TGS 2011 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...UCONN HUSKIES
by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor
Success comes with strings attached, and in football, that means that winning sometimes costs a team valuable personnel. Last season the UConn Huskies shared the Big East title and got the league’s automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl, facing 9th-ranked Oklahoma. That was the second shared conference title in four years for UConn. At that point head coach Randy Edsall decided to move on to a supposed bigger stage in the ACC at Maryland. The price of success had to be paid. Enter Big East vet Paul Pasqualoni, who spent 14 mostly-successful years at Syracuse before moving to the NFL for the last six seasons with Dallas and Miami.
Pasqualoni, whose appointment was not met with overhwhelming approval in the Nutmeg State, will infuse the Huskies with a professional look on offense, but he hasn’t decided on the triggerman quite yet. The wide-open race for the starting QB spot is between true frosh Michael Nebrich, soph Michael Box, jr. Johnny McEntee and redshirt frosh Scott Cummings & Blaise Driscoll. Nebrich enrolled early and finished spring practices as the nominal number one. Nebrich, a recruit from Virginia who weighs just 189 and stands 6-1, surprised the coaching staff with his arm strength during spring. McEntee is at a bit of a disadvantage due to his lack of mobility, but he has a solid arm. RS soph Box is the only candidate that’s attempted a pass for the Huskies, completing 6 of 17 throws for 65 yards with 1 interception last season.
Whoever wins the job over the next few weeks will have a a pair of solid, senior wideouts as targets. Although Michael Smith (46 catches LY) was declared academically ineligible, Kashif Moore (36) and Isiah Moore (7 starts, 433 receiving yards the last two seasons) remain as potential gamebreakers. These two are joined by a trio of impressive second-year players. Mercurial redshirt frosh Tebucky Jones, Jr., impressive soph Malik Generett (turned heads in spring; 6-4, 212) and Geremy Davis, also an interesting target at 6-3, 200. Those players locked up their positions so effectively that three reserve wideouts transferred between the end of spring drills and the opening of fall practice.
The running game will be in the hands of sr. D.J. Shoemate, who transferred to Storrs after playing in 21 games for the USC Trojans in 2008 and 2009. Shoemate played sparingly for the Huskies last season (28 rushes for 115 yards), as graduated star Jordan Todman ate up the lions’ share of the carries in finishing second in the nation in rushing. Todman has gone on to the San Diego Chargers, and Shoemate will get his chance. The Connecticut offensive line should be strong again, as they return three starters, including all-Big East left tackle Mike Ryan and all-conference center Moe Petrus.
The defensive side of the ball has to have Pasqualoni smiling. The veteran headman was the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys the last three years, and he must like what he’s seeing in practice. Connecticut has nine starters returning from a team that forced the most turnovers in the Big East and held foes to just 3.9 ypc (the third straight season the Huskies have yielded less than 4.0 ypc). Included in the returning starters are a pair of first-team all-conference defensive linemen in jr. DE Jesse Joseph (8½ sacks) and sr. DT Kendall Reyes. Fellow returning starters return up front in sr. DT Twyon Martin and jr. DE Trevardo Williams (combined for 7½ sacks)join them back in action this year.
Also appearing on the all-conference roster last year were jr. LB Sio Moore (110 tackles) and jr. CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (57 stops, 4 ints.), both named to the second team. Restocking the linebacking crew is the most pressing issue defensively, as the only players to be replaced are in that group. However, Jr. Jory Johnson has made 5 starts over the last two seasons, and UConn has a couple of stars on the horizon in true frosh LBs Jefferson Ashiru (6-3, 230 from Georgia) and Marquise Vann (6-0, 223 from Ohio). The secondary returns intact and was improved last season over 2009.
Connecticut has the best special teams in the conference. Sr. PK Dave Teggart made 25 of 31 FGs and was first-team all-Big East. Soph P Cole Wagner averaged 41.3 ypp and put 26 punts inside the 20. Jr. specialist Nick Williams led the nation in kick-off returns last season and will handle both KOR and punt return duties this fall.
Summary...Pasqualoni inherited a good situation, if not ideal. The Huskies are making serious inroads in recruiting and have what figures to be dominant defense and special team units. However, the season will hinge on Pasqualoni’s ability to first choose and then develop a solid starting QB. The conference is stocked with returning QBs with a proven track record of production, and if Connecticut is to keep contending for the title, keeping pace at that position is crucial. The Huskies minimized mistakes last year and cashed in on an aggressive defense creating opportunities. If the quarterback can’t get the ball to the deep corps of receivers and throws a few too many interceptions, it will put a lot of pressure on Shoemate and the offensive line to produce. The feeling here is that Nebrich is a real find who slipped through the cracks of ACC & SEC recruiting due to his size, so expect another run at the conference title for the Huskies.
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