September 23, 2012
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — This was a game of mistakes, starting with scheduling the game in the first place. This was one of those no-win games, and UConn went ahead and accepted permission not to win.
Yes, a number of good things happened for Chandler Whitmer, for Geremy Davis, for the Huskies on this Saturday at Western Michigan, but one more bad thing happened than good. And when linebacker Desmond Bozeman stripped Whitmer and returned the fumble 53 yards for a touchdown with 7:12 left, UConn was not only left beaten, but left deciding whether it was going to be the kind of team that erodes to another 5-7 season or recovers for a bowl appearance.
If this 30-24 loss proved anything, it's that the defense isn't as good as most everyone thought.
If this 30-24 loss proved anything else, it's that the offense isn't as bad as most everyone thought.
Oh, angry fans don't want to hear gray after a loss. They want black. They want white. If I had $20 for every tweet or email I got during this game calling for offensive coordinator George DeLeone or coach Paul Pasqualoni to be fired, I could afford to bring along Western Michigan's four-legged bronco on my Southwest flight home with me.
The truth is the guy who should be fired is the Mistake Coach. Yep, fire the Blunder Coordinator. Who allowed this sleepy, sloppy 17-0 second-quarter hole? Who allowed that first-quarter interception at the goal line? And who, with UConn carrying late momentum and in golden position to tie the score, allowed that Bozeman strip?
This was a game of shared mistakes. And it started with scheduling the game in the first place.
Former coach Randy Edsall killed the series with Navy. Hated that triple-option Paul Johnson ran. TCU joined the Big East and the bolted the Big East. There were holes in the UConn football schedule that needed to be filled. The way it was explained to me is the home-and-home series with Western Michigan wasn't made until late 2010 or early 2011. It happened late. So it would be bad enough for quarterback Alex Carder to pick apart the Huskies for 479 yards and five touchdowns in the Broncos' win at Rentschler Field in 2011, now having to play a MAC school at a MAC campus is nearly always a bad proposition for a BCS school. I'm sorry. You just shouldn't play this game.
The announced crowd was 10,328. They must have counted the players, band, media and a few thousand phantoms. The day started in a driving rain, played through a shifting wind and ended with Western Michigan's first home win ever over a BCS team. There's a reason why no BCS team even found Waldo Stadium since Indiana played here in 2007. The reward isn't nearly worth the risk.
Don't get this wrong. Western Michigan is a good team. UConn was only a 1.5 point favorite. But college football is nothing if not a week-to-week hype and a year-to-year reputation game. If UConn won this game 31-24, it would have been ho-hum. By losing to a MAC team, there's no big pay day. By losing to a MAC team, it not only drops the Huskies to 2-2, it sounds up sirens that something is wrong.
To Pasqualoni's credit, he didn't play up the circumstance. Yes, there would be rain. Yes, there would be lightning. No, nobody was going show up. He talked to the team about it.
"Come and play," Pasqualoni said. "No excuse."
Yes, there were six sacks and that's too many. Still, if you have a quarterback throw for 333 yards and three touchdowns, if you have a back like Lyle McCombs run for 119 yards, if you have a receiver like Davis pull in nine catches for 123 yards, a defense as highly touted as UConn's should have meant a victory over a MAC team. It did not. The horrible UConn offense outgained the Broncos, 425-330. And they lost.
Much of that is on the defense. Yawin Smallwood, Sio Moore, everybody loved the defense entering this game. The Huskies were tied for the lead nationally with 32 tackles for losses in three games. Well, they didn't get 10 Saturday. They didn't get five. They had two and the second one didn't arrive until Trevardo Williams sacked backup quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen in the fourth quarter after Carder left with a hand injury.
"We didn't hold up our end of the deal," defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. "I think in the beginning we were a little out of focus."
Smallwood said the linebackers were trying to help out the corners on the inside routes. Pasqualoni said. Carder wasn't made as uncomfortable as he should have been.
"He's a hard guy to make uncomfortable," Pasqualoni said. "He executes the scheme. He got some good blocking. He gets the ball quickly out of his hand. There were times if we could get him to pat the ball once, not even a full second, a fraction of a second, there were a couple where Trevardo had a chance to make a pretty big play. Carder knew the deal."
Having watched all this, having watched UConn receivers drop at least three or four catchable passes, I was sure the Huskies were going to win with 7:32 left. Western Michigan had used up only 70 seconds for a quick three-and-out. A punt left UConn with the ball at the WMU 47. Whitmer, who was in a big-time rhythm at this point, dropped back to pass. He didn't see what happened next.
"We had something deep, [Bozeman] hit me before I got it out," Whitmer said. "I looked the safety off. We had a good play one-on-one on a go route to Geremy."
"I think we had the proper protection called," lineman Adam Masters said. "I don't think everybody took care of their responsibilities. That's a negative play that's unacceptable."
Pasqualoni was unhappy with the sacks. The Broncos would show blitz on one side and come on the other. They play a balanced formation and kept the Huskies guessing. UConn did a better job as the game wore on, but when it mattered most — bam!
The Broncos blitzed two linebackers, one inside, one outside. They blocked one. Bozeman was free to wreak havoc.
"The strip-sack for a touchdown is one of the most devastating plays in football," Pasqualoni said. "Chandler had his eyes down the field, trying to get the ball down the field. He was trying to win I can't criticize Chandler for that. It happened to Peyton Manning the other day. I wish I could have the play back, I might have changed the protection."
There was another interception in the first quarter at the goal line, a little dart route for Nick Williams in the flat. Pasqualoni said Williams could have turned around faster. The Broncos also changed up some coverage on the play and Whitmer threw the ball and said he didn't see defensive back Donald Celiscar.
Two mistakes on offense. Some dropped balls. He didn't say it, but bad scheduling.
"That's all it is," Pasqualoni said of the turnovers. "That's why it hurts so much.
Blame it on the Mistake Coach.
Blame it on Paul Johnson's triple option.
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