Monday, September 8, 2014

13 Reasons to Feel Good About UConn Football

On Saturday, UConn won a 19-16 decision against Stony Brook that could be politely described as ugly. You could use terms like gruesome, disgusting, hard to watch, mind-numbing, etc. etc. to describe a game that felt like it took six days and made me slightly embarrassed to have my girlfriend witness me watch such a travesty on a laptop.

In the end, UConn is 1-1 with Boise State coming to town for a game that will on ABC for reasons no mortal man can fathom. I could easily have ripped off a list of reasons why the start is cause for concern, but what's the fun in that?
diaco uconn
Instead, I've listed 13 reasons – one for each basketball title – why UConn should be encouraged from the first two weeks of the 2014 season.

They Won a Game
This bears repeating because this didn't happen a year ago. Last year, an FCS team came to the Rent and completely eviscerated UConn. This year, UConn was clearly superior to its FCS cupcake. Remember, it took until November and 9 painful losses before the Huskies broke through to the win column. UConn has a win before the first NFL Sunday of the year – how can this be bad?

Furthermore, the whole season is predicated on changing the culture and removing every memory of the Paul Pasqualoni era from the minds of every player, coach, administrator and fan. When you don't win a lot, it can be hard to get into the mindset of believing you should win. Yeah, that's an old cliché but one that is very, very true.

They Won a Game...with the backup quarterback
Chandler Whitmer did not play well. But he's not the starting quarterback. Who knows what the injury situation will eventually be with Casey Cochran and if it necessitates Tim Boyle burning a redshirt. All we know is that Whitmer did just enough – see, one perfect touchdown throw – to win the game. I would embed the Herm Edwards clip, but you know why they play the game.

Bob Diaco is the perfect coach for this job
I was at the BYU game in person so it was fascinating to watch Diaco on television, from his spectacular halftime interview to his constant "coaching up" of the Huskies. Literally every time they showed Diaco interacting with the team, he was upbeat, and clapping, and instilling confidence.

Some situations need a taskmaster, like how Charlie Strong is cleaning house at Texas or how Brian Kelly had to reinvent the Notre Dame program after Charlie Weis. In this case, the UConn program had been demoralized. I'll never forget the team coming out for the second half of last year's Michigan game with the same excitement that I have walking to the Metro on a Tuesday morning. They didn't believe in that coaching staff and, man, it's hard to put in maximum effort when you don't think the coaches will put you in the best position to win.

It has been all positive from Diaco so far. It will continue to be. It has to be. It's hard to overstate the "scorched earth" job that Pasqualoni did on the program. It's not going to happen overnight.

UConn has played a lot of young kids
I didn't realize how young UConn is until I scanned over the program during the BYU game and saw a whole bunch of FR and SO on the roster. In the second half of that game, we were constantly checking the roster as Diaco rotated in a bunch of guys who had never played before. That experience will be invaluable as he evaluates talents and discovers, in game conditions, who can play and what their strengths are.

Is that going to be an eye-pleasing process? I believe Saturday answered that.

The defense dominated Stony Brook (for a while)
Forgiving the final touchdown, which was the ultimate sign of a team learning how to win, the UConn defense dominated Stony Brook. If not for offensive turnovers, it would have been 19-0 after three quarters and the entire fallout from the game from fans and analysts is a whole lot different.

Diaco is a defensive coach. UConn has more talent on that side of the ball. If they are going to get those elusive six wins this year, it will be thanks to a strong defense. Randy Edsall used that formula to perfection while he was here.

It's also worth noting that while UConn's defense in 2011 and 2012 were among the best, last year's unit was...not.

The defensive line is getting a strong push
Why did Notre Dame shut out Michigan? Because Michigan couldn't run the ball and Devin Gardner was under constant pressure. Why did Virginia Tech stifle Ohio State? Because they harassed JT Barrett into many, many bad throws. Why do SEC defenses dominate? Because they control the line of scrimmage.

In the college game, a defense without a good defensive line is absolutely dead. In its first two games, the UConn defensive line has arguably been the team's strongest unit.

As was floating through Twitter last week, BYU coaches complimented UConn's front by declaring that those were "real dudes" they played against. With a strength identified, you can start to exploit it, especially against the weaker AAC competition that lurks.

The receivers are getting open
The most frustrating aspect of Saturday was the open receivers that were missed. That's not great. But the fact that UConn receivers were getting open is a huge difference (with the exception of Geremy Davis) from a year ago. In fact, the offense seems to allow for throws more than 10 yards downfield, which appeared to be forbidden last year.

UConn has more than 1 running play
The only running play UConn had for three years was the middle handoff from the shotgun. It worked approximately zero times last year. The running game isn't great yet, but there is certainly more variety. The offensive line is clearly the biggest weak spot right now but there's hope.

Arkeel Newsome has all types of potential
Sometimes, you can sense it. When Newsome gets the ball in open space, you get the feeling he could always go the distance. He hasn't yet, obviously, but he had several big plays against Stony Brook to follow a few brief, fleeting moments of excitement versus BYU. He's played two games. He played high school football in Connecticut. This is a giant leap up in competition for him.

But you get the feeling that Newsome has the it factor that could place him on a level of past UConn great running backs. He has to keep developing but it's been a long three years since UConn had anyone with that spark. Between Newsome and Josh Marriner – they might have two.

Geremy Davis is an NFL receiver
geremy davisThe dude catches everything thrown in his direction. He will play on Sundays next year. I believe he is a huge reason that receivers are getting open because he commands so much attention.

Let's put it this way: a college offense with 1 NFL player is better than a college offense with 0 NFL players.

BYU may be really, really good
I saw a sportswriter tweet that UConn put up a better fight against BYU than Texas did. Bring on Texas!

In all seriousness, BYU is a Top 25 team that may not lose a game this year. It's tough to gauge UConn based on that opponent followed by a bad win against Stony Brook. All I know is they competed very well against BYU and, if not for two brutal first-half turnovers, that might be a more competitive game.

If you haven't been paying attention, UConn needs to cut way down on the turnovers in a hurry.

The AAC is really, really bad
The AAC (pronounced AAK) took it on the chin Saturday. If UConn was trying to compete for a New Year’s Day bowl, this would be a bad thing. UConn is not. UConn needs to find six wins. It's a lot easier to find six wins if the competition is no good.

What we saw Saturday confirmed that there are six potential wins on the UConn schedule. Of the AAC bottom dwellers from last year, only Memphis looks vastly improved. A toss-up game vs SMU could be an easy victory since the Mustangs have already tossed in the towel on the season.

Looking at September – USF became the first team in years to lose a game while +5 in the turnover margin and Temple lost at home to Navy in a game that was not as close as the final indicated.

Regardless of the Boise result this weekend – I said UConn would win in the preseason and I think it'll be close, at least – the schedule still says UConn could find itself 3-2 after the first month. Yes, they could just as easily wind up 1-4 but the opportunity is there. It wasn't last year.

UConn fans are upset after a win

I think deep down, every UConn fan knows it's more fun to complain when you're 1-1 instead of 0-2.

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