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UConn is improving at football for the first time in a really long time. Now to score points!

By zigging with defense when the rest of the AAC is zagging with offense, UConn is building a constantly awkward matchup that will force conference rivals to play a different game.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. A big, physical foundation

A coach's abbreviated first class is often a space-filler before the real work. But for Bob Diaco and the roster he inherited, it was a different story. Nine of the 16 played as true freshmen, even two offensive linemen.

The program Diaco inherited had been flagging. Too good defensively to bottom out, the Huskies had regressed for four years. If it turns out that Diaco knows what he's doing -- how to recruit, develop players, put them in position to succeed -- then we'll look back at 2014 as a necessary Year Zero, a reset for a program in need of one.

There was almost nothing redeeming about the 2014 team, but if you are going to stink, you might as well stink with a young team. And if you turn things around, no one's going to care that you started 2-10.

-- 2015 UConn guide

UConn had regressed, at least a little bit, for five consecutive years heading into 2015. That's both difficult to do and terrifying. The entire, ill-advised Paul Pasqualoni era had been one of minor slippage, but the fifth year of regression had a purpose.

When former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco arrived on campus in 2014, he basically stripped the depth chart down to its studs. He played a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, and UConn went from playing semi-competitive, pointless football to stinking for a cause.

In 2015, we came to understand that purpose. Granted, the Huskies' offense was still bad -- after ranking 31st in Off. S&P+ in 2009, they have now ranked 94th or worse for five consecutive years and 113th or worse for four straight -- but the defense was legitimately strong. The Huskies rose back to 38th in Def. S&P+ and, with help from a plodding tempo, held eight opponents to 17 or fewer points. And they pulled off this improvement with help from a lot of sophomores and juniors.

Last year we caught glimpses of what Diaco is attempting to build. As it did in South Bend, Diaco's defense intends to combine bend-don't-break principles with fantastic red zone defense and the ability to punish any and every mistake the offense makes. That style of defense isn't as fun as attack-attack-attack, but it can be very effective.

Meanwhile, the offense is going to be a Northeastern special, loaded with size, run-first principles, an old-school tempo, and the ability to bruise.

The offense isn't where it needs to be for UConn to become a true AAC East contender, and maybe it will never get there. But with progress on only one side of the ball, the Huskies still reached a bowl for the first time in five years last fall, and the offense returns nearly contributor. Even if there's still a low ceiling in place, there's no reason to think UConn can't take another step forward in Diaco's third year.

Bottoming out can serve a purpose. If you lose with youth and manage to keep morale from getting too low and turnover from getting too high, those younger players could eventually grow into the example you want to set for your program.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 5-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 80 | Final S&P+ Rk: 87
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep Villanova N/A 20-15 W 50% 80% -0.1
12-Sep Army 108 22-17 W 46% 62% -3.8 -2.5
19-Sep at Missouri 75 6-9 L 24% 15% +26.0 +18.0
26-Sep Navy 21 18-28 L 22% 1% +0.9 -3.0
2-Oct at BYU 35 13-30 L 19% 1% +2.4 +1.0
10-Oct at Central Florida 128 40-13 W 75% 99% +19.0 +30.0
17-Oct South Florida 44 20-28 L 56% 40% -4.1 -11.0
24-Oct at Cincinnati 72 13-37 L 10% 0% -16.7 -11.5
30-Oct East Carolina 73 31-13 W 84% 97% +23.6 +25.5
7-Nov at Tulane 119 7-3 W 53% 76% -0.3 -2.0
21-Nov Houston 26 20-17 W 83% 87% +13.4 +3.0
28-Nov at Temple 45 3-27 L 6% 0% -10.1 -12.0
26-Dec vs. Marshall 58 10-16 L 38% 11% +1.2 -1.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 19.9 114 23.9 38
Points Per Game 17.2 122 19.5 15

2. Upside emerged

UConn was very good at forcing opponents to play by the Huskies' rules in 2015. That didn't always result in a win -- in fact, with the bowl game, the Huskies still lost more than they won -- but with limited upside on offense, defining the terms of the game gave their defense the best chance to compete and stay fresh.

