After watching the UConn Huskies barely squeak out a victory against the Maine Black Bears on Thursday night, I didn’t feel happy or even a little bit satisfied. I decided to wait before writing about the game hoping that I would feel better about the performance a few days later, but I still just don’t. It was ugly at times and there were several moments of confusion and uncertainty, on offense and defense. Being bailed out by a Bobby Puyol FG is nice, but doesn’t erase the overall performance.
I know it was just 1 game, but here are some of my concerns going forward based on the 1st 60 minutes of the season.
- If Bryant Shirreffs continues to run as often as he did against Maine, he will not start all of the Huskies games this season. Shirreffs took a ton of big hits and put himself in some dangerous positions on Thursday, a bad injury waiting to happen. Some designed runs make sense and occasionally pulling the ball down and running is the safest option with good pass coverage, but it appeared he barely read his receivers on most non-designed runs. He would drop back, take 1 look at 1 receiver, then pull it down and run. He must be more patient and make more than 1-read in the passing game if this team has any shot against higher-level competition.
- The much-hyped UConn defense was meh at best. Maine found huge holes in the secondary as they net 269 passing yards and had 2 big 40+ yard completions. The Black Bears averaged 14.2 yards per completion, which is just way too high for this defense. The D stuffed the run quite effectively, but without a solid pass defense, opponents with even better QBs and receivers will eat them alive. Missed assignments and bad coverage technique needs to improve quickly.
- UConn didn’t use their TEs enough in the passing game. The Huskies have 4 primary TEs who rotated throughout the game but caught 3 total passes. Bob Diaco loves to run 2+ TE sets to help with the run game, but if you focused a bit more on getting the ball into their hands in the passing game, it would open up holes for Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson in the run game and keep Shirreffs upright in the pocket more often. Quick curls or slants that pick up 4 or 5 yards would make a huge difference on 1st and 2nd downs and lessen the pressure to run constantly.
At the end of the day, a mark in the W column looks the same whether you upset a top opponent or barely beat a low-level one, but the first game of a football season makes a statement, good or bad. For the Huskies, game one was concerning.