Monday, October 30, 2006

What's a week without a UConn position controversy?

It appears there will be no quarterback controversy for the University of Connecticut football team as it prepares for its next game, a Nov. 11 home date with Pittsburgh.

Sophomore D.J. Hernandez will remain the starter despite an ineffective performance (8-of-17, 67 yards, one interception) in a 24-13 loss to No. 15 Rutgers Sunday night at Rutgers Stadium.

Have no fear. It appears a tailback controversy is brewing, one sure to dominate the news coming out of Storrs for the next week and a half or so. Senior and four-year starter Terry Caulley couldn’t play because of an ankle injury. Redshirt freshman Donald Brown stepped in and exploded for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.

So the question sure to linger is will there be a changing of the guard at tailback? On Monday, coach Randy Edsall gave no indication he was ready to make a decision any time soon.

"We’ll sit down and do a lot of studying and see. I comes down to what we feel is the best way to go the last four games that gives us the best opportunity to win," Edsall said. "I know we have three tailbacks (sophomore Lou Allen is the other) I like and I think they are all a little different in their own ways. I think the one who will play is the one who can give us a little more than the others in certain situations."

Caulley has been Edsall’s rock for what seems like ages. A leader in every sense, Caulley set the program record for career rushing yardage earlier this season, becoming the first UConn player to top 3,000 yards.

But what Brown accomplished on Sunday should be enough to snatch the job. In his first start, Brown, from nearby Atlantic Heights, N.J., easily outperformed Rutgers’ Heisman Trophy candidate Ray Rice (22 carries, 79 yards, touchdown) in front of a national audience.

He shredded the nation’s second-stingiest defense, which hadn’t allowed a 100-yard effort to a running back all season. If not for a 5-yard loss late in the fourth quarter, Brown would have finished with 204 yards.

After only two carries for seven yards in the first quarter, Brown broke off runs of 24, 22 and 19 in the second quarter. To start the second half Brown went 72 yards in two plays, capped by a magnificent 65-yard touchdown run for the Huskies first points. He added a 7-yard TD late in the third that pulled UConn within 17-13.

"The thing I like is he played in 58 plays in the game and I don’t think he got tired," Edsall said. "The young man is in excellent condition. He’s strong and runs with power and elusiveness. You saw him hit it up in there, and also get through and have the burst to take it the distance. Is he going to get 199 yards every game? No. Would I like him to? Yes."

The perception around UConn over the last few years is that Caulley, because of his work ethic, talent and personality, is one of Edsall’s favorites. Caulley, coming off major reconstructive knee surgery last year, was not 100 percent. Yet Edsall stuck with him even in games where backups Cornell Brockington and Lou Allen were more effective.

Even this season when Brown showed signs his immense talent might warrant, at the very least, more playing time, Caulley was still the featured back. That didn’t cause much controversy because Caulley (623 yards, 5.8 yards-per carry) has run the ball well this season.

On Monday, Edsall diffused any notion that his fondness for Caulley will play into the decision as to which back starts against Pittsburgh.

"Personal feelings don’t come into play," Edsall said. "Personal feelings can’t come into play. I like every guy on our team. But the guys that perform and the guys can do the job are the guys we go with on Saturday afternoon."

If Edsall is true to that, Brown should be the featured back.

In other news, Ray Rice, who came out of the game after injuring an ankle Sunday, told the Associated Press on Monday he is fine. "It’s just a little sore. I’m ready to go," Rice said. Upon hearing the news, Greg Sciano took his first breath since about 11 p.m. last night.

Postgame from Jersey

From the post-game press conferences....

  • Terry Caulley's days as the featured back might be numbered, whether he's healthy or not. Is that any surprise after the Donald Brown coming-out party against Rutgers? Randy Edsall said Brown might be consdered the front-runner for the Pitt game. Brown was humble in his post-game comments, mentioning how he took advantage of the opportunity. Though he wouldn't say it, you have to think he understands the job is his for the taking now.

  • Caulley didn't practice all week because of a gimpy ankle, and Brown found out Thursday he would be the featured back. Edsall said he listed TC as probable because he thought he would get healthier as the week wore on. That didn't happen. He might be feeling a little like Wally Pipp tonight.

  • I said last week that West Virginia kept Steve Slaton in the game to pad his stats and keep his Heisman campaign alive. They were lucky he came out healthy. Rutgers did the same thing tonight with Ray Rice, who had just 79 yards on 22 carries. The Scarlet Knights might not have been so lucky. Rice injured his leg on a meaningless carry with the game in hand. He walked off under his own power, and has a bye week to rest. But Rutgers' coach Greg Schiano might be sweating over the next day as the await official word on Rice's status.

  • Long snapper Martin Bedard is out for the season with a dislocated elbow, suffered last week in practice. Robb Lunn started tonight, and did OK aside from one forgettable snap.

  • Edsall said the game plan was to stop the run and make Rutgers beat UConn through the air because he didn't think Mike Teel could do it. It nearly worked. The Huskies gave the Scarlet Knights a pair of touchdowns. Rutgers scored exactly one offensive touchdown in the game, and that came less than 5 minutes into the game. UConn's defense was fired up, especially in the second half.

That's it. It's 12:30 a.m. here in the press box and I have a long date with the New Jersey Turnpike.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sprung from cages on Highway 9

Arrived at Rutgers early today and spent the afternoon watching NFL games at the hotel. Got to Rutgers Stadium around 6 p.m., and am pretty impressed. It's a nice little stadium, and there was a real buzz in the parking lots with the Rutgers fans. Guess there's a lot to be excited about. The Scarlet Knights moved up to No. 15 in the AP poll and are now 12th in the BCS standings. It ties the highest Rutgers has ever been ranked, and with a win tonight over UConn they will most likely climb a little higher by next Sunday (the Scarlet Knights have a bye next weekend).

