Mike Anthony: UConn Football Lacking Speed And Experience To Compete — For Now

Mike Anthony
Contact Reportermanthony@courant.com

Around 2 p.m. Monday, UConn football coach Randy Edsall received an email from an old mentor.

“Saw both your games,” it read. “Speed and experience are a tough matchup. Your team will get a lot better as the season moves along. Keep the faith. Wins will come. GOL.”

George O’Leary and Edsall go way back, from time together at Syracuse in the 1980s and at Georgia Tech in the 1990s. Now retired, O’Leary coached Georgia Tech for eight years and Central Florida for 12 before resigning during the 2015 season.

His email was not a detailed breakdown from a lifelong coach. It was a pat on the back from a friend. When one opens the season with blowout losses the way Edsall has, such gestures feel good. Edsall chuckled while reading it.

O’Leary’s observations were simple and telling. Speed and experience. UConn has so little of both. That is a problem as it relates to the 2018 season. That is the problem.

The Huskies’ body of work officially consists of a 39-point loss at home to Central Florida and a 55-point loss on the road to Boise State. The six-plus hours the team has spent in public view haven’t produced moments worthy of being played on loop on TVs in the lobby of the Burton Family Football Complex, which is decorated in a way to celebrate a young program’s success in major college football.

UConn has been outscored 118-24 and this Saturday’s home game against FCS Rhode Island doesn’t even feel like a lock for victory No. 1. The results have been difficult to endure, but the point we’re at right now in analysis of Edsall’s entire rebuild is to consider whether anyone should have expected anything different to this point.

It would be unfair and unrealistic to say yes.

There isn’t enough speed on the roster.

There isn’t enough experienced talent.

The Huskies are supposed to be 0-2. They are not in a place to compete with the two best teams on their schedule. UCF and Boise State are in entirely different places with their football growth charts and depth charts.

So, let’s take a deep breath. Team struggles don’t mean program struggles. These losses, ugly as they were, were not necessarily setbacks. They were just sobering reminders for who, what and where the Huskies are – a team taking the field for a program still very much in a rebuilding phase.

Without much speed. Without much experience.

“Not only … players, but assistants and everybody — they all have to remember we haven't had a winning season here in [seven] years, ever since I left the first time,” Edsall said Monday. “All of the sudden you don't just flip a switch and turn things around.”

The kids you saw out there on the blue Boise turf Saturday night? They’ve been thrown into something they can’t yet understand or keep up with. Neither Paul Pasqualoni nor Bob Diaco recruited well. Time will tell if Edsall has and will. He is owed another couple years of judgment-free football to let that play out.

Boise State set a program record with 818 yards of offense in a game it led 41-0 at halftime.

UConn’s defensive starters: Seven freshmen, four sophomores.

“As many young guys as we have, most of them shouldn't even be playing right now,” Edsall said. “But because of the situation we're in, they have to be playing. That's the challenge, for me to stay patient, for me to make sure I don't show the frustration. It's my job to make sure these kids understand it's a process that we're going through. … We've got to do it the hard way. We've got to earn it. We’ve got to pay the price. Yeah, you want to win every game. But you can’t just skip steps 1-6 to get to seven because then it's never going to sustain.”

UConn has paid the price, all right, but an FBS team built mostly on FCS-type talent in recent years can’t pull the emergency brake and expect to be cruising in the other direction. The program won’t be put back together overnight.

There’s not enough speed. There’s not enough experience.

Look at NFL rosters. At the high point of Edsall’s first stint, there were approximately 25 former UConn players on active rosters. There are eight today – and Edsall recruited six of them. Edsall has all the strength and conditioning charts from his days coaching UConn in the 2000s. Current players don’t bench or squat nearly as much. They don’t run as fast.

Recruiting to the UConn of today vs. the UConn of yesterday, Edsall has said, is the biggest difference he’s noticed upon returning to Storrs. More players who once would have jumped at an offer from UConn now wait to see if a Power Five school comes along. That’s life in the post-Big East days but with freshmen all over the two-deep it is clear that Edsall is more confident in the talent he’s brought in than the talent he inherited. Those players will be functional contributors as juniors and seniors — even later this year, to a degree.

The victories, as O’Leary wrote, will come, even a few in this necessary building block of a season. UConn should beat URI. Should. The Huskies could pick up a few wins down the stretch of a schedule that gets easier. Could.

There’s no real deep threat at wide receiver. The defensive backfield is going to be picked apart most Saturdays. Even the senior quarterback, David Pindell, has just six career starts. What the heck can be expected of a four-man defensive front that is sometimes all freshmen?

Experience will come in time. Talent will come through recruiting. In the meantime, Edsall could continue to be aggressive with moving players all over — many have already changed positions — in an effort to get more speed in needed places.

“I've got to make sure the kids understand we're getting better each and every day,” Edsall said. “Sometimes it's not all measured. I know in this society everything is supposed to be measured by wins and losses, but when you're building a program back up, sometimes the wins might be the last thing to come.”


Subscribe and listen to the UConn Insider Podcast

Copyright © 2018, CT Now
39°