Sunday, October 22, 2017

Linemen continue to be added to UConn's recruiting class

Not long after watching his team give up a program record 70 points against Memphis a couple weeks ago, UConn coach Randy Edsall stood up at the press conference following the game and when he was questioned about the effectiveness of the newly-installing 3-3-5 defense, he declared that it was not the scheme but the personnel that is the issue.

"I have to answer this the right way because if I don't I know I will get crucified," Edsall said. "We decided to come in here and install a defense that we think is going to be good for us as we put this program together. The defense that we inherited is not built for this defense. If you look, we don't really have enough linemen to even play a four man front. If people want to question, it is not the scheme it is we have to get players in that can play the scheme that we want to play because of the teams we are going to have to play year in and year out and. Right now it is difficult. We don't have the personnel to play this, we do not have the personnel to play a 4-3. This is a big job we have undertaken to make better, fair and simple, and it isn't going to happen overnight, it just isn't."

Since that time, UConn has received three commitments and two of them are linemen (I'll let the coaching staff determine if they play on offense or defense).

Noel Ofori-Nyada, a lineman out of Arlington, Texas, committed not long after UConn won 28-24 at Temple. The 6-foot-4, 285-pounder out of Mansfield Timberview in Arlington, had some company as the most recent commitment is Dylan Niedrowski announnced his commitment on Twitter today.

Extremely excited to announce my commitment to continue my academic and athletic career at UCONN!

Niedrowski is a 6-foot-5, 280-pound lineman at Exeter Township in Reading, Pa. who has helped his team average more than 300 rushing yards and 7.4 yards per carry in the first eight games of the season.

Since Wilbur Cross lineman Travis Jones committed in late July, Niedrowski is the fifth lineman to commit to UConn. Peter Rooney out of Atlanta committed two days after Jones, Liam Maloney (Schenectady, N.Y.) became a UConn pledge in early August. In late August it was defensive end Jonathan Pace out of Needham, Mass. followed in the last week by Ofori-Nyada and Niedrowski.

Maloney had a sack and the ensuing fumble was recovered in the end zone as Holy Trinity rolled to a 42-0 win over Voorheesville to advance to the New York Class C semifinals against Chatham although at 6-foot-8, it sure seems like he'd be better suited to play offensive tackle at the next level.

With UConn losing all three of its defensive line starters (Luke Carrezola, Foley Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby graduating) and Edsall admitting that getting more defensive linemen in place to play the 3-3-5 scheme, it's certainly a position that needs to be addressed. It's a position hit hard by injuries this season as 290-pound sophomore Philippe Okounam, 266-pound junior James Atkins and 255-pound sophomore Connor Freeborn are currently sidelined. The only true freshman defensive lineman who is being redshirted is 289-pound Caleb Thomas while Noel Brouse is a redshirt freshman who came into UConn as a touted prospect. The only UConn commit I have seen play live is Jones and I wouldn't be surprised to see him land on the defensive side of the ball. I won't be surprised to see more linemen join the list of UConn commits as Edsall looks to bring in the type of players suited for the defense being run by coordinator Billy Crocker.

Speaking of linemen, here's a link to a piece on former UConn starting offensive tackle Andreas Knappe who was recently signed to the practice squad by the Washington Redskins. Also, former UConn safety Obi Melifonwu has returned to practice with the Oakland Raiders so perhaps he will be activated off injured reserve and make his NFL regular-season debut soon.

Back on the subject of UConn commits, unfortunately this batch of pledges don't have as many coaches who utilize MaxPreps as past recruiting classes so it is harder to provide updates on them but here's a little bit of info.

Recent quarterback pledge Steve Krajewski ran for a season high 44 yards and passed for 227 yards (completing 19 of 24 passes) in Colquitt County's 38-35 loss to Tift County. In nine games, he is completing 65 percent of his passes for 1,327 yards with 10 TD passes and one interception while adding 173 rushing yards.

