Cincinnati – 34
Connecticut – 17
East Hartford, Conn.
By Marc Zirolli
So for the third time in eight years, the ACC has come…and gone from Storrs. The most recent was last week when all signs pointed to UConn for it’s basketball, academics, TV market size and New York reach. But when the dust settled, Louisville was picked…because of football.
In a 7-4 vote, the Cardinals will be headed to the ACC in place of Maryland, set to leave for the Big Ten in 2014. The four schools voting in favor of UConn were Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest. Why? Because of basketball and academic standing. It was apparent that the football perennials wanted nothing to do with UConn, although I would consider Boston College a bitter, New England rival over a football perennial.
In the meantime, there were still games to be played, and UConn had an opportunity to beat the Cincinnati Bearcats at home, for a chance to finish the season at 6-6 and to become bowl eligible.
But what really aggravated me at this game was the lack of support when UConn needed it most. It was senior day and there were maybe 8,000 fans in the seats for the ceremony. The announced crowd was 33,112 but there were far less than that in the stands on this bitterly cold first day of December. This was a pivotal game and this was a chance to show a national audience what UConn football, and its fans, are all about. Instead, UConn was over matched and out played and were doubled up by the Bearcats, who also shared in a four-way tie for the Big East title.
There’s no need to sugarcoat this game, or the season that UConn endured. They lost games they should have won, they never sold out a home game, Lyle McCombs under performed on the ground, and they were passed over yet again by the ACC. The only bright spot for next season would be for McCombs to regain his 1,000-plus yard season he had in 2011, and for quarterback Chandler Whitmer to be even better. He is however, losing valuable targets in Ryan Griffin, Mike Smith and Nick Williams to graduation. But he will have Shakim Phillips and Geremy Davis as his core receivers in 2013. The other thing UConn needs to work toward for next season is to strengthen the offensive line. Long term, they need to consistently beef up their schedule, especially if conference realignment doesn’t come calling again for a while. Next season, UConn plays host to Maryland and Michigan in back-to-back weeks in September. These are pivotal games for their season, and for the credibility of the program, long term.
- Athletic Director Warde Manuel has said Paul Pasqualoni will return as head coach next season, but he expects significant changes. The 2013 season may very well be Pasqualoni’s last, especially is the Huskies fail to be bowl eligible.
- Wide receiver Tebucky Jones, Jr. will be transferring. His likely destination is Fordham, where former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is head coach. Jones, Jr. would not have to sit out a season.
- Big East First Team: DE Trevardo Williams, who had 11.5 sacks on the season. Also on the first team were senior OLB Sio Moore and sophomore MLB Yawin Smallwood.
- Big East Second Team: TE Ryan Griffin, OG Adam Masters, CB Dwayne Gratz, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and special teams return specialist, Nick Williams. Griffin finished his UConn career with 116 receptions, good for 10th all-time.
- Defensive Coordinator Don Brown, the mastermind behind one of the country’s best defensive units, has left UConn to fill the same position at Boston College. The Spencer, Mass. native will join newly appointed head coach Steve Addazio, the Cheshire, Conn. native who left Temple after two seasons.
- Running backs and special teams coach Clayton White has left UConn after two seasons, as he will be an assistant coach at his alma mater, North Carolina State.
- UConn recruit Lance Burlingame, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle has withdrawn and will instead attend Florida Atlantic. He also had an offer from Purdue, but was unable to keep his commitment to UConn because of poor grades.
See you at Signing Day 2013!
November 26, 2012
Connecticut – 23
(19) Louisville – 20
By Marc Zirolli
On this particular weekend, UConn can give thanks on multiple fronts. They can say thanks to the fact that for the first time, won back-to-back games under the Paul Pasqualoni era. They can give thanks for hanging on against the Louisville Cardinals, on the road, in triple overtime to remain in the hunt for a bowl game berth. They can also give thanks to the fact that the Huskies could be members of the ACC by week’s end.
For only the second time in program history, Connecticut also defeated a ranked team. The last was a victory over (11) South Florida in 2007 at Rentschler Field.
The Huskies seemingly had the Cardinals at their heels, maintaining a 10-0 thru three quarters, but in the fourth quarter, Louisville forced overtime as they completed a 13-play, 92-yard drive capped off by a six-yard touchdown reception by DeVante Parker from Teddy Bridgewater.
The two teams exchanged two field goals each in the first two overtime periods, then came the turning point of the game – and maybe the season – for the Huskies. The Cards had the ball first, but Bridgewater thru an interception to UConn’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the endzone. On the ensuing drive, Chad Christen nailed a 30-yarder for the win. That also prevented Louisville from winning the Big East and clinching a BCS berth on this day. For the Huskies, they have a chance to avenge last season’s loss to Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium, which prevented them from becoming bowl eligible. This week at The Rent, same opponent, same scenario; you win, and you’re in.
In the meantime, with Maryland departing the ACC for the Big Ten Conference, and with Rutgers following suit out of the Big East, there is now room in the ACC. Speculations insist that UConn will be selected, but Louisville is also lobbying for that nod as well.
A decision could come this week. I thought that this game on the gridiron between UConn and Louisville was an audition; and UConn nailed it. For Connecticut fans, this will be additional welcome news for an athletic program on the rise and being accepted into a stable conference for years to come.
Until then, there is still work to be done. Connecticut and Cincinnati kickoff Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. At 5-6, the hometown Huskies will need a victory on senior day to become bowl eligible. For the Bearcats, a win Saturday would give them a share of the Big East Conference title, while the BCS berth will be awarded to the winner of Louisville at Rutgers on Thursday night.
The seniors who will be honored this Saturday are:
- Denzell Allen, WR
- Jimmy Bennett, T
- John Delahunt, TE
- Blaise Driscoll, QB
- Dwayne Gratz, CB
- Ryan Griffin, TE
- Jory Johnson, LB
- Adam Masters, OT
- Johnny McEntee, QB
- Sio Moore, LB
- Mike Smith, WR
- Martin Tartaglino, FB
- Nick Williams, WR
- Trevardo Williams, DE
- Ryan Wirth, DT
- Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB
November 22, 2012
Pittsburgh – 17
Connecticut – 24
East Hartford, Conn.
