|Photo © 2010 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports|
For the past 6 years, when the UConn vs. West Virginia game pops up on the Huskies schedule, I have a gut feeling that the game will end poorly. For 6 years now, I have been right. In 2009, the Huskies gave up a huge 50+ run to Noel Devine in the final minutes to blow their lead and for the 6th straight time, my hopes were shattered. On Friday night on ESPN2, I had a gut feeling again that maybe this was exactly the game the Huskies needed to turn their below .500 record around and make a push for a bowl game. With 1st string, relegated to 3rd string, back to 1st string QB Zach Frazer and a plethora of injuries throughout the club, the team needed to play a solid game on both offense and defense. After falling behind 10-0, the Huskies defense gained momentum and stepped up when they needed them the most for a thrilling OT victory, 16-13. It is now official, in it\’s short span in Division 1/FBS, UConn has beaten every team in the Big East at least once. (more after the jump)
The game was more than just a win on the stat sheet and a return to a .500 record at 4-4, it was the come-from-behind, tough it out type of contest this team is capable of in Big East play. Although the league is as weak as it has been in years, the West Virginia Mountaineers are still a feared team as well as UConn\’s next opponent in 2 weeks on ESPN, the Pittsburgh Panthers. Confidence is running high in Storrs, CT and now the Huskies have 2 weeks to work hard and get prepped for their Pitt match-up, the toughest test this season. After all the controversy with spying in practice and the media calling for Edsall\’s head, the Huskies seemed to shut everyone up and can now set their sights on the potential this season and not just look to rebuild for 2011. Even better, the Big East recognized the Huskies for their great performance, by giving UConn the Offensive Player of the Week (Jordan Todman), Defensive Player of the Week in Sio Moore and the Special Teams Player of the Week (Dave Teggart). Not a bad week, eh?
The best part of Friday night\’s victory is the fact that QB Zach Frazer was able to get back on the field as the starter and with limited reps in practice sitting 3rd on the depth chart the past few weeks, successfully lead the team to victory against the tough Mountaineer defense. As a Senior, Frazer was given the opportunity to start, but was so ineffective, was benched after 3+ games at the helm of the offense. There were mixed reports of attitude issues with Frazer, but on Friday he came ready to play, settling in the second half and moving the offense down the field. No thanks to some of Edsall\’s poor play-calls on 3rd down, Frazer was able to do just enough for the victory. If Frazer continues to produce, he will likely reclaim his starter role, given QB Mike Box\’s concussion and inexperience. In that same vein, once Box is healthy, Frazer better continue to perform, because he is going to be on a short leash and pulled if things spiral in the wrong direction.
Let\’s go back to the play-calling during the 1st half of Friday\’s game and take a look at why the UConn fans at The Rent were booing. They were upset about the same thing I was in my living room, the ultra-conservative play-calling from the UConn coaching staff on 3rd down. Almost regardless of distance-to-go, Edsall chose to run the ball, rarely picking up enough yardage to move the chains. In a 3rd and 8 situation, the offense was completely stalled by a draw-run play or a simple power run up the gut. Earth to Randy, it doesn\’t work. The opponent loads the box and usually stops the run for a yard or 2 max, if not a loss on the play. I understand that RB Jordan Todman and the running game is the Huskies\’ bread and butter, but on 3rd a long? Really? Edsall has a tendency to be too conservative at times in the game, leading to a stalled offensive drive that is frustrating.
It isn\’t a coincidence that the best few offensive drives on Friday for UConn were in the end of the 1st half and into the 2nd half when Edsall let Frazer loose to throw short and mid-level passes. The only way to have an effective running-game against top notch opponents is to also have a mid and long-level passing game to open up the defense and allow for an extra few yards on each run. If the defense is forced to play the pass as well, they can\’t load the box as much and it allows speedy Jordan Todman to get a few extra yards and a chance to break a longer gain as he accelerates and penetrates the 2nd level of the defense. If UConn continues to run on every 3rd down, they will continue to be stopped on most of them and drives will stall because Edsall won\’t take a risk and let Frazer or Box to throw a 10-15 yard pass for a 1st down. UConn isn\’t always going to have as many offensive opportunities as they did on Friday and if they convert the same amount on 3rd down against Pitt, it won\’t a good game for the Huskies.
All in all, it was a huge win to turn around this season and in the history of the program. The Huskies have now gotten over the West Virginia hump and now set their sights to their 2nd straight national TV game against Pitt on Veteran\’s Day, November 11th. No better way to honor those who served this country than to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers at home on a Thursday night. Bring it on.