Former UConn defensive tackle and SNY studio analyst Sean Mulcahy previews UConn vs. Pittsburgh
In the Spotlight: Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham
The skinny: Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham is coming off major knee surgery suffered against UConn last year and has returned to form. The explosive senior running back is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and has 794 yards and eight touchdowns this year.
Mulcahy’s take: For a player to come back so soon from a leg injury like the one Ray Graham sustained last year against UConn is incredible. It is similar to Adrian Peterson’s injury and time frame and those two have shown how amazing the human body is and how advancements in medicine can lower the timetable for full recovery. Graham is third in the Big East in rushing with a hair under 800 yards and 8 touchdowns. Pittsburgh had high hopes for seniors Graham and QB Tino Sunsuri the past two seasons, but injuries and a lack of defense has put Pittsburgh in the losing column more than they would like. Of late however, those two players are acting like a Top 25 team that Pittsburgh was looking to be. It will be a good game for fans Friday Night. UConn’s defense is very good against the run, but can it limit Graham to yardage and force Sunseri (who is 3rd in Big East passing with 262 yards per game with 14 TD’s to 2 INT’s) into tough passes? That is the key to winning.
In Focus: UConn’s pro-style scheme
The skinny: UConn is averaging only 8.25 points per game in Big East play. Is the scheme too difficult and should UConn try something else?
Mulcahy’s take: The pro-style offense that offensive coordinator George Deleone has installed is a great offense and can definitely work for UConn. In order for it to work properly, there needs to be balance and that enables the offense to keep the opposing defense on their toes. In terms of balance, there should be about a 50/50 split in running plays and passing plays in this type of offense. It’s difficult to maintain this ratio when you fall behind to your opponent and the tendency in that case is to have more pass plays is acceptable. A team can avoid an unbalanced ratio with a legitimate running game, and that’s where UConn is in trouble and lacks. All the problems in UConn’s offense is due to that running game. How is the personnel? The skill players are good; there are solid receivers in Mike Smith, Geremy Davis, Shakim Phillips, Nick Williams, and Tebucky Jones and two really good tight ends in John Delahunt and Ryan Griffin. The running backs in Lyle McCombs, Max DeLorenzo and Martin Hyppolite have ability, and most of all I believe in Chandler Whitmer as a solid Big East quarterback. So what’s the problem and why us UConn averaging under 17 points a game and about eight points per game in Big East play? I just have little faith in who is blocking for the above skill players. That is the problem for the Huskies and it’s on the offensive line, not the play calling or the offensive scheme. It always starts upfront on both the defense and offense and the offensive line this year isn’t getting the job done. UConn isn’t being too ambitious with what it is trying to do. Changing the scheme to something radically different would do more harm than good at this point. There are only three games left. Every player should be comfortable with the plays and know their assignments.
WR Geremy Davis vs. Pittsburgh cornerbacks
Mulcahy’s take: It is clear to me that when Whitmer has time his favorite receiver is Geremy Davis. Davis leads the team with 36 receptions for 547 yards and has been the leading receiver in five games. He has great size and good speed. I watched a couple of great receivers when I camped in the NFL watching Chad Johnson and Steve Smith in training camp for the Bengals and Panthers respectively. The one attribute that jumped out at was how they go after the ball, snatch it, and take it out if the air. Those two do not wait for the ball to come to them, they attack it. I have noticed that type of receiving ability in Davis. Of anyone on the UConn team, he aggressively goes after the ball and can make plays while the defense is in tight coverage. While he obviously isn’t at that level as only a sophomore in college, Davis possesses that aggressiveness that all good receivers have and it bodes well when you look at his size and body-type. Davis is going to have a terrific career and will only get better from here.
Kicker Chad Christen
Mulcahy’s take: The UConn defense remains one of the best in the Big East, and the offense one of the worst in scoring. What does that add up to? A close game that could be decided by a field goal. Sounds familiar to Notre Dame? I am picking kicker Chad Christen as the gamebreaker this week. Christen will have to be ready for several field goals on Friday night in the cold and possibly a game winner in the fourth. Christen is 10 of 17 this season, but four of those misses came in an off game loss against Temple. He has made his last three and is kicking the ball well again.