This team wanted to give you the fewest possible opportunities to get ahead, and from the perspective of underdog tactics, slowing the game to a crawl is a pretty good one.

It becomes an even better approach when you can move the ball at least a little bit. And if you squint, you can maybe see signs of offensive improvement ... as long as you ignore the ending of the season, anyway.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 5 games): 32% (~top 90) | Record: 2-3 | Average score: Opp 20, UConn 16 | Yards per play: Opp 5.1, UConn 4.9
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 6 games): 60% (~top 50) | Record: 4-2 | Average score: UConn 22, Opp 19 | Yards per play: Opp 5.4, UConn 5.3
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 2 games): 22% (~top 100) | Record: 0-2 | Average score: Opp 22, UConn 7 | Yards per play: Opp 4.9, UConn 3.6

A little bit of an offensive boost in the middle of the year -- the Huskies averaged 6.3 yards per play against UCF, 6.6 against USF, and 6.2 against ECU -- had an immense impact. Granted, there were duds against Cincinnati and Tulane scattered in there, but the simple ability to hit even 20 points made a significant difference. In fact, it made all the difference: UConn was 5-1 when scoring at least 20 points and 1-6 when falling short of that mark.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.15 117 IsoPPP+ 89.2 104
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.6% 101 Succ. Rt. + 95.0 91
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.9 68 Def. FP+ 30.2 79
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.7 116 Redzone S&P+ 97.7 81
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.8 ACTUAL 16 -1.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 124 100 91 104
RUSHING 115 102 86 110
PASSING 103 84 95 81
Standard Downs 104 91 107
Passing Downs 92 89 94
Q1 Rk 96 1st Down Rk 104
Q2 Rk 97 2nd Down Rk 83
Q3 Rk 79 3rd Down Rk 94
Q4 Rk 108

3. Staying out of the defense's way

After the offense's dismal showing in 2014, Diaco shuffled his staff around a bit, moving offensive coordinator Mike Cummings to more of a co-coordinator role and handing the main coordinator title to Frank Verducci. This was the first coordinator role for the 35-year coaching veteran; Verducci had spent almost his entire career as either an offensive line or tight ends coach. He was an Iowa grad assistant when Diaco was playing for Hayden Fry, and he ended up spending a full decade coaching under Fry before taking on a new job about every year since.

It appears he's staying for a second year at UConn -- the first time he's held the same job in back-to-back campaigns since 2007-08 -- which suggests that he delivered a lot of what Diaco wanted in 2015.

The identity was clear last fall even if the results were lacking. UConn was going to take minimal risks, run the ball frequently, eat as much clock as possible, and occasionally try to get quarterback Bryant Shirreffs on the edge where he could make some plays. Shirreffs completed 60 percent of his passes and gained at least five yards on 57 percent of his non-sack carries. He got hurt against Houston and missed the dud against Temple, but it probably shouldn't be a surprise that his three best games were UCF (185.5 passer rating), USF (146.2), and ECU (136.9).

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Bryant Shirreffs 6'2, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 168 279 2078 9 8 60.2% 34 10.9% 6.1
Tim Boyle 31 60 281 0 2 51.7% 2 3.2% 4.3
Garrett Anderson 6'1, 224 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 2 2 53 1 0 100.0% 1 33.3% 15.7
Tyler Davis 6'4, 231 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8005
Donovan Williams 6'4, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8348