Everywhere you look there is Ray Rice for Heisman propaganda. I sat down at my seat in the press box where there was a little notebook with an action shot of Rice touting him for the Heisman and Doak Walker Awards waiting. Rice is also plastered on the game programs. The numbers certainly support the hype. Let's see if the Huskies can contain him for four quarters.

Pregame updates: long snapper Martin Bedard is out. No official announcement on the UConn quarterback, but D.J. Hernandez is warming up like he's going to be the starter. I expect him to start. In fact, official word just came in. D.J. will be starting.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Remembering UNH football and this week's picks

An added thought to continue my last post about flipping through the Rutgers media guide. Darren Rizzi is the Scarlet Knights assistant head coach and linebackers coach. I first remember Rizzi when he was a tight end at Rhode Island. A saw a lot of Yankee Conference football in the early 90s because three of my good friends from high school played in the league (one at URI, one at BU, one at UConn). Rizzi was easily the best tight end in the league. He dominated. Later, I got to talk to Rizzi a bit when he was an assistant and later head coach for three years at the University of New Haven.

It all made me think back to the "old" days of New Haven football, an elite Division II program from the mid-80s to the late 90s. I can't believe it's been three years since the school decided it was too expensive and dropped football altogether.

Not long ago, UNH football was one of the best-kept secrets in Connecticut. For a span of about 15 years, the Chargers were probably the best college football team in New England save for Boston College. When I was in high school here in the New Haven area, everyone went to Yale games for the tailgaiting. But to see exciting football in a scaled-down setting, it was over to UNH. Even in college in the early-to-mid 90s, we made a point of getting over to see UNH play. Especially come playoff time. The school cranked out great team after great team, had a bunch of All-Americans and future NFL players (Harry Boatswain, Roger Graham), and routinely beat Division I-AA teams (including a 14-13 win over UConn in the only meeting between the schools in 1992). It was also a breeding ground for future NFL coaches: Chris Palmer, Mark Whipple, Tony Sparano to name a few.

Mark Whipple won the Super Bowl as quarterbacks coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in February

Rizzi was the defensive coordinator when the Chargers reached the Division II national championship game in 1997, losing to a Northern Colorado team led by current Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith. He later took over as head coach from 99-01, and posted a few big victories against Division I-AA teams like Villanova, ranked 12th in the country at the time. But around that time the school decided it couldn't afford the football expenses anymore. In order to compete on the national level, New Haven had to remain independent and jetted around the country for games because the best Division II teams are in places like Michigan, North Dakota, and Washington. So the program was axed altogether, we lost something really special here in New Haven, and I miss it a lot.

On to this weeks picks. I went 6-5 this week to creep over .500 for the season at 39-38-5. Three others also went 6-5 to tie for the best of the week.

Game 1: Syracuse (+6.5) over CINCINNATI: Two teams who are greatly improved from last season. Bearcats will win, but won't cover the spread.

Game 2: UConn (+19.5) over RUTGERS: The Huskies have been able to contain opposing tailbacks, even elite ones like Steve Slaton last week. That alone will keep UConn within 20 points.

Only two Big East games this week. A sampling of the rest...

Game 3: Oklahoma (+1.5) over MISSOURI

Game 4: GEORGIA TECH (-5.5) over Miami-Fla.

Game 5: USC (-11.5) over OREGON STATE

Game 6: FLORIDA (-14) over Georgia

Game 7: MARYLAND (-4) over Florida State

Game 8: Tennesee (-3.5) over SOUTH CAROLINA

Game 9: Notre Dame (-13.5) over NAVY

Game 10: Central Conn. State (+6.5) over MONMOUTH

Get your picks in...enter by clicking the "comments" tab below.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Scanning the Rutgers' media guide and some Thursday notes

Flipping through the opposing team's media guide often provides plenty of information that some, like me, find interesting. I don't particularly care about most of the numbers in the media guide, like the last time a team scored 35 or more points on a Friday night following a loss on the road or who leads the school's career list in quarterback hurries. Much like Cliff Clavin, I am fascinated by fascinating facts. The Rutgers media guide is filled with them. For example:

Rutgers played host to Princeton in the first college football game in 1869. Princeton's players arrived in carriages and wagons. Rutgers' players, which identified themselves by donning scarlet scarves wrapped around the tops of their heads (the first do-rags?) won the game 6-4 then, according to one account, chased the Princeton players out of town when the game was over.

Rutgers has a fairly impressive list of notable alumni who went on to the entertainment biz. Among them are Calista Flockhart, Ozzie Nelson, former MTV VJ Bill Bellamy, Kristin Davis of Sex and the City fame, Natalie Morales of the Today show, Queen Latifah and, of course, James Gandolfini aka Tony Soprano. When Rutgers walked out for the opening coin toss prior to the start of the Insight Bowl against Arizona State last winter, Gandolfini stood with the Scarlet Knights' captains at midfield. What alum did Arizona State bring out? Jimmy Kimmel (who dropped out after 2 1/2 years) . Rutgers should have won the game at that moment. How bad ass is it to trot out with Tony Soprano to meet the other team? Is there a more intimidating person on the planet to have on your side in this situation? If I was playing for Rutgers, I would have begged Gandolfini to get into full character...dress up in an Armani suit, stare down the ASU captain and say things like "You may not love me, but you will respect me!" I'd also foot the bill for Paulie Walnuts and Silvio to make the trip just so they could stand in the background with their arms crossed.

Rutgers also has an impressive crop of alumni who went on to professional athletics. David Stern, Alexi Lalas, Eddie Jordan and Jim Valvano, not to mention NFL players Deron Cherry, Marco Battaglia, Ray Lucas and L.J. Smith, to name a few.