By Marc Zirolli
On a night when UConn basketball was opening their season half a world away in Germany, not to mention coach Kevin Ollie’s debut, UConn football was also kicking off at home against Pittsburgh. It seemed though that for UConn fans, football season was over and it was time to gear up for the court.
A mere 33,305 (40,000) turned out for the final Big East game between UConn and the Panthers, as Steel Town prepares to shift to the ACC. But with a chance for the Huskies to still earn a bowl bid, needing three wins in their final three games, they put this game away before halftime.
UConn accrued 345 total yards, with 213 of them coming from the arm of Chandler Whitmer. He connected 19 of 25 passes, one of which was to Shakim Phillips in the second quarter to give UConn a 24-0 lead, and that actually turned out to be the clincher. And as a result, UConn still has not scored a touchdown in the second half since their Sept. 29 home victory against Buffalo. To be precise, they’ve been outscored a whopping 76-3 since Week 4.
At long last, we got what we’ve been asking for. The UConn rushing game is back, and for only the second time this season, Lyle McCombs rushed for over 100 yards (120 on 29 carries). Overall, UConn’s running game ranks 115th out of 120 FBS schools in the nation. But one of the most impressive things I saw all night was UConn’s opening drive, which culminated 75 yards on 11 plays for a two-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Griffin. That set the tone for UConn and the tone for the entire game.
As for the UConn defense, it was a decent night, but they played an experienced, veteran team than they did a week earlier at South Florida. Even though Toni Sunseri threw for just over 300 yards, they kept runningback Ray Graham at bay, allowing him to rush for just 41 yards. But what started to become a concern was UConn’s defense slowly starting to leak oil late in the game. They allowed two swift Panther touchdowns, the latter coming with just over three minutes to play. The Huskies could have sealed it on the previous drive, if Whitmer didn’t airmail a wide open Griffin in the end zone which resulted in an interception.
But on a key third down with UConn up seven late in the game, the Huskies converted and won the game. My team MVP pick, Ryan Griffin, caught six for 84 and scored the game’s first touchdown.
So now the focus shifts to Louisville (9-1, 4-1 Big East). They were a top ten team a week ago before being pummeled by Syracuse, 45-26, in the Dome. The Cards can still win the Big East and earn a BCS berth with a win over UConn and Rutgers. But we know that the Huskies have potential, and they can be really good if they’re firing on all cylinders. The Huskies will travel to Kentucky after Thanksgiving and kickoff against the Cards on Nov. 24 at Noon on SNY.
In other news, Nick Williams was the Big East’s special teams player of the week, thanks to his 80-yard punt return for a touchdown against Pittsburgh. Williams also became UConn’s all-time leader in return yards with 2,389 and still has at least two games to go. The first of two is this weekend and is a chance for UConn to spoil Louisville’s BCS plans. With a win, UConn keeps their season alive and with a win at home on Dec. 1 against Cincinnati, UConn will avenge 2011 and become bowl eligible. But first thing’s first – BEAT THE CARDS!
November 5, 2012
Connecticut – 6
South Florida – 13
By Marc Zirolli
Sorry for the huge delay, but I am now a proud father! So as a result, I’ve pretty much forgotten what happened in this game, and I’m glad I did – so prepare for this to be short.
Not even Chandler Whitmer’s 284 yards on 24 of 38 passing was good enough for the win, because he threw two interceptions – both of which came in the second half, and were South Florida’s first interception takeaways all year long! However, the unit that has plagued the offense all year long has been the offensive line. Whitmer was sacked four times on this night, but seemed to be chased all night long.
To add insult to injury, the Bulls aren’t good and head coach Skip Holtz might be on the chopping block – but UConn isn’t that much better. Two field goals, 43 rushing yards just is not going to get
So, thank you to the defense for allowing only one touchdown, and thank you to Dwayne Gratz for his interception in the second quarter, though it did not produce any much needed points. But the 10th-ranked defense in the country held the Bulls to 283 total yards.
So as UConn returns home for a short week to prepare for Pittsburgh, they know Whitmer is settling in; they know he’s finding receivers and he’s balancing it out with all targets – Nick Williams, Geremy Davis, Shakim Phillips, Mike Smith and of course, Ryan Griffin – the senior tight end who in my opinion, is this year’s team MVP. This guy has stepped up his game and has become a true tight end with great size and great hands.
Connecticut now must win out to even be considered for a bowl berth. At 3-6 (0-4), they sit at the bottom of the Big East, but can still revive their season with a return to the bowl party, which would be an improvement to the 5-7 record from a year ago. This is also a telling time for coach Pasqualoni. He may be granted one more year, but people want a consistent football product on the field now, especially with the 10-year-old publicly funded Rentschler Field.
So in what will be the final meeting this Friday night on ESPN at The Rent against Pittsburgh, the Huskies must find away to balance the offensive attack, score touchdowns and give the defense a break! It’s also another chance to beat senior quarterback Tony Sunseri and to improve their all-time record against the Panthers to 6-5 before the “Oakland Zoo” moves to the ACC.
See you Friday night at 8 p.m. from East Hartford, UConn’s first home game in nearly a month.
October 30, 2012
Connecticut – 10
Syracuse – 40
By Marc Zirolli
With an overall record of 3-4 and already in the conference basement at 0-2, the Connecticut Huskies needed a boost, and they needed a win; not for a chance to earn a BCS berth, but to just simply become bowl eligible. But the pummeling the Huskies endured at the hands of host Syracuse, those hopes are all but gone.
With four games to go, including a road game at now No. 10 Louisville in the BCS standings, UConn must finish out the campaign at 3-1 just to become eligible. The nice thing about this situation is that UConn had their first week off of the season following this road defeat against the Orange.
This game was over before it started. UConn never led, and never had a chance. Although it was only 6-3 Syracuse at the end of the first quarter, they would extend that lead to 13-3 just over midway thru the second quarter on an Adonis Ameen-Moore’s 1-yard touchdown run, completing a 9-play, 44-yard drive.
There were really no bright spots in this game, other than Chandler Whitmer’s 296 passing yards, going 23 of 41 pass attempts. He connected with Ryan Griffin on a beautiful 32-yard pass for UConn’s only touchdown in the second quarter, but that was it. Griffin caught six passes for 72 yards for the game.