Jones had four tackles in Wilbur Cross' loss to Cheshire giving him 40 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in six games this season.

The Capital Prep duo of Khyon Gillespie and Oneil Robinson are putting up impressive numbers. Gillespie has rushed for 793 yards on 58 carries with seven TD runs to go with 166 yards on eight receptions not including last week's loss to Toronto Prep while Robinson is averaging 28.7 yards on 18 receptions. Robinson also has two interceptions.

Last but certainly not least, Hunter Webb has six straight games with at least 10 tackles. He has 118 tackles,  15 tackles for loss and six sacks in eight games at Loyalsock Township High School including a game with seven TFLs, four sacks and 149 yards on four rushing attempts.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

UConn wins a crazy affair

Junior Joseph, who earlier in the game moved into the top 20 on UConn's list of career tacklers, had just made perhaps his signature play during his successful run with the Huskies.

Joseph's ability to keep Keenan Johnson from hauling in what could have the winning touchdown kept the Huskies from suffering a spirit-sapping loss. While his teammates were running around Rentschler celebrating the hard-earned 20-14 victory, Joseph was either too exhausted or in too much pain to join in the celebration. Classmate Vontae Diggs saw what was happening and helped Joseph make his way off the field.

Probably 30 minutes later, Diggs had finished up entertaining questions from the media and as he headed out of the room where the interviews take place, he poked his head into the pack of reporters interviewing Joseph and proclaimed, "this man right here won us the game, thank you Junior."
Joseph had left the game as he hyperextended his back according to UConn coach Randy Edsall. Watching Diggs assist Joseph on their way to the locker room reminded me of that classic scene when Kellen Winslow needed help of teammates to get off the field after a classic 1982 NFL playoff game.

"I was gassed but I was just thinking about us winning the game, that was the most important thing," Joseph said. "I was not going to let us lose this game on a play like that. I just focused on the ball in the air, breaking the basket when the ball is in the air. They wanted to get pass interference because I think they would have gotten another play, I just focused on breaking the basket of his hands."

Johnson had inside position on Jamar Summers (who in my opinion played his best game of the season) and when Skipper let the throw game, I thought it was game, set and match. Joseph, who was rarely used in pass coverage until this season, used his superior football IQ to float into the area when the ball was headed. if he doesn't do that, the Hurricane likely would have been lining up to kick the game-winning extra point after scoring 21 unanswered points. Instead, UConn won its second game in a row.

Bear in mind that the last time this UConn team played at Rentschler Field, Memphis put up 70 points which was the most ever given up by a UConn team.

"I stayed off social media for four or five days," Joseph said. "I didn't go on Twitter. A lot of people say stuff on Twitter so I stayed off that and that is how you block it out. All you can do is get better, you can't dwell on that game."

In that game, UConn's defensive backs played with little confidence playing so far off that if you were watching the Memphis game on TV, you might have missed who was providing the coverage. There was little pressure being generated by the all-senior starting defensive line.

Fast forward to today and the secondary (other than in the final couple of drives) were as aggressive as they have been all season long while the starting defensive line of Cole Ormsby, Foley Fatukasi and Luke Carrezola combined for six tackles for loss and five sacks. UConn had 11 TFLs since a win over Temple on Nov. 23, 2013. The six sacks were the most since notching six against the Edsall coached Maryland team on Sept. 25, 2012.

Staying with "the first time since" theme, UConn help Tulsa off the scoreboard in the first half something that last took place against Louisville on Nov. 24, 2012. Wait, there's more. Fatukasi and Ormsby each had two sacks and the last time UConn had two players with at least two sacks was when Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood accomplished the feat against Maryland in 2012.
As I mentioned, Joseph is now in the top 20 on UConn's career tackles list as his seven tackles pushes his total 278.

Some other notes:

Arkeel Newsome's 51-yard reception (setting up the first of two Michael Tarbutt field goals) moved him into second place on UConn's career list for all-purpose yards. However, Newsome suffered an apparent upper body injury and did not return. He tried his best to convince the medical staff to allow him to return, getting on the ground and doing pushups at one point. Edsall said he will update Newsome's status on Tuesday.

