After beginning the season in difficult conditions against a very good Fresno State team and getting blown out, everyone was looking forward to facing a much easier FCS opponent in Holy Cross. The home opener was sure to be more interesting and maybe even get the Huskies into the W column, but Holy Cross had other plans. After a tightly contested first half, Holy Cross made a 3rd quarter statement and pulled away for the upset over the Huskies. Let’s look at 3 major takeaways from the game.
Jack Zergiotis Pocket Awareness and Mistakes
Overall, QB Jack Zergiotis made some better throws and showed off his talent more in this game after a weak performance at Fresno State. That being said, he again made some major mistakes leading to Holy Cross points and complete momentum shifts. For the 2nd straight week, Zergiotis was strip-sacked leading to a defensive fumble recovery. Last week the defense took the ball for a TD, this week their subsequent drive resulted in a TD. In both cases he was completely unaware of the pressure he was under and chose to leave the ball unprotected, which is just asking for trouble.
This week Zergiotis had a major problem with interceptions as well. He threw 3 INTs, including 2 in the 2nd half, and halted any chance of a comeback the Huskies had. He needs to clean up the mistakes if he wants to have any success at the collegiate level. If he turns the ball over 4 times against the Crusaders, how bad will it get against better FBS defenses?
While frustrating, he did throw for 174 yards and appeared to have some great chemistry with freshman Keelan Marion hitting him for 2 TDs including a 50-yard strike and a nice back of the end zone catch. This was a big step forward from game 1, but is overshadowed by the mistakes.
Disappointing Running Game
This one makes me scratch my head more than anything else with this team. The Huskies have one of the better RBs in recent history within a program that has produced some solid RBs and for some reason, can’t get any consistent running game going through 2 weeks. Kevin Mensah was poised to carry this offense in 2021 and to this point, he’s been a flop. In 2 games he has rushed for 109 yards on 32 attempts, a mediocre 3.4 yards per carry.
RB Nate Carter hasn’t exactly been lighting it up either backing up Mensah. He has gained just 38 yards on 13 attempts, an even worse 2.9 yards per carry. The issue seems to be with the offense line run blocking, which hasn’t been good. Against Fresno State, it makes sense why the line was outmatched, but to not be able to open holes against an FCS opponent is concerning. Usually one of the big differences between FCS and FBS teams are the offensive and defensive lines. It was clear on Saturday that UConn’s offensive line didn’t have a significant advantage over the Holy Cross defensive line and now 2 weeks in, run blocking is a clear weakness on this team.
If the running game continues to struggle, it will get harder for Zergiotis and the offense to have consistency and balance and we’ll see more single-digit scoring totals this year than we want.
Defense Giving Up the Big Play at the Wrong Time
For whatever reason, the Huskies defense continues to give up big plays to the opposing offense at the most inopportune times. The biggest in this game was the 76-yard scramble by Holy Cross QB Matthew Slutka. The Huskies defense missed several tackles on the 4th quarter run that led to a TD and a 10-pt lead for the Crusaders, putting the game away. Tackling fundamentals seemed to be missing and point to a lack of execution. I’m not sure if the coaching staff is not getting through to the players or the players are just making mental mistakes, but they will have a hard time winning anything if they continue to allow average quarterbacks free reign.
Even the best offenses can’t overcome continual scoring pressure from the opposing team and this is definitely not the best offense. The defense needs to contain the opposition and limit the quick-hitters to give themselves the best chance to hand the ball back to the offense without allowing points. If they held Sluka on that drive, they would have had a chance to give Zergiotis the ball back in a one score game with a chance to tie or win in the 4th quarter.
It was certainly not the result the Huskies wanted and it really puts the idea of a completely defeated season back on the table. Randy Edsall needs to get his team settled and prepped for a tough home matchup with Purdue on Saturday at 3pm.