Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: arkeel newsome

UConn Football Comes Up Short in Tampa

Photo from UConnHuskies.com

Photo from UConnHuskies.com

After a slow first half with a solid defensive showing, UConn looked to take back the game in the 3rd quarter against USF on Saturday night in Tampa. In the course of a 2+ minute span, UConn had an interception (Obi Melifonwu) leading to a 70-yard Arkeel Newsome receiving TD and then forced a fumble leading to another Newsome score, this time on the ground. Just like that, in a game that UConn looked flat, they were leading 17-14 in the 2nd half. Unfortunately for Husky fans, that was where the joy and momentum ended.

Despite 4 forced turnovers for UConn, the South Florida Bulls flexed their muscles and re-took the lead on an 8-yard QB run for Quinton Flowers, who was too much to handle for the Huskies. On the day, the South Florida QB was 23 for 37 through the air for 213 yards, 2 TDs and 2 interceptions, which was ok, but it’s what he did on the ground that killed UConn (16 carries for 157 yards and 3 TDs). Historically, mobile and athletic QBs pick apart the UConn defense and Saturday was no exception.

The high-scoring Bulls kept pouring it on and eventually won 42-27, marking the 11th straight game with at least 35 points, 11th straight game with 440+ yards of offense, and the 12th straight game with 200+ rushing yards. They moved to 6-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to powerhouse Florida State. USF looks like a legitimate top-tier team in FBS and they had a real shot at finishing the year with just 1 loss.

On the flip side, there were some positive things for UConn. The defense forced 4 turnovers after having forced just 3 in the first 6 games of the season, a trend they need to see continue in order to get 3 more wins and become bowl eligible. On the offensive side of the ball, Bryant Shirreffs was 22 for 39 passing with 306 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions. A very strong night for the junior who helped UConn put up 27 points, their highest output of the season. He was looking to pass first most of the night, rather than just tuck and run every single down. When he takes the time and has the blocking, he can find receivers down field for big gains.

In the end, very few people had UConn winning this game on the road against a very powerful offensive team. The final line was -20 for USF, so in that sense, UConn did better than expected and frankly held on longer than I would have thought. There were some encouraging signs going forward for this squad. UConn comes home to play UCF (3-3) next weekend as they look to climb back to .500 on the year.

When a W Isn’t Really a W: What UConn Needs to Improve

David Hahn/Icon Sportswire

David Hahn/Icon Sportswire

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.

Optimism for UConn Football in 2016

Bob Diaco

Entering his 3rd season at the helm of the UConn Huskies football program, Bob Diaco has a lot to prove this season. He has attempted to add some energy and excitement around the team and the overall program, and the results have been improving, but just ok. In his first season, the team went 2-10 thanks in large part to his predecessor and a team lacking veteran talent, but last season he began to put his stamp on the program going 6-7 and making his first bowl appearance as a head coach. Below .500 isn’t anything to write home about, but +4 wins in a year is an accomplishment. Now that he has won 6 games and made a bowl, the pressure is on to at least maintain that level of success and take the next step forward.

Year 3 is when a new coach’s recruits start to take roles on the team and the needle moves (or doesn’t). With 10 of the 11 starting offensive players returning, Diaco will show the college football world the impact he can have as a player development coach. The skill players on offense are poised for better seasons, led by redshirt Junior QB Bryant Shirreffs. The team is his for this and next season, he just needs to control the tempo and not make make bad decisions. He has returning weapons around him, RB Arkeel Newsome, WR Noel Thomas, and 2 strong TEs Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers. If he can play smart and get the ball in his playmakers’ hands, then this offense could dominate time of possession and, gasp, put up some points (key word is some).

The UConn defense continues to be the staple of the program. They were one of the best defenses in the AAC conference last season and continue to breed playmakers at all levels of the defense. For fans of the team, there are many familiar names returning, including Foley Fatukasi and Mikal Myers up front, Junior Joseph and Jamar Summers at linebacker, and Obi Melifonwu and Jhavon Williams in the secondary. The heart of the defense is very strong and will have a serious impact on both the run and pass game. With a strong, but not high-powered offense, the defense needs to be stingy in order for this team to win 6 games and be playing in bowl season once again.

Overall, the UConn Huskies appear to be in a good place ready to make a bigger name for themselves on a national stage. They are a long way from being ranked, but could turn some heads in 2016 as the program continues to rise.