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Arkeel Newsome RB 5'7, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519 183 792 6 4.3 5.1 33.3% 1 1
Bryant Shirreffs QB 6'2, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 120 662 3 5.5 3.1 56.7% 7 3
Ron Johnson RB 5'11, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106 88 224 5 2.5 3.2 26.1% 2 1
Josh Marriner RB 17 31 0 1.8 1.3 17.6% 0 0
Max DeLorenzo RB 13 36 0 2.8 3.8 15.4% 0 0
Noel Thomas WR 6'1, 199 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8414 5 22 0 4.4 2.0 60.0% 0 0
Tim Boyle QB 4 6 0 1.5 0.0 0.0% 0 0
Nate Hopkins RB 6'0, 212 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8214







4. Shirreffs needs help from the run game

Shirreffs was decent if inconsistent, but UConn's biggest problem was that it was a run-first offense that couldn't run very well. Running backs Arkeel Newsome, Ron Johnson, Josh Marriner, and Max DeLorenzo combined to average 23 carries per game but averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. Only 30 percent of their carries gained even five yards, which meant that the primary purpose of these 23 carries per game was killing about 40 seconds of game clock.

Newsome did show a little bit of explosiveness on the rare occasion that he saw open field. His average of 5.1 highlight yards per opportunity was solid, and he averaged 8 yards per target out of the backfield, good for a running back. At 5'7, 180, he isn't the prototype water-carrier, but he's an asset overall. If he can improve enough to prevent Shirreffs from throwing most of his passes on second- or third-and-long, then a seasoned passing game would benefit greatly.

UConn returns two decent receivers in Noel Thomas and Tyraiq Beals (and a lot is expected of sophomore Hergy Mayala) and two efficient tight ends in Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers. Each of last year's top six targets are back, but down-and-distance need to favor this group a bit more than it did last year, through either more varied play-calling (and, in theory, more first-down passing) or.more effective rushing. Shirreffs' dual-threat nature already opens him up to sacks and hits, but having him pass mostly in obvious-pass situations doubles that risk.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Noel Thomas WR 6'1, 199 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8414 92 54 719 58.7% 28.7% 7.8 55.4% 51.1% 1.38
Arkeel Newsome RB 5'7, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519 58 45 465 77.6% 18.1% 8.0 53.4% 41.4% 1.79
Alec Bloom TE 6'6, 257 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8056 36 22 314 61.1% 11.2% 8.7 47.2% 50.0% 1.56
Tyraiq Beals WR 6'0, 183 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7933 32 24 275 75.0% 10.0% 8.6 43.8% 43.8% 1.94
Tommy Myers TE 6'5, 250 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7818 20 16 232 80.0% 6.2% 11.6 65.0% 65.0% 1.59
Hergy Mayala WR 6'2, 203 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126 20 7 80 35.0% 6.2% 4.0 70.0% 30.0% 1.26
Thomas Lucas WR
15 7 83 46.7% 4.7% 5.5 66.7% 46.7% 0.97
Josh Marriner RB
12 8 71 66.7% 3.7% 5.9 25.0% 41.7% 1.41
Max DeLorenzo RB 10 5 35 50.0% 3.1% 3.5 40.0% 30.0% 0.95
Aaron McLean WR 6'5, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7826 6 4 56 66.7% 1.9% 9.3 16.7% 33.3% 2.32
Ron Johnson RB 5'11, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106 6 4 29 66.7% 1.9% 4.8 16.7% 16.7% 2.40
Brian Lemelle WR 5'10, 170 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8522 2 2 27 100.0% 0.6% 13.5 50.0% 100.0% 1.07
Chris Lee TE 6'7, 257 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7908
Billy Williams
(Northern Iowa)
TE 6'2, 245 So. NR NR
Frank Battle WR 6'5, 193 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8076
Zordan Holman TE 6'5, 250 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7633
Quayvon Skanes WR 5'10, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8309
Jay Rose TE 6'4, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8261