Quayvon Skanes' three catches give him 22 making him the eighth freshman in UConn history with at least 20 receptions. Skanes is also the 13th UConn freshman with at least 200 receiving yards (Keyion Dixon is also on that list).

Shirreffs was 23 of 29 passing for 372 yards and an 80-yard TD to Hergy Mayala on a perfectly executed flea flicker. Unofficially, I have him with a passer rating of 198.44, the sixth best by a UConn player attempting at least 15 passes since 1978.

I thought kicker Michael Tarbutt (2 for 2 on field goals and touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs) and punter Brett Graham (a 40.6 net average with five of his seven punts landing inside the 20) had strong games.

The issues I have is UConn failing to punch it in twice with 1st and goal situations including three plays in a row from the 1 in the fourth quarter and questionable clock management. I noticed at least three times in the fourth quarter when the play clock was running and snapped the ball with more than 10 seconds on the play clock including one with 22 seconds left so there are at least 45 seconds that Tulsa shouldn't have had to attempt its spirited comeback. UConn doesn't have a lot of recent experience running plays with the least in the fourth quarter but I'm hoping it gets addressed this week because those mental lapses could have cost the Huskies the game. It never would have gotten to the point where there would be a debate on whether Tulsa should have been able to line up and snap the ball after a 50-yard completion with 1 second left on the clock.

Finally, I couldn't work this quote into my game story but it's a great one from Diggs.

"I threw my hands to the sky and I was hoping, praying and calling on all the football ancestors who came before us," Diggs said. "I give Junior Joseph props because I don't think that was his man, he is just out there playing football."

Newsome moving up the UConn career charts

Time for my weekly "where Arkeel Newsome stands" update.

The former Ansonia High star needs 38 yards to move past Joe Markus and into sole possession of second place in all-purpose yards in UConn history.

Here's the updated list

Category                      Yards     Rank Next up   
All-purpose                  4,776  (3rd)      Joe Markus 4,813
Yards from scrimmage 3,153 (6th)       Lyle McCombs 3,158
Rushing yards               1,904 (13th)    Tory Taylor 1905
Touchdowns                  22     (14th)     John Fitzsimmons 23
Receptions                    102   (17th)     Keith Hugger 103
Receiving yards            1249 (20th)    Ken Miller 1,313

Also, Bryant Shirreffs needs 46 yards to join Pete Petrillo and Ken Sweitzer to become the third UConn quarterback with 1,000 career rushing yards. Junior Joseph has 271 career tackles which is tied for 21st in program history. With four tackles today, he will pass Sio Moore and Rob Belucore to move into 19th place. Also, Joseph is part of a senior class with a combined 97.5 tackles for loss. The only other classes with at least 100 tackles for loss are 2012 and 2004.

There are some more tidbits in my preview capsule


Friday, October 20, 2017

UConn's freshmen showing a gift for grab

Keyion Dixon is part of a prolific pass catching freshman class at UConn
When Noel Thomas walked off the field after a season-ending loss to Tulane, it was a foregone conclusion that the receptions would be distributed much differently during the 2017 season after Thomas hauled in a UConn program record 100 catches as a senior.

While returnees Arkeel Newsome, Aaron McLean, Hergy Mayala and Tyraiq Beals have combined for more receptions than they had a season ago, the impact of the freshman class has been a bit of a revelation as they have helped UConn's fast-paced offense get rolling.

With Keyion Dixon (17 catches, 211 yards), Quayvon Skanes (19-167), Mason Donaldson (13-176), Kevin Mensah (5-41) and Nate Hopkins (2-7) getting into the act, the class has 56 catches for 602 yards. Heading into this week's game, only Ball State gets more receptions per game from freshmen than the 9.3 by UConn's frosh while the Huskies join Louisville, Nevada and Ball State as the only FBS programs with freshman classes combining for at least 100 receiving yards per game.

