(Stephen Slade / UConnHuskies.com)
The tailspin that started in the fourth quarter of the Houston game three weeks ago continued on Saturday in Hartford. More of the same, you could say. In 2011 or 2012, more of the same would mean a win. In 2016, more of the same has come to mean a cripplingly depressing performance against any team that lines up opposite the Bearcats. Against Miami or Purdue, more of the same will still get you the win. Against an AAC that’s getting increasingly stronger, more of the same means losses like Saturday.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter for more than a week, I’m sure you know I’m a Browns fan. My undying devotion to the consistently hapless Browns is bad for my health, but I’ve been able to count on the Bearcats balancing that out. Lately, the two teams seem to be blurring together. It’s a sad state of affairs when Murphy’s Law is taking out my two favorite football teams every weekend. Like so many Browns teams I’ve known, you can count on the 2016 Bearcats to be poorly coached, ridden with mistakes, unenthusiastic, and on the short end of every 50/50 call by the referees.
However, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: Like my devotion to the God-forsaken Browns, my love for these Bearcats is unwavering. I’ll be there for homecoming (both physically and mentally) and I expect to win.
I suppose I should wade into the muck that is the UConn game, so let’s go:
- Hayden Moore came back. Regardless of my membership in the Gunner Kiel Fan Club, I think starting Hayden Moore every week is what’s best for the present and future of this team. It’s becoming clear that Gunner is not going to start a game as long as Moore and Ross Trail can walk, so I’m ready to move on from the idea entirely. Let’s keep Hayden healthy and let’s make sure he takes every snap for the remaining six games.
- Hayden Moore looked pretty good, at least comparatively. Looking pretty good––comparatively––is a step in the right direction for a team with UC’s current resume. I’m not jumping up and down over Moore’s play, but I’ll certainly take it. He finished 29-for-55 for 315 yards with an interception. The interception was a badly thrown ball, but it’s the kind of thing you can accept if he’s going to toss two or three touchdowns to go with it. Unfortunately, those never came. Considering his injury status earlier in the week, I think it’s safe to assume the ankle wasn’t exactly 100%. For that reason, I’m happy with that stat line (minus the lack of touchdowns).
- Devin Gray is really good, and so is Nate Cole. I’m sorry we only get one more year of Gray, and I’m sorry that Cole was buried on the depth chart until his senior year. Unfortunate timing for him to only have a single season to show his stuff. He’s good.
- The defense played well. They weren’t fantastic, but they looked pretty good, especially considering the offense did absolutely nothing to help. When you lose the time of possession battle 35–25, it’s hard to keep making stops. Allowing 20 points against UConn should be good enough to win if your offense is functioning at normal capacity. I’m not sure how to account for the two UConn touchdowns. Giving up big plays is a bad sign, especially against an inept offense. It’s also probably not a good sign when fatal mistakes are coming from a senior leader like Zach Edwards. Hard to say if those mistakes are a sign of poor coaching and preparation or if they’re simple outliers that won’t happen again. I don’t know anymore. I’ve said all season that this defense is worth watching, and I still believe that. This group plays with some swagger, and we’ve sorely missed that for a couple years.
- UC won the turnover battle. It’s a small thing that’s gravely important, and we were terrible at doing it last year. Let’s keep it going this season.
- Josh Pasley got his redemption. Heck of a game, kid. A lot of kicking is pure confidence, and Pasley’s had to be shaken after the start to his season. He was the entire offense on Saturday, and he did his job, going 3-for-3 with a long of 43 yards.
- We don’t play next week. I know this sounds cynical, but I mean it earnestly. This bye week couldn’t come at a better time. Let’s get Hayden Moore back to 100% and do some serious soul-searching while we’re at it.
