John F. Silver
Pittsburgh’s defense has proven adept at bringing pressure this season from unusual places with the corners and safeties routinely taking shots at the quarterback. Defensive end Aaron Donald leads the Panthers with 3.5 sacks while nose tackle Tyrone Ezell has three.
“They do pressure and they have a very good package of pressures that force you from a protection standpoint to adjust and make sure you are on your toes at all times,” Pasqualoni said Wednesday. “You have to be on your toes with the team they will send secondary players into the blitz, safety and corner, and bring additional linebackers. They disguise good and you can’t fall asleep at the switch.”
Fall asleep at the switch? The Huskies have looked like they do just that this season in pass protection.
The Huskies have struggled in protecting quarterback Chandler Whitmer this season. It hasn’t been over matched not by strength, but rather numbers and scheme. One-on-one the UConn pass protection has been pretty good and when Whitmer gets time to throw he’s been effective to the tune of 229 yards per game passing, the Huskies total for a UConn quarterback in eight years.
It’s when the defense dials things up that things turn south. The Huskies struggle to pick up the blitz, figure out the protections and where the defense is coming from. Every team UConn has played has put on pressure and everyone brings it a different way.
It’s not the film work that’s getting the Huskies, it’s the blitz packages that haven’t been shown that have flummoxed UConn’s protection
“In the last couple of games we see a lot of game-planning blitzes which are ones that they haven’t shown in the past,” Whitmer said. “That’s a credit to defenses that we face and they have done a good job. They make it difficult, but that’s part of football and defenses are allowed to blitz and we have to pick it up and make a play.
The Huskies are ranked 100th in the country in sacks allowed at 2.89 per game and gave up four last week against South Florida, with Whitmer taking multiple hits.
The blitz is something the Huskies are seeing regularly, and until they stop it, team’s will throw more and more at the Huskies.
UConn is getting the blitzes that beat them corrected, what’s beating them is the ones they have yet to see. The inability to react and adjust on the fly is a big reason the Huskies are 3-6, 0-4 in the Big East.
“ One thing that happens each week that is not unusual in football, usually you see different blitz’ than what they have shown,” Pasqualoni said. “Not everybody goes into the next game with the exact same pressures. Typically, you see the same stuff, but typically you see something you haven’t seen. It’s part of playing football in this day and age.”
Whitmer’s performance under pressure — and he would have had many more sacks if it weren’t for his mobility — is admirable. Whitmer has been able to move the ball and get it downfield to a budding group of wide receiver led by Geremy Davis (36 catches, 547 yards).
The sophomore quarterback has made tremendous strides reading defenses. He’s not perfect, but when the blitz has been blocked there have been big gains. That’s part of the cat and mouse aspect of football with the defense that Whitmer loves.
“You can feel it coming sometimes, sometimes they do a good job of disguising it and wait until the last minute to bring it and we are not ready for it. That’s part of football adjusting to it and making a play on the fly.”
Here’s a link to this week’s JI story.
Journal Inquirer: Brave face
That’s nothing new to the Huskies. For all the statistical brilliance of the defense — ranked No. 9 overall in total yardage — the Huskies are 106th in the nation in takeaways, with only 10 all season. UConn has 14 fumbles, but only five recovered this season.
“We have had some bad breaks. It has been unlucky and we have had some bad bounces,” Johnson said. “After all our misfortune I feel something good is going to happen. With all those missed balls we had maybe some of those balls will bounce our way.
“I think eventually, when you have so many close calls against you, they eventually work out for you and you get those plays. The amount we got last year, and the amount of turnovers we had last season, it hasn’t been the same this year. We’ve been so close this year with the ball on the ground, I think we can get them eventually and that is what we will focus on and put our offensive in a position to put points on the board.”
Johnson isn’t naive to what’s going on his senior season. The senior linebacker has been through the ringer at UConn and wants to get the defensive unit focused against Pittsburgh (4-5, 1-3). The Panthers are coming off a loss to Notre Dame in triple overtime. The Panthers are averaging 28.7 points per game and have one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation in Tino Sunseri, who has passed for 2,363 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. Add in rejuvenated running back Ray Graham — 794 yards, eight touchdowns — and the Huskies have their work cut out.
Journal Inquirer: Is this Rock Bottom?
The Big East championship is long gone. The promise of putting together a solid season that would propel the Huskies to bigger things is gone. Four straight losses in the Big East, without an offensive touchdown in the second half of any of the games puts the Huskies in simple company — alone in last place. Right now the Huskies deserve to be there more than any other team in the league.
UConn plays like a last place team.
There is no digging out of the hole, and this isn’t going to turn around. After the ninth straight game in which the Huskies didn’t run the ball well, didn’t block well and didn’t play well, the realization has to start setting it.