Saturday, September 16, 2017

UConn hoping road woes a thing of the past; Keating gets the call

When Randy Edsall agreed to return for a second stint as UConn's football coach, the to-do list he was faced with was a rather daunting one.

Somewhere near the top of that list has to be leading the Huskies to more success on the road. From the time Edsall left UConn after the 2010 season until today, the only FBS teams with fewer road wins than the Huskies' six are Kansas (0), Army (4), Kentucky (4), UMass (4), Georgia State (4, only playing at FBS level since 2013), Purdue (5) and Illinois (5).

With the Huskies playing Virginia today in its 2017 road opener, obviously it something he was asked to address this week.

"If you are going to be a successful team and be a good team, you have to be able to win on the road and if you want to accomplish goals that you have for yourself, as hard as it is, as tough as it is, we have to find a way to win on the road," Edsall said. "Basically what we have to do is have that mentality as we go, 67 or 68 players and coaches, we are going down there, focused and concentrating on getting a win doing everything we can and block out everything else. We try to prepare, we have crowd noise and all of those things going. This is our first road trip so hopefully we can get that rolling this weekend."

It could be an eye-opening experience for the large number of freshmen set to play in their first road game. The good news is it shouldn't be hard to top some of the recent road performances.
I did some checking and (counting the 2014 game at Yankee Stadium vs Army as an away game) UConn is 6-26 on the road since the start of the 2011 season. One stat that blew me away was that in the six wins, the Huskies were plus 8 in turnover margin but in the 26 losses, the number is minus 28. Points off turnovers follow a similar pattern as UConn held a 38-7 advantage in the wins but were outscored 157-51 in that category in the losses. UConn failed to score an offensive touchdown in nine of those games and 17 times had only one offensive TD. Since the start of the 2012 season.

KEATING GETS THE CALLWhen UConn played Holy Cross in the 2017 season opener, former Darien High star Brian Keating wasn't even listed on the two deep chart. Now he is set to handle the long snapping duties for UConn.
Keating moved up to second string and with Nick Zecchino not making the trip due to health reasons, Keating will be the long snapper today.

Friday, September 15, 2017

UConn's Williams thrilled to be returning to Virginia

Donovan Williams' mother certainly was keeping busy in the last week or so preparing for Donovan's return to his native Virginia.

By Williams' count, at least 20 family members and friends will be at Scott Stadium tomorrow afternoon when UConn plays its 2017 road opener against Virginia.

"It is going to be pretty exciting," Williams said. "I have a lot of family, friends who are going to come out to the game so I am definitely going to do my best. She is helping me keep track of who is coming and how many tickets I need."

Williams, one of four Virginia natives on the team, has had an eventful 16 months at UConn. He came in considering to be the Huskies' quarterback of the future and after looking like he would redshirt for the entire season. However, with three games left in the season former UConn coach Bob Diaco made the decision to burn Williams' redshirt as he started against Temple, Boston College and Tulane.

Williams came into spring camp looking to make a run at extending his starting quarterback gig but an injury early during spring practice eventually resulted in a change of plans. When preseason practice kicked off, it didn't take Williams long to figure out that junior college transfer David Pindell and veteran Bryant Shirreffs were at the forefront of the quarterback position. Eager to get on the field, Williams approached UConn coach Randy Edsall and his move to receiver was underway.

"Missing the majority of spring, I came in during the first week and a half ready to work," Williams said. "I see myself contributing at wideout because I did spent a year at wideout in high school so I felt like I could contribute there."

Williams caught 11 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore. Williams worked exclusively at quarterback in his final two high school seasons as he threw for 2358 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions while running for 1503 yards and 27 touchdowns leading Hylton to an 18-2 record playing for former NFL defensive back Tony Lilly.

"Coach Lilly is a great guy, a great coach," Williams said. "He gave me an insight and definitely helped me during my high school career he is probably why I am here today."

Williams isn't on the two-deep chart at receiver but is on every special teams unit.

"He is a really good athlete, he understands things," Edsall said. "The other things he has made strides on is special teams. Now we are able to use him on special teams. I like the approach he has taken to the position and how he tries to go out there, works each day to get better."

It's uncertain if any of the other three Virginia natives will get into the game.