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 92.7 2.38 3.39 37.8% 61.5% 24.8% 62.7 11.6% 8.1%
Rank 106 123 51 83 93 119 121 128 81
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Tyler Samra RG 13 26
Richard Levy RG 6'6, 316 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519 13 25
Andreas Knappe RT 6'8, 319 Sr. NR NR 13 20
Brendan Vechery RG/C 6'6, 307 Jr. NR NR 13 13
Tommy Hopkins LG 6'6, 316 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7995 11 11
Ryan Crozier C 6'4, 296 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7811 0 3
Trey Rutherford RG 6'5, 309 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7808 2 2
Matt Peart LT 6'7, 291 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 0 0
Steve Hashemi LG 6'6, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 0 0
Daniel Oak C 6'3, 295 So. NR 0.7000 0 0
Kyle Bockeloh RG
0 0
Kyle Schafenacker OL 6'3, 282 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8425 0 0
Cameron DeGeorge OL 6'5, 260 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8466

Nino Leone OL 6'5, 335 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7979


5. Real, real big

Simply having a big line doesn't mean you have a good line. Indeed, a full quarter of UConn's rushes were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage, and the Huskies had one of the eight worst adjusted sack rates in the country. Even though running backs and Shirreffs almost certainly contributed to those poor stats ... these are really poor stats. With minimal help, the line still wasn't good enough.

But if you're going to stink, you might as well stink while making opponents run a long way to get around you.

Above, I list 12 offensive linemen, 10 of whom are returnees. Nine of the 12 are at least 6'5, and five of six with starting experience are at least 307 pounds. That's some solid beef, and the experience of the beef is a bit stronger than it was last year. UConn entered 2015 with 35 returning career starts; the Huskies boast 52 this time around. This only means so much if the talent isn't there, but it is a sign of what Diaco, Verducci and Cummings want to build.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.17 24 IsoPPP+ 106.1 44
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.6% 53 Succ. Rt. + 101.2 63
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.4 81 Off. FP+ 28.7 93
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.5 11 Redzone S&P+ 114.8 21
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.6 ACTUAL 25.0 +5.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 33 52 63 44
RUSHING 60 52 59 48
PASSING 20 54 73 38
Standard Downs 47 46 43
Passing Downs 71 94 59
Q1 Rk 45 1st Down Rk 82
Q2 Rk 67 2nd Down Rk 90
Q3 Rk 57 3rd Down Rk 35
Q4 Rk 70

6. Major improvement on D

Only 13 teams allowed fewer 30-yard gains than UConn, only three gave up fewer 30-yard passes, and only 10 allowed fewer points per scoring opportunity. Despite a little bit of inefficiency versus the pass (and a pass rush that didn't help out just a ton), UConn pulled off a respond-and-react style of defense quite well in 2015. The Huskies stiffened when the goal line came within view, and few defenses did as well in short-yardage situations.

Few defenses improved more than UConn's in 2015. The Huskies basically lopped a touchdown per game off of their (opponent-adjusted) season averages, and while there was some injuries luck in there -- if you define a "regular" as someone who averages at least one tackle per game, then 16 regulars combined to miss only 10 games (plus, in a different form of injuries luck, Houston's star quarterback Greg Ward Jr. barely played against UConn because of injury) -- the progress and identity were clear. Now we'll see what happens with more experience and, yes, probably more injury.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 99 2.84 2.58 36.3% 54.5% 19.6% 86 5.2% 5.3%
Rank 68 60 10 44 12 70 89 59 100
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Folorunso Fatukasi DT 6'4, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7961 12 42.5 6.2% 8.0 7.5 0 0 4 0
Luke Carrezola DE 6'3, 260 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7801 13 36.5 5.3% 11.5 6.0 0 1 2 0
Julian Campenni DT 13 21.0 3.0% 4.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Kenton Adeyemi DE 12 21.0 3.0% 3.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Mikal Myers DT 6'1, 325 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8139 12 19.0 2.8% 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Stapleton DE 6'4, 252 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7956 13 12.0 1.7% 4.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Cole Ormsby DE 6'3, 262 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7900 8 9.0 1.3% 2.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Sean Marinan DT 6'1, 291 Sr. NR NR 12 5.5 0.8% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dallas Parker DE 6'4, 251 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844
James Atkins DE 6'5, 278 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333
Kevin Murphy DT 6'1, 285 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8150
David Ryslik DT 6'4, 307 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8292
Philippe Okounam DE 6'5, 285 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8118
Felton Blackwell DT 6'2, 331 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7891
Noel Brouse DE 6'5, 265 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8006








