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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Commentary

Retribution for Cougars will depend on quarterback


WEB-Justin Tijerina-Football Greg Ward Jr

The Cougars will go into the game against UConn with their star quarterback under center, looking to expose a defense that held them to just 17 points. | File photo/The Cougar

The Cougars enter the game against the University of Connecticut Huskies with one similarity to last year: They are undefeated.

That is where the comparison ends, though.

The main difference in this year’s game is a healthy senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who will start the game instead of coming in to play savior in the fourth quarter — like the Cougars’ last matchup with the Huskies.

Without Ward, the team struggled to move the ball. They managed only to reach the red zone once and converted it into a field goal.

The Cougars were averaging 256.3 passing and 255.3 rushing yards per game entering the game against the Huskies last year. In the game, however, the Cougars tallied just 190 yards passing — not including Ward’s 18 — and a meager 110 yards on the ground.

Although senior quarterback Kyle Postma can scramble, he doesn’t have the same ability to make a play with his legs when the pocket collapses like Ward.

In the games prior to the Huskies, Ward rushed for 810 yards, which accounted for 32 percent of the team’s total. He also scored 16 out of 37 Cougars’ rushing touchdowns.

Some of those yards and touchdowns came on designed runs, but the offense changes without the threat of Ward’s knack to escape from tight situations when the play looks dead. Opposing teams’ defense, then, are able to play the Cougars differently and can be more flexible with their schemes.

The Cougars’ inability to move the ball without Ward resulted in less first downs, causing them to lose the possession time battle by their highest margin last season.

The team gained only 13 first downs against the Huskies last year. Now they enter this match averaging 27.5 per game.

The Cougars were poor with converting on third and fourth down, going six out of 17 in those situations. That shouldn’t be the case with Ward manning the offense. So far this season, the Cougars have been successful on 57 percent of their third and fourth-down conversions — with eight out of 10 attempts coming on fourth down.

Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite will put Ward in a position to exploit a defense that is giving up 381 yards and 22.5 points per game.

With No. 1 at the helm, the Cougars are a vastly different team than the one that the Huskies stunned last season.

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