Things were trending in the right direction when the UConn defense limited an explosive Memphis offensive unit to a total of seven yards in consecutive drives in the first quarter.
UConn did not hold a lead at the end of the first quarter in its last seven games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams being outscored 73-14 during that span. Yet, the Huskies were up on the Tigers 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. The Tigers managed 97 yards in the first quarter, a solid total but in comparison to some of UConn's recent outings, there was reason for optimism.
Then, just like that, it was over.
It would not be a stretch to say that no UConn pass defense struggled more in a two quarter stretch than the Huskies did in the second and third quarters. Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson was 28 for 37 for 354 yards and six touchdowns in 30 minutes of football. I went back and rewatched all 37 of those passing attempts and when you factor in three dropped passes and a couple of missed throws to open receivers, the UConn defense only forced four of those incompletions. There was solid coverage by Jamar Summers on Anthony Miller resulting in a pass that even the remarkable Memphis receiver couldn't come up with, an incompletion on the screen with Junior Joseph close enough to the play to disrupt the timing of the play, Ferguson saving a sack when he flipped the ball out of bounds after one of the rare times when UConn was able to apply pressure and Luke Carrezola batting down a pass.
I broke down the nightmarish run of the UConn defense that turned a 14-7 UConn lead into a 56-24 Memphis advantage.
3rd-9 UConn 44: Anthony Miller with an amazing one-handed catch as Omar Fortt was providing the coverage. Gain of 10 yards and a first down
1st-10 UConn 34: Miller gained seven yards on a screen. Jamar Summers with the tackle
2nd-3 UConn 27: Phil Mayhue with 15-yard gain. Marshe Terry took a step in the wrong direction off a play-action fake and couldn't get back in time to make the play and help out Summers
1st-15 UConn 17: Miller with 17-yard touchdown. Miller set up Summers with an inside move leading to the catch on a back-shoulder throw by Ferguson.
1st-10 Memphis 24: Mayhue 12-yard reception. Summers was barely in the picture when Mayhue made the catch just short of the first down line to gain.
1st-10 Memphis 36: Miller 8-yard catch. Summers closed and was able to force a fumble but it was recovered by the Tigers
2nd-1 Memphis 45: Miller 14-yard catch as Summers played eight yards off at the snap
1st-10 UConn 41: Miller 15-yard catch. Omar Fortt, who was playing 10 yards off, took a look into the backfield and that was more than enough for Miller to make another grab.
1st-10 UConn 26: Tony Pollard dropped pass. Terry provided the coverage
3rd-3 UConn 19: Damonte Coxie 8-yard catch. Summers lined up five yards beyond the line to gain making for an easy third-down conversion
3rd-3 UConn 4: Joey Magnifico with 3-yard catch to get a first down. Chris Britton picked up Magnifico on the right side of the formation but wasn't able to stay with him as he worked across the field. Tahj Herring-Wilson made the stop at the 1. Bigger issue was that Ferguson had so much time to make the throw and a ball-hawking secondary would have picked off a pass that seemingly was in the air forever.
1st-goal UConn 16: Darrell Henderson gains 8 yards on screen pass. Foley Fatukasi provided the coverage
2nd-goal UConn 8: Miller 8-yard TD. He ran pretty much the same route, this time on Herring-Wilson for another touchdown on a back-shoulder throw
1st-10 Memphis 25: John Williams 2-yard catch
3rd-7 Memphis 28: Doroland Dorceus with 27-yard gain, Dorceus lined up to block in the backfield but leaked out into a pattern and was unaccounted for
1st-10 UConn 45: Miller 3-yard catch. Herring-Wilson with a nice break on the ball to hold Miller to a short gain
2nd-7 UConn 42: Ferguson had Mayhue open but had a low throw for the incompletion
3rd-7 UConn 42: Pollard with a drop as Vontae Diggs provided coverage
1st-10 UConn 38: Henderson 8-yard catch on a screen
2nd-2 UConn 30: Mayhue with a drop with Summers in coverage
3rd-2 UConn 30: Miller can't come up with the catch on the sideline. Solid coverage on play by Summers
1st-10 Memphis 38: Magnifico 22-yard catch. Looked like a miscommunication as Diggs had initial coverage but passed him off. Brice McAllister was late in reacting making for an easy pitch and catch.
1st-10 UConn 40: Miller 40-yard TD. Herring-Wilson took one wrong stride while backpedaling and never had a chance on the play
1st-10 UConn 20: Screen pass was incomplete. Joseph on the coverage
2nd-10 UConn 20: Mayhue 6 yards, McAllister and Herring-Wilson combined on the coverage
3rd-4 UConn 14: Tony Pollard 14-yard touchdown. Diggs ran with him and it looked as if Chris Britton was supposed to provide help in the middle of the field but never got there
1st-10 Memphis 25: Mayhue 8-yard gain. Summers had the coverage
1st-10 Memphis 37: Incomplete pass, Ferguson flushed from the pocket and close to running out of bounds for a sack when he flipped the ball away for an incompletion
2nd-7 UConn 32: Miller 22-yard catch. Summers was 7 yards off but not in picture when Miller got the ball
1st-goal UConn 15: Henderson 7 yards on screen pass
3rd-goal UConn 5: Magnifico with 5-yard TD. Had a free release off the line and Cam Stapleton was closest defender to him
2nd-8 Memphis 19: Williams 12-yard gain. Herring-Wilson had the coverage
3rd-3 Memphis 38: Williams 7-yard catch. Pretty good coverage by Summers
2nd-12 Memphis 43: Miller 13-yard catch as Summers backed off once again
1st-10 UConn 44: incomplete pass as Henderson dropped screen
1st-10 UConn 32: incomplete pass intended for Miller as Carrezola reached up and batted pass away
2nd-10 UConn 32: Miller with his fourth TD, McAllister had the coverage
There are so many concerns to address. First, 26 of those 37 pass plays were called with Memphis in UConn territory, that is a recipe for disaster. Summers was targeted 13 times in the second quarter and Ferguson was 10 for 13 for 114 yards and a touchdown (a QB rating of 175.97) while he was 6 for 6 for 81 yards with two TDs when Herring-Wilson was the intended receiver.
I understand the philosophy of playing off the receivers especially somebody like Miller but being seven yards off on 3rd and 3 isn't going to work unless the Huskies' improve as pass rushers. It's also troubling that the purpose of playing off of receivers is to prevent balls from being thrown over their heads but the Huskies are struggling to defend the bubble screens and also getting beat on vertical throws.
If there is a silver lining, after facing one experience quarterback after another to start the season, the next two games come against QBs who had a total of eight attempted passes at the collegiate level coming into the season. Also, Herring-Wilson's first two starts at cornerback came against SMU's Courtland Sutton and Miller. I'd be surprised if both of them aren't on NFL rosters at this time next year. No disrespect to the receivers the Huskies will play the rest of the way but I'm not sure they'll see another WR as good as either Sutton or Miller this season.