In terms of UConn freshman classes, in 2002 which was UConn's first FBS season, Jason Williams, Terry Caulley, Brandon Young, Deon Anderson and Tim Lassen combined for 78 receptions and 858 receiving yards. This current class is second on that list.

I would think that Kashif Moore's 27 receptions, a UConn record by a freshman, is in serious jeopardy. Here's the breakdown of top marks in UConn history by freshmen for receptions and receiving yards

RECEPTIONS27 Kashif Moore 2008
25 Terry Caulley 2002
24 Tyraiq Beals 201523 Ryan Griffin 2009
23 Jason Williams 2002
22 Glenn Antrum 1985
22 Brandon Young 2002
19 Lyle McCombs 2011
19 Quayvon Skanes 201718 Brian Kozlowski 1989
17 Keyion Dixon 201717 Terence Jeffers 2006

RECEIVING YARDS354 Jason Williams 2002
315 Glenn Antrum 1985
288 Brad Kanuch 2006
281 Carl Bond 1995
275 Tyraiq Beals 2015273 Kashif Moore 2008
272 Ryan Griffin 2009
269 Brandon Young 2002
267 John Fitzsimmons 1996
211 Keyion Dixon 2017205 Terry Caulley 2002
200 Terence Jeffers 2006

Thursday, October 19, 2017

UConn getting its kicks in the return game

With the regular season at its midway point, there's one aspect of the 2017 UConn football team that has flown under the radar.

There's been plenty written about the vastly improved offense, the struggling defense and after managing a total of 20 punt return yards in the previous 35 games, UConn already has 61 yards on seven punt returns in the first six games.

Now it is time to address the improvement in kickoff returns. The only real mentions have been focused on the three lost fumbles on kickoff returns all by different players but there is also some good news to report about the unit.

UConn has ranked 96th or lower in four of the previous five seasons. UConn joins Akron, Army, Illinois, Louisiana Lafayette, Miami (Ohio) and Wake Forest as the only teams failing to average at least 20 yards per kickoff return in each of the previous five seasons. However, the Huskies currently rank 32nd nationally averaging 23.6 yards per return and that includes a 2-yard return by freshman Jay Rose on a kickoff left intentionally short. If that return was taken off the books, the Huskies would be in the top 20.

Jordan Swann began the season as the primary kickoff returner and leads the team with an average of 25.9 yards per return. Kyle Buss has averaged 24 yards on a team-high 10 returns while Quayvon Skanes has 75 yards on three returns.

"It is pretty exciting but last game I didn't get much because I was fair catching the ball a lot (on punt returns) but it is pretty exciting to make plays," Skanes said.

Skanes returned one punt for six yards, had a 23-yard kickoff return and also caught three passes including a 6-yard touchdown pass.

A redshirt freshman from Chicago, Skanes is second on the Huskies with 278 all-purpose yards. He's also second on the team with 19 receptions. He is on the verge of joining some select company. With his next reception, he will become the eighth UConn player with 20 catches as a freshman. Former Ansonia High star Glenn Antrum was the first to accomplish the feat in 1985. In 2002, Terry Caulley (25), Jason Williams (23) and Brandon Young (22) all topped the 20-reception mark as freshmen. Six years later Kashif Moore set the program record for catches by a freshman with 27, the following year current Houston Texans tight end Ryan Griffin had 23 catches and in 2015 current UConn receiver Tyraiq Beals had 24 catches.

Skanes could have some company as classmates Keyion Dixon and Mason Donaldson have 17 and 13 catches respectively with Dixon's 211 receiving yards already 10 in program history for a freshman. There will be more on the freshmen receivers in the preview package set to appear in Saturday's paper.

With Hergy Mayala back after missing two games with an ankle injury, the opportunities for the talented freshmen might be limited more than when the dynamic Mayala was sidelined. However, with so much competition at the position, all the receivers know they need to be on their game at practice or their snaps could go to somebody else.