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Junior Joseph LB 6'1, 242 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8306 13 67.0 9.7% 3.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
Graham Stewart LB 13 54.5 7.9% 9.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Marquise Vann LB 12 36.5 5.3% 2.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Matthew Walsh LB 6'1, 245 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7860 13 33.0 4.8% 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
E.J. Levenberry
(Florida State)
LB 6'3, 245 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9226 13 16.0 2.1% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Vontae Diggs LB 6'2, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322 11 10.5 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jon Hicks LB 6'2, 237 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8124 12 8.0 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Omaine Stephens LB 6'3, 232 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 11 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jalen Stevens LB 6'3, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8309
Chris Britton LB 6'1, 235 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8233
Nazir Williams LB 6'3, 252 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8190
William Richardson LB 6'2, 246 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7988
Connor Freeborn LB 6'5, 259 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7973
Ryan Gilmartin LB 6'1, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8092








7. A few spots to fill (and a lot of candidates)

Of those regulars referenced above, UConn returns four of six on the line, three of five linebackers, and three of five defensive backs. That's not bad, but some talent did leave Storrs. Linebacker Graham Stewart, perhaps UConn's most disruptive defender against the run, is gone, as are end Kenton Adeyemi, tackle Julian Campenni, and linebacker Marquise Vann. There will be new names on the two-deep.

That said, it's hard to worry too much. Ends Cole Ormsby and Cameron Stapleton, tackles Mikal Myers and Sean Marinan, and linebackers Matthew Walsh, Vontae Diggs, and Jon Hicks all spent some time in the rotation. Plus, UConn welcomes a host of redshirt freshmen into the competition, plus Florida State transfer E.J. Levenberry. Stewart might be particularly tricky to replace, but the list of candidates for the new open spots is large and exciting. I'm figuring the front seven probably improves this year.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Andrew Adams SS 13 80.5 11.7% 3.5 0 3 3 0 0
Obi Melifonwu FS 6'3, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8189 13 73.0 10.6% 2 0 2 5 0 0
Jhavon Williams CB 5'10, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7988 13 48.5 7.0% 2 0 3 7 0 0
Jamar Summers CB 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7981 13 32.0 4.6% 0.5 0 8 3 0 0
Junior Lee FS 12 16.5 2.4% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Ellis Marder SS
12 11.0 1.6% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Javon Hadley CB 5'10, 175 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8248 9 7.5 1.1% 1 0 0 1 0 0
John Green CB 5'10, 186 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8069 11 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Brice McAllister CB 5'11, 193 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7865 13 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 2 0
Jordan Floyd S
8 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nick Vitale CB 5'8, 175 Sr. NR NR 12 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Watkins S 5'11, 200 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7785
Aaron Garland S 5'11, 193 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8141
Marshé Terry S 6'4, 206 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7983
John Robinson IV CB 6'2, 181 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7948
Tahj Herring CB 6'1, 188 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8400
Eddie Hahn S 6'3, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8318








8. Lucky and good

UConn were a bit lucky in the injuries department, and the Huskies got some decent bounces, too. They benefited by about three points per game in the turnovers department, primarily because they might have been unsustainably good at reeling in interceptions. The trio of Obi Melifonwu, Jhavon Williams, and Jamar Summers combined for one interception and 12 pass breakups in 2014; the same three had 13 picks and 15 breakups last fall. On average, you end up with one INT for every three to four PBUs. A few of those picks hit the turf, and UConn's season might take on a different complexion.

