GETTING “PASSED” BY — Towson had two. Maryland had six. Buffalo had three. South Florida had one. Cincinnati had eight and Central Florida had five.
What are those numbers, you ask? They are completed passes of 20 yards or more against the UConn secondary this season. It’s a number that is just one of many causes for the Huskies troubles this season as they continue to struggle to find a victory in what has become a lost season.
“That’s a big number. Obviously, we’re concerned with it,” interim head coach T.J. Weist said on his Sunday post-game conference call. “We felt like we’d had some depth issues from that standpoint. We like the fact that we got Andrew Adams back and he’s been playing better, but we have to make better plays. We’ve been out of position, we haven’t played as smart. We’ve played some young players who have made some mistakes … we have to get better.”
Towson had completions of 23 and 45 yards while Maryland’s C.J. Brown picked the Huskies secondary apart with completions of 26, 21, 36, 21, 22 and 26 yards. Buffalo had completions of 54, 22 and 36 yards while USF had a 20-yarder and Cincinnati connected for 56, 41, 30, 32, 27, 28, 24 and 37 yards.
And in Saturday’s 62-17 loss to the Knights, the UConn secondary was burned for completions of 50, 22, 61, 20 and 25 yards.
Eight of those completions have gone for touchdowns.
Despite the loss of Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz, the Huskies had returning experience in the secondary with senior cornerback Taylor Mack, junior safety Ty-Meer Brown and junior cornerback Byron Jones, along with sophomores Tyree Clark, Andrew Adams and Wilbert Lee.
But Adams suffered a knee injury in preseason and missed four games and Mack suffered a shoulder stinger against Michigan and managed just a few plays against South Florida. He hasn’t played since.
In their places are freshmen Obi Melifonwu and Jhavon Williams. Needless to say, UConn’s youth is getting served.
“If you’re going against a good team and good players and they make a good play, there’s a chance the thing can blow up on you,” defensive coordinator Hank Hughes said after the game. “And big plays can snowball. You have to make plays. You have to be in position to make plays. Between myself and our players, it’s on us to do a better job. When you give up those kinds of points, certainly it’s not good enough.”
CATCHING UP – At Wilson Westlawn High School in Harrisburg, Pa., Brian Lemelle holds state records for career receptions (269) and yards (4,529) and his 38 career touchdowns are good for second overall. Yet, before Saturday’s game against Central Florida, he didn’t have a single reception at UConn.
However, Lemelle finally got his first collegiate catch – and his first collegiate touchdown – in that 62-17 loss to the Knights. Lemelle caught a crossing pass over the middle and out-raced two UCF defenders into the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown, along with catching a 17-yard pass and an 18-yard pass from backup quarterback Casey Cochran. Add in a seven-yard run and Lemelle had 88 yards of total offense – basically playing the last quarter and a half.
That display had Weist “re-evaluating” giving Lemelle more time at receiver over these final five games.
“I thought Brian came in and really stood out,” Weist said. “He made some tough catches and he took that one ball underneath and took it for a touchdown. He’s a heck of a football player. The kid had over 300 catches in high school, set the state record. The kid knows how to catch the football and he knows what to do with it after. We’ve just got to get him into the game more and get him some more time.”
In addition, it might be time for the other freshmen receivers – Noel Thomas (two catches, 26 yards), John Green (4-31) and Dhameer Bradley (5-31) – more time as well.
“I think Noel Thomas and Dhameer (Bradley), have been consistent players, they’ve been getting better and better,” Weist said. “When you get into a game like this when you get behind so fast, and every play is important, so I feel like at times, still being a receivers coach, that I have to keep my top guys in there.
“They did get some playing time late but I’d like to get to a point where when you think your offense is doing good and you roll more guys in there and more guys can be making plays. That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t put the young guys in as early as I’d like to. When you get three-and-outs, it’s hard to get some rhythm going. But I do have to get them more playing time to see what they can do.”
POOR POSITIONING – The first nine — count ‘em, nine – times, Central Florida had the ball Saturday, they scored. Seven touchdowns and two field goals. And on five of those nine scoring drives, the Knights didn’t even have to go down half the field.
“This was definitely our worst game offensively in putting the defense in bad positions,” Weist said. “Not only did we have three-and-outs, we had turnovers, unacceptable turnovers that were just putting our defense in a bad position.”
Thanks to two interceptions and a fumble, along with a couple of poor punts, UCF started drives at the UConn 49-, 31-, 44-, 43- and 25-yard lines and scored each time en route to that 62-17 pounding.
“They had short fields and that contributed to everything, everything just kind of fell apart,” Weist said. “We can talk about how the defense didn’t do this or didn’t do that but half of that is the offense putting them in bad positions. And not having long drives and not keeping them off the field. You finish the game with 23 minutes time of possession that means our defense is out there a long time, a long time.”
Overall, UCF had the ball for 36:14 and ran 73 plays.
“When you compound that with the field position they had, it’s no surprise that they went down and scored like they did,” Weist said.