Friday, October 31, 2014

UConn looks for better showing against UCF

J.J. Worton and Central Florida rolled to 62-17 win over UConn last year
Picking the low point during the first nine games of the 2013 is sort of like trying to figure out if you'd rather be bitten by a cobra, rattlesnake or water moccasin but you would be hard pressed to sink any lower than the Huskies did in the trip down to Orlando on Oct. 26 of last year.

Central Florida scored on nine of its first 10 possessions and six of the Knights' 10 scoring drives in the game went less than 50 yards. UCF started eight, yes you read that right, drives in UConn territory. Looking back it almost seems fortunate that the final score was only 62-17. On the other side of things, UConn had 16 offensive possessions and 15 of them started between UConn's 10-25 yard lines. It is no coincidence that one of the two touchdowns came in the lone drive starting in UCF territory.

The new regime with the Huskies have made a big deal of leaving the past in the rear-view mirror and focusing on the present and future. However, I'm not sure a player could ever completely erase that kind of butt whipping from the memory banks. Certainly UConn junior safety Andrew Adams, who had four solo tackles and UConn's only pass breakup in the game, hasn't forgotten about the last game against UCF.

"I try not to remember that game because it wasn't too delightful for us," Adams said. "I used it as a memory to never let that happen again. I am really excited for the challenge this week and I hope we pay them back."

So many players have departed from both teams that using the 2013 results is probably not the best way to try to gauge what Saturday's game between the teams will look like.

Fortunately, UCF and UConn have three common opponents (Brigham Young, Tulane and Temple) so I went back and compared some numbers. It should be noted that Taysom Hill, who accounted for five touchdowns and more than 400 yards of total offense in BYU's season-opening win over UConn, was injured and did not play against UCF. There's no way of telling what the numbers would have looked like if Hill didn't suit up against the Huskies but I will proceed anyways.

The rushing numbers as well as the tackles for loss are so close it is eerie.

UCF's defense allowed 352 rushing yards in the three games, UConn's 353. On offense the Knights have 287 rushing yards, UConn 274. The teams had as many tackles for loss as they gave up (21 for UCF and 19 for UConn) although Central Florida had two more sacks and UConn allowed three more sacks in the three games.

Both teams also completed more than 66 percent of their passes in the games and 10.4 yards per completion. The biggest difference is that UCF attempted nearly 10 more passes a game than the Huskies. The pass defense numbers are night and day as UCF how allowed the quarterbacks to complete just 51 percent of the passes, 7.4 yards per completion and had six interceptions. UConn's defense allowed 61 percent of the passes to be completed for an average of 10.3 yards and one interception.

Not sure how any of this is going to translate to tomorrow's game but just some numbers to chew on, I guess.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hadley could make an impact at UConn

With an almost entirely new coaching staff it was hard to predict what the player rotation was going to look like.

However, if I were to come up with a list of players who I thought would have larger roles I would start with receiver Brian Lemelle, cornerback Javon Hadley and offensive guard Kyle Schafenacker.

Lemelle had a 10-yard catch, his longest of the season in last week's loss to East Carolina. Now it could be Hadley's time to shine.

Hadley played in five games as a true freshman and finished with seven tackles (three coming against Cincinnati). But even after the summer departures of Tyree Clark and David Stevenson, he did not get onto field in the first seven games as true freshman Jamar Summers and converted receiver John Green moved ahead of him.

However, following the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by Byron Jones, Summers is expected to go from being a nickel corner or spelling one of the two starters to earning a starting spot as well while Hadley is pushing Green to be the third cornerback.

"He is a trained corner so he works his game and he has done it for a long time," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "He hasn't done it here in college football so as a young guy at least there is a volume of practice reps and time that he has been at that position. He is a tough guy, he is a gritty tough guy, he is competitive. What he might lack at this point in his career in size, overall speed he makes up for toughness. He has some fundamental base in playing the position. We are excited about him. He is in competition with John Green so we will see who ends up claiming that first and second down corner spot for the game."

Diaco also had good things to say about true freshman Brice McAllister, who moved from tailback to corner during preseason camp. He is expected to get onto the field now that Jones is no longer in the mix.

"Brice McAllister has never played the position and it is probably at times going to look like that in games but there is only one way to solve it and that is for him to play in games," Diaco said. "We don't have any other options and we don't want any other options and we are excited about Brice, we think Brice is going to be a great corner, we believe it is his best position and his most natural position. He was a very productive tailback throughout his life but he possesses a few traits that separate him at he next level of athleticism on the perimeter. Almost all the great corners could play tailback but not all the great tailbacks could play corner. It is that much harder, you have to be that much of a higher level athlete to play corner because it is all reaction. Brice possesses those traits and he is going to be a work in progress. I am excited to see all five of those guys play."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Solid ratings for UConn/East Carolina game

Looks like the Thursday night UConn/East Carolina game was somewhat of a draw in Connecticut.