A few UConn notes from Thursday:

  • Tailback Terry Caulley (ankle), wide receiver Brandon Young (knee) and safety Allan Barnes (hamstring) are all probable for Sunday.
  • Edsall is keeping his word on the QB situation. We'll find out on Sunday.
  • Defensive end Rhema Fuller was one of 17 finalists for the Draddy Trophy, awarde annually to the college football player (all divisions, including NAIA) who best demontrates achievement in academics, football and community service. Fuller is the first UConn player to be named a finalist. Edsall said it is one of his proudest moments since arriving at the school in 1999.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Never a dull moment

No such thing as a slow news day with the UConn football team these days. Offensive lineman Donald Thomas, a West Haven resident, was suspended for two games after an arrest at Wings Over Storrs on Sunday. Thomas, according to the police report, was involved in a fight and charged with misdemeanor assault and breach of peace. He'll be in court on Halloween.

That makes nine arrests since May 2005 for UConn football players. Thomas seemed one of the least likely to be involved in something like this. An outstanding student who is preparing for law school next fall (see Runway story on Thomas from August), Thomas was one of several players who spoke up during a team meeting after the 'Beergate' incident led to the dismissal of five players two weeks ago. An emotional Thomas, a former walk-on, told teammates in the meeting that he had been taking things for granted since he was awarded a scholarship in August and vowed to get back to the hard work and team commitment that earned him the free ride in the first place. Sounds like a lapse in judgment from a smart kid, but still another black mark on the program especially in light of the swarm of bad press recently.

Some other notes from Tuesday....

  • No word on who the starting QB will be. That's for me to know and you to find out, said Randy Edsall, who then stuck his tongue out at the media. OK, he didn't use those exact words. And he didn't stick his tongue out either. But it is a bit of gamesmanship by the ole' coach, who DID admit he doesn't want to tip his hand to Rutgers. "Let (Rutgers) try to figure out what we're going to do, who we're going to play," Edsall said. We do know it will be either Bones or D.J. Dennis Brown is going to redshirt. Don't expect an announcement on who'll play until just before the ESPN broadcast on Sunday goes live. More on this in Wednesday's Register.

  • Neither D.J. nor Bonislawski were made available to the media on Tuesday during the weekly luncheon. Word is one of them declined the invitation to speak to the media, and since UConn hasn't made a formal announcement on who'll play this weekend, the other quarterback was told not to head upstairs to greet the press.

  • UConn didn't send out the press release on Donald Thomas' suspension until everyone had left the Shenkman Center and headed back to their respective newspaper offices on Tuesday. Not sure what the thinking was on that. A distraction? Compared to the last few weeks this incident is a dance around the maypole. And it's not like any of the players or coaches would have commented on it anyway.

  • OK. I made fun of Jim Leavitt and Steve Slaton over the last three weeks for being bad interviews (and they love me in West Virginia for that plenty of fan mail from folks in the greater Morgantown area.) So in an effort to prove I'm not a complete misanthrope, I want to point out a couple of great interviews today. Dan Davis was the featured speaker at media day, and was outstanding. He had complete command of the room. It was like he's been doing press conferences his whole life. He was funny, insightful and brimming with confidence. Definite captain's material. I also like Lindsey Witten, who I will refer to from here on out as Hard Hittin' Lindsey Witten (UConn needs more players with nicknames). It wasn't so much what he said as it was his demeanor. He has a quiet confidence that was impressive for a true freshman. He knows he belongs and can play at this level, but is well aware he still needs to work hard to get bigger and stronger. Now 6-4, 217 pounds, Hard Hittin' Lindsey Witten could be a terror at around 245 pounds with his 4.7 speed. Edsall said he has the potential to be one of the best defensive ends UConn has ever had.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Saturday morning cartoons

Left the Runway after midnight last night. Mulled over a few things while trying to keep from falling asleep on the long drive back to New Haven.

  • Randy Edsall told the media to be on alert. If there are any more injuries, we may be called upon to fill in. That's because Edsall said any true freshman who hasn't played yet will not see the field no matter what in order to preserve the redshirt. Same with Dennis Brown at quarterback. Dave Solomon is ready. Get him a helmet with a single-bar facemask.

  • UConn was a quarter away from ending Steve Slaton's Heisman campaign. Instead, he tacked on 89 yards in garbage time, including a 56-yard TD run when it was obvious the West Virginia coaching staff was looking to pad his numbers, and finished with what would appear to be a respectable 128 yards on 19 carries. Don't expect him to be on many ballots from Connecticut voters.

  • Pat White, on the other hand, should be mentioned with Troy Smith, Garrett Wolfe, Brady Quinn, Ian Johnson and the rest on the Heisman watch lists. But Slaton's getting the hype this season, so White may have to wait til next year to get serious consideration.

  • West Virginia has a linebacker named John Holmes. The press box sounded like a Beavis and Butthead sketch after his name was first announced. John Holmes. Huh Huh Huh.

The press box reacts to a John Holmes tackle

  • Have to get this off my chest. An F-minus performance by the fans at the Runway last night. The place emptied by more than half by the time of the second half kickoff, and it was only 20-3. By the middle of the third quarter, it was all but empty. Ok, fans. And this isn't a sweeping indictment, mind you. But this isn't the Big E. It comes off a tad lame when you show up, have a fried dough, listen to the marching band for a few minutes, point and laugh at the drunk frat guys, watch a little bit of the game then head for home before the tractor pull. This was a nationally-televised game against a team that has a shot at winning the national championship this season. Maybe the first and only time an eventual national champ AND the season's Heisman Trophy winner come to the Runway. I got a ton of emails from friends looking for tickets because the game was a sellout and they couldn't buy them. Then you watch the ESPN broadcast and it's a sea of empty seats. Why spend the money on season tickets if you don't care about the team that much?

Looking forward to watching the Rutgers-Pitt game this afternoon. Should be a good one.

West Virginia post game notes

A few quick postgame notes...

