attempts came in the fourth quarter when the game was already well over. In that same time, the thunder and lightning duo only had three carries total.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that Mensah is the best player on offense and that in order to win the game, he needs to be featured. Both him and Thompkins should be heavily involved, but at some point, you have to run more than draws.
Often times when they did decide to throw the ball, it was just a screen or a dump off, as they rarely aired the ball out downfield, but head coach Randy Edsall did say he wished that quarterback Mike Beaudry would have aired the ball out more.
“Sometimes, when there’s one-on-one coverage, let it fly and let the guy go try to make a play,” Edsall said. “Everyone is not going to be open by five yards.”
The Huskies also elected to punt multiple times from inside USF territory, including one on the first drive of the game, from the USF 43-yard-line. Sure, it was a 4th and 11, but the offense had been having some success moving the ball, and 11 yards isn’t insurmountable in the least. Instead, they punted it for a touchback, saving themselves 23 whole yards.
Two drives later they punted from the USF 40 on another 4th and 11, saving themselves 25 yards after Magliozzi sent it out of bounds at the USF 15-yard line.
However, the most egregious of which came with 13 minutes left in the third quarter. The whole drive was really a microcosm of the game for the Huskies. USF got the ball to start the half, but the defense stood tall, forcing a three-and-out. The ensuing punt that gave the offense the ball four yards short of Bulls territory, which, for a Huskies’ team that was at the time down by 13, was about as much as you could hope for.
The offense came out with a really inspiring play call — a Mensah rush that went for no gain. They did mix it up on the next play, as Beaudry completed a pass to Ross for an 18-yard gain and the first. What did they call next? A Mensah rush for no gain on first down and a Mensah rush for a loss of two on second down. They tried to throw it on third down, but at that point, it was a 3rd and 12 and the pass couldn’t have been more telegraphed.
They then punted from the USF 37-yard-line, which went for a touchback and in the end, they saved themselves 17 yards vs. if they went for it and got no yards. A touchdown here would have cut the game to one score, and even if they went for it and didn’t convert, it would have at least shown they weren’t afraid to try to let the offense make a play in a crucial game situation.
In case you were wondering, two of the three punts mentioned above had their ensuing USF drives end in touchdowns anyway, including the one in the third quarter.
I’ll admit, hindsight is always 20-20, which is something Edsall alluded to after the game.
“When it’s 4th and 12 it’s hard to go for it, I think,” Edsall said. “If we can punt the ball and pin them back … and then after it doesn’t work out you say ‘oh yeah, I should have gone for it.’ … Down and distance is a big thing. There were times I was gonna go for it on fourth down, and then we take a sack or we lose yardage.”
Even so, they were double-digit underdogs losing by more than the spread. It would have been nice to see them take a risk before the fourth quarter. That’s not even an exaggeration — the first time the Huskies went for it on fourth down was on a 4th and five on the USF 11 early in the fourth, and even though they didn’t get it, it was the right call.
Watching the offense run was like watching someone only use the “Ask Madden” section of any given “Madden NFL” video game, and the person just selecting the same inside run that the computer keeps suggesting saying to themselves: “This time it will work.”
This pattern was easily visible to anyone watching. Boneyardigans (@UConnFanDotCom) pointed it out during the game Sunday in a tweet: “It’s not that Randy is a bad coach, it’s that he’s an unimaginative bad coach. An imaginative bad coach would win by accident sometimes.”
Inside zone, inside zone, screen, punt, repeat. There, you watched the UConn-USF game.
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31