That said, these three are clear play-makers. They have, after all, defensed 41 passes over the last two years while also recording eight tackles for loss (mostly from Melifonwu).

One area of concern in the back: UConn is maybe one injury away from being perilously thin at safety. Williams and Summers are back, as is basically every other cornerback, but the loss of Andrew Adams, Junior Lee, and Ellis Marder means Melifonwu will be surrounded by some new faces. Sophomore Anthony Watkins was evidently solid in the spring, and big redshirt freshman Marshé Terry and junior Brice McAllister are both options as well. If Melifonwu has a solid partner in the back, and the luck of the bounce doesn't swing too hard in the other direction, this could easily be a top-30 defense.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Justin Wain 6'3, 216 Sr. 75 38.2 6 39 22 81.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Michael Tarbutt 6'0, 184 So. 26 57.7 5 0 19.2%
Bobby Puyol 5'10, 180 Sr. 25 60.4 12 0 48.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Bobby Puyol 5'10, 180 Sr. 21-24 12-13 92.3% 4-5 80.0%
Michael Tarbutt 6'0, 184 So. 0-0 0-0 N/A 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Arkeel Newsome KR 5'7, 180 Jr. 19 22.6 0
Josh Marriner KR 4 14.3 0
Nick Vitale PR 5'8, 175 Sr. 3 -4.3 0
Brian Lemelle PR 5'10, 170 Sr. 2 7.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 25
Field Goal Efficiency 23
Punt Return Success Rate 127
Kick Return Success Rate 107
Punt Success Rate 18
Kickoff Success Rate 98

9. Punting on punt returns

Thanks mostly to kicker Bobby Puyol and punter Justin Wain, this was a solid special teams unit last year. Neither kickoffs nor kick returns were a strength, but that wasn't a big issue because there weren't many kickoffs in UConn games.

The biggest issue was punt returns -- UConn didn't really have any. Opponents punted 57 times in 2015, but the Huskies attempted returns on only five of them ... and those five returns gained all of two net yards. Yuck. There are worse things in the world than a fair catch, but if the Huskies can at least generate occasional yardage on returns, it would very much help in the field position battle: UConn ranked only 77th in field position margin last year.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
1-Sep Maine NR 23.1 91%
10-Sep at Navy 66 -8.0 32%
17-Sep Virginia 68 -0.4 49%
24-Sep Syracuse 44 -4.3 40%
29-Sep at Houston 53 -10.0 28%
8-Oct Cincinnati 70 0.0 50%
15-Oct at South Florida 41 -12.8 23%
22-Oct Central Florida 99 8.4 69%
29-Oct at East Carolina 78 -5.5 38%
4-Nov Temple 61 -1.8 46%
19-Nov at Boston College 50 -10.2 28%
26-Nov Tulane 122 16.0 82%
Projected wins: 5.8
Five-Year F/+ Rk -16.1% (93)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 83 / 77
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 9 / 1.8
2015 TO Luck/Game +3.0
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 82% (94%, 70%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 5.7 (0.3)

10. Lots of tossups

If the UConn offense becomes less awful and the defense produces at a top-30 or top-40 level, that's a solid team. Because last year was the first sign of hope in a while, S&P+ projections keep the Huskies at a conservative 81st this year, which makes sense. But it's not hard to see them at least cracking into the 70s.

Even at 81st, though, the Huskies have a decent shot at returning to a bowl. They are projected to go about 6-6 with three likely wins, four likely losses, and five games with a win probability between 38 and 50 percent. With a bit more offensive improvement, something like 8-4 is within reach. With a little less luck in the injuries and bounces departments, a regression to 4-8 is an option, too.

I appreciate what Diaco is building. it seems like a sustainable way of building competitive teams in a region with plenty of defensive talent but few offensive difference-makers (at least, few who stay in the region). But in a conference where seemingly every program has made an intriguing hire and is improving, UConn will have to continue growing to maintain a bowl presence.