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Offensive Drive Review: UConn vs. NC State
A drive-by-drive walkthrough of UConn's offensive performance in the season opener.
UConn did not upset NC State, but the game showed that the Huskies are ready to hang in there against most opponents. If this is the widest talent margin they face between now and the Tennessee game, then everything in between should go better than what we witnessed Thursday night.
Of the two UConn units, the Husky offense faced a stronger side. NC State’s defense is its strength and for UConn to manage what it did and keep the game close offers hope that next week against Georgia State we can see: more space for the RBs, more potency in the passing attack, and perhaps a more disciplined team if the messaging from leaders like Durante Jones get through.
UConn Drive #1 - 12 plays, 75 yards, 6:39 game clock elapsed
The moment you believed that anything was possible.
On the second play, quarterback Joe Fagnano completed his first pass, a slant to new starting wide receiver Geordon Porter.
On 3rd & 5, he hit Cam Ross on what looked like a skinny post up the middle for 14 yards. On Twitter, Max Toscano completed a film-room style evaluation of this game, and on this play, he suggested that Fagnano made a good read.
Fagnano hit Porter on a slant again and then converted a 4th down with a QB sneak two plays later to keep the drive alive and then had two nice QB keeper runs over 10 yards each to set up Victor Rosa’s 18-yard TD run. He had three rushes for 25 yards and went 3-for-3 passing with 26 yards in a no-huddle offense.
Perhaps UConn can accomplish more of this against Georgia State and FIU. Or at least continue to have strong first drives.
The offensive line was pushing fairly well. But you’ll see the early signs of what plagues UConn throughout this game. Running plays on first down did not do well (Houston for -1, Houston for 2, Rosa for 1, Rosa for 4) until the Rosa touchdown. They seemed to have this figured out in the second quarter a little, but got shut down in the second half.
On this drive, the fourth-down conversion and the third-down completion to Ross kept the drive alive. Those are big plays!
The Huskies ran on first down on four out of five chances, with the other one being a double-pass play attempted by tight end Alex Honig, a transfer from TCU who originally committed to the Big 12 school as a quarterback out of Germany. The double pass did not go well.
On the 4th down QB sneak, we saw defensive tackle Jelani Stafford enter the game as a fullback, helping Fagnano push through for the first down. We’re excited to see more of this in the future.
UConn Drive #2 - 5 plays, 19 yards, 2:07 elapsed
Brian Brewton looked like he had something going here, dashing for eight yards on the first play of this drive. He got the first down on the next play, taking five yards. Offensive coordinator Nick Charlton called Brewton’s name a third time in a row, and he repaid the favor with six more yards on first down. This is wonderful.
Less wonderful, however, are the two pass attempts by Fagnano, one targeting Porter, the other Ross, that missed and stalled this drive. None of these seemed very close.
With the offensive line successfully creating space in the running game against a good team, it’s too bad that two straight passing plays ended this drive.
UConn Drive #3 - 6 plays, 23 yards, 4:06
This drive may not have notched any points but we can call it successful in the very small way that a short 3-and-out here would have tired out the defense and possibly worn down morale for the offense as well.
The Huskies’ third drive started off promisingly. Fagnano hit Brett Buckman for seven yards on the first play. Houston got the first down on the next play with eight yards on the ground.
Joey Fagnano made a little magic on the next play, on what looked like a play-action pass where he immediately faced a lot of pressure. He deftly side-armed it to Devontae Houston, who scampered for the second and final first down of this drive.
After an incompletion on first down, Houston had a short run on second, and then on 3rd & 8 UConn committed a false start penalty where everyone on the left side went early. On the ensuing 3rd & 13 play, the NC State coverage was good as Fagnano rolled right and he was pressured into scrambling for a short gain.
UConn Drive #4 - 3 plays, 3 yards, 1:38
A quick screen to Joly for no gain on first down was followed by a run, so at least UConn burned some clock. On 3rd & 7 Fagnano tried to go deep and heaved what was essentially a jump ball, but James Burns was not able to come down with it.
This was probably Fagnano’s furthest toss downfield, and something that’ll need to be more accurate if he’s going to connect on some of these. He seems to have a strong enough arm to do it but this ball was short and definitely could have been intercepted.
UConn Drive #5 - 8 plays, 19 yards, 3:51 elapsed
This drive started with another deep shot, Houston ran a wheel or something similar out of the backfield and Fagnano’s pass sailed past him. They went back to Houston on the ground for three, and then on third down hit him on a short pass that he converted for the first down.