UConn’s rushing game hit rock bottom last weekend, rushing for negative six yards for the entire game. What were Syracuse’s offensive numbers you ask? They obtained 251 on the ground and 251 through the air. That’s 502 yards for the game. These numbers equate to being unacceptable for UConn and their fans. The Huskies have dropped to 26th in the nation against the run, thanks in large part to Syracuse, but also at the hands of Rutgers and Temple.
Other than Whitmer starting to play more consistently, Ryan Griffin has elevated to be the number one passing target. The senior tight end is one of the best UConn has ever seen. Now with over 100 catches for his career, he chases Brian Kozlowski, who holds the record for tight ends with 159 receptions.
As we touch back on the rushing game, if you thought it couldn’t get any worse, well…it has. On the injury front, UConn lost senior offensive lineman Adam Masters for the season with an ankle injury. Sophomore Gus Cruz will fill the void at right guard, who does not have much in-game experience thus far.
To add insult to injury, the following numbers, courtesy of the Hartford Courant, display UConn’s ranks through eight games in various departments in the FBS (out of 120 teams). Their rank in the Big East, out of eight teams, will be in parenthesis…
- Rushing offense: 116 (8th)
- Passing offense: 63 (6th)
- Total offense: 108 (7th)
- Scoring: 113 (8th)
- Interceptions thrown: 108 (8th)
- Passing efficiency: 92 (7th)
- Fumbles lost: 67 (T-7th)
- Tackles for loss allowed: 105 (8th)
- Turnover margin: 107 (6th)
- Sacks allowed: 102 (8th)
- First-down offense: 111 (7th)
- Third-down conversion: 92 (7th)
- Fourth-down conversion: 114 (T-7th)
So, in a bad way, the vast majority of these numbers stand out – in the wrong way. UConn’s rushing game, as well as Whitmer’s lack of time to get rid of the ball, has failed mainly as a result of the offensive line. You can be willing to bet that UConn’s recruiting will heavily focus on improving the offensive line to help balance the offense.
Therefore, UConn’s 16 recruits for 2013 slated to join the program look great, and even though the current team has struggled, their commitment to Connecticut has not wavered. And of the 16 recruits, two of them are ranked in the top 100 in the nation according to rivals.com. The list is below. But first – Connecticut travels to Tampa to take on South Florida this Saturday night at 7 p.m. on ESPNU. The last time UConn was there? Dave Teggart kicked the Huskies to the Big East crown and a BCS berth just two seasons ago.
- # 33 – OL Kyle Schafenacker, 6-4, 285 – Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
- # 59 – WR Dhamer Bradley, 5-10, 166 – Elkington, Md.
- DT Lance Burlingame, 6-4, 290 – Franklin, Mass.
- DT Folorunso Fatukasi, 6-4, 280 – Rockaway Park, N.Y.
- DB Javon Hadley, 5-11, 170 – Miami
- DE Sha-ki Holines, 6-3, 240 – Springfield, Mass.
- OL Tommy Hopkins, 6-6, 298 – Thornwood, N.Y.
- QB Richard Lagow, 6-6, 218 – Plano, Texas (Also recruited by Texas Christian)
- DB Thomas Lucas, 6-1, 181 – Burtonsville, Md.
- RB Josh Marriner, 5-9, 188 – Chesapeake, Va.
- TE Tommy Myers, 6-5, 235 – Coventry, Conn.
- TE Cameron Stapleton, 6-4, 220 – Brooklyn, N.Y.
- WR Jamar Summers, 6-0, 175 – Orange, N.J.
- WR Noel Thomas, 6-1, 185 – New Canaan, Conn.
- TE Quinn Thompson, 6-5, 225 – Edinboro, Pa.
October 18, 2012
Temple – 17
Connecticut – 14 F/OT
East Hartford, Conn.
By Marc Zirolli
For the first time ever, the Temple Owls are 2-0 – in the Big East Conference. And not only do they have an unblemished record in league play, they are tied for first!
For the fans who packed The Rent on Saturday for Homecoming, they saw UConn come right out of the gate. They saw UConn put up 14 points on the Owls in the first quarter. They saw Chandler Whitmer completing passes which ultimately spread out the defense. But what they didn’t know was that their Huskies would be put on mute the rest of the day.
This was finally a day where the UConn offense clicked. Whitmer completed 22 of 39 pass attempts for 293 yards, and the two touchdowns he converted to Mike Smith and Ryan Griffin in the first. Whitmer and company even got the Huskies into field goal range four times, and of the possible 12 points, UConn got zero. This includes the overtime missed field goal, a 28-yard chip shot that would have given UConn a 17-14 lead, since they controlled the ball first.
OK, so Chad Christen’s attempt from 44 yards – his third attempt of the day – was blocked. But still, UConn could have won this game 23-14, even with the blocked kick. It would have been their first win of the year in the conference, and they would be above .500 at 4-3 and 1-1. Instead, they prepare for Friday Night Lights at the tired Carrier Dome against the Orange at 3-4 and 0-2. What games can UConn win the rest of the year? It could be possible to beat Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and send them on their way to the ACC. But the Huskies could very well lose at South Florida, at ranked Louisville, and at home against ranked Cincinnati. We could be looking at another Paul Pasqualoni 5-7 season. At least that would be back-to-back, since he’s still looking for back-to-back WINS in Storrs.
Lyle McCombs didn’t play due to a sprained wrist he sustained in practice, so freshman Max DeLorenzo from Berlin got the start and rushed for a tidy 91 yards on 23 carries. His long of the day was 20. This was a great start for the home grown product. We know now McCombs has a highly potential back up in DeLorenzo. It would be nice to have the 1,000-yard rusher back, but the rushing game, now past the midway point of the season, has yet to show its face. UConn did out gain Temple 381-334, but gave up 142 on the ground by Montel Harris, and a very, very detrimental score that tied the game with only 19 seconds to play. It was a drive that constituted 72 yards and just over 2:30 minutes. It was actually the ensuing drive following Christen’s blocked field goal attempt that would have given UConn a 10-point cushion.
