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UConn could have college football’s worst scoring defense since World War I

It’s time to talk about how historically bad this team is.

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The 2018 UConn Huskies are one of the worst major college football teams of this era. The Huskies are going to finish with at least one win, because they beat FCS Rhode Island — not a particularly awesome FCS team — in a Week 3 shootout, but that shouldn’t obscure the ongoing catastrophe happening here.

Through six weeks, UConn is 130th out of 130 FBS teams in S&P+. Somehow, it’s even worse than it sounds.

S&P+ is Bill Connelly’s advanced stat that uses detailed play-by-play data to paint a picture of a team’s true quality and — importantly — is adjusted for opponent.

The Huskies placing last is notable because they’re in a solid league, the AAC. S&P+ goes back to 2005, and the 13 teams to finish dead last so far have all been in leagues that are supposed to have terrible teams. The Sun Belt (four times), WAC (three times, leading up to the conference going defunct in football), Conference USA (twice), MAC (twice), and independents (twice) have produced last-place S&P+ finishers.

The AAC — broadly agreed to be the best of the non-power conferences — is not supposed to have teams as outrightly terrible as UConn.

Being in a league like the AAC is supposed to give teams a recruiting lift that prevents them from being the worst team in the sport. But that’s what the Huskies are now. Despite this athletic department being among the Group of 5’s revenue leaders (largely due to basketball), they’re the No. 169 Division I football team in the current Sagarin ranking, behind dozens of FCS teams, including a couple of FCS teams that only have one win each.

Why is UConn this terrible? It starts with unspeakably bad defense.

Through six games, the Huskies are giving up 53.7 points per game. The last team to give up more than 50 points for a game over an entire season: 1997 UL Lafayette’s 50.3. Before that: 1918 Stanford’s 60.5.

So yeah, it’s possible UConn finishes with the worst scoring defense since World War I.

Many factors have contributed to the unit’s horrific play, but let’s keep it simple: UConn is historically putrid at playing both the run and the pass.

  • The run defense is a sieve. UConn is giving up 7.8 yards per carry, easily the worst in the country and comfortably on pace to be the worst by any FBS team since at least ‘08.
  • The pass defense is just as bad. UConn’s also dead last in yards allowed per pass attempt (11.1) and opponent passer rating (202.2). These are also both comfortably on track to be the worst numbers put up by any FBS team since at least ‘08.

If a person wanted to dissect in granular detail why the defense is so bad at both elements of playing defense, they could. Two big parts: the defense is really, really young, and the Huskies have faced a pretty tough schedule so far, by Group of 5 standards (that can only get so much better, with a trip to undefeated USF up next).

In Week 5, a reporter had the gall to start to ask coach Randy Edsall a question about whether this monstrosity might lead Edsall to fire coordinator Bill Crocker. The question never got asked, because Edsall cut him off: “What’s that have to do with us? I’m done. I can see where this is going.” The best way I can put it is that he then high-stepped it out of the press conference like a receiver being chased by a UConn DB:

Coaching UConn’s defense in October 2018 is barely different than running the New York Stock Exchange in November 1929.

Connecticut’s offense and special teams are merely awful, not disasters of historic proportions.

The Huskies are 86th in Offensive S&P+, 89th in yards per play, and 122nd in scoring.

They are 107th in Special Teams S&P+

So those are bright spots.

In Week 2, the Huskies were the victims of one of the most comprehensive demolitions in college football history, by Boise State.

The final score was 62-7. Boise State’s good, and UConn’s bad, and it wouldn’t be that memorable if the Broncos hadn’t put up the obscene numbers they did that day.

Boise State had 818 yards of total offense to UConn’s 193. Here’s the list of the biggest yardage gaps since 2000 between two teams in an FBS game:

  1. Boise State vs. UConn 2018 (+625)
  2. Boise State vs. NIU 2015 (+621)
  3. Oregon vs. New Mexico 2010 (+613)
  4. Alabama vs. Vanderbilt 2017 (+599)

This is what ESPN’s win probability graph looked like during the game:

ESPN’s live win projection during the game

You should really just go here and read Spencer Hall’s whole blow-by-blow of why this was such an unusual domination. And it’s hard to absorb how intense a dropkicking Boise State delivered to UConn’s forehead without reading the box score for yourself.

It’s worth appreciating UConn, though, because this team’s unprecedented.

  • Its run defense is unprecedentedly bad.
  • Its pass defense is unprecedentedly bad.
  • Its total defense is unprecedentedly bad.
  • Its overall team quality is unprecedentedly bad for a team from a conference like the AAC.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re living through history until it’s already become history. If you get a chance this season, watch a UConn game and soak in so you can say you did.