Connecticut quarterback Chandler Whitmer, center, sets to pass as Pittsburgh defensive lineman Bryan Murphy (93) is held back during the second half of an NCAA college football game in East Hartford, Conn., Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. Connecticut defeated Pitt 24-17. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
The local media has asked Paul Pasqualoni almost every single way and at almost every single angle about the offense this season.
John F. Silver
The most critical element of the offense is the philosophy of the pro-style of attack, which has come under fire for many things including being too complicated, an ill fit for the talent and most of all — unproductive.
UConn is averaging a paltry 17.3 points per game and only 320.6 yards off offense and is one of the least productive offenses in the country in terms of yardage.
With the spread offenses that dominate the Big 12 that are putting up ridiculous offensive numbers and quarterbacks such as Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois throwing for nearly, 3,000 yards and rushing for 1,500 yards, while not being a highly regarded pro prospect, the question gets asked on countless occasions whether pro-style is the way going forward, and most importantly, whether it can work at UConn.
The Huskies (4-6, 1-4 Big East) play at Louisville (9-1, 4-1) on Saturday and the offense is front and center.
Pasqualoni is also taking heat for offensive coordinator George DeLeone, who is a long-time friend and colleague of Pasqualoni at Southern Connecticut, Syracuse and in the NFL with the Dolphins. Pasqualoni firmly is behind DeLeone and took ownership of the decision to install a pro-style offense.
“George coordinates it. But there are a lot of coaches, including me, who are involved in it,” Pasqualoni said Tuesday. “I want to be a pro-style offense. That’s in the Connecticut DNA, what they’ve been here. it goes back to Danny Orlovsky. He was a pro-style drop back quarterback. We will have a chance to recruit that style of quarterback and have a high level player. ”
There is some logic in going to a pro-style passer. UConn wants to differentiate itself in recruiting circles and playing an NFL style offense is a head start for players who want to play in the NFL. Many of the spread option quarterbacks that take snaps exclusively in the shotgun haven’t had success in the NFL. Receivers, running backs and offensive linemen can also point to the NFL style system as a plus on the recruiting trail. UConn hopes to attract players with NFL athleticism and size to play in their system. That’s the goal.
The downside is this is not easy. The Huskies are struggling with consistency more than anything this season.
“I don’t want to be an offense that has one protection,” Pasqualoni added. ” I want to be an offense that has ability to be a good drop back passing team and we are making progress. If you look at the number of explosive plays we’ve had in the passing game there is evidence that I am right. That does not happen overnight.”
The struggles this season, according to Pasqualoni aren’t philosophical, rather execution. The running game, which was a staple of UConn under former coach Randy Edsall, is averaging only 87 yards a game with Lyle McCombs accounting for 76.5 of it. That’s down from McCombs’ 96.5 a year ago.
That’s not something UConn expected.
“The fly in the ointment to me is we haven’t been able to run the ball consistently as we would like to run the ball,” Pasqualoni said. “If we can balance off the number of explosive runs with number of explosive passes we would be over 400 yards of offense over 25-30 points a game and we aren’t having this conversation. “
The running game struggles are perplexing. The offensive line hasn’t been good and McCombs has had little room to maneuver. But, it’s worse than anyone associated with the team could imagine.
“It came out of nowhere,” tight end Ryan Griffin said. “We got behind in a couple of games and had to throw it. I didn’t see that coming. We have to run the ball better that’s for sure.”
Chandler Whitmer has done an admirable job running UConn’s offense passing for 2,328 yards and eight touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He is averaging 232.8 yards per game passing. Even Whitmer, who played at Butler Community College in Kansas last year, is shocked by the run game struggles.
“For me I knew what they did last year, and in the spring we did a good running the ball I don’t think anyone predicted something negative like that happening,” Whitmer said. “What we have to do is overcome it because as we’ve seen it helps a lot when we have (balance). When we do that, we are at our best.”
The Huskies have a long way to go in regards to building the kind of offense that Pasqualoni envisioned. Year 2 was supposed to be much better than year one, and right now the Huskies are just crawling forward. One thing Pasqualoni is certain of is DeLeone is putting in the time to get the offense fixed.
“George is working his butt off to get this thing coordinated and get the philosophy that the head coach brought in here and the staff works on and gets it to the point that we are an explosive and productive offense that can run it and throw it and is fun to watch,” Pasqualoni said. “I personally, think it is best way to go…I want to be impressive running and throwing and have balance. Rome is not built in a day. Chandler Whitmer is equivalent of a first year player coming in playing. The guy is making progress, the offensive line is making progress and we are asking them to do a lot.
“There could be a simpler way of doing it, but in the long run, I am not so sure that is the best way.”
The Huskies are making progress. The question comes down to is it fast enough? Only time will tell.