So now, UConn must find a way to salvage their season. Ideally, what they could use is a bye. But they have to get through the ‘Cuse first, then comes the much needed week off. So…this Friday night, in upstate New York, on national television; get ready for an 8 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. It’s the Huskies and the Orange, for the final time…for now…
October 11, 2012
Connecticut – 3
(22) Rutgers – 19
By Marc Zirolli
For the sake of the Big East, one of their ranked teams avoided an upset that would have put more pressure on a league trying to stay afloat. On the other hand, had the Huskies pulled off the win, it would have backed up what Big East coaches echo each year; that it’s a league of parity where each week, any team can beat up the other.
For some unforeseen reason, the Connecticut Huskies are at the midway point of the season at .500 and through 18 games, head coach Paul Pasqualoni is 8-10 and has yet to win back-to-back games in Storrs. We can go on and on and on and on about woulda, coulda, shoulda, but I kept telling myself that on paper, this team was capable of winning the conference – McCombs, Mike Smith coming back, Williams at receiver, Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips at receiver, Sio Moore, Yawin Smallwood, Jesse Joseph, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Trevardo Williams – I mean, the list goes on and on. UConn is just not playing UConn football, and their fans – including myself – expect a lot more.
To add insult to injury, Lyle McCombs was arrested on campus early Friday morning for a breach of peace charge. He ended up sitting out the first quarter, rushing for only 32 yards on 12 carries. Oh by the way, Rutgers owns the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. In total, UConn gained 53 yards on the ground for the game. There is no word if McCombs will endure further consequences, but he is slated to play this week when UConn hosts Temple.
Chandler Whitmer threw for 191 yards, but made four critical mistakes; four interceptions to be exact. Geremy Davis was this week’s leading receiver, making just four catches for 78 yards.
In the first quarter, on the ensuing kickoff following a Rutgers 45-yard field goal by Kyle Federico, Nick Williams fumbled the kickoff return, which lead to another Federico field goal, this time from 31 yards. And that my friends, was the game-winning score. The Huskies were lackadaisical and quite frankly, had no business winning this football game. UConn needs to score early, often, and consistently if they want to win games, especially now that they are in the Big East mosh pit for the duration of the season.
Like UConn, the Temple Owls are also at .500 with a 2-2 record, but has one significant difference; they won their Big East opener last weekend, as they defeated the South Florida Bulls 37-28. The Owls have won their first conference game since they were shown the door in Providence in 2004 for poor play. In their Big East return, the Owls can separate themselves from UConn with a win this weekend, and also be in a tie for first. Interestingly enough, Temple is coached by Steve Adddazio, a Connecticut native, and was in the running for the Connecticut job nearly two years ago.
So it comes to this. Can UConn fix its running game, which is 112th of 120 FBS teams (102.2 yards a game), and not to mention 115th in yards per carry (2.8). Just a reminder, McCombs averaged four yards a carry a season ago. Two Connecticut sons go at it Saturday at The Rent for a 1 p.m. kickoff. The game will not be televised, but will be available on ESPN3.
The Huskies, with a win on Saturday against Temple, can once again present the opportunity of winning back-to-back games. For Pasqualoni, it would be sweet. UConn travels to Syracuse a week from Friday, which will be for now, the Huskies’ final trip to the Carrier Dome.
October 4, 2012
Buffalo – 17
Connecticut – 24
East Hartford, Conn.
By Marc Zirolli
You know what they say…don’t get TOO comfortable. Well, that’s what’s happening to UConn, especially this season. Of their first five games, three have been against MAC opponents (UMass will be an official member of the MAC in 2013 after playing this transitional season from FCS as an Independent).
The problem is, they won two of those three games. But it seems like the MAC is a close relative to the Huskies when it’s time to schedule non-conference games. I’m not going to lie. I’m sick of playing Buffalo, and I think many more in the state of Connecticut feel the same way. At long last, as the Big East schedule gets under way this weekend, UConn (3-2) knows that every week is a must win. They’ve alternated wins and losses to start the season, so if the trend stays, the Huskies will lose on the road this weekend against (22) Rutgers. Coach Paul Pasqualoni is preparing to right that ship so the Huskies can position themselves with a BCS run.
Speaking of ranked opponents; are you ready for this? UConn has played 18 games against ranked opponents, all since 2001. And the Huskies record is an embarrassing 1-17, with the lone win coming against South Florida five years ago at Rentschler Field. So let’s recap last week and get ready for this week against the Scarlet Knights.
Out of the gate, Connecticut forced a three and out against the Bulls, and subsequently put together a beautiful opening drive, until it stalled in the red zone. The Huskies settled for three on this nine-play, 57-yard drive. After this drive, for the way they played, UConn allowed visiting Buffalo to grab a first quarter lead, before scoring 21 unanswered points.
Though the opponent was Buffalo, UConn’s defense has taken a hit since losing Teddy Jennings, and especially senior DE Jesse Joseph. The Huskies allowed 361 yards of offense by the Bulls, one more than what UConn was able to put up. And after the boys in National Flag Blue established their comfortable lead, it was UConn acting as its own worst enemy. However, Pasqualoni stated it was Buffalo staying hungry to almost complete the comeback rather than the Huskies falling back on their heels. If it weren’t for Sio Moore stepping up (like he said he would) with six tackles, as well as linebacker Jory Johnson notching 14 tackles, UConn might have been upset at home for the second straight year by a MAC foe.
Chandler Whitmer had a great game, completing 15 of 22 for 227 and a touchdown pass to Ryan Griffin on the first play of the second quarter to regain the lead for good. Thus far, Whitmer has completed 83 of 134 for 1,051 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. The offensive scheme was more spread out, allowing for an efficient running game. Lyle McCombs fell just short of a 100-yard game, but scored a touchdown. He also got much needed help in the backfield from Martin Hyppolite, who rushed for 60 yards (50 of them came on one play; a touchdown run to give UConn a 17-7 lead just before half time).
Overall, McCombs has rushed for only 452 yards through five games. As a result of a lackluster start to the running game, UConn ranks 109th out of 120 FBS schools with 112 rushing yards per game. They’re also ranked 92nd in scoring offense (23.2 ppg).