Houston ran the ball for 10 yards on the next two plays for another first down. Those five consecutive plays to Houston were followed by a first-down quick-pass attempt to Burns that fell incomplete, a run by Rosa for a loss, and then a 3rd & 13 attempt to Porter that was deflected.
UConn Drive #6 - 1 play, 56 yards, 0:11 elapsed
Run Rosa Run!
This appears to be an ordinary zone-running play. The blocking was strong, allowing Rosa to burst through the hole with speed and beat the DBs to the corner. He then out-ran the safety to go 71 yards all the way to the house.
If UConn can bust out a huge run against a defense like this, it can for sure do it multiple times against other teams. This run game looks like it can do big things against weaker defenses. The way the offensive line pushes throughout is fairly impressive.
(The was listed as a 56-yard drive because Rosa drew an excessive celebration penalty which was applied to the ensuing kick-off… more on that in a separate article.)
Drive #7 - 3 plays, -1 yards, 1:26 elapsed
These next two drives were UConn’s chance to stay in the game and even make a play at the upset bid. Down 10 with plenty of time left, the Husky defense made two good stops. But the offense couldn’t get much done.
After a short Rosa run on first down, Fagnano was sacked on second down. On third down a hard-thrown ball went through Ross’ hands but it was behind the first-down marker anyway.
Drive #8 - 6 plays, 8 yards, 3:35 elapsed
This was basically UConn’s last chance to make it a game. With 11:28 left, they had the ball down 10 and still could’ve made something happen.
They did not.
Fagnano hit Joly for seven yards on first down, a good start. A second-down run went nowhere but on third down Fagnano hit Joly again for a first down.
After a sack made it 2nd & 17, Fagnano was again pressured on the next play and his third and long attempt sailed long.
Down 10 on the opponents’ 46 with about eight minutes left, a coach might consider going for it on 4th down. But with 4th & 15, a really tough one to convert, UConn made the decision to punt. It fell into the end zone for a disappointing net punt of 21 yards, but the distance made that a tough decision. NC State’s pressure on first and second down here made that possible.
Drive #9 - 9 plays, 41 yards, 2:20 elapsed
Taking the ball down 10 with three minutes left, this was more of a chance to make the game respectable. But it also was the last-ditch effort. After the game, Mora and Fagnano said their plan was to hit a field goal on this drive and try to convert an onside kick.
This drive started with two short passes to Rosa followed by a third-down incompletion. Rosa ran it three yards on 4th down to keep the drive going.
On the ensuing first down, Fagnano hit Joly for 25 yards. This is nice to see but would have been really nice to see at any point earlier in the game. Joly has some big games ahead of him but in this game, he got most of his production in the 4th quarter, with over two-thirds of it on this play.
On 3rd & 7, Fagnano hit Buckman for another first down. Two plays later, he tried to force one and a linebacker in underneath coverage grabbed it for the interception. NC State took victory formation on the next possession to end the game.
UConn’s O-line turned in a great performance, especially in the running game. Chase Lundt and guard Christian Haynes were particularly impressive as the Huskies averaged 7.1 yards per carry on non-sack plays.
The passing game is not yet in sync. Time will tell if that was because NC State is that good on defense, but next week needs to look a lot better against a Georgia State team that allowed 520 total yards and 408 on the ground to FCS Rhode Island. Until then, we can reserve judgment on any of the starters, including Fagnano, whose stat line was not pretty.
At RB, Victor Rosa stood out, but Devontae Houston and Brian Brewton had their moments as well. UConn may need to tighten this rotation to allow someone to get into a rhythm, but it also appears that sometimes the passing attempts stifled the attack when another RB could’ve come in to just keep running the dang ball.
The offense ran 27 passing plays and had 26 runs, some of which were passing plays where Fagnano rushed for a zero- or two-yard gain. After running on 2/3 of plays last year, the ratio is looking more like the 50/50 we saw when Charlton and Fagnano were last working together at Maine.
Folks may think that penalties changed the course of this game, but NC State got the yards it needed on 1st and 2nd down, keeping 3rd downs manageable, and UConn’s offense could not get anything going in the second half, much to the visitors’ credit. In two drives in the fourth quarter with a chance to make a dent in a 10-point deficit, the Huskies gained seven total yards in two drives that both ended in punts.
Next up, the Huskies are at Georgia State before hosting FIU. They’ll also host a Duke team that’s likely to be ranked after just beating Clemson, before getting Utah State, Rice on the road, and USF in three more winnable games. Then they visit Boston College, who just lost 27-24 to Northern Illinois. UConn will have a chance in all of these games.