According to ESPN, it was the third most viewed college football game in the Hartford/New Haven market this year with a 2.2 rating trailing on the season-opening game against BYU, which had a rating of 3.1 and the Sept. 19 game at South Florida drew a rating of 2.9.

It should be noted that both the BYU and USF games were televised on ESPN while the East Carolina contest was shown on ESPNU so likely the numbers would have been higher had it been on ESPN.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

UConn's Byron Jones still a leader even after his college career is over

Jhavon Williams and the rest of UConn's young cornerbacks will be tested
for rest of season after loss of senior Byron Jones due to shoulder injury
Anybody who has ever crossed paths with UConn senior cornerback and team captain Byron Jones probably wouldn't be stunned to hear of his selfless actions on Thursday night.

Jones had received the horrible news that a shoulder injury, that has been reported as a torn labrum by NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline, he suffered on Thursday night ended his UConn career. It would have been easy for the four-year starter whose 38 career starts is the most of any active Huskies to stand in the corner and fell sorry for himself. However. that is not how Jones is wired so he got up, spoke to his teammates and reassured them that he was going to be fine and that they should move forward.

"I knew after the game and I was pretty devastated because he was a leader in the (locker) room but he is also a leader on the field," said redshirt sophomore cornerback John Green, one of the players expected to see a larger role with Jones out for the remainder of the season. "I was pretty devastated, the whole room was devastated, the coaches were devastated. It was a blessing in disguise for Byron, he is going to have a good future.

"He addressed the team, the coaches addressed the team and he is still leading in the meeting room, he hasn't left us."

His teammates were appreciative that Jones stepped up to speak with the team during what had to be an incredibly difficult time for him.

"Byron has done a great job of leading those guys and help bring them along, help them grow and he will continue to do that from the sideline,' UConn senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer said. "He can't necessarily be out there physically with them but I think those kids have learned, have stepped up and will continue to get better each game.

"He is one of our captains and there is a reason. He is a great kid, he is positive and he works hard. It is tough to see but I know he has a bright future and he is excited about that."

Jones' message to the team was to continue to play with the same intensity as he tried to bring to the field.

"Byron definitely is a leader," junior safety Andrew Adams said. "I definitely feel for Byron and we know his UConn career is over. We try to play each game just thinking about him and thinking about what Byron wants us to do. I know Byron wants us to play hard, play 100 percent. We want to give all of our effort because we know if Byron was out there, he'd be giving all the effort. "

As for the other injuries, UConn coach Bob Diaco was expecting senior receiver Geremy Davis to practice today and despite being knocked out of the East Carolina game with an ankle injury, he seems likely to play against Central Florida on Saturday. Diaco also said that tailback Arkeel Newsome is 100 percent and said he suffered a lower-leg ailment while walking around on campus. He said that he did not expect offensive tackle Dalton Gifford to be able to play again this season but was hopeful that reserve safety Ellis Marder could return to the field at some point this season.

Following Jones' injury there obviously had to be some adjustments on the depth chart. Jamar Summers is listed as a starter across from Jhavon Williams while Green and sophomore Javon Hadley (who hasn't played this season after appearing in five games as a true freshman) are fighting it for the nickel corner slot True freshman Brice McAllister makes his first appearance on the depth chart as the primary backup to Williams. The only other change to the depth chart was at tailback. Recently all four players (Arkeel Newsome, Ron Johnson, Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner) were listed as the starters but this week is the first time Johnson and Newsome are listed as the co-starters.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

UConn in the NFL: Week 8 report

When they teamed together at UConn both Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson showed the ability to be around the ball. That hasn't changed as they moved to the NFL.

Over the last three games Moore and Wreh-Wilson have combined for 49 tackles.

Moore finished with 50 tackles in 15 games during a solid rookie season but he already had 43 tackles in five games this season including 24 over the last three games

Wreh-Wilson didn't have more than six tackles in his first 17 regular-season NFL games but he has topped that number in each of the last three games. He has 41 tackles in seven games after making 13 stops in 13 games as a rookie.

It also caught by eye that eight former UConn defenders saw time in NFL games this week and Shamar Stephen of the Minnesota Vikings was the only one to be on the winning team.