These numbers need to improve this week. They need 100 from McCombs and ideally, 300 passing yards from Whitmer. UConn needs to score in droves and they need to help out their depleted defense. Saturday’s game at Rutgers is literally a pivotal game, not only coming at the halfway point of the season, but it’s a chance to beat a ranked conference opponent on the road, and a chance to start conference play with a win. With only Big East games remaining, and a few byes in between, the Huskies must remain focused, they cannot turn the ball over, and they must keep the score down. We know UConn probably will not score more than 20 or 25 points, so the defense will be heavily relied upon.
UConn beat Rutgers at The Rent last season, 40-22 in Greg Schiano’s final season in Piscataway. They face off in North Jersey on Saturday at Noon on ESPNU. The remainder of UConn’s season may just rest on what happens this weekend…period.
September 28, 2012
Connecticut – 24
Western Michigan – 30
By Marc Zirolli
One step forward…two steps back. That’s what happened to the UConn Huskies in the last two weeks. They beat a quality opponent from a great league on the road, and then they take that win on the road and lose to a formidable opponent in a mid-major league. Connecticut had an opportunity to take a 3-1 record back home this weekend as they host lowly Buffalo. Instead, they’re 2-2 and know they need this win as they start Big East play in a week.
We all remember what happened last year when the Huskies hosted the Broncos and endured a devastating loss, all the while getting picked a part by Alex Carder for nearly 500 yards passing. But on this day, a few issues stood out. Number one; quarterback Chandler Whitmer was sacked six times. Number two; The Huskies were in a 17-0 hole, and fast. Oh, and not to mention dropped passes and two turnovers on offense.
Another interesting factor was the attendance. Even though there were barely 10,000 fans in attendance, UConn once again proved to themselves that not every week is a home game at Rentschler Field, which they protect very well. For the Broncos, having a team from a big conference come in, a team who they beat a year ago, one would have figured the crowd would have been a touch better. Regardless, Western Michigan used whatever 12th man they had to pull out the win of their season.
Entering week three, Whitmer was one of two FBS quarterbacks to throw a touchdown, but that all changed in a hurry on Saturday, as he completed 28 of 44 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Geremy Davis, tight end Ryan Griffin and fullback John Delahunt each caught a touchdown pass. In addition to Davis’s touchdown catch, he was also the leading receiver with nine catches for 123 yards. He is quickly becoming Whitmer’s top target.
Lyle McCombs is also starting to find his grove, rushing for 119 yards on 23 carries. He’s finding the seams and gaps, yet the offensive line is still allowing their quarterback to get rushed and sacked several times a game. That has to stop and it has to stop starting this week against Buffalo. The four fumbles on offense also needs to take a hiatus. Even though only one of those was lost, it was costly as it became a Broncos touchdown.
And yet with only giving up 279 yards to Alex Carder this time around, the UConn defense remains one of the top units in the country. In total defense, they are ranked fifth, fourth in rushing defense, seventh in overall sacks, and eighth in tackles for a loss. Now that Whitmer is connecting with his receivers, McCombs has two straight weeks of rushing over 100 yards, and that the defense remains one of the best in the nation, UConn needs to go…Now!
It starts this weekend at home against the Buffalo Bulls at 12 p.m. on SNY. The Huskies can finish September at 3-2 before they head to idle Rutgers – a ranked Rutgers – next Saturday. After a missed bowl season a year ago, UConn has eight games to win three to become eligible again. Ideally, with only Big East games remaining on the schedule after Buffalo, who says they can’t win out, win the league and head to the BCS?
That’s why every game – even if it’s against a MAC opponent – is so critical. The conference schedule doesn’t make or break your season…every game does.
September 17, 2012
Connecticut – 24
Maryland – 21
College Park, Md.
By Marc Zirolli
This game was circled on the calendar for a long, long time. UConn fans, current players, and incoming freshmen knew that this game would have a significant amount of attention, especially in the Nutmeg State. But more importantly, this was an opportunity for UConn – not to just beat its former coach of 12 years – but to win on the road, against a quality opponent from a quality league.
This game was a complete effort by all personnel, as the Huskies held on, covered the spread on the number, and won in front of 35,491. Chandler Whitmer for the third week in a row was mediocre at best, completing 10 of 16 passes for just 68 yards. And even though for the third straight game, UConn did not render a touchdown pass, Whitmer did not throw an interception.
Of the Huskies 24 points, 17 of them came byway of the offense, with Lyle McCombs and Scott McCummings rushing in a score each; McCummings for three yards to give UConn a 14-0 advantage in the second, and McCombs for 11 yards in the fourth quarter which clinched it. This was a very important drive for the Huskies to try and close out the game they had since the opening kickoff. The Terrapins cut the lead to 17-14 with a 29-yard touchdown by Stefon Diggs early in the final quarter. The ensuing drive for UConn ate up over half of the quarter, and on 10 plays over 76 yards, UConn regained a 10-point lead that would prove to be crucial, as Maryland scored one last time with just over three minutes to go.
Receiver and kick returner Nick Williams shined again, this time, returning a punt for 58 yards in the first quarter to give UConn an early 7-0 advantage, and a lead they would never relinquish against their former head coach, Randy Edsall.
The UConn defense was stout yet again, allowing just 80 total yards in the first half. Yawin Smallwood, Sio Moore and Dwayne Gratz each performed well, with Gratz notching another interception. It all, unfortunately, was too good to be true. Senior defensive end Jesse Joseph left the game in the second half, which was diagnosed later as a torn Achilles. Joseph is out for the year and leaves a tremendous hole in a very cohesive defensive unit. Because the injury occurred in the first three games, UConn will submit a redshirt request for the senior, which would allow him to play in 2013.
Nick Williams was awarded special teams player of the week in the Big East thanks in large part to his 58-yard punt return against the Terps. In all, he logged 112 all purpose yards in the Huskies three-point win, Yawin Smallwood’s 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks was enough to be named defensive player of the week.
So as UConn looks ahead to another road game at Western Michigan next week, they can’t forget what the Broncos did to them at The Rent last October. Quarterback Alex Carder threw for 479 yards and ripped a part UConn’s defense as the Huskies were dealt a blow at home at the hands of a MAC opponent, 38-31. In Joseph’s absence, junior Tim Willman will start. Standing at 6 feet 4, 270, that should alleviate some of the void.
