Two weeks ago, I wrote my notebook on how the offensive play-calling might not have lost them the game, but it certainly didn’t give them a chance to win it. I didn’t think it could get any worse. I seem to have jumped the gun.
There were two plays that stand out as those that probably cost UConn the game, so let’s dissect them both.
Play No. 1: Fourth & Goal from the Houston 2-yard line
Really, this is an indictment of not only the fourth-down play but also the three that led to it. UConn was set up with a great opportunity following a Kevin Mensah 58-yard rush down to the Houston 4-yard line, but their next four plays were about as much of a train wreck as one could imagine. First, they tried to rush it with Thompkins, but it went for no gain. They then tried a screen to Mensah, but that too failed, falling incomplete. On third down, they decided it would be a good idea to go back to the run, but Thompkins was stopped two yards short of the goal line.
So, on fourth down, trailing by seven, what do they call? Well, since it worked so well the other two times on the drive, they decided to run Thompkins right up the gut, where he, predictably, got stuffed. This is nothing against Thompkins, he had a great game, touching the ball 20-plus times and gaining over 100 yards and a touchdown. But this is not his strength. Thompkins excels when he has room to work and make defenders miss, which is why he is often used in the passing game and always as a kick returner. But he is not a power back. That’s Mensah, and if you were going to decide to plunge up the middle on an all-or-nothing play (which itself is a highly questionable call), use him.
I’ll put it like this: On 4th-and-2, UConn decided to use their 5-foot-8, 185 pounds elusive back on a telegraphed run up the middle. It was like if in that same situation, the Titans opted to go with Dion Lewis instead of Derrick Henry, the Bears used Tarik Cohen instead of David Montgomery or the Patriots used James White instead of Sony Michel.
This next one, well, I don’t know if it’s worse, but it’s definitely close. With about 9:30 remaining in the game, UConn was faced with a fourth and six at the Houston 22, still down just seven. And, in typical hyper-conservative fashion, they opted to attempt a field goal.
Sure, nine-plus minutes is still a decent amount of time to get the ball back, but six yards is by no means insurmountable, and at some point when you’re sitting at 1-5 with your first real chance to win since the second game of the season, you have to take a risk. It really doesn’t matter that UConn ended up missing the 40-yard field goal, it’s a problem they even attempted it.
At this point in the game (and really, the season), so what if you don’t convert? You’ll be down seven points instead of four. After the drive, you still need a stop and a touchdown, all the field goal does is defend against Houston kicking and making a field goal of their own. Why didn’t they go for it? Well, I’ll let head coach Randy Edsall explain.
“I didn’t think we could make it.”
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