Here is the breakdown:
Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Bye week
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Was inactive (concussion)
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had seven tackles in 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Was inactive (knee)
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had one tackle in 27-13 loss to Miami
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have catch in 30-16 win over Tennessee
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had two tackles including tackle for loss in 19-13 loss to Minnesota
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had four tackles in 22-21 loss to Detroit
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had nine tackles including two tackles for loss in 23-13 loss to Cleveland
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did nit play in 22-21 win over Atlanta
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had one tackle in 35-21 loss to Denver
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had one catch for 24 yards and threw key block on Knile Davis' kickoff return for TD in 34-7 win over St. Louis
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had two tackles in 19-13 win over Tampa Bay
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Returned two kickoffs for 52 yards, ran twice for 10 yards and had two catches for no yards in 27-13 loss to Miami
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had seven tackles in 30-16 loss to Houston

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Young receivers coming of age at UConn

Dhameer Bradley and Deshon Foxx were targeted 17 times against ECU.
Not that UConn fans want to ponder life without Geremy Davis but with the prolific senior receiver being knocked out of Thursday's loss to East Carolina in the first half with an ankle injury opportunity knocked for some of the Huskies' young receivers.

Fellow senior Deshon Foxx did finished with four catches for 120 yards including an 88-yard touchdown (the seventh longest offensive play in UConn history) to become the first Husky with multiple 100-yard receiving games in consecutive seasons since John Fitzsimmons accomplished the feat in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Still, UConn's freshmen and sophomore skill position players were targeted 12 times in the second half. While these numbers are very unofficial as a handful of pass plays in the official box scores do not list an intended receiver but the East Carolina game marks the first time this season that underclassmen were target more and caught more passes than the junior and senior classes.

Foxx led the team with nine targets against the Pirates but sophomore Dhameer Bradley was targeted eight times (one more target than he saw in the first four games combined), sophomore Noel Thomas matched his season high with four targets. Freshman Thomas Lucas was targeted a season high three times (as was freshman tailback Josh Marriner) while sophomore Brian Lemelle was targeting for just the third time this season.

Thomas, Lemelle, Lucas, Marriner and freshman tailback Arkeel Newsome combined for 10 catches on 12 targets. Lucas' two catches went for 43 and 37 yards as he became the first UConn player with two catches of at least 35 yards in the same game since Nick Williams had catches of 49 and 64 yards against Buffalo on Sept. 24, 2011.

"They are going to continue to play more and more," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "They now collectively need to grow up and mature, mature with how they prepare, prepare all week, prepare on the practice field, prepare in the meetings, prepare in their volunteer time and what (time) they spend studying, we just need to take that next step. They are passionate about (football). Here's what you've got, you have four guys, all four of them, they love to compete, they are passionate about football. They like to play football, love to play football. You would like to say that is inherent for everyone, it is not. Those four guys definitely are that way and they are talented. Now what we have to do is hone in on the professionalism as far as what it takes to become a productive player and how to become a good to great player."

Here is my unofficial tally of targets and catches this season broken down by class
                Seniors    Juniors   Soph.   FreshmenBYU          22 9-104  10 5-51  9 4-36  8 6-72
SBROOK  16 7-119    9 3-22  1 1-5    1 1--4
BOISE       16 9-154    4 3-27  8 3-7    8 7-54
USF             5 3-62      1 0-0    2 2-18  1  0-0
TEMPLE   12 8-80      3 1-5    8 3-12  5 2-77
TULANE  14 10-88     1 0-0    6 4-26  3 3-27
ECU           11 5-125    1 1-4  13 7-87  7 6-96
Here is the breakdown by position (not including the passes thrown away due to quarterback hurries since the box scores don't list official receivers and this week's interception which was tipped at the line of scrimmage)

Player                Targets  Catches Yards
Geremy Davis     58          34       436
Deshon Foxx       38         17       296
Dhameer Bradley 25         11        70
Sean McQuillan   16          8         69
Noel Thomas       14          8          97
Kamal Abrams    12          5          43
Thomas Lucas     12          7        115
Arkeel Newsome  9           8        117
Josh Marriner        6           5         35
Jazzmar Clax        4           3         12
Alec Bloom          3           3         40
Brian Lemelle       3           3        13
Ron Johnson         3           1        11
Max DeLorenzo    1           1        17
Tommy Myers      1           1          3
Matt Walsh           1           0          0
A couple of thoughts on the breakdown of targets. First, tight ends and fullbacks were targeted 19 times in the first three games and just six times since. Those numbers are a direct result of the pass protection issues as UConn has needed to keep in additional players to block just to throw the ball. Dhameer Bradley seemed almost like a forgotten piece of  passing offense earlier this season but his 18 targets over the last three games is second only to Davis during that span.

Staying on the subject of receivers, some future Huskies displayed the gift of grab as well over the weekend.

Tyraiq Beals had eight catches for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns in East Orange's 29-21 win over Bloomfield. It was his fourth game with at least two touchdown catches this season and in six games he has 62 catches for 1060 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Also, John Robinson IV caught three passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in Dwight Morrow's 23-20 win over Dumont. It was his fourth TD reception in the last five games while Nazir Williams (4 catches for 78 yards) and Chris Lee (3 catches for 27 yards) also had multiple-catch games.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

No lack of reps for UConn defense this week

Fifteen hours had elapsed from the time that Thursday night's 31-21 loss  at the hands of East Carolina had come to an end and Bob Diaco was still in a state of disbelief.