- The program continues to progress towards some kind of D-Day. If you’re of the opinion that Tuberville is the man for the job, Saturday’s loss was a big negative for you. The man you think is right for UC lost an ugly game. If you’re of the opinion that Tuberville is unfit to coach at UC, Saturday’s loss was at the very least a step in the “right direction.” I know it sounds bad, but sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. I don’t know if that’s the case with this football program, but we’ll find out. The last thing I want is to get stuck in the middle ground of lukewarm success and fan support. Stagnation is the enemy. I think it’s always best to be trending in one direction or the other. Obviously my wish is to be trending positively, but the next best thing is to have an obvious negative trend to catch everyone’s attention. Things got worse on Saturday. Maybe we’ll look back in a year or two and say it ultimately paved the way for a better Bearcats football team.
(I’ll try to keep these brief and under control.)
- The Bearcats are 0–3 in the American. On top of this sounding absolutely terrible, there are stats to back up how absolutely terrible this is. The last time the Bearcats started 0–3 in the conference was in 1999. That team finished 3–8, but also had a Top 10 upset of Wisconsin. This team is in danger of a disastrous finish, but there will be no massive win to serve as a party favor for attending. UC is in a Group of Five conference, and they are in last place. Dead last.
- The Bearcats didn’t score a touchdown. What a mess. I believe the last time UC failed to find the end zone was against #22 Rutgers in 2012. Aside from the fact RU was ranked, the Scarlet Knights also finished 4th in the country in points allowed that season. They had a good defense. Getting held out of the end zone by this UConn team is infinitely worse.
- Three drives stalled in the red zone. Again, this cannot happen, especially against this UConn team. If you can do math, you’ll realize that Bearcat touchdowns on those three first half trips that ended in field goals would mean a 21–20 win, even with the complete lack of scoring after halftime.
- There was a complete lack of scoring after halftime. So much for halftime adjustments. Most coaching staffs can take a beating in the first half and correct things at halftime to improve scoring chances and tighten up defensively in the second half. This coaching staff does the opposite. You want the most embarrassing Bearcats football stat I’ve ever been privy to? UC is getting outscored 64–6 in the second half of conference games this season. That makes me want to barf. Across the board in conference play, the Bearcats have played solid in the opening half only to get outplayed, out-coached, and outclassed after halftime. I don’t care who you are, that is the mark of a bad team and a bad group of coaches. Say what you want about the guys wearing headsets, but that stat is indefensible.
- The running game is still a ghost town. In a development nobody saw coming, the tag-team duo of Tion Green and Mike Boone has been mediocre at best. The pair averaged 1.8 yards on 12 carries Saturday. On the season, they’re averaging a combined 3.9 yards per carry. That’s not good, and is only putting more stress on a QB staff that’s banged up to begin with. I don’t know who to blame on this one, and it’s probably not on one guy’s shoulders. I just have a hard time believing these two forgot how to run the football in the offseason.
- Tuberville tossed someone under the bus… again.This time it was Hayden Moore. Following a first half in which his offense stalled three times inside the red zone, Tuberville pointed to Hayden Moore’s overthrows as the reason for the team’s underwhelming play. Moore missed some shots, and the interception was not a good look. However, how about owning up for some bad play calling? How about putting some blame on a running game that finished the day with two rushing yards? Maybe give the opposition some credit for clamping down your offense. At the very least, bite your tongue and give a non-answer before trotting towards the locker room. Hayden Moore must feel like an absolute dunce when his head coach publicly throws an entire team’s worth of blame on his shoulders after a pretty decent first half. The QBs this season haven’t been stellar, and that comment isn’t going to help anything.
It’s growing increasingly difficult to watch this team, but I implore you guys to stick with them. I’ll be at homecoming, and hopefully a good crowd shows up. If you’d like to voice your unhappiness, the best way to do that is by joining in the effort to #BlackoutHomecoming. The theme for the game is red, but a large group of fans has decided to wear black as a small act of protest against the current direction of the program. I’m on board with this idea because it supports the players and the team while still demonstrating our position as a fan base. There are ways to be heard without simply giving up. Please do not give up. There is a disconnect between talent and production, and this team can still win games if it can close that gap. We’re not dead yet.