  • Randy Edsall said UConn could wind up in a situation where both Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez are used at quarterback. Hernandez moved the ball well when he got in the game late in the third quarter, and scored the Huskies lone TD. But he also made the same old mistakes with turnovers deep in enemy territory.
  • Tony Ciaravino will kick field goals and extra points for now. Edsall said Ciaravino's limit is 40 yards, and Matt Nuzie would have attempted anything from over that distance.
  • M.J. Estep got his bell rung, but there were no significant UConn injuries to report.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Knight, Reyes and more football picks

Tiki Barber plans to retire after the season at age 31. Bobby Knight is signing a contract extention that will make him coach at Texas Tech through 2012, when he'll be 71. Is it better to go out on top of your game, or when you're so old you need assistance to throw that chair across the court? Buried in the Bobby Knight story is the fact that his son, Pat, the associate head coach, has already been tabbed to succeed pop at Texas Tech. So you know Bobby signed the extention merely for spite.

I'm a Yankee fan, but still sad to see the Mets lose. Willie Randolph was one of my favorite all-time Yankees. I also like Jose Reyes, who is probably the most amazing minor league player I've ever seen. When Jose was with Double-A Binghamton, he came to Yale Field and created complete havoc during one four-game series back in 2002. I even held onto my scorebook from those games because it was so memorable. His stats from the four games: 11-for-17 (.647) with three doubles, three triples, four RBIs and five stolen bases. He scored from first base on a single for the winning run in the eighth one night. He won the next game in the ninth by bunting for a single, stealing second, stealing third and scoring when the catcher, so nervous because he knew what Reyes was going to do you could hear his teeth chattering, sailed the throw into the outfield. Reyes ran the bases like a gazelle. I've never seen an opposing team so afraid of a player so small, and this was a playoff-bound New Haven team that had Coco Crisp in center field and a handful of others playing small parts on major league rosters now.

Shocker. I went 6-6 last week to remain even for the year at 33-33-5. Detroit Tigers hater won the weekly competition at 8-4. One of these days, I'll run through the blog to compile season records for everyone. Anyone who loses to me has to wrestle my cousin Moze. Here are this week's picks:

Game 1: West Virginia (-23.5) over UCONN: Pat White may pass the 247 yards he put up last week.

Game 2: SYRACUSE (+17.5) over Louisville: Louisville doens't run well, and the 'Cuse defends the pass well enough to cover the spread.

Game 3: Rutgers (+6.5) over PITT: Is Rutgers for real? Here's the first big test.

Game 4: South Florida (-1) over CINCINNATI: Looking like my lock of the week.

And for the non-Big East games....

Game 5: Texas (-6) over NEBRASKA
Game6: Texas A&M (+3.5) over OKLAHOMA STATE
Game 7: Georgia Tech (+7.5) over CLEMSON
Game 8: NC State (+1.5) over Maryland
Game 9: Wisconsin (-7) over PURDUE
Game 10: MICHIGAN (-13.5) over Iowa
Game 11: Penn (-3.5) over YALE: Last time Yale beat Penn, Eric Johnson was playing wide receiver and Bill Clinton was still in office.

Get your picks in this week in the 'comments' section below.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Injury bug bites hard

A couple of devastating blows at practice this week. Defensive end Cody Brown broke his arm and is out the rest of the season. He is scheduled for surgery Friday. Wide receiver Brandon McLean broke his ankle and will miss 4-5 weeks. He had his surgery today. Allan Barnes will also miss this week with a nagging hamstring injury. Defensive end Jason Ward may be out for the year.

Lindsey Witten gets the start at defensive end.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The riddle of the autograph

I've never quite understood the concept of getting someone's autograph. Felt that way since I was about 7. As best as I can grasp it, you see someone famous (or, if you're at a minor league baseball game, someone not the least bit famous), walk up and ask them to write their name on a piece of paper. Why? So you can show your friends an illegible scribble? There's never a good story to go with it either. Dude, I saw the guy who played Uncle Charlie on My Three Sons at the wallpaper store. I went up to him and, get this, asked him for his autograph. Here it is.


I bring this up only because I witnessed a 40-year old autograph seeker today at, of all places, a hospital. A famous man (I won't say who, but someone who would be recognized anywhere on the globe) was getting off the elevator, probably to visit a sick friend or family member. I admit, I was taken aback at first glimpse. But never in a million years would I dream of doing this, especially given the location. This nincompoop walks right up and asks for his autograph. No conversation, no apologies. Since a hospital is no place to cause a scene, and there wasn't anyone else around, the famous person obliged, albeit with a rather annoyed look on his face.

I've wondered aloud about autographs before. Actually, a lot. I've covered minor league baseball at the Register for a while now, and I am amazed at the hordes of people, grown men included, knocking each other over for a lousy signature. People tell me it's OK for kids to do it. Anything for the kids. Still don't get it. I remember attending my first West Haven Yankees game at the old Quigley Stadium in the late 1970s with my dad. We got there early, and a bunch of kids were hanging over the railing hounding Mike Heath, probably the most well-known player on the team, for autographs. I asked my dad if I could go over to get his autograph. My dad kind of smirked, but handed me our scorecard and a pencil. I got the autograph and walked back to our seats. After staring at it for a few minutes, I looked over at my dad and said "What am I supposed to do with this?" He laughed. Guess he knew exactly how I would react.

Signing autographs, however, is a completely different story. I wish I could say my status as a journalist has people asking me all the time. But no one on the planet would buy that one. However, I have been the subject of mistaken identity a few times (though now that I'm into my 30s it doesn't happen nearly as much). About eight years ago, while I was still a part-time scribe, I was covering a New Haven Ravens game against the Binghamton Mets. It was an afternoon game, so I decided to write the story from home. After getting my interviews, I grabbed my bag and headed out to my car. To get to the parking lot at Yale Field, you walk right past the home team's clubhouse as well as the visiting team's bus. A kid stopped me along the way and asked which team I played for. Without missing a beat, I said 'the Mets'. He offered a pen and asked for my autograph. Having never been asked that question before, I couldn't resist. I took his notebook and signed my name. Before I knew what was happening, about 30 kids emerged from the woodwork and surrounded me, all shoving pens in my direction. I couldn't believe it. It was like a Hitchcock movie. Red-faced and sweating, I couldn't think of anything else to do but scrawl as fast as humanly possible, pray no one from the team saw me and get the heck out of there.