Linebacker E.J. Levenberry would have been in position for a key role as a senior but the Florida State transfer injured his knee during spring practice. When I spoke to Levenberry the day before the first practice of preseason camp, he was holding out hope of playing this season although Edsall has gone on record as feeling that might not happen. Freshman defensive back Abiola Olaniyan has also been sidelined while there's a chance reserve offensive lineman Brendan Vechery could see some time and he certainly figures to be a part of the travel squad.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

UConn/USF game now on Nov. 4, East Carolina comes to Rent on Sept. 24

What probably turned out to be a year's worth of phone conversations in a span of a week resulted in the UConn football team's previous postponed game against South Florida being rescheduled to November 4.

American Athletic Conference foes Cincinnati, East Carolina and Houston had to agree to changes in their 2017 schedules while UMass called off its game with USF in order to allow the shift in game dates to be finalized.

"It was very important to us to try to get the game rescheduled for a lot of different reasons, for our fans, for our student-athletes and certainly the opportunity to play a full schedule which is very important to our program right now," UConn Director of Athletic David Benedict said in a conference call. "Coach (Randy) Edsall, he is trying to build a program here and to have one less game and one less opportunity to work with your kids would have been difficult to manage."

Benedict said he provided a figure of $650,000 to the AAC concerning the potential loss of revenue if UConn was unable to make up the home date on the 2017 schedule.

The Huskies, who play their road opener against Virginia on Saturday were supposed to be off next week. However, East Carolina has agreed to play at UConn on Sept. 24. Originally that game was supposed to be on Nov. 4 but that week needed to be cleared so UConn and USF could play their game.

USF will host Cincinnati on Oct. 14, replacing a previously scheduled game against Massachusetts and will host Houston on Oct. 28, replacing the original game against Cincinnati. East Carolina will now face Houston on Nov. 4. UMass replaced the USF game with one against FIU.

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco made it a point of thanking UMass AD Ryan Bamford, who formerly worked on the staff of Yale athletic director Tom Beckett, for agreeing to take the USF game off its 2017 schedule.

"I never lost hope, I never lost optimism throughout the process but there were a lot of different scenarios that they went through to try to make this happen," Benedict said. "I can't tell you if this was the fifth, sixth or seventh scenario but they worked it. I hand it to the conference, they could have shelved it. They could have said, 'look we tried a lot of different ways and it didn't work.' To go to the extent that they have, it really says a lot."

Rentschler Field is the site of a MLS game on Sept. 23 because the New York City FC's MLS game with the Houston Dynamos was moved there. As a result, the game is now on Sunday which will make for a short week for the Huskies who have a game at Southern Methodist on Sept. 30.

Benedict said he doesn't anticipate the soccer match impacting the quality of the field but there will be a quick turnaround to get the logos painted on the field in time for the East Carolina game.
The USF/UConn game was originally scheduled for last week but was called out due to travel concerns of the visiting USF team due to the expected impact Hurricane Irma was going to have on the Tampa area. Since the Bulls and Huskies did not have the same bye week, the AAC needed to make multiple adjustments to get the game played.

The AAC announced that it is working to reschedule the Memphis/UCF game which was also unable to be played over the weekend.

Details on refunds should be announced by UConn in the next week for fans that had bought tickets for last week's game but don't wish to come to either the East Carolina or South Florida home games.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Interesting last week for the Shirreffs family

The quarterbacking Shirreffs brothers certainly are taking the concept of sharing experiences to a new level.

A handful of major college football games were called off due to the expected impact of Hurricane Irma in the state of Florida and it just so happened that two of the teams left with an unplanned bye week were Bryant Shirreffs' UConn squad as well as Miami (Fla.), which happens to utilize his younger brother Evan as the No. 2 quarterback.

"It is interesting actually being in opposite parts of the country," Bryant Shirreffs said. "I was actually thinking about that today (Tuesday), what are the odds? It is something you have to roll with. I don't think we are making up the game but that is something we can't worry about right now."

Bryant Shirreffs' mother Lisa came up to Connecticut and spent a few days with him while Evan had to leave Miami when the storm was due to hit and spent time in his Jefferson, Georgia home with his father.

"She was here for a little while, she wasn't evacuated, she was going to come up for the game anyway," Shirreffs said. "We got to spend some quality time together and she flew back this morning.

My brother evacuated to Georgia and my dad is there. My family is safe, thoughts and prayers go out to everybody in Florida and I hope that recovery, I know it is going to take a while, but I hope it is a successful one."

The area where the Shirreffs brothers grew up did have to deal with some nasty weather although nothing close to what took place in Florida.

"Compared to Florida it was minimal but the power was out yesterday for a majority of the day and
the wind was really strong, heavy rains, trees, debris and maybe power lines were falling but I don't think there was severe flooding," Shirreffs said on Tuesday.

