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Viewpoint Teaching process continues for Edsall, UConn

September 1, 2018

Randy Edsall looked at the 2018 schedule and declared it 12 one-game seasons. So this would be after Season 1 on Thursday night, a cruel measuring stick for where UConn is and where UConn dreams to be.

At one end of the room at Rentschler Field following the 56-17 loss to UCF, sophomore safety Omar Fortt talked about former UConn linebacker Alfred Fincher. At the other end, sophomore running back Kevin Mensah talked about bowed heads.

Both had a point to make.

“Coach does a great job of bringing people in, giving us motivational speeches,” Fortt said. “We just had Alfred earlier today, he gave us a great speech. He talked about togetherness, that we all have each other’s back. He honed in on how to be a better leader, a better man, being truthful with yourself. No excuses. Play the game right. Respect the game. You can’t cheat the grind.

“You definitely can’t have any cancers. We want everyone to buy into this program, because coach Edsall knows what he’s doing. That’s how we’ll be great.”

Mensah, emotions still raw from the 39-point pounding, was not nearly as measured.

“When the defense let up points, they just had their heads down,” Mensah told reporters. “Everyone was not saying, ‘Hey, we got it. We’re still in this game.’ It was just a different vibe and I didn’t like it.”

Mensah also said, “I don’t think a lot of people are bought in right now. I don’t think they’re really involved in us coming together. I don’t think some of the people buy into what coach Edsall was saying. If we’re not all together, that’s the result you’re going to see out there.”

On AAC media day in July, Edsall held up his hands with 10 fingers spread apart to describe last year’s team. “All going in different directions,” he said, “a ‘me’ attitude.” Edsall said players recognized this, produced a mantra, “Rise As One,” and he was impressed they were buying into the program.

Edsall has a 13-player leadership council, in lieu of captains, and Mensah is not on it. He had problems with academics last spring and had to work his way out of the doghouse to get 20 carries in the opener. You can argue Mensah isn’t in the best position to speak for the group. That, at least this early, his words would be been better expressed in the locker room. You could argue his words could be more divisive than rising as one.

Yet what if Mensah is right? The term “buying in” is an all-encompassing one. It means everything from conditioning to personal conduct to practice effort to technique to, yes, game demeanor. Maybe Mensah used an all-encompassing term to mean something more specific. If he saw heads down, voices not totally supportive, if he is brave enough to speak out and backs it up on the field, hey, go for it.

Maybe it will wake up some people. Maybe it will lead to some kids gaining confidence.

Look, Randy Edsall doesn’t need to be College Football Coach of the Year.

He does need to the best teacher on the UConn campus this school year.

This is a team that has won four of 23 games against FBS teams since 2016. To believe this young team has a deep confidence would be delusional. “If you thought they were going to come in here and be Man Mountain Dean (an early 20th century wrestler) and first-team All-American first game against Central Florida you’re kidding yourself,” Edsall said.

So we won’t kid ourselves. It’s not going to happen at Boise State against quarterback Brett Rypien next Saturday night. Oh, there’s the chance of a miracle upset. Just as there’s a chance of FCS Rhode Island upsetting UConn on Sept. 15.

A solid mid-season measuring stick should be Cincinnati on Sept. 29. After difficult road games at Memphis and USF, the five final games against UMass, at Tulsa, against SMU, at ECU and against Temple will tell us much about Edsall’s mantra of “progress” and who is buying in. There are W’s to be had down the stretch.

Until then it’s wise not to draw over-arching conclusions. New season. New stuff. UConn defense went to four down linemen in the opener and even UCF coach Josh Heupel admitted his team hadn’t prepared for it. Of course, the Knights still needed only 21:52 of possession to ring up 652 yards. They had only two fourth downs and one resulted in a touchdown when UConn brought seven-man heat and McKenzie Milton deftly found his running back open on a wheel route. When an opponent amasses touchdown drives of 61, 81, 76, 74, 65, 73, 90 and 90 yards each under 2:40, you’ve been shredded.

The torching of cornerback Keyshawn Paul was unusually cruel on national television. He took a pass interference in the end zone that led to the first touchdown, got beat on a beautifully thrown ball by Milton on the second TD. After a penalty for a late hit by Paul, Gabriel Davis beat Paul on the third TD. After a pass interference call on Paul led to UCF’s fifth touchdown, he finally was pulled in favor of fellow freshman Ryan Carroll. Tre Nixon got inside leverage on Carroll and Milton easily found him for a 10-yard TD.

It was more than kids getting torched by a Heisman Trophy candidate. When Eli Thomas and Tahj Herring-Wilson both went to tight end Michael Colubiale, for instance, Otis Anderson came out of the backfield wide open for a touchdown catch.

Edsall called communication an issue. A failed check in the secondary. A linebacker pulling out of the box, the lineman not being alerted and failing to close off an interior gap. Etc.

“Nowadays kids don’t communicate as much,” Edsall said. “They text and do all that stuff.”

Who knew social media would be a hurdle to buying in, too?

Three turnovers, two failed fourth down conversions, all inside the UCF 35, Edsall bemoaned squandering a possible 35 points. David Pindell used his feet and spread the ball around — OMG — UConn rediscovered tight ends. The Huskies moved the ball well. And did a horrible job finishing.

After Pindell ran for 157 yards, some by design, some not, opponents are going to prepare differently for him. As nimble as he, he still needs to hit passes down field. If he carries 22 times each game injuries loom.

Edsall signed on for a great challenge 18 months ago. There still are many issues to address each week, so many players to “buy in,” so many messages to deliver. His message to his freshmen after Season 1 of 12?

“You’re not a freshman anymore,” Edsall said.

His point is they have felt the fire of speed and speed. They know the reality and now they must believe in themselves. Experience, Edsall said, can be the best teacher. And an experienced teacher can be the best coach of a young team still needing to buy in.

jeff.jacobs

@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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