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Viewpoint Walk this way

September 26, 2018

STORRS — Randy Edsall opened his weekly news conference by saying Mitch Albom had his Tuesdays with Morrie and he has his Tuesdays with the media.

“You guys don’t know how much I enjoy doing this,” the UConn football coach said.

On the scale from slapstick to biting cynicism, we’ll archive this one as “good-natured yet rather ironic.” A dollop of sarcasm with a smile.

How Edsall closed his weekly news conference, however — that was far more interesting.

It was 23 minutes, 30 seconds in when Jim Fuller of Hearst Connecticut Media began his question:

“Wake Forest just fired their defensive coordinator. Just curious, your philosophy on that ...”

“What does that have to do with us?” Edsall interjected.

“Well, I’m just …”

“I’m done,” Edsall said, cutting off Fuller. “I can see where this is going. I’m done.”

And he was. Edsall walked away from the podium toward Saturday’s game at Rentschler Field against Cincinnati.

Tuesdays with Randy usually last a half hour, so it would be unfair to paint this as him showing up sore and leaving abruptly. Sure, he wasn’t happy another opponent hung another 50 on the Huskies, but Edsall gave us our requisite national flag blue lesson in the need for consistency and accountability again.

Edsall, too, is known on occasion to suddenly make it clear that he’s done talking. But I don’t remember him shutting it down in mid-question like this.

He knew the question had implications. If he had stuck around to address the relatively rare practice of replacing assistants during a college season, and if he himself would consider any sort of change, Edsall could have used an open-ended opportunity to defend his coordinator Bill Crocker. Defend Crocker’s defensive acumen and reiterate the rudiments of his building process. It’s immense. It’s an aircraft carrier turnover. Good golly, if I had a nickel for every time I heard about all the freshmen on defense, I’d be able to pay UConn’s entrance into a Power Five conference myself.

Instead, Edsall walked off.

I took the unspoken message as, “You’re nuts for even considering I’d fire Billy at this point.” But that’s me.

Unspoken messages can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Uncertainty happens when you bail. Who knows what he would have said?

UConn’s numbers are epically horrible.

The Huskies are allowing 54.5 points a game, 10.5 more than any school in the country.

The Huskies have allowed 664 points through four games this season, 120 more than any school in the country.

The Huskies’ turnover margin of minus-1.75 per game is tied for second worst. They’ve allowed the most first downs and their third-down defensive conversion rate is near the bottom.

Granted, UCF, Boise State and Syracuse are three high-powered offenses, but FCS Rhode Island put 49 up on UConn, too.

Of the opponents’ 53 possessions, 28 have ended in touchdowns and five in field goals. That weighs against 10 punts, two fumbles recovered and one interception. Seven possessions ended with the half, although one was a terrific sack by Eli Thomas to seal the one victory over URI.

We know. The Huskies have started as many as eight freshmen/redshirt freshmen on defense. And we know, UConn switched to a 3-3-5 scheme before last year’s defensive disaster that featured all sorts of seniors and 519 yards and 37.9 points allowed per game — both near the bottom of the national list.

But I’m sorry, apologists. A question about firing assistants during the season, when the defense has been so horrid, and folding in Wake Forest firing Jay Sawvel after four games is not even close to being out of bounds.

UConn season ticket holders deserve great empathy. They are diehards. Believe me, especially for the beat guys, it’s not easy to cover UConn football either. You damn near have to suspend the competitive realities of the scoreboard and wait — on faith — for Edsall’s multiyear rebuilding plan to take shape.

Asked six minutes in where he saw the biggest improvements in his team, Edsall answered, “You guys ask that question every week.”

Are we supposed to ask how horrible the team is every week?

Edsall did catch himself on that one, and began to talk about “the little things.”

“We got better on third down on defense (against Syracuse),” he said. “Incrementally, guys do get better, but it’s not showing up where we want it to — on the scoreboard. Some guys are getting better with their eyes. Some guys are better taking their steps. The DBs are getting a little bit better fundamentally and gaining confidence.”

“One thing I will say: I don’t see our kids getting frustrated.”

Edsall can’t get afford to get frustrated either. Faced with one semi-difficult question, shutting down a news conference isn’t the best message of accountability for his young team.

Beyond who’s two-deep on the D-line, it’s hard to think of over-arching questions right now. At this point, it’s “In RE2 We Trust” or, man, shut down football and get into the Big East. The one question I did ask Edsall on Tuesday was about nurturing situational defense. From the start, I’ve been convinced Cincinnati and the final five games will give us measuring sticks about UConn’s growth that UCF, Boise State, Syracuse, USF and Memphis won’t. Those six games figure to present situations where a stop or two will spell the difference on the scoreboard.

UCF, Boise State, Syracuse, UCF, Memphis — just too much quick-strike talent for UConn to handle at this point. The back end of the schedule presents real chances for W’s, real chances for fans to have more than blind faith in the process.

Edsall gave me a thoughtful answer about guys blessed with innate talent to make plays and change games. He pointed to David Pindell as an example. He said there also are guys who, because of their knowledge, instinct and preparation, become playmakers. He’s looking to develop such players on defense.

Then he talked prudently about how he didn’t and wouldn’t bring up Hergy Mayala’s stupid taunting penalty after his touchdown and Michael Tarbutt’s subsequent missed point at the end of the one-point, season-ending loss at Cincinnati in November. Bring up mistakes at the time, he said, and move on because this is a new year.

Two minutes later he was asked about Wake Forest and, poof, he stormed off.

Three hours later there was the video and a harsh take from the oft-unforgiving website Deadspin.

Ah yes, Tuesdays with the media.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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