Before his day-after teleconference with the media he had seen every single play run against his defense. Officially the number was 100 but there were eight other ECU offensive plays that did not count due to either holding calls on the Pirates or pass interference penalties against UConn. Diaco said that 110 plays were on tape so he must have included the two pre-snap procedure penalties against East Carolina.

"It's close to two games, you are talking about 55 plays a game and you might be saying 'that is a low total' but you wouldn't be making as big of a deal of it on that end."

UConn has run fewer than 55 plays in two games this season including a staggering 36 against South Florida when you consider that East Carolina ran 31 offensive plays IN THE FIRST QUARTER.

No plays caught my eye more than the ones on third down. In the first quarter East Carolina was 5 of 7 on third down conversions with the seven plays run on third down going for 77 yards. The two times that the Huskies held weren't exactly victories considering that East Carolina went for it and converted on fourth down.

The good news is that after that nightmarish first quarter that UConn's defense rebounded in a major way. In the second and third quarters and the first three drives of the fourth quarter East Carolina ran 11 third-down plays and gained a total of 24 yards although the Pirates did convert on third down on three occasions.

"It was well done for the lion's share of the game," Diaco said. "They were having a hard time blocking the front and the quarterback was under duress and on the move. He was spectacular, by the way, what an awesome player."

Had the game ended with 5 1/2 minutes to play Diaco would have a different opinion about the performance of his defense. However. Diaco was rather irate at what transpired on the Pirates' final drive of the game.

No play on ECU's 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive was more frustrating for Diaco than Shane Carden's 14 run on 3rd and 10 when he shook off Reuben Frank's tackle attempt to keep the drive alive.

"The last drive, just ridiculous, obviously," Diaco said. "We got several instances of players at the point of attack that if they had finished the play, the drive would have ended. There are two minutes to play and it is third down,, the quarterback is on the move and we have him wrapped up and we figure they are going to line up to kick a long field goal, they would have had to. If you make a tackle there it is third down and four or five and he is tackled on the 31 and he is lined up to kick a long field goal - best case scenario, we have the ball back and I have all of my timeouts. There were several instances like that in the game where we have to finish those plays on defense. It is just too many points, too many unnecessary big plays."

There was another play earlier in the game that also infuriated Diaco.

Carden was stuffed for no gain on 3rd-and-goal at the 1 and East Carolina went for it on fourth down. Breon Allen walked into the end zone and saying he was untouched doesn't seem to do the play justice as it looked more like there wasn't a UConn defender in the same area code as Allen..

"We've got an opportunity for a four-down goal-line stand, you have an ME (mental error) on that play," Diaco said. "Had it not been an ME on that play, we stick that kid in the backfield. He has to make the tackle and we are unblocked in the backfield, it can't happen. That is a game changer, goal-line stand on the 1, are you kidding me?"

For those wondering, this was the 16th game between FBS teams where one team ran at least 100 plays and the 31 points surrendered by the Huskies is tied for the second lowest in the 16 games as the team running at least 100 plays averaged 46 points per game (see chart below). Amazingly Bowling Green has been involved in three of those games while California is the only team to allow 100 plays to be run against them.

Plays Game                            (Date) Final Score
113 Bowling Green vs. Indiana (Sept. 13)  45-42
110 Colorado at California (Sept. 27)   56-59
110 Ohio vs. Bowling Green (Oct. 11)   13-31
109 Baylor vs. TCU (Oct. 11)    61-58
108 Bowling Green at UMass (Sept. 27)   47-42
108 West Virginia at Maryland (Sept. 13)  40-37
106 Arizona vs. California (Sept. 20)   49-45
105 Arizona State vs. UCLA (Sept. 25)   27-62
105 Idaho at Texas State (Oct. 4)   30-35
105 USC vs. Fresno State (Aug. 30)   52-13
102 Virginia at BYU (Sept. 20)    33-41
102 BYU vs. Nevada (Oct. 18)   35-42
102 W. Kentucky at Middle Tenn. St. (Sept. 13) 47-50
101 Arizona vs. USC (Oct. 11)    26-28
101 Ohio State vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 27) 50-28
100 East Carolina vs. UConn (Oct. 23)  31-21

UConn commit Michael Tarbutt booted a 42-yard field goal as Canisius defeated Bishop-Timon St. Jude 37-8 to improve to 8-0.

It was the third first goal of more than 40 yards this season for Tarbutt including a 52-yard kick against Aquinas Institute last month.

Also, Nazir Williams had four catches for 78 yards (all in the first half) and a pair of sacks as Bridgeton defeated Millville 36-9.