StorrsCentral - Film review: The good and bad of Jack Zergiotis' first start
football Edit

Film review: The good and bad of Jack Zergiotis' first start

Jack Zergiotis got his first career start at quarterback for UConn football on Saturday against Illinois after Mike Beaudry went down with a shoulder injury. Despite being a true freshman, Zergiotis had a solid outing, completing 21-of-31 passes for 275 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. He led the offense to 16 points despite the Huskies’ two running backs rushing for only 41 yards on 26 carries (1.6 yards per carry).

Zergiotis impressed head coach Randy Edsall enough to be named the starter going forward. But beyond the stat line, we re-watched the game to see what Zergiotis did well, and what needs work.

Let’s start with the good:

Zergiotis can sling it

It didn’t take long for Zergiotis’ arm strength to show itself against Illinois. UConn didn’t take many deep shots down the field but the freshman showed that he can drive the ball to receivers outside the numbers.

It wasn’t just about his arm strength. Zergiotis showed that he can drive it the ball to receivers accurately and fit passes into tight windows.

Zergiotis throws it 25 yards downfield into Matt Drayton’s arms and it doesn’t even look like he needed to put much effort into it. The pass hits Drayton right between the numbers just before two Illinois defenders hit him.

Zergiotis only checked the ball down three times all game which means the rest of his throws went down the field. While many UConn quarterbacks have struggled throwing the ball even ten yards down field, Zergiotis was slinging the ball 10, 15 even 20 yards with ease. His accuracy didn’t wane after a certain distance like what we saw with Beaudry in the opener.

And in terms of accuracy, it wasn’t just that Zergiotis could throw it to the receiver. He knew where to throw it where only the receivers could get it.

On this play, Ross needs to come back and get a ball that appears short from Zergiotis. But the safety already closed in to help and if the ball is thrown further upfield, there’s a good chance this throw is knocked down or worse, intercepted.

However, the freshman wasn’t perfect. He was off-target on five throws (including his first interception) and missed a wide-open Jay Rose in the endzone in the first quarter that would’ve put UConn up 14-0. Instead, they settled for a field goal.

Overall, Zergiotis displayed a strong ability to throw accurate passes with some zip on them, giving the Huskies an aerial threat they haven’t had in a long, long time.


Ability to throw under pressure

While his pocket presence left a lot to be desired (more on that later), Zergiotis actually did a good job when he could see the pressure coming towards him. When a pass rusher came bearing in on him, Zergiotis didn’t panic and still made the throws even when he knew the hit was coming.

In the play below, not only does Zergiotis get it to Ross, he leads him with the pass which allows him to keep running and turn upfield for a 40-yard gain. Standing in the pocket with pressure coming is something even NFL quarterbacks can struggle with, so the fact that Zergiotis held strong in his first collegiate game is a great sign.

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Now the parts that need work:

Pocket presence

While Zergiotis faced the pressure in front of him mostly well, he really struggled sensing it when it came from his periphery. He was sacked five times and could have done a better job evading most of them.

There were a few times he seemed to sense pressure that wasn’t even there, like in the play below. Zergiotis tries to run right when he hits the end of his drop back without any pressure nearby. Not only does he step up into the pressure, he takes his eyes off the receivers and misses and wide-open Drayton in the end-zone.

When Zergiotis couldn’t see the pass rush, the clock in his head appeared to speed up on him and he’d quit on a play and try to run before any defender was even near him.

But other times, the freshman didn’t appear to sense the obvious pressure that was near him at all. In the second quarter, a linebacker fell down in front of Zergiotis after a block from Kevin Mensah. The quarterback didn’t throw it away which meant he either didn’t see the linebacker or thought he had more time to throw than he did and promptly got planted into the turf.

So while there were times the clock in his head was too fast, there were others it wasn’t fast enough.

But that should come with time. And there was one occasion where Zergiotis did seem to feel the pressure and moved well in the pocket to avoid the pressure and made the pass.

Against better defenses that are covering receivers better and bringing a stronger pass rush, Zergiotis will really struggle if he doesn’t get a better sense of the pressure coming. His improvement in that regard will be the biggest deciding factor in how well he performs the rest of the season.


Turnovers

Zergiotis didn’t protect the ball well in his first collegiate game, throwing two picks and losing a fumble (he fumbled a second time, but that falls more on a bad snap from center Nino Leone).

Let’s start with the fumble. It was pretty bad, not only considering the field position but also due to the fact that there wasn’t a defender anywhere near Zergiotis. He just dropped the ball.

Zergiotis just needs to learn to tuck the ball under his arm when he starts to run, but there really isn’t much more to say about it.

As for the interceptions, both came in similar situations. UConn was driving down the field without much time left on the clock and Zergiotis tried to force a pass that wasn’t there.

The first pick came with 34 seconds left in the first half. The Huskies had the ball on the Illinois 40-yard line thanks to this phenomenal catch from Brown.

It worked well once, so UConn appears to run close to the same play again. But this time, not only is Brown covered but Zergiotis sails the throw straight into the arms of the Illini defender.

The pass never should’ve gone in Brown’s direction to begin with and the bad throw just compounds the error, setting Illinois up with good field position which it turns into a field goal before the half.

The second interception comes on UConn’s final drive as it pushes for the game-tying score. Zergiotis looks for Heron Maurisseau but ends up throwing it straight to the Illini defender.

The fact that both picks came in pressure situations is both good and bad. The positive spin is that when Zergiotis didn’t feel like he needed to make a play, he made good decisions and didn’t force any passes. The downside is that he didn’t handle the pressure well, but that’s also understandable for a true freshman in his first collegiate start.


Overall performance

UConn doesn’t have a great history with true freshmen at quarterback (see: Tim Boyle, Donovan Williams). And it’s not like the Huskies’ historically have strong signal callers to begin with. So not only was Zergiotis’ performance impressive for a true freshman, it was an impressive debut, period.

He made mistakes but now it’s a matter of if he can learn from those. Zergiotis’ confidence didn’t seem to get shaken after throwing the pick at the end of the first half and the coaching staff got him back on the right track with three straight passes on the next possession.

Ultimately, Zergiotis has the talent at the quarterback position that UConn hasn’t seen in a long, long time. If he stays healthy and keeps developing, it’s hard not to get excited about his future under center for the Huskies.