When my heart rate slowed back below 250, it turned into a funny story. And that's much more memorable than an autograph. See someone famous? If you can't just smile and nod, offer a handshake and few words. It's much more interesting to hear what the celeb had to say or how they reacted than looking at a piece of paper. But for Pete's sake, just don't do it at the hospital.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

It's media day. Somebody wake up Steve Slaton.

Another Tuesday, another media lunch in Storrs. As always, there was no shortage of information. Some highlights...
  • Randy Edsall hates playing games on any other day except Saturday. He said he understands it's all about television and money, but it doesn't mean he has to like it. It spoils the team's routine, both for practice (UConn held a 5 a.m. practice on Monday) and classes, and Edsall railed the NCAA for being hypocritical. "The NCAA puts so much scrutinty on academics and the (Academic Performance Rate)," Edsall said. "The mission the NCAA has is they want guys to graduate. Well, if you want them to graduate then don't take them out of class in the middle of the week. Let them go to class and do things they do and play on Saturdays. It's hard for me to believe it when (the NCAA) talks about all that when they are in complete conflict with the message they are tying to send."

  • Anyone see the Cardinals-Bears game on Monday night? Neil Rackers, the NFC's Pro Bowl kicker last season, missed two makeable field goals including a potential game-winning 40-yarder with 48 seconds left that would have salvaged an Arizona meltdown. Anyone else immediately think of UConn's kicking game?

  • Edsall said he may not make a decision on which of his three kickers will handle field goals and extra points against West Virginia until pregame warm-ups are finished Friday. The current batting order is Matt Nuzie, Tony Ciaravino, then Graig Vicidomino.

  • Edsall gave a hard time to a reporter who asked what the coach would be looking for from his three kickers in practice this week.
    "Let me ask you the question," Edsall said, eliciting a laugh from the roomful of media. "This isn't a tough question. You know those yellow uprights? You see those things where it has a pole there and the cross bar and those things that go up? What's the kicker supposed to do? I want the ball to go through the uprights. Isn't that the name of the game when the kicker goes out there is to put the ball through the uprights? You don't have to be the head coach at the University of Connecticut to figure that one out."
    It wasn't so much that it was a dumb question from the reporter that sent Edsall into Bobby Knight mode. In all honesty, it was a fair question. It was more likely a combination of the frustrations with his kickers and, well, the fact that the answer was pretty simple. Edsall wasn't vicious in his response, by the way. It was done more in a joking manner.

  • Defensive end Jason Ward is out for the West Virginia game. He has been battling an ankle injury since the preseason. Gary Mack will back up Dan Davis instead.

  • Edsall said he spoke with his team Monday morning about the Miami-Florida International brawl. He recalled a quote from ex-Syracuse coach Frank Maloney, whom Edsall played for and coached with. "He and an attorney used to talk to us every year," Edsall said. "The quote was the loser goes to the hospital and the winner goes to jail whenever you're involved in a fight."

  • West Virginia held a special media teleconference with star tailback Steve Slaton for out-of-state reporters. Let's just say that Slaton, if I may borrow a phrase from Seinfeld, is a bit of a low talker. He sounded like he was speaking through a locked bathroom door. Slaton isn't much for elaborating either. It was like interviewing Will Ferrell after he shot himself with the horse tranquilizer in Old School. To cut Steve a little slack, I'm sure he's sick of answering the same questions every day. But the least he can do is present himself a little better. He's only a Heisman Trophy candidate. Have a cup of coffee, for crying out loud.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Recruiting update

In case you missed it, Jim Fuller caught up with New Haven resident and UConn recruit James Nixon for a story in today's Register. Nixon is currently prepping at Bridgeton Academy in Maine and is still planning to enroll at UConn in January.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Big drive pays dividends

The University of Connecticut football team accomplished something in Saturday’s 21-7 win over Army that it hasn’t been able to pull off against a Division I-A opponent this season.

The offense came through with a clutch scoring drive, this taking the pressure off the defense in the fourth quarter.

Not including an easy season-opening win against Division I-AA Rhode Island, the Huskies’ offense hadn’t come through in the clutch this season.

Chances to take the lead late against Wake Forest were squandered. In a 14-7 win at Indiana, coach Randy Edsall had so little faith in the offense, he put the game squarely on the shoulders of the defense with conservative play calling in the second half.

On Saturday, however, UConn was finally able to manage a long, time-consuming scoring drive to put a close game away in the fourth quarter.

The Huskies surrendered some momentum when Army scored on a 5-play, 80-yard drive to pull within 14-7 early in the fourth quarter.

But UConn answered with an efficient 12-play, 80 yard scoring drive that killed 6 minutes and 17 seconds off the clock and ended the Black Knights chances by making it a two-touchdown lead.

“To go down the field and take that many plays and take that much time off the clock and come away with seven points,” Edsall said. “It really took the air out of (Army). It also says when we want to hunker down, concentrate and don’t commit foolish penalties, we can be successful.”

The drive was as balanced as it could be. Tailbacks Terry Caulley (3 carries, 25 yards), Lou Allen (2-6) and fullback Deon Anderson (2-13) offset a pair of Matt Bonislawski completions to Brandon Young for 33 yards abd set up a naked bootleg by Bonislawski that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run.

“It was a great finish and nice to get it when the game was still in the balance,” Bonislawski said. “If you go three-and-out there, they still have a chance to come back and tie it.”

Big plays aren’t the Huskies forte, though you’d never tell by Saturday. Terry Caulley’s Big East-record 98-yard touchdown run and Larry Taylor’s 72-yard punt return helped UConn build an early 14-0 lead.