In all, this is an opportunity for UConn to improve to 3-1 on the season, and to come home and finish September against Buffalo. The Huskies are in great position, but they need to win the games against their mid-major conference opponents. With two games to go until league play, UConn can build on their early season successes and rely on their experienced defense to help win the games that really count.
UConn kicks off against Western Michigan at 2 p.m. from Kalamazoo, Mich., this Saturday. The game will not be televised, but can be seen on ESPN3 or can be heard on WTIC.
What a trip to College Park. We had a great time and more importantly, brought home a win. I can definitely get used to these same-day, round-trip flights for a UConn game any day!
September 14, 2012
N.C. State 10-Connecticut 7
By Marc Zirolli
North Carolina State – 10
Connecticut – 7
East Hartford, Conn.
Back in 2003, UConn lost their first meeting with the N.C. State Wolf Pack. Last Saturday, they lost to them again, in what was a frustrating day on offense. Lyle McCombs was sluggish again with only 60 yards on 20 carries, and Chandler Whitmer displayed more uncertainty under center. After two weeks, we know two things: The defense is standing up to the challenge, and the offensive line needs to find a way to protect Whitmer and McCombs.
But it’s not just the O-line; Whitmer tried forcing passes where they shouldn’t have gone. As a result, three interceptions were thrown and just over 50 percent of his passes were completed (15 of 27 for 204). Whitmer will remain the starting quarterback this week in College Park, Md. against the Terps, but that’s hardly the focus in media land, as UConn plays former head coach Randy Edsall for the very first time. If Whitmer finds himself struggling again this week, combined with Casey Cochran returning next week from a broken non-throwing wrist, look for Cochran to maybe get the nod.
On defense after two weeks, UConn ranks third in the nation, behind TCU and Florida State, with 158.5 yards allowed per game. Another strong week, led by sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood, is essential versus a Maryland team who, despite a 2-0 start, are still looking for a consistent identity. The Terps narrowly beat visiting William & Mary on opening day 7-6, and almost relinquished a big lead in a high scoring affair last week at Temple.
One positive for Maryland as they prepare for UConn is they have not allowed a lot of rushing; 156 yards in two games. But eventually, McCombs will break out of this spell as he aims to hit 100 yards for the first time all year. For the receivers, Coach Pasqualoni has four of them rotating on every other drive. But for the receivers to really be effective, the O-line needs to step up to allow McCombs to rush in order to open up the defense. Thus far, Geremy Davis leads UConn with seven catches for 106 yards, Nick Williams with four for 75, and Shakim Phillips has three for 30 yards. Mike Smith is also in the rotation.
So it’s UConn versus Randy Edsall and his “dream job” Terapins. This game could be pivotal in Edsall’s future as head coach in College Park, especially if the favored Huskies win (2 ½). This week on the conference call, Edsall was live for nine minutes and would only field questions about the game, and not about his departure from Storrs, although he said that he should have orchestrated his plans and announcement differently. Either way, it’s water under the bridge and there’s a game to play, another team on the schedule, and another week of football.
With a game at Western Michigan in a week, UConn closes out September at home on Sept. 29 at home against Buffalo. The Huskies NEED a quality win for their psyche and to show the nation they too, are quality. This week at Maryland fits the bill. I’ll be making a down and back trip to College Park by air to hopefully see a rare road win for the Connecticut Huskies. For those of you at home, kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. on SNY.
See you in the Beltway!
September 7, 2012
By Marc Zirolli
Massachusetts – 0
Connecticut – 37
East Hartford, Conn.
The UConn Huskies started the 2012 season just like everybody else. But after about three and a half hours, you could come up with about 20 different headlines.
To make it quick since this has been an extremely busy week, the Minutemen got a rude awakening as they played their first-ever game on the FBS level. By rule, they are playing this season as an independent before they begin play next Fall in the MAC. UMass has also changed homes, as their home games will now be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., the home of the NFL’s Patriots.
On this night, UMass was held to just 59 yards of total offense on 47 plays – absolutely remarkable! After the first week, UConn is first in the nation in defense. Husky fans are also quite relieved that there is finally, after several years, a true starting quarterback. Chandler Whitmer threw for 219 yards on a 15 for 25 night, but also threw two interceptions. But, this was a start; a very good start on offense for the Huskies.
Lyle McCombs had a relatively quiet night, rushing for only 82 yards on 23 carries, but scored a touchdown. As a team, they rushed for 147 yards, most notably using Scott McCummings with the wildcat. On the receiving end, Nick Williams and Geremy Davis proved that they are reliable targets. Davis was this week’s leading receiver, catching five balls for 79 yards.
UConn’s defense stood tall and absolutely stymied UMass, including Dwayne Gratz’s 37-yard pick-six toward the end of the first half to give UConn a 20-0 advantage. This is a great sign for the Huskies, as they prepare ultimately for Big East play.
The Huskies come right back to Rentschler Field on Saturday, Sept. 8 when they host N.C. State at 12 p.m. The Wolf Pack lost their opener in Atlanta at the Chick-Fil-A kickoff against Tennessee. This will be no pushover for UConn, but if the Huskies put forth another stellar defensive game, combined with a balanced passing and rushing attack, UConn will notch a quality win early in the season, at the hands of an ACC team.
See you this weekend at The Rent for an early season “blue out!” (Unfortunately, that’s not automatic around here – fans need to be reminded to wear national flag blue and white).
August 29, 2012
Week One Updates as UConn gears up for UMass
By Marc Zirolli
UConn is prepped in the secondary. After junior safety Gilbert Stlouis from Plantation, Fla. was set to transfer last week, he was reinstated without a drop on the depth chart. As a freshman, he started in six games while last year, he started in seven games, logging just two tackles. He is second on the depth chart along with redshirt freshman Andrew Adams. But, the coaches are particularly happy with a pair of incoming freshmen, Obi Melifonwu at 6-foot-4, 199-pounds while Ellis Marder is 6-feet, 192. He can play corner or safety.
UConn also received a commitment from three-star quarterback Richard Lagow of Plano, Texas. The Huskies are already pretty stacked at quarterback, but is this guy keeps his commitment, look for more transfers next season under center. Texas Christian is also considered to be a landing spot for Lagow, but as of now, he’s coming to Storrs. The Horned Frogs were supposed to start play in the Big East this season, but backed out after the conference began to fall a part. TCU will begin this season instead, in the Big XII.
