EAST HARTFORD - Itâ€™s akin to a basketball team celebrating a goaltend.
In one of oddest compliments a longtime defensive football coach has ever given his team, Randy Edsall said one of the most positive efforts in UConnâ€™ game against Rhode Island Saturday came on a play that the opposing quarterback exploited a gaping hole in the defense and ran 37 yards almost untouched into the end zone.
Such is the oddity that is the Husky football team this season.
The UConn football team earned its first victory of the year Saturday. But for the third time in three weeks the Husky defense had holes poked in it early and often, this time by an FCS squad.
In a matchup of longtime New England rivals now occupying different tiers of college football, UConn held off Rhode Island 56-49 Saturday afternoon at Pratt & Whitney Stadium before an announced crowd of 20,191.
Edsall saw cause for hope, however, and not just because his team managed to squeak out a victory.
UConn safety Tyler Coyleâ€™s recovery effort, in which he poked the ball away from Rhode Island quarterback JaJuan Lawson right at the goal line during that 37-yard scoring run in the second quarter was positive sign.
â€śEven though it was a touchdown, that play by Tyler Coyle knocking that ball out, I think that tells you something about these kids. Theyâ€™re going to lay it on the line. Do they need to get better? Yeah. Do we have to get better as coaches? Yes. All those things,â€ť Edsall said. â€śBut if you have that kind of effort and that kind of attitude, you have a chance.â€ť
Coyle, the sophomore from Windsor, didnâ€™t give the Huskies their only positive defensive play of the afternoon. There were a handful.
However, in a game that featured 15 touchdowns, 105 points and 1,123 yards of offense, the fact that it ended with a rare defensive stand was remarkable. UConn linebacker sacked Lawson on the gameâ€™s final play, with the Rams on the brink of the tying touchdown.
â€śIâ€™m really happy for our kids to get a win,â€ť Edsall said. â€śIt doesnâ€™t matter how we got it. The bottom line is we won.â€ť
The good news UConn fans? Your Huskiesâ€™ seven-game losing streak is over.
The bad news? You canâ€™t imagine them winning another game this season without scoring 56 points again.
And that feeling, or at least one close to it, is shared by some of the Huskies. Some members of UConnâ€™s offensive unit feel pressure to score touchdowns on every possession.
â€śThe way our team has been playing lately, for us to stay in the game sometimes yes we have to score every time,â€ť UConn receiver Hergy Mayala said after scoring twice himself on Saturday.
The coaching staff feels the same way at times.
Edsall, who for much of his head coaching tenure career was THE most conservative decision maker in college football, has quickly become Mr. Fourth Down.
The Huskies left their offense on the field four times on fourth downs against the Rams, and converted each one.
Edsall went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Rhode Island 28 in the first quarter with the game tied at 7. He then went on fourth down twice on their next drive, including a fourth-and-2 from the Rhody 27 and a fourth-and-1 from the 11, eschewing makeable field goals each time.
Rather than punt in a 42-42 game in the third quarter on fourth-and-2 from the opponentâ€™s 45, Edsall went for it again.
The coach was asked if he was so aggressive on fourth down because he felt pressure to score on every possession.
â€śTruthfully? Yeah,â€ť Edsall said. â€śI had that feeling going into it. I used some analytics, too.â€ť
UConn converted all four, and scored touchdowns at the end of each drive.
â€śI can make the decision to go but the credit goes to the kids,â€ť Edsall said.
The kids Edsall has on the other side of the ball clearly have to pick it up, of course.
Edsall equated his defenseâ€™s efforts to that of a tennis player trying to break his or her opponentâ€™s serve. Well, the Huskies have to take a step or two closer to the baseline and get aggressive with their returns.
The Huskies just allowed 49 points and 550 yards to a team that has fewer than the FCS maximum of 63 scholarships.
Itâ€™s hard to accept for a defensive-minded coach like Edsall, but itâ€™s fairly clear his offense has to score early and often.
â€śThatâ€™s the way it looks right now. Thatâ€™s kind of my mindset a little bit,â€ť Edsall said.
And those defenders? They should try having a little fun.
â€śWhy go and play tentative? Just let it fly. What have you got to lose? Itâ€™s a game. Itâ€™s just a game. Itâ€™s not life and death. Itâ€™s a game. Have fun,â€ť Edsall said.