The two brothers began the season as backups but both got into season-opening wins.

Bryant replaced David Pindell and led the Huskies to a win over Holy Cross. Evan, a sophomore at Miami, came in with the Hurricanes comfortably ahead of Bethune-Cookman. He completed 1 of 2 passes for 16 yards in his first live game action at Miami.

"That was awesome. It was cool to see, I am really proud of him," Bryant Shirreffs said. "I remember giving him a hard time on the practice field in Jefferson, Georgia. He has surprised me a lot and I am really proud of him. I thought he handled himself very well, he was calm and collected, he did a really good job so I am proud of him."

Monday, September 11, 2017

Virginia's depth chart is up

UConn's depth chart won't be released until tomorrow. I'm not expecting too many changes to the one put out in preparation of the South Florida game which never got played.

In the meantime, Virginia has released its depth chart. Just four offensive starters (left tackle Jack English, quarterback Kurt Benkert, receivers Doni Dowling and Olanide Zaccheas) are listed as starters. Three starting offensive linemen have graduated including Eric Smith who made the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted rookie free agent while last year's starting right guard Jack McDonald (one of two New Englanders on Virginia's 2016 roster) is now listed as a backup.

It's a different story on the defensive side of the ball with seven players who started against the Huskies a season ago listed as starters including Andrew Brown who had 3 1/2 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery against the Huskies as it seemed as if he was in the backfield as much as the UConn running backs. Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding had 11 tackles each, Chris Peace, Eli Hanback and Juan Thornhill also return. They combined for 44 tackles and 6 tackles for loss in the 2016 game.

Barring any changes to the UConn depth chart, the Huskies would return eight offensive starters and seven on the defensive side of the ball from the 2016 contest. The week without a game figures to be beneficial for linebackers Vontae Diggs and Junior Joseph, both coming off injuries.

Also, yesterday the ACC announced some adjustments to the TV assignments meaning that instead of the game being aired on ESPNU on Saturday at noon, it will be televised on ESPN2 with Jason Benetti (play by play), former NFL quarterback Kelly Stouffer (color commentator) and Kris Budden (sideline reporter) calling the game.

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall was on a teleconference earlier today and only one question about UConn was asked unless you count the mention of Andrew Brown tormenting the UConn offense in the '16 game.

Q. With UConn's game getting cancelled last week, have you had to rely more on last year's Maryland tapes and your personal knowledge of playing UConn than anything you've been able to see this year?

Bronco Mendenhall:
What I've done at least from my standpoint as more of a defensive-emphasis coach, it's relying some more on Auburn. That's where their offensive coordinator has come from. So, what I saw in game one against Holy Cross, and Holy Cross played really well in that game. Did a nice job defensively. But I've seen some similarities between what UConn did in week one to what Auburn has done. So I think that's the genesis of their offensive coordinator. That's where he learned under Gus Malzahn. So I think that would be probably a safer bet than where the head coach came from in this case. That's normal for any -- unless the head coach is a coordinator on one side, it's really more tracking where the coordinators are coming from, much like their defensive coordinator at Villanova. If I remember correctly. So, it would be for our offensive staff, it's probably more looking at that. Again, unless the head coach is a coordinator.

There's good news and bad news on the alumni front.

With injuries at the receiver position, the Los Angeles promoted former UConn WR Geremy Davis to the active roster for tonight's game.

Davis had nine catches in the preseason for the Chargers. He played in three regular-season games with the team a season ago but did not have a reception as his only two regular-season catches came when he was with the New York Giants.

Also, a reporter from Denmark has reported that Andreas Knappe will be brought in for a tryout by the Indianapolis Colts. Knappe was signed by the Falcons but did not make the squad.

However, the news is not as positive for Ryan Griffin as Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien told reporters today that Griffin was one of the players expected to miss next week's game. Griffin left the season opener due to a concussion. His next catch with be the 100th of his NFL career.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

UConn/USF game called off

Travel concerns for the visiting South Florida football team has resulted in Saturday's game being cancelled.

The American Athletic Conference opener for both teams was originally scheduled for noon on Saturday at Rentschler Field before it the kickoff time was pushed back to 10:30 a.m. in an attempt to allow the USF travel party to leave Connecticut and arrive back in Tampa before Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in the state of Florida.

