After the UConn Huskies Football team lost a last second heartbreaker on Sunday on the road at Vanderbilt, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the gutsy performance. This UConn team looks completely different over the past 10 quarters and is starting to show signs of life and hope for the remainder of the season and next season. While I thought the failure at the beginning of the season was due to inferior talent, in reality, it was inferior coaching?
The beginning of this season was historically bad for the Huskies. Through the first 3 games of the season UConn was outscored 132-28 and scored 0 pts against their 2 FBS opponents. It appeared the Huskies just didn’t have the talent to compete with anyone and the sky was definitely falling in Storrs (you can see my reaction after 3 games here). Then, Randy Edsall “retired” early, Lou Spanos took over and things began to shift.
The beginning of the Spanos era looked a lot like the Edsall tenure with a 0-pt first half against the Army Black Knights at Michie Stadium. Apparently another 40-pt deficit was what pushed UConn over the edge and they come out in the 2nd half motivated and ready to role. Since halftime of the Army game, UConn has outscored opponents 71-64 in 10 quarters. If it wasn’t for a missed 2-pt conversion against Wyoming and a last second Vandy FG, UConn could be 2-4 instead of 0-6. They have beaten the spread 3 straight games, in one case by 30+ points and have energy and offensive creativity.
The most likely explanation for the shift is the Edsall to Spanos transition. Unlike Edsall, Spanos is high-energy and exudes confidence that is contagious. He’s not afraid to make a bold play call on offense and air the ball out as needed, the opposite of Edsall’s uber-conservative run-first offense that was both boring and ineffective (i.e. three rushes up the middle and punt). The more creative offense has clearly allowed the players to feel more ownership and use all their talents on the field. That’s a critical piece when you aren’t recruiting SEC-caliber guys in the program – maximize the skills of the players on the field.
Spanos rightly made the switch at QB and RB to freshman in order to look toward the future. The switch was significant and has proven to be correct, but what’s most interesting is what happened when starting QB Tyler Phommachanh went down with an injury on the 2nd drive against Vandy. Senior Steven Krajewski came in and for the most part, played well. It seems like a small thing to have a backup QB play well in a game, but it shows that despite being jumped on the depth chart by a freshman, Spanos made sure Krajewski was ready to go and had the confidence to perform and lead a big comeback in the 4th quarter. That’s a product of leadership and a player’s confidence in his coach, something that seemed to be missing over the last several years.
While Edsall did a lot for this program early on in the FBS transition, his performance as a coach at times near the end of his first tenure and the entirety of his second tenure was poor, at best. His inability to adapt his style to his personnel surely cost UConn wins over the years and the rash of transfers away from the program during the last 5-years is a gigantic red flag. A few is normal, but 25+ transfers after the 2019 season was just sad and telling as well as stunting for a programs development. If you were a manager of 100 employees and 25% of your direct reports left around the same time, maybe it’s worth looking in the mirror and taking time to update your resume.
With a winnable game on Saturday against UMass, UConn will hopefully take the next step and get a W under Lou Spanos and continue to grow toward next season and a new head coach. There is certainly a lot more hope and confidence on the Huskies sideline than at any other point over the last few years with Randy Edsall gone and as a fan, the product on the field is significantly more enjoyable to watch. Now that the program is pointed in the right direction, every step is a step in the right direction.