Pitt Recap - Grading the Huskies

Matt Bonislawski's surprise return to active duty wasn't enough to prevent UConn from dropping its fourth straight game. It wasn't even enough to avoid a shutout as the Huskies fell to Pittsburgh 24-0 Saturday in a Big East Conference game at Heinz Field. UConn falls to 4-5 and needs to win its final two home games, against South Florida and Louisville, to secure bowl eligibility.

Here is a position-by-position look at how UConn fared against the Panthers:

OFFENSE

 

Offensive line: The inevitable shakeup of the front five has begun. Coach Randy Edsall took out center Trey Tonsing and tackle Craig Berry and replaced them with a pair of redshirt freshmen, Keith Gray and William Beatty, respectively. Grant Preston shifted from left to right tackle to make room for Beatty. The results were encouraging, if not a complete success. The Huskies rushed for 143 yards and amassed 299 total yards of offense. Bonislawski was sacked four times, however, and Beatty was nabbed twice for holding. And let's not forget that when UConn needed one yard on the final play of the first half to get on the scoreboard, the line couldn't provide the push at the goal line to get it.

 

"They've got a lot of work to do," Edsall said. "They need to get stronger. But I like the way they compete each day. I like what they bring us and I think in the long run those are our best people and that's why they're in there."

 

Sounds great ... for 2007.

 

Offensive Line Grade: C+

 

Quarterback: This wasn't the same Bonislawski that stood behind center in September. For one thing, he slid every chance he got. Also, his passing was as crisp as two-week-old lettuce. But the difference in the UConn offense was obvious with "Bones" calling the shots for the first time since breaking his collarbone against Syracuse on Oct. 7. The Huskies looked more decisive and less disorganized as a unit. How they managed to come away with zero points left everyone scratching their heads.

 

Part of the problem was Bonislawski's inability to complete a pass of any significant length. Swing passes and slant patterns are about his limit, and that may never change. When Bones tried to extend the defense and get the Huskies back in the game with some deep passes, he was picked off three times.

 

The poise was there. The production was lacking.

 

Quarterback Grade: C

 

Wide receivers/tight end: Brandon Young caught a team-high six passes, including some difficult receptions in traffic. Young even caught a 30-yarder late in the first half that would have been a touchdown, except Bonislawski's pass was behind him, giving the Pitt secondary a chance to push him out of bounds before he could scoot into the end zone. That proved costly when UConn was stopped inches from the goal line on the final play of the first half. But that wasn't Young's fault. He had a fine afternoon and is far and away UConn's best receiver.

 

As for the rest, Edsall said it best: "They manhandled us. They manhandled our receivers. Our receivers aren't strong enough."

 

Did you know that the 30-yard pass from Bonislawski to Young was the longest reception of the season by a wide receiver? That's weak.

 

All Other Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Grade: D

Brandon Young's Grade: B

 

Running backs/fullbacks: The famed 2-1/2-man backfield, as coined by Edsall in the wake of Lou Allen's season-ending finger injury, did all right for itself --- especially when compared to the 12-yard effort it came up with against West Virginia (yeah, that's mostly the offensive line's fault, but the runners have to be judged by the numbers to some degree, don't they?).

 

Terry Caulley burst free in the first quarter for a 35-yard gain that must have felt like a 135-yard run, considering how bottled up he has been for the past few weeks. Cornell Brockington returned to prominence by leading UConn with 73 yards on 19 carries, though if he had just muscled forward for one more yard at the end of the first half, the outcome may have been different.

 

Caulley rushed the ball only six times as Edsall tried to lighten the junior's workload. Caulley fell trying to zip into a hole near the goal line late in the first half (the play was called back because of a holding penalty anyway), a clear sign to Edsall that Caulley's knee is not 100 percent.

 

"That's not Terry Caulley," Edsall said. "That's a health issue."

 

Running Backs/Fullbacks Grade: B-

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive line: The front four kept Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko pretty well contained, though the ends (Shawn Mayne and Dan Davis in particular) had all kinds of trouble getting into the Panthers' backfield. Deon McPhee was the leading tackler among linemen, but only with three. UConn's two sacks came from its linebackers. For the Huskies' defense to be a truly dynamic unit, this group has to do more. But the Panthers didn't rip the line to shreds the way Rutgers and West Virginia did, and there's something to be said for that.

 

Defensive Line Grade: B-

 

Linebackers: Alfred Fincher was on the sidelines for this game, urging his alma mater on during a bye week for his new team, the New Orleans Saints. Edsall had to be tempted to sneak Fincher a uniform and get him out there, because the hole in the middle of the linebacking trio is gaping. We wouldn't put it past Edsall to try this type of chicanery either, considering the lengths he went to to keep Bonislawski's start a secret.

 

Danny Lansanah had a fine afternoon, finishing with five tackles and getting his nose dirty every chance he got. He even recorded a sack for his troubles. James Hargrave was solid again, though UConn didn't force a single turnover, and the offense needs all the help it can get these days with field position and even gift touchdowns from the D, even with Bonislawski back in the lineup.

Anthony Rouzier and Ryan Henegan split time in the middle. Rouzier had a sack. Henegan made three tackles. Neither reminded anyone of Fincher.

 

Linebackers Grade: C+

 

Defensive backs: M.J. Estep returned to the lineup after losing his job last month to Marvin Taylor, but he came back in a new spot: strong safety. Taylor remained at free safety and led the Huskies with nine tackles, all of the solo variety. Estep collected six and looked more comfortable at the position than the deposed Dahna Deleston had in a long time.

 

"M.J.'s going to be where he's supposed to be" on the field, Edsall said. "Sometimes Dahna's still struggling with that now that we're starting to play a few more talented teams."

 

Darius Butler and Tyvon Branch were solid on the corners, though Butler did draw an interference penalty early in the game. Neither had an interception, however, which is something the Huskies need to survive with their creeping, crawling offense.

 

Defensive Backs Grade: B

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams may have cost the Huskies the game. Trailing 7-0, UConn methodically rolled downfield, covering 83 yards over the course of 7:07. Unable to punch the ball in, the Huskies had to settle for a field goal. Matt Nuzie's 20-yard kick was snuffed out by Darrelle Revis, who blew around Dan Murray (who was left to block two men by himself, it should be noted) to block the kick. Josh Lay picked it up and breezed 71 yards into the end zone. All that time and effort resulted in seven points for the opposition. That doesn't just hurt. That kills.


"That was the big momentum shifter of the whole game," Jason Williams said

 

Nuzie actually did kick another field goal, but UConn chose to take it off the scoreboard after Pitt was penalized on the play. The Huskies tried for a touchdown instead and came up short.


The coverage teams did their job, and Darius Butler had a 65-yard kickoff return late in the game. But Chris Pavasaris, in his first start of the season, punted a ball off the right upright while trying to pin Pitt deep in its own territory. Pavasaris later had a 47-yarder that was downed at the 1, but the punt off the goalpost was too pathetic to be overlooked.

 

Special Teams Grade: D+

 

 


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