At runningback, sophomore star Lyle McCombs should have reliable back-ups. But look for another active season from McCombs, who logged over 1,000 yards a year ago. Behind him on the depth chart is junior Martin Hyppolite, redshirt freshman Max DeLeorenzo of Berlin and true freshman Joe Williams.
In addition, there will be plenty of depth and plenty of targets at receiver for Chandler Whitmer to choose from. The core is Boston College sophomore transfer Shakim Phillips, fifth-year senior Mike Smith and senior Nick Williams, also a special teams return specialist. Look for Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones, Jr. to also see some time. According to receivers coach Matt Cersosimo, they are ready to go.
At linebacker, Sio Moore, Yawin Smallwood and Jory Johnson will start. They worked exceptionally well last year and will build off of that experience this year. Also helping at the linebacker position is senior transfer from Maryland, Ryan Donahue. Sophomores Jefferson Ashiru and Marquisse Vann also played last year and will back-up the starting trio this year.
In other news, Coach Pasqualoni made one decision pretty easily, while pondering another. He has named junior kicker Chad Christen to take over the field goal and PAT duties now that Mr. Reliable, Dave Teggart is gone. Hey Chad…big shoes to fill, my friend…also, Coach P has finally named the team captains for the 2012 season. Of the 16 seniors on this season’s squad, four were named captains: right guard Adam Masters, linebacker Jory Johnson, receiver/special teams Nick Williams and corner back Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The only returning captain is Wreh-Wilson.
So, here we go…Huskies..Minutemen…it all unfolds on Thursday night in East Hartford at The Rent. See you at 7:30 p.m. when the ball is placed on the tee on the 35 – new for this season, up from the 30.
August 16, 2012
Many Headlines as Pre-Season Camp Opens
By Marc Zirolli
As UConn prepares for its season with 2nd-year head coach Paul Pasqualoni, the Huskies will begin the season in familiar territory in the Big East; toward the bottom.
As West Virginia departs, Temple re-enters the league after it was dismissed in 2004 due to poor on-field performance. Here is how the eight-team Big East standings look in early August, with first place votes in parentheses:
- Louisville (24)
- South Florida (4)
Prior to camp opening, the defense took a hit with sophomore linebacker Graham Stewart being lost for the season from a torn pectoral muscle. The transfer from Florida injured himself during a workout on July 23. He will have three years of eligibility when he returns next season. UConn also lost Clemson transfer Bryce McNeal, a wide receiver, because he did not get into UConn’s graduate school. Louisville could be the place where he will end up.
As camp begins, UConn needs to find an identity on their offensive line. A year ago, they were 4th worst in FBS with 41 sacks allowed. As long as they can stay healthy, look for the following five guys to play an intricate role of protecting the quarterback: Jimmy Bennett at tackle, Adam Masters at guard, center Rennick Bryan, Zach Rugg and Tyler Samra at guard. But Bennett is in charge of protecting the infamous “blind side.” In addition, get ready to see a lot of the following on the offensive line as well: Kevin Friend at tackle, Steve Greene and Adam Masters at guard and the Penn State transfer, Alex Mateas, at center.
Last week, there was big news on campus. The Connecticut Huskies have named a starting quarterback. That player is junior college transfer, Chandler Whitmer, who shined in the Blue-White Spring Game. Whitmer has been picked off a few times at camp, but he has also aired one out for 50 yards to Nick Williams. The focus is the offense and to improve the length of drives and to spread out the opponents’ defensive schemes. Also last week, the Huskies received a commitment for the 2013 class: Cameron Stapleton, TE (6-4, 220 pounds), from Poly Prep, Brooklyn, N.Y.
As the weekend approached, UConn was hit with a blow. Sophomore dual-threat quarterback Mike Nebrich, who was highly touted from Virginia but did not play as much as some hoped last season, has transferred to Fordham where he will play for head coach Joe Moorhead, the former quarterbacks coach at UConn. Nebrich will be allowed to play this season. Now, UConn is left with Whitmer, freshman Casey Cochran, senior Johnny McEntee and sophomore Scott McCummings.
Senior receiver Mike Smith will wear No. 6 in honor of Jasper Howard who was killed in October 2009. Get ready to see Smith, Nick Williams, and Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips at the receiver position to make plays this season.
On defense, the Huskies have brought in a towering 21-year-old defensive tackle from Denmark. Andreas Knappe stands at 6-foot-9, 285 pounds, and defensive line coach Hank Hughes has been impressed with what he’s seen. Knappe will become only the second player from Denmark to compete in FBS college football. A kicker by the name of Morten Andersen, who attended Michigan State, was the other Dane.
Connecticut opens the season in just two weeks, a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Rentschler Field on Aug. 30 against old-time rival Massachusetts. The Minutemen will be playing this season as a FBS independent before joining the MAC in 2013 for football only. Their home games beginning in 2013 will be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
July 23, 2012
QB Casey Cochran Breaks Non-Throwing Wrist
By Marc Zirolli
UConn freshman quarterback Casey Cochran suffered a broken, non-throwing left wrist last week in a bicycle accident and underwent successful surgery at UConn Health Center, but it is not yet known how long he will be out. Cochran, from Connecticut, won the 2008 state championship with New London, then transferred to Masuk-Monroe and won the state title last fall.
He will be competing for the starting job with the Huskies against Johnny McEntee, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich and quite possibly the early favorite, Chandler Whitmer, the junior college transfer. He shined in the Blue-White spring game in April, completing 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
More Huskies on Pre-season Watch Lists
Senior tight end Ryan Griffin, senior line backer Sio Moore, and senior defensive end Trevardo Williams have been named to the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list, which is given to the nation’s top lineman or line backer.
And as expected, sophomore running back Lyle McCombs has been named to the Doak Walker Award candidate list, which goes to the nation’s top running back. A year ago, he rushed for 1,151 yards and became the 14th Husky to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry and ran for seven touchdowns. He ranked 29th in the nation a year ago with 95.9 rushing yards a game, which was also good for second overall in the Big East and second among freshmen running backs.
