Viewpoint Edsall turns eyes toward next season
EAST HARTFORD — Against a blue-gray November sky, the sorriest UConn season of the FBS era ended Saturday.
It wobbled out of the gate, was splattered by Central Florida and Boise State, rebounded to eke out a win over an FCS opponent and from there slowly, agonizingly bled out like a wounded Husky.
Good God, it was sad to watch.
The saddest part as late afternoon gave way to chilly evening at Rentschler Field was that the Huskies could not employ Connecticut high school rules and use running time to end this horror sooner.
Alas, the NCAA is a stickler for rules, regulations and a working scoreboard.
When the 57-7 loss to Temple was complete, when this 1-11 season was complete, the Huskies had secured their place as the worst defensive team in the history of the college game.
The 617.4 yards per game allowed smashed Kansas’ 2015 mark of 560.83 yards, according to the NCAA record book. The 7,402 total yards allowed were the most anybody could find, more than the 7,120 Texas Tech allowed in 2015 over 13 games.
The 50.41 points allowed per game eclipsed Louisiana-Lafayette’s record of 50.27 from 1997. The records are iffy when you start going back a century, but the best as folks can tell, it’s the highest average since Stanford allowed 60 per game in 1918. The 605 total points allowed is an NCAA record, eclipsing East Carolina’s 572 in 13 games in 2010.
And yes, they pass the eye test as the worst defense ever.
Put it this way: If the Huskies had scored 50 points in every game they still would haven’t been bowl-eligible.
“We don’t have the personnel right now to compete in this league,” coach Randy Edsall said. “Personnel wins games. You try to bring in the (Alfred) Finchers and the (Dan) Orlovskys, Desi (Cullen), Danny (Lansanah), Tyler (Lorenzen), all those guys. These guys don’t have the pride in this program yet. They don’t. They don’t understand what it took to build this program. It’s going to take us a while. People may not like it, but I’m just telling the truth.
“We’ve got to find guys who love football and want to compete each and every day. That’s how that’s how they got great (in his first tenure). It’s my program but it’s their team. If they don’t want to go out and give it everything they got and put in the time and effort in the weight room, it doesn’t matter what any coach says. You win with people. You have to have the right people. We don’t have all the right people yet.”
There is a website called coacheshotseat.com and it has listed Edsall as second- or third-hottest during the past month. Edsall isn’t getting fired in the coming weeks. No way. No how. I asked anyway: Do you still have complete faith in your head coach?
“Of course,” athletic director David Benedict said. “To even be asked that question is somewhat inappropriate. Randy isn’t the reason the program is at where it’s at. We’ve had a lot of change and lack of continuity that creates the situation we’re in.
“I see the rebuilding process as Randy stated. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Randy is a builder of programs and he’s going to build this program.”
When I asked in late August how he’d define success this year, Edsall said, “I’ll tell you that at the end of the year.” It was the end, so the question was repeated.
“There wasn’t much success, was there?” Edsall said. “I saw some guys get better. We laid groundwork. We’re not there yet. These freshmen tried to compete. Physically, they weren’t able to compete. That’s the cards we were dealt.
“We’ve got to go recruit above them and over them. We did it with the freshmen we have and will continue to it. It’s the only way we’re going to get better. Pure and simple.”
Will defensive coordinator Billy Crocker be offered up as a sacrificial lamb? He was hired away from FCS power Villanova in 2017 to run a 3-3-5 defense and Edsall did some serious explaining how difficult it is to attract defensive ends and how this defense would allow more athletes on the field to give different looks. A veteran defense did not play well.
And when they all moved on, a defense full of freshmen and redshirt freshmen was called on to play college football when they weren’t prepared for it. Edsall also quietly went back to four down linemen for the start of the season and promised recently to remain with that alignment next season.
The defensive line, with that 350-pound bear Travis Jones, will mature. There are building blocks in the defensive backfield with Tyler Coyle, Omar Fortt and Oneil Robinson. But there especially needs to be a serious infusion at linebacker.
Asked if he still believed in his defensive coaches, Edsall said: “Yes, yes; the problem is we’re playing with linebackers who never played linebacker. We tried to makeshift guys. Go back through the recruiting process (with Bob Diaco), see how many linebackers are here that aren’t linebackers.
“When we can get some guys who have been high school linebackers and you can work with them and get them seasoned, it’s going to help you.”
Edsall pointed to Kevon Jones as one that can hit you and knock your “butt” back.
“Other than that, we don’t have one,” Edsall said.
Edsall said yes, he is looking hard at graduate transfers and junior college players.
“But understand this,” he said. “We can’t get the same kids in here as other people we compete against. We’re not on level ground there when it comes to recruiting junior college guys and graduate transfers. We have academic restrictions that don’t allow us to get some guys in.”
He pointed to one recruit who needs six more hours to be a mid-year enrollee and other schools he doesn’t need to do it.
“Right now, through no fault of the young guys, we don’t have leadership on defense,” Edsall said. “We lost the best leader we had in Eli Thomas (with a stroke), and that hurt us.”
Week after week, opponents glided by, rubber-necking at the wreck of UConn football. In the end, they saw a UConn team left with 16 successive losses to FBS teams.
“I’m not discouraged,” Edsall said. “I’m just going to go keep working. That’s all I know how to do. All I know how to do is go find guys who want to be here and give it everything they got, because I’m not putting up with that …”
He caught himself before he cursed in front of the television cameras.
“There is too much pride in this program. Those guys who have been here before are going to be mentors to some of these guys and understand what the pride was here, because that’s been lost.”
With that, Randy Edsall declared 2018 over.
“And 2019 starts tomorrow,” he said. “I’m on the road at 6 o’clock recruiting.”