Monday, December 5, 2011

Football Falls To CIncy, Ends Season At A Disappointing 5-7

It came down to one game for the Huskies with a simple ultimatum, win and make a sixth straight bowl game or lose and be out of bowl contention with the first losing record in six years while handing rival West Virginia the conference's BCS bid. UConn's response was to not show up to this game, they came out flat defensively and the offense continued its streak of disinterested play revolving around a quarterback who just isn't suited for division one competition even in the Big East. On the first two offensive possessions the Huskies managed zero yards, two turnovers, and Cincinnati's defense had scored twice. Now throughout the season I have criticized the offense repeatedly for being inept, but after giving the ball away on their first two drives and being down 14-0 it seemed as if both sides of the ball just decided it wasn't worth it to continue playing. As a fan there is nothing worse than seeing your team no longer interested in the game and it makes it almost impossible to watch and despite some late game nonsense where Cincinnati was on the field with their third and fourth string players UConn essentially lost this game 35-12. This would normally be the part of the blog where Johnny McEntee becomes the target of criticism, but even though Saturday wasn't his best game (has he had a best game?) this loss is a team effort. Because of terrible offensive line play McEntee's horrible habit of holding the ball too long becomes astronomically worse leading to a 14-0 deficit and a complete and udder lack of a run game (14 yards total for the game), because they are down by 14 they have to throw the ball 40 times (which means more trouble), because Scott McCummings gets hurt there is no hope of good quarterback play, because the defense realizes it's a lost cause they hand over another 21 points to a mediocre offense playing with a backup quarterback, and because all of this is happening ESPN's coverage makes Paul Pasqualoni look frustrated in his team even though it's his play calling and unjustifiable reliance on a 4-3 defensive scheme against 5 wide sets.

So the season ends, and fans are discouraged because Paul is back next year with the same QB who will no doubt win the starting job despite there being more athletically gifted passers behind him (with next years recruiting class it will be 3 gifted underclassmen). In retrospect I could've been more realistic in my expectations of this team based on Pasqualoni's ending years at Syracuse where despite first round draft picks they barely reached a bowl but with the talent on UConn's roster this year combined with the relatively weak state of the conference I posted a prediction of 9-3 for the season. Based on the terrible out of conference games and the fact that I thought there were only three in conference games that the Huskies should lose, instead loses to Western Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Iowa State derailed UConn early and set the tone for expectations heading into conference play (just as a side note the combined record of those three teams is an astoundingly sad 19-17 with only Western Michigan getting above .500 but all of them making a bowl based on their win over UConn). When conference play started against West Virginia in a humiliating loss and the season record fell to 2-4 most people, including myself, wrote the season off as a lost cause considering they still had to play six conference games. Considering that once again UConn had arguably the best offensive line in the conference and an extremely promising freshmen running back who ran for over a thousand yards there is no excuse for losing seven games and continuing to play an athletically limited quarterback who can't move effectively with the ball in a run first offense.

To help illustrate I'll use some statistics from this year, Lyle McCombs had 1151 yards this season on 275 carries for an average of over four yards a carry meaning if they had given him the ball on every play they'd have a first down every three plays to add some perspective. McEntee, the most insulted player in the blog so far, completed just over 50 percent of his passes while averaging 29 attempts a game with 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions for a passer rating of 111. McCummings averaged less than one pass attempt a game, 10 total for the season, but completed 50 percent with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 248 for comparison, if there is one. What we know is that a running quarterback is much more effective in our style of offense because the step toward the line of scrimmage before a pass attempt was so effective for McCummings in his attempts and it keeps the defense from blitzing heavily because they have to stay gap sound, call it the Tebow effect, so instead of McEntee trying to scramble before ducking to inevitably take one of his 55 sacks on the year McCummings had the time and ability to survey the defense before making a solid decision down the field or rushing for his average of 4 yards a carry. Granted the inept passing attack isn't entirely the quarterbacks fault at times, while not an official statistic kept on any site I could find it seems individual game summaries put the number of dropped passes in a game for the Huskies between 6 and 9 a game which is simply an inexcusable number. For the past three to four years there have been highlight reel catches from some of UConn's wideouts but for the most part they are a liability issue which has haunted the offense for years, including last years fiesta bowl when two drops led to Oklahoma interceptions returned for touchdowns.

What do all these statistics point to, a coach who doesn't understand how to use what he has in order to win games. Instead of playing to the strengths of the team and allowing the Huskies to control time of possession and run the ball effectively against mediocre defenses all year he put the game on the inept shoulders of a junior quarterback who'd never started a game before this year, a decision everyone now understands completely. Vanderbilt is the game that highlights this more than any other for me, it's early in the season and UConn is 1-0 going on the road to a bottom level SEC team. UConn's offense is unable to do anything against the Commodores but the defense has scored enough to take the lead with ten minutes left. When your defense is playing as well as UConn's was that day with the lead and the ball what is the natural way to run the offense, run the ball use the clock win the field position battle giving your defense a rest before punting. Instead of playing conventionally Pasqualoni decides to pass, McEntee is picked off, it's returned for a touchdown tie game before the offense sputters has to punt and a deflated defense has to watch as all Vanderbilt has to do is run out the clock before kicking the game winning field goal. It seems Pasqualoni never fully grasped what his team was capable of against what he wanted them to do and because of that this team failed to meet my expectations and the expectations recent success require. This team is not very different from the one Edsall took to the Fiesta Bowl last year and yet because he refused to change his system to fit his personnel they failed to reach a bowl for the first time in six years.

With Edsall likely out at Maryland, how can UConn justify keeping Pasqualoni who had a similar failure with a team that had success the year before. Edsall inherited a team that was 9-4 last year with a bowl appearance and proceeded to go 2-10 this year in what can only be described as the second worst AQ conference in the country while Pasqualoni inherited an 8-5 team fresh off its first BCS game with a lot of talent and potential heading into this year before a 5-7 season against terrible opponents in a terrible conference and failing to reach a bowl since Dan Orlovsky played at UConn six years ago. Time for new blood in Storrs.

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