"Practice is always tough, we are always competing for a job no matter what," Skanes said. "The receivers it is a lot of young guys so you never know when you shot is going to be handed to you so you have to keep on (working)."

UConn coach Randy Edsall mentioned how coachable Skanes is. Starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs addressed something else about Skanes that is noteworthy.

"Extremely shifty, great hands, great guy in the locker room" was Shirreffs' scouting report on Skanes. But there was more.

"Something you might not know about him, he is probably the funniest person on the team. He is hilarious, really funny. He is great to be around, a hard worker and he knows when to be funny and when to be serious, it means a lot to him. I am really proud of him."

So is Skanes the resident stand-up comedian or the guy ready for a witty retort at the perfect time?

"He just knows the time to say certain jokes and can impersonate people well," Shirreffs said. "He will say funny things when you wouldn't expect it and it catches you off guard, you won't know who is saying it and you will look over and it is him.

"We sat on the bus after the game, long bus ride. The bus would hit bumps and I would look at him and the first couple of times I didn't realize he was beign sarcastic, I thought he was being serious and really drastically bouncing up in his seat but he was so serious. I kept looking out of the corner of my eye and he kept doing it every single time and by the end of the ride, I was laughing at him."

One can only imagine the jokes to come out of Skanes' mouth if he were able to return a kickoff for a touchdown against Tulsa on Saturday. That is something that hasn't happened since Robby Frey accomplished the feat in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. The Huskies have returned 254 kickoffs in a row without bring one all the way back only Akron, Army, Indiana, UNLV and Wake Forest have longer active streaks about FBS teams.

"I feel like, I think this game is a great opportunity to get one," Skanes said. "We want to do it in every game but unfortunately we aren't going to do it every game but I feel like it is going to come."

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Homecoming to remember for UConn's Junior Joseph

Perhaps UConn senior linebacker Junior Joseph will find his way onto a professional football roster but if that is not the case, today was the last game he will play in his native Pennsylvania.

If it indeed is his swan song, he went out with the bang with a team-high 11 tackles, a sack and he nearly had an interception as UConn upset defending American Athletic Conference champion Temple 28-24.

The defense is chock full of defensive play makers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland and their family members were among the 29,849 in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field as UConn won its first conference game in more than a year and first road game since 2015.

"It meant a lot to me because I am from PA," Joseph said. "It is good to come back to my home (state), see my family and friends, it is good to get a win in front of those people."

This is Joseph's fourth consecutive game with more than 10 tackles after coming into his senior season with just one double-digit tackle game. He continues to move up the list of all-time leading tacklers in UConn history. Today he moved by three players including former teammate Andrew Adams and is now tied with James Hargrave for 21st place with 271 career tackles.

"He is the smartest player I've ever play with so to do that, it feels good to pass him, it is an honor," Joseph said.

Joseph said before the season that one of his goals was to be a more vocal leader so how has he gone about doing that?

"Just keep motivating guys and leading, making plays, telling guys to follow me and seeing that they can do it too," Joseph said. "Just calling out plays before the snap, helping them out little stuff Andrew did for us when I was a freshman or a sophomore."

With UConn starting three true freshmen in the secondary since illness sidelined starting cornerback Jamar Summers, not one of the defensive backs who saw time in today's game ever started a game at UConn before this season. With Brayden Brown and Jordan Swann making their first career starts and fellow true freshman Darrian Beavers seeing his most playing time at linebacker, obviously there were some bumpy patches as Temple ran 18 more plays than the Huskies and outgained UConn 473-244 but UConn is more than happy to head home after a hard-earned victory especially when the defense gave up a program record 70 points last week against Memphis.

"After a game like that you have no choice but to respond, you can't let the wheels fall off for the rest of the season," Joseph said. "We are going to enjoy this game tonight and tomorrow, it is onto Tulsa. Short memory and that is what we have to do."

After the game, UConn coach Randy Edsall began to tear up when discussing the victory and he made reference to a speech to the team that obviously resonated with the team.