But that was it for the offense, at least until the final drive. The offense stalled, and weren’t helped by missing all three field goals attempts.

“We’re not a team that can get off schedule and recover from it on a consistent basis,” Edsall said.

Tough road to hoe

Some laughed and said the Huskies’ 2006 schedule was too easy.
But UConn has played the toughest schedule in the country through the first half of the season. Four of the five Division I-A opponents so far has a winning record, while Army falls to 3-4 with the loss on Saturday.
It only gets tougher. No. 5 West Virginia comes to Rentschler Field Friday, while games against No. 19 Rutgers, No. 26 Pittsburgh and No. 7 Louisville await. Only Cincinnati and Syracuse, both 3-4, have losing records.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Army of won

A win is a win. There were pretty moments, but it was hardly a pretty victory. Still, the defense was back to its old self, Caulley and Taylor had big plays and when the game was still in doubt, and UConn locked it up with a late 80-yard scorng drive at the right time.

A few observations...

  • Kicking is still, obviously, a huge problem. Vicidomino didn't get it done, and was benched before his first start was finished. Edsall said even Tony Ciaravino will get a look at practice this week. Great timing by UConn in putting Matt Nuzie on the cover of the game program the week he got benched, too.

  • Edsall welled up a bit in the postgame interview talking about the resolve of his team after a troubling week. He was like Mike Myers playing Linda Richmond in the old Saturday Night Live sketch. Here's the quote that got him just a little vaklempt...
    "You have to understand these are kids, and they make mistakes," Edsall said. "We understand what family is about. We understand what team is about. We understand that we all have to stick together and we all have to fight the good fight. Nobody knows what we go through on a day-to-day basis more those kids in the room. We share those things amongst ourselves. It is very private, just like our family. I'm very, very proud of them."

  • All kidding aside, Edsall should be proud after this win. A loss would have been devastating. It wasn't about keeping slim bowl dreams alive or snapping an ugly two game losing streak. It was about the team rallying together and actually showing up ready to play. West Virginia is next. It will take a minor miracle to win that game, but at least the Huskies can hold their heads up in practice this week and put to rest the never-ending questions about the program's demise.

  • Sometimes I wonder how certain guys in the media manage to get credentials. There was one man with a microphone in the interview room who mistook Rhema Fuller for Larry Taylor. He asked Fuller a couple of questions about the punt return before Rhema politely told him he wasn't Larry Taylor. OK, Rhema was sitting under a placard with Taylor's name on it. But how is it possible to mistake Fuller, who is 6-foot-3 and 285-pounds, with little Larry, who is 5-6 and 165? I just hope this guy found his way back to his house without getting lost.

  • The instant replay rules make no sense. If every play gets reviewed upstairs, then why do coaches get one challenge per game? They're either reviewing eveything or they aren't.

  • Chris Pavasaris hurt his foot last weekend when his punt was blocked, but apparently didn't tell the coaches until Thursday. Edsall said he considered using Desi Cullen at punter, but Pavasaris said he could get the job done and he did.

Pregame reading

The service academies are all about precision and discipline. Yet there's something about Army that throws my timing totally out of whack. Maybe it's subconscious. Or maybe it was my first trip to West Point a few months after 9/11 that threw me for a loop. I was covering Quinnipiac's hockey team in their conference championship game at Army, and was greeted at the security gate by a couple of Cadets toting M-16s who wanted to inspect the trunk of my car and underneath the hood. A tad disconcerting.

Last season, I was running late heading up to West Point for the UConn-Army game. Big mistake. Trying to park at Army on a football game day is a morning-long affair. By the time I got onto campus, found somewhere to park, made the long trek to Michie Stadium with a crowd of about 25,000 others, got through security and up to the press box, the game had already started.

This morning, I was asked to join Michael Kim and Jim Donnan for the College Gameday Tailgate show on ESPN Radio and it threw my whole routine off. After the interview I hustled to shower, change and get my rear end to the Runway only to hit traffic snags going under the tunnel on the Merritt Parkway in Woodbridge, the I-91 merger and again near the Runway. At least I arrived before kickoff, although I missed the annual media tailgate gathering and my spot on WTIC's pregame reporter roundtable with Bob Joyce.

Anyway, here'a a little pregame reading about Graig Vicidomino, the Huskies new kicker.

Place kicking can be a real pressure cooker, especially when things aren't going well. Seymour's Graig Vicidomino has witnessed it first hand. Well, make that second hand.

Vicidomino has spent most of the last four seasons as the backup to Trumbull's Matt Nuzie on the University of Connecticut football team. During that time, Vicidomino has watched Nuzie, his close friend, ride the waves of emotion that have trademarked Nuzie's streaky career.

But after Nuzie missed another extra point and short field goal last Saturday in the first half of a loss at South Florida , UConn coach Randy Edsall benched his four-year starter and awarded the full-time kicking duties to Vicidomino.

Today, Vicidomino gets his first career start when Army visits Rentschler Field in East Hartford at noon. It’s the final non-conference game for the Huskies (2-3), coming off successive blow-out losses to Navy and South Florida the last two weeks.

"The way I see it is as an opportunity," Vicidomino said. "I don't have much to lose. I'm getting a shot here. If I get job done, that's what it's supposed to be. If not, I'll be the second guy. It's a big opportunity to move ahead."

Vicidomino has had success when forced into action. Last season, Nuzie was injured at Army. Vicidomino came in and nailed 35- and 40-yard field goals. Last week, he again converted his only two kicks, a 19-yarder late in the first half and a late extra point.

The difference today is that Vicidomino isn't an emergency mid-game replacement. He got word of his promotion Sunday, and has spent the past week preparing for Army.

Part of that preparation is not thinking about Nuzie's problems. Perhaps no player has gone from hero to goat as often as Nuzie since winning the kicking job as a redshirt freshman back in 2003.