July 11, 2012
Pair of Huskies already on National Watch Lists
By Marc Zirolli
Connecticut sophomore runningback Lyle McCombs was place on the Maxwell Award watch list, which is awarded to the country’s top collegiate football player. Last season as a freshman, he was an All-American was second team all-Big East. McCombs was 29th in the nation and second in the conference – as well as among freshmen – with 95.92 rushing yards a game, and finished the season with 1,151 yards.
Senior defensive end – and with big expectations – Trevardo Williams earned a spot on the Bednarik Award watch list, which is awarded to the country’s top defensive player. Williams was also nominated for second team all-Big East in 2011. He logged 12.2 sacks and was second on the team with 15 tackles for a loss. He had 43 total tackles on the season, 20 of which came in the final five games of the season. Williams is currently second all-time at UConn with 19 sacks. Last season, he was second in the country, and first in the Big East, with 1.04 sacks a game.
Two commitments announced on Monday
- Thomas Lucas (6-1, 181-pounds) Cornerback – Paint Branch High School (MD)
- Folorunso Fatukasi (6-4, 280) Defensive Tackle – Beach Channel High School (NY)
February 27, 2012
2012 National Signing Day – University of Connecticut Huskies
By Marc Zirolli
The Connecticut Huskies held their signing day festivities on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Rentschler Field, where 2nd-year head coach Paul Pasqualoni introduced the majority of the coaching staff and the 19 high school seniors who will join the Huskies for the 2012 season. Here are some highlights and who they are:
- A total of 7 states were represented.
- Florida – 5
- New Jersey – 5
- Massachusetts – 3
- Maryland – 2
- Pennsylvania – 2
- Connecticut – 1
- New York – 1
- 8 offensive players.
- 10 defensive players.
- 1 special teams player.
- Brendan Battles-Santos (6-3, 250 pounds), DE – Eastham, Mass.
- An explosive player off the snap.
- Rennick Bryan (6-2, 319), C – New Haven, Conn.
- Jazzmar Clax (5-11, 236), FB/LB – Freehold, N.J.
- A hitter!
- Jordan Floyd (6-1, 205), FS – Bel Air, Md.
- John Green (5-11, 175), WR – Miami, Fla.
- Ricky Gutierrez (6-1, 170), WR – Hialeah, Fla.
- Jonathan Hicks (6-3, 245), LB – Palmyra, Pa.
- Richard Levy (6-6, 280), OT – Trenton, N.J.
- Expect high expectations from this towering tackle!
- Ellis Marder (6-1, 185), FS – Windermere, Fla.
- Obi Melifonwu (6-3, 194), FS – South Grafton, Mass.
- Mikal Myers (6-0, 300), DT – Newburgh, N.Y.
- Elijah Norris (6-4, 230), DE – Upper Marlboro, Md.
- Bobby Puyol (6-0, 170), K – North Palm Beach, Fla.
- Rated # 1 kicker in Florida; hopefully a great replacement for Teggart.
- Zach Rugg (6-5, 285), OG – Windber, Pa.
- Tyler Samra (6-3, 250), OG – Wycoff, N.J.
- Omaine Stephens (6-4, 220), LB – East Orange, N.J.
- Tall and quick to the ball carrier.
- Jason Silva (6-3, 235), LB – Marlon, Mass.
- Wyatt Vinci (6-3, 238), LB/FB – Ridgewood, N.J.
- Jhavon Williams (5-11, 185), CB – Wellington, Fla.
Transfers eligible for this season
Ryan Donahue (6-0, 230), LB – Montvale, N.J.
- Senior – Transfer from Maryland
- Alex Mateas (6-3, 303), OG – Ottawa, Ontario
- RS Sophomore – Transfer from Penn State
- Shakim Phillips (6-1, 203), WR – Patterson, N.J.
- RS Sophomore – Transfer from Boston College
Players who have arrived for the Spring semester
- Kyle Bockeloh (6-2, 286), C – Houston, Texas
- Casey Cochran (6-0, 216), QB – Monroe, Conn.
- The next Dan Orlovsky?
- Drew Ghio (6-1, 297), OG – Bristol, Conn.
- Chandler Whitmore (6-1, 188), QB – Newnan, Ga.
- Joseph Williams (5-11, 197), TB – Allentown, Pa.
Junior College transfer who is eligible
Neil Shortell (6-3, 250), TE – Mission Hills, Kan.
- Will have 2 years of eligibility – Butler (Kan.) Community College
Now that West Virginia is officially out of the Big East, there are seven schools remaining in the league that will compete in 2012. Rumors suggest that either Boise State will enter a year early, rather than in 2013. Or, Temple, who used to play football in the Big East, may join the league in all sports beginning July 1. Prior to any of those scenarios, UConn was picked by Rivals.com as the worst recruiting class in the league for 2012…but we all know how that information on paper, transferred to the field, in years’ past – paper means nothing in Storrs.
- On Jan. 24, The United States Naval Academy announced its decision to join the Big East in football only, beginning in 2015.
- The Memphis Tigers will also join the Big East in all sports, starting in 2013.
- Fifth-year senior Jerome Junior, who was fourth on the team in 2011 with 60 tackles, has been dismissed from the football team, as well as from the university, for undisclosed behavior reasons. Junior, from Baltimore, started 34 of 38 games in his career at UConn, including 11 of 12 last year. This will be a big loss. With the dismissal, which coach Pasqualoni deemed as inappropriate, said that sophomores Ty-Meer Brown and Byron Jones will be the favorites to start at safety in the fall.
HEAD COACH – Paul Pasqualoni
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR & CORNERBACKS – Don Brown
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR & OFFENSIVE LINE – George DeLeone
ASST. HEAD COACH & DEFENSIVE LINE – Hank Hughes
ASST. COACH & QUARTERBACKS – Shane Day
ASST. COACH & WIDE RECEIVERS – Matt Cersosimo
ASST. COACH & LINE BACKERS – Jonathan Wholley
ASST. COACH & TIGHT ENDS – Mike Foley
ASST. COACH & SAFETIES – Darrell Perkins
SPECIAL TEAMS & RUNNINGBACKS – Clayton White
See you in the Spring, as well as at the Blue-White game at The Rent on Saturday, Apr. 21 at 1 p.m.