"He's been here before so when he is telling us something, we have to believe it because he has done it before," Joseph said. "When he gets emotional, he knows what he is talking about. Guys responded and saw when Coach was talking last night how emotional he was, how much it mean to him so we had to do it for Coach Edsall."

Edsall didn't divulge his complete message to the team but here's what Joseph took out of Edsall's words.

"Stop playing tentative, have fun, you've been playing football since you were a little kid so why not go out and have fun," Joseph said. "We were out there having fun on defense finally making plays. His biggest thing to go out and have fun, don't think and play fast."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Freshman linebacker Hahn understands No. 6 not just another number at UConn

The assigning of numbers often comes and goes with little time for reflection.

Take the case of Eddie Hahn who thought it was be a nice change of pace to flip the No. 9 jersey he wore in high school so he requested the No. 6 at UConn. Hey, it was just another number, right? Not exactly.

Former UConn defensive back Jasper Howard was stabbed to death not long after making 11 tackles and forcing a fumble in a 38-25 win over Louisville on Oct. 17, 2009. Since that time the number worn by Howard has held special meaning.

Receiver Kashif Moore, at the request of UConn coach Randy Edsall, wore the number in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl and during the 2010 season as a way to honor Howard's memory. Receiver Michael Smith followed suit and that was the number he wore during the 2012 campaign. Cornerback Jhavon Williams also was given No. 6 that year when he redshirted and wore it proudly during his time as a Husky. Williams made certain that Hahn understood that there is an additional responsbility that comes with wearing No. 6 at UConn.

"When I got here and learned from the tradition from Jhavon last year, you just try to go out in the summer, in the winter and work hard," Hahn said. "You can't take anything for granted because at the end of the day, you never know.

"Seeing the statue at the stadium and seeing 'play each play like it is last play you will ever play' Coach Edsall harps on that every day because once you have that mindset, it is tough to not go out and win every day so that is what I have been trying to do and trying to apply it every day."

Obviously Moore and Smith were very close to Howard while Williams was a cornerback from Florida just like Howard was there was that connection to Howard. Hahn doesn't have that going for him but he is doing everything he can to live up to that number.

"I had an understanding (when he got to UConn) but not like I am now where I understand how hard you have to work when you have that number because there is such a tradition behind it," Hahn said. "Jhavon last year would tell me all the time that it is an honor to wear this number, you have to show everybody that you value wearing the number. It definitely goes through my mind a lot, play like it is the last play you are ever going to play. If you have that mindset, if you didn't practice (well) you know deep down inside, 'what if that was my last practice?' It makes me try to be the best football player and person I can be."

Hahn, like so many of the freshmen on the UConn roster, seemingly sees his work load increase with each passing week. He's a reserve linebacker but sees quite a bit of time on defense in addition to his special teams duties.

"I don't have any bad habits because I've never played there," Hahn said of the move to linebacker.

"I've never played that close to the line of scrimmage in my life, the game is quicker you have to make a lot more decisions. At safety your first two steps are going backwards, at linebacker your first two steps are going forward so that is definitely a big adjustment."

Saturday's game is a homecoming from plenty of Huskies especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The most recent two-deep chart lists 22 defensive players and according to Mapquest, 12 of them list hometowns less than 115 miles from Lincoln Financial Field. Senior defensive end Luke Carrezola leads the way as Langhorne, Pa is 29 miles away followed by Kevin Murphy, Connor Freeborn and Marshe Terry growing up 30, 31 and 34 miles from the site of Saturday's game. Hahn is only sixth among the defensive players on the two-deep chart in terms of proximity to the field but he is no stranger to football games at Lincoln Financial Field.

"My mom grew up in Trenton so I have been going to the Linc, we probably would go to five Eagles home games every year just because mom's side of the fmaily had season tickets so that was pretty cool," Hahn said. "A lot of them are going to come to the game this week but it is going to be pretty cool to play in the stadium that the Eagles play in."