There were big kicks. He beat Akron with a 27-yarder as time expired in 2003, drilled three clutch field goals against Pittsburgh and 4-of-5 in the Motor City Bowl win over Toledo in 2004 to name a few. And there were misses, like the nine blown extra points, including crucial ones in two of the last four weeks against Wake Forest and South Florida .

Vicidomino, taking a page from Peter Pan, says he merely thinks happy thoughts to deal with the pressure.

"Kicking obviously is a big pressure situation," Vicidomino said. "You can be in a situation also when you don't know when going you're going in and don't feel any pressure, then all of a sudden it all drops on you. It's definitely difficult to deal with, because all of a sudden you have to switch it on, go in and get the job done. You have to focus all the time."

Kicking has always been a part of Vicidomino's life, but it was soccer balls that occupied his feet in Seymour . Prior to his junior year of high school, when he wasn't sure if he would make the varsity soccer team, Vicidomino wondered about making the switch to football. It helped that Paul Sponheimer, Seymour 's longtime football coach, lived only a couple of doors down the street. Sponheimer convinced Vicidomino to give football a try, along with a few practice balls.

"I just started kicking balls with my dad in the yard," Vicidomino said. "I had no idea if I would be good enough because I was kicking into trees and stuff. But at practice I got some idea by what the kids said to me, and I realized I might be pretty good at it."

Success came quickly. After just one season of kicking, Vicidomino, who also played baseball at Seymour, was being approached by area college programs. He planned to attend Division I-AA Sacred Heart until UConn entered the picture at the last minute. After a visit to campus, he decided to take the Huskies up on their offer to walk-on.

"I was taking a chance going to a I-A program, but it was well worth the chance," Vicidomino said.

Vicidomino spent three seasons working as a backup, occasionally entering a game for an on-sides kick or mop-up field goal duty. He was rewarded for his hard work when Edsall presented him with a full scholarship in August. It came as a complete surprise.

"I had no idea," Vicidomino said. "Out of nowhere we had a team meeting during camp when coach announced it. I just felt like that one final year paid off, like my senior year couldn't have ended better."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A little news and more football picks

The state media got to speak to Randy Edsall this afternoon regarding Army on Saturday. Not much to report.
  • Allan Barnes and Jason Ward, both slowed by injuries, will be reevaluated after today's practice. Everyone else is healthy. If Barnes can't go, freshman Robert Vaughn moves in to backup Dahna Deleston at safety.
  • Dan Murray is getting better, put is still not 100 percent. Steve Brouse starts again at tight end.
  • Wide receiver Ellis Gaulden is still not healthy, and won't play again this week. He tore his ACL during spring practice.
  • Edsall said the team has been focused and intense during practice in the wake of Beergate. He says he sees a united team that looks like they are ready to play.

On to my weekly picks. Call me Even Steven. I went 6-6 last week to remain even at 27-27-5 for the season. If karma is indeed at play, the Yankees deciding to not fire Joe Torre will mean A-Rod is shipped off to the nearest sucker who thinks this narcissistic choke artist might help them in the playoffs. As for the Malafronte challenge, both Vinny and Manny tied for the tops spot after going 8-4 while Detroit Tigers Hater was 8-3, conveniently forgetting to pick a winner of the Missouri-Texas Tech game. He finishes third for that. Speaking of the Tigers, did you see the interview with Barry Zito after losing game one Tuesday night? I couldn't stop laughing at his hair. He looked like he was wearing a George Harrison wig. All he needed was a British accent and a unibrow. Here are the picks:

Game 1: Pitt (-11) over CENTRAL FLORIDA: Since I have nothing else to add here, I'd just like to say how close I came to picking UCF grad Daunte Culpepper in my fantasy draft. I really thought he would turn it around in Miami. But he spent four weeks playing like his shoelaces were tied together, and has now been benched for Joey Harrington. Not good.

Game 2: UCONN (-5) over Army: The Huskies D has something to prove, and are capable of holding Army to single digits.

Game 3: WEST VIRGINIA (+25) over Syracuse: Anyone see Sports Illustrated this week? In their midseason report, they predicted the national championship game as Ohio State vs. West Virginia. I recall a blog that predicted a similar fate for the Mountaineers back in July. Now which one was that? Oh yeah, this one.

Game 4: Rutgers (-2.5) over NAVY: Ray Rice runs for 250 yards. Bank on it.

Game 5: Cincinnati (+25.5) over LOUISVILLE: Hunter Cantwell is the second best QB in the league. The best? Brian Brohm, the injured guy he's filling in for.

Game 6: NORTH CAROLINA (+3.5) over South Florida: Matt Grothe's foot will limit his mobility and effectiveness against the Tar Heels. Without him, the Bulls are quite ordinary.

And the non-Big East games...

Game 7: NC STATE (-3) over Wake Forest: True story. I was watching the Wake/Clemson game last week at the hotel in Tampa. Wake was ahead 17-3 when I went to take a shower. I came out 10 minutes later and it was 24-17 Clemson. Wake's feel good story is done like dinner.

Game 8: Ohio State (-14.5) over MICHIGAN STATE: Here's another team you can stick a fork into. The Spartans were about to be 4-0 when they collapsed against Notre Dame. Since then, they lost their homecoming game to Illinois, one of the worst teams in Division I-A history, and were blasted by Michigan.

Game 9: Florida (-2.5) over AUBURN: More free money. Tigers are not that good. Bet the farm. Someone get me Vegas on the line.

Game 10: Michigan (-6) over PENN STATE: Poor JoePa.

Game 11: Missouri (-2.5) over TEXAS A&M: I'm a Mizzou believer

Game 12: Central Connecticut State (-6) over ROBERT MORRIS: Let me just say I am pleasantly stunned my alma mater is ranked 19th in the nation in Division I-AA. The Blue Devils have scored 73 and 62 in their last two games. When I was there, it took two full seasons for them to score that many. I have to find a way to get to a game in New Britain soon.

