Well, another New Year, another crappy bowl game performance. I'll get to what this means in terms of the season as a whole tomorrow; right now, let's talk about what went wrong in this game.
Predictable, uninspired playcalling. This is the kicker for me, and it has been for much of the year. We heard all offseason that we were going to commit to running the football better. We have four solid backs in Kenny Miles, Brian Maddox, Jarvis Giles, and Bryce Sherman. Yet, for much of the year, we refused to run the ball, opting instead to run some variation on the same three passing plays every down. Then, against Florida and Clemson, we try running the ball more often, and whala, we play solid offense.Then, yesterday we almost completely abandon the running game. Miles, our leading rusher, had six carries, even though he averaged 4.0 ypc. That's right; six carries. And most of them came in the second half, after we were already down. Giles had none. None. We ran the Wildcat for one play. I just don't get it. Now, I like occassionally throwing the ball on first down as much as the next guy, and certainly, our receiving corps is one of our strengths, especially against a supposedly suspect UConn pass defense. The problem, though, is that it's gotten so predictable with us. Opposing teams don't fear our ability to run the football, and that hurts the passing game, too. Moreover, in a game in which our receivers and quarterback were not playing their best games, we should have altered our gameplan to find something that would work.
Poor receiver play. Now, let's not blame this all on the coaching staff. Our passing game may have been predictable, but we did have open receivers at times. Unfortunately, other than Jason Barnes, they all forgot how to catch the ball. Moe Brown and Alshon Jeffery dropped several easy catches, killing what could have been promising drives. This was highly unusual, considering that these guys had tended to be fairly reliable.
Poor offensive line play. After seeming to take steps forward in the last two games of the regular season, our line reverted to 2008-level bad against UConn. Stephen Garcia oftentimes had almost no time to throw, at times even having to dodge his own linemen as they were being pushed into him while being manhandled by a defensive line that could hardly be considered the second coming of the LSU 2007. In the line's defense, the predictability of the playcalling allowed UConn to tee off on Garcia, with predictable results. At the end of the day, though, I sure hope we find a good line coach.
Stone-handed defensive backs. I'm not going to pin too much blame on the defense, which played well outside of allowing a few inexplicable third-and-long conversions and committing a couple of foolish penalties. However, I do want to draw attention to our defensive backfield's continued inability to reel in easy interceptions. I was not impressed by UConn's quarterback Zach Frazer, who threw numerous ugly balls. His one touchdown came on a bad throw; that catch was all receiver. However, as has been the case almost all year, we were unable to capitalize on the bad throws. The drop by Akeem Auguste was particularly damaging, as it likely would have gone for six and could have swung the game at the time.
A few other thoughts:
This loss does not fall on Garcia. Our quarterback didn't play the best game he's ever played. The turnovers fall on him and he could have avoided a couple of the sacks. However, he played hard despite getting no help from his receivers and line. With better play from those departments, he would have had a much nicer stat line. Garcia was shaken up after the game, showing heart and commitment. I'm glad to have him back under center in 2010.
Garrett Anderson said the team didn't take UConn seriously. If that's the case, then I have one question for this team: What have you done this year to believe you can waltz into a game against a good team like UConn and net an easy victory with a lackadaisical performance? If you think that being in the SEC entitles you to a victory, then you're wrong. The SEC is a great football conference, but unfortunately, it's not because of us. We're a decent but not great team in the SEC, and that has never won games for us out of conference. It hasn't won us many games against Clemson, and it's only won us one out of four bowl games under Spurrier, and that one against a team from Conference USA. Our coaches and players need to rethink their approach to mental preparation if they couldn't get up for a game against a good team, especially considering that we had an opportunity to increase our total of bowl wins, which right now stands at four.