I put Hahn on the spot and asked him for the most memorable Eagles game he was been to.

"Probably when the Eagles played the Giants when the Phillies and Yankees were in the World Series, I went to the Eagles game that day (Nov. 1, 2009) and most of the people had tickets to that game that night so it was pretty cool."

The Eagles fared better than the Phillies that day with a 40-17 win over the Giants while the Yankees topped the Phillies 7-4 with three runs in the top of the ninth inning to take a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Aaron McLean making an impact on the field, in the classroom at UConn

There are two constants surrounding UConn's longest rushing and passing plays this season.

First, both times the ball was in the hands of the always dangerous Arkeel Newsome for a 79-yard catch and run against East Carolina and his 64-yard scoring run against Memphis. Another player, however, had a role that has flown a bit under the radar as junior receiver Aaron McLean was down the field sealing off defenders to allow Newsome to fly right by on both plays.

It is something I asked UConn coach Randy Edsall about at yesterday's press conference and he said McLean's attitude and level of play was something that came up earlier that day.

"He got accepted into business school," Edsall said. "He goes out there the other day and the bone popped out of his hand, he went back in and played. It is important to him, he wants to do well and he is a guy who goes out there and practices that way every day. I don't know if I'd heard him say more than 10 words but that is what he does, he goes out, he knows what his role his, he knows what his job is and he goes out and does it to the best of his ability each and every play, that is what we are trying to get done from everybody."

I remember last year asking then UConn offensive coordinator Frank Verducci about McLean because once again he caught my eye by throwing a block during the Navy game.

"McLean is really the exceptional one because he played two plays," Verducci said. "One play he did a kickout block like a fullback and puts the guy on the ground. The other play, he catches a 24-yard pass so give credit to him for his preparation and staying in the game. He had every excuse to not be focused but when those guys got gassed on the two-minute drill, he goes in and makes a play. It is not a scripted play, it is a scramble, it is an adjustment and he makes an adjustment and makes a play."

What stuck with me about that quote was that I thought McLean would see a jump in playing time after that game but that wasn't the case. He would catch just one more pass the rest of the season and went the final seven games of the season without having a reception. It was more of the game this season. He had three catches in the season opener against Holy Cross and then one in the next two games.

McLean's reaction to his lack of playing time tells you all you need to know about him.

"It made me work harder," McLean said. "I am not the kind of person who blames the coaches for me not playing, if I am not playing it is something I am doing so I have to work harder to play."

In a Sept. 30 game against SMU, he was certainly out there on the field as he set career highs with five catches and 122 receiving yards with 64 coming on his longest play since his days at St. Mark's.

"I have grown a lot as a player with what Coach (Aaron) Smith is telling me," McLean said. "I think one of the biggest advantages is my size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds). I am not going to be a guy to make people miss all the time but I can break tackles and use that to my advantage."

So how does he explain breaking free for a 64-yard touchdown reception.

"I had one guy on me and I knew I had a chance," McLean said.

McLean drew interest from Ivy League schools before committing to UConn so its hardly surprising to hear that he fulfilled a goal by being accepted into UConn's business school.

"It is a blessing because it is what I wanted to do," McLean said. "When I first came here, I didn't know what I wanted to do but now I think I want to be in management. I was nervous about getting in."

UConn has six wide receivers who have caught between 9-16 passes so contributions have come from a variety of sources especially since Hergy Mayala went down with a high ankle sprain. His teammates are thrilled to see McLean featured more in the offense this season.

"McLean is an incredible example of leading by example," UConn senior tight end Tommy Myers said. "He leads with his attitude and work ethic on and off the field. He doesn't say much but when he does, people listen."

Mayala has returned to the field for the first time this week since getting injured (ironically while throwing a block) early in the East Carolina game. I noticed that he wasn't wearing a protective boot when he was on the field before the Memphis game so I asked Edsall for an update on his progress. Edsall said Mayala is doubtful to play this week but it sounds like he is getting closer to returning.