“Obviously we are disappointed for our team and our fans at the cancellation of a home game,” UConn Director of Athletics said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with USF and all of the areas in the path of this storm. We wish them all the best as they deal with this terrible storm and are here ready to assist in any way that we can.”

Neither UConn nor South Florida have the same bye week so it wasn't possible to simply move the game to another week as was done in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins/Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.

“I know both our team and USF were excited about a chance to play this weekend,”  UConn football coach Randy Edsall said in a statement. “We certainly are disappointed, but clearly understand that this is something totally out of everyone’s control. I hope that Coach (Charlie) Strong, his team and the entire community impacted by this storm remain safe and know that we are thinking about them as they deal with this.”

While it is rare to have a football game removed from the schedule, it did happen in 1985 when the impact caused by Hurricane Gloria resulted in the Yale/UConn game not being played.

UConn will provide details next week to all USF game ticket holders regarding future ticket options due to the cancellation.

The next game for UConn is its road opener against Virginia on Sept. 16.

Story of USF quarterback's family tragedies hits close to home

In a perfect world, I would have features ready to go on a star player on the teams facing UConn each week.

Reality, however, dictates a different strategy especially with WNBA, UConn women's basketball, high school and other college assignments on my schedule. However, with the Huskies' first two conference games against South Florida and SMU, I headed to American Athletic Conference football media with the intention of catching up with dynamic SMU receiver Courtland Sutton and scintillating USF quarterback Quinton Flowers.

My story on Sutton ran back in July as the top item in a notebook off media day. Now it is time for the piece on Flowers to run with USF set to face UConn on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

There are obvious reasons to write a story on Flowers, he ranks in the top 10 among active FBS quarterbacks in passing efficiency and total offense. No current quarterback at any level has more rushing yards than Flowers' total of 2,731. However, there's a more personal reason why I felt compelled to tell his story.

Flowers' father died when he was seven, his mother when he was 17. That hit close to home for me because I lost both of my parents at age eight so perhaps my line of questioning on the subject matter is a little different from a person who hasn't had to attend the funerals of their parents before they graduated from high school. One quote in particular really resonated with me.

"It is really emotional," Flowers said. "I lost my dad at the age of 7, I lost my mom at the age of 17. Growing up without your parents in your life is really tough. There are times when you want to go and talk to your mom or talk to your dad about some stuff and I can't do that because I know they aren't in my life but I know they are looking over me."

I have to admit that when I sat down next to Flowers in Newport, R.I. in July, I wasn't even sure if he would address the subject matter with somebody he was seeing for the first time. Thankfully he brought up some of the tragedies in his life before I posed the first question about it which made it significantly less awkward for me to delve into areas that certainly must be difficult for him to talk about. I still remember being at the 2001 Women's Final Four when Purdue star Katie Douglas was asked to address the recent death of both her parents. The question was almost flippant in the way it was asked and she was certainly caught off guard. Just imagine being in front of a room of mostly strangers and basically being asked, "tell me about the deaths of your mother and father" in a similar tone that she might have been asked about trying to slow down a star-studded Notre Dame lineup in the national championship game.

Douglas, who would eventually play much of her professional career in Connecticut, is about as quotable of an athlete as you will find but there are ways to ask these types of questions and doing it alongside of 40-50 other media members wasn't the way to go. Making matter worse, a few minutes after the press conference ended a couple of reporters were trashing Douglas for not expounding on a very personal matter. I won't repeat what I said to those reporters but let's just I'm still waiting to be placed on their Christmas card mailing list.

I sat down with Douglas when she was with the Connecticut Sun for an interview that was similar in tone and in results to the one I had with Flowers in Newport. Words can't express how impressed I am with the two of them of being able to field questions from somebody like me. I'm not sure I could have handled being on the receiving end of these types of questions when I was a college student or early on in my professional career.

Hopefully you'll enjoy reading about Flowers, who is much more than just one of the nation's most electrifying quarterbacks.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Kickoff time changed for Saturday's UConn/USF game

With the potentially devastating weather or what I've seen described as potentially catastrophic conditions as a result of Hurricane Irma set to hit Florida, the kickoff time for Saturday's game against South Florida has been changed from noon to 10:30 a.m.

The hope is that by changing the time, the USF traveling party will have a better chance of landing back in Florida before the deteriorating conditions impact travel plans.

The game will still be televised live on ESPNews.  Lots for season-ticket holders will be open at 6 a.m. and general ticket holders at 6:30 a.m. The Husky Walk will take place at 8 a.m.

Of course, all of this is subject to change.