There is no good news coming out of Friday's 40-10 loss to Syracuse. The defense was steamrolled in the run game and invisible in the pass game but their ineptitude paled in comparison to what the offense couldn't do. A week after Max DeLorenzo carried the ball 23 times for 91 yards, he didn't see the field against an aggressive, blitzing-on-almost-every-down Syracuse defense that wouldn't allow Lyle McCombs into open space where he's most dangerous. He ended the night with 12 carries for 16 yards.
Then there's the wildcat, which is the football equivalent of driving a DeLorean to work because there once was a time when it was new, innovative, and seemingly unstoppable. Unfortunately, Huskies offensive coordinator George DeLeone is still stuck in the '80s, though maybe he's slowly coming to that realization. Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings rushed just one time on a play late in the first quarter that might've changed the complexion of the game.
Facing a 2nd and 4 from the Syracuse 7-yard line, DeLeone dialed up a McCummings read option. Like virtually every time the Huskies have run it previously this season, the defense had little trouble shutting it down. Four-yard loss. So not only did UConn effectively waste a play, starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer returned to the field facing a 3rd and 8 from the Syracuse 11, promptly completed a five-yard pass, and the Huskies had to settle for a field goal. It was 6-3 instead of 7-6.
But that series was a microcosm of the evening. Syracuse's defensive game plan boiled down to this: stop the wildcat and blitz Whitmer silly, and see if UConn's pass catchers can beat man coverage.
“They are going to shift and move (before the snap) to try to get us into defensive checks,” Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said Thursday. “When they do we’re going to pressure them early to throw them off. When the quarterback’s not pressure he has great timing and throws. This team will throw the ball downfield more on first down than any team we have faced.”
It was a resounding success. Whitmer was only sacked twice, but if he had taken those kind of hits on the street arrests would've been made and felony charges would've been filed. It was a beating.
UConn had no answer for the Orange's blitzes and the only respite came after the Huskies trailed by three scores late in the game and Syracuse called off the dogs. Whatever, it doesn't portend good things for the rest of the season.
"(We) didn’t do as well in the protection as we needed to, that was a factor in the game," coach Paul Pasqualoni said afterwards. "I thought Chandler was tough, I thought he hung in there. I thought he got hit a couple of times and kept coming back. But there’s no question that once we got behind and we had to throw it, the pressure and the disruption, was an issue. Give them credit, they played really well today. I thought they played fast, they played well in their own building and I just thought we were fighting uphill all day."
Unlike last season, this isn't about finding a better quarterback. Whitmer's doing the best with what he's got. The coaching staff hasn't done him many favors. Did he miss some throws? Yeah, of course so. Could he make better decisions? Certainly. But it's fair to question the game plan when the quarterback spends much of the evening on his back.
“We have to improve on a lot of things, we have to watch the film, see what we did wrong," Whitmer said. "We just didn’t do a lot of things well. … When you get beat like that, you’re not going to be all joyful but if you the least bit competitive, you’re not going to be happy but we still have some games left and we have to come out fighting to win those games."
Those are just words at this point. When you give away a game to Temple and then choose not to show up in the closest things to a "must-win" game a week later, any promises of playing with a sense of urgency are hard to take seriously.