Don't forget to enter your picks. It's easy. Click on the 'comments' key below. The games are listed for an easy reference once you're in there.

The beer run heard 'round the country

It's official. This is now the most notorius beer run in the history of mankind. Ted Kennedy has walked into package stores on Martha's Vineyard without pants and created less turmoil.

The question that keeps coming up is was the punishment too harsh? The answer is no. It goes a bit farther than simply breaking the team rules of leaving the hotel and purchasing a relatively small amount of beer. It's the notion of a group of players looking to hoist a few the night before a big game that's troubling. It exudes selfishness in a sport where selfishness can be a cancer. I've played on baseball teams in high school and college where I became infuriated upon hearing a few guys went out and had a couple the night before a game. And those teams weren't close to being as significant as the UConn football team, an elite program that generates national interest and exposure. If having a beer is that high on your priority list, then football probably isn't a pressing issue.

The scheduled 1 p.m. media teleconference with coach Edsall did not go off because of technical problems with the website that hosts the call.

UPDATE: It's been rescheduled for 2 p.m. Check back for updates.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More of what they're saying

A few more quotes from Tuesday's media luncheon...

Defensive tackle Rhema Fuller


"We weeded out those who don’t care about this program and football. … I’ve talked to Ricky and Harold. Ricky apologized for everything and said he agrees with the coach’s decision. He knew it was a mistake and took things for granted. But he wants people to know he’s not a bad kid.

"You can't force feed somthing to somebody if it's not there. As a person you're responsible for a policy. But if people don't care about the team, then I don't want them around. As far as the team goes, I want people here who want to be here."

"There's always more to it than people think. I'm not going to go into detail on people's personal histories. But we were on the road for our first Big East game, it was the night before the game when it happened, not in the offseason. This was the night before the game and you're going to go and do something selfish like that? It's a slap in the face to the team and the program for five individuals to go out and do what they did when they did. We do have rules in place. You can't leave the hotel. That's a violation of a rule right there. There were other violations, too."

Quarterback Matt Bonislawski


"What they did was disrespectful to us. It’s unbelievable they would do something like that, especially the night before a game. It was a shock. It was unbelievable. Words can't even say everything I felt."

What they're saying

Reactions from Tuesday's media lunch....

Head coach Randy Edsall

Opening statement:

“We had five young men dismissed from the team for a violation of team policies. The reason for those dismissals is because the actions of those young men, they were considered unbecoming of what a football student athlete should be.
“With that, the situation is over, it’s been dealt with, it is done, we move forward and there will be no further comments and I will take no questions in regard to that because they focus is on Army. That’s all the team is focused on, and that’s all the coaching staff is focused on.”

On the character of the team coming out of Sunday's team meeting:

“I like what I saw on Sunday. We met for about an hour and the things that came out of that were very powerful. Very powerful.
“Guys on this team that have a lot of passion and heart for what this program is all about and what it stands for and what they want to accomplish. That came out loud and clear. This team has a tremendous amount of character. If you could have been there, you could have witnessed exactly what everyone in the room witnessed. Don’t count them out. Don’t count them for dead.”

"There were a lot of angry people expressing their feelings on what needs to happen. Freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores...I think they know what we have to do to straighten out."

Tailback Terry Caulley:

"We're deeply hurt. But they decision was made by coach Edsall. Before that we sat down and talked, and we support his decision because at the start of training camp we signed a team policy where there's no alcohol during the season. On top of that we have an itenerarry where it says no visitors or alcohol involved on road trips. I think they violated that policy and it's only right coach carries out his plan.
"It's unfortunate they're not coming back to the program. ... It's a sad moment for the team, but it's said and done."

On the team's character:

“It’s about rebounding and resolving. It doesn’t phase me what they’re saying outside the program. When the bus is moving everybody wants to get on. When the bus slows down people don’t want any part of us. Most of our fans are true to the program. We have great fans. That’s not to say I don’t care, but I’m only concerned and focused on people who are actually involved with the program. That’s what I care about the most.”

On the frustration of off-field incidents and bad losses his senior season:

"It's very frustrating. Coach Edsall and his staff are always harping on doing the little things right. That so cliche and corny but yet it's so true. It could be as little as tying your trip over your shoelaces. Not going to class, missing a test, not being eligible to play. The little things lead to the big picture, and that's what's frustrating. The little things are hurting us on the field and off the field. In some losses the little things hurt us, but yet a loss is a loss. You can't dwell on it because it's my last seasaon. It's not about me, it's not about the seniors. It's about winning games."

Some more to come...

Following up on Beer-gate

Winding up a long afternoon in Storrs, I plan to just leave some quotes that came out of today's media luncheon concerning the dismissal of five players for violating team rules - that being leaving the team hotel without permission and purchasing alcohol. Edsall would not address the issue, but there were a handul of players preselected to speak to the media who didn't hold their feelings back.

Before I get to the quotes, I did get a good question from a poster that I will answer here...

Question: Chip, I know Edsall has been tightlipped about this whole incident. But did you ever get any indication as to why three of the players were allowed to play on Saturday?

My feeling, and this is my feeling only, is that those players were allowed to participate out of necessity. First off, Harold Stanback's involvement in the incident was not known until Sunday. It is believed he turned himself in, though that is unclear. So only Nollis Dewar and Ricky McCollum saw action against South Florida. Dewar played only on special teams. McCollum was pressed into action when Allan Barnes went out with an injury. Since Dahna Deleston was not with the team, Edsall's only other option at safety was freshman Robert Vaughn. It would have been exceedingly unfair to Vaughn to burn his redshirt season, a decision that drastically effects Vaughn's situation at UConn. So McCollum was inserted instead. Dewar was not allowed to play receiver, only special teams for much the same reasons. I can't fault Edsall at all for allowing they players to participate.

Check back soon, as I will post as many quotes as possible before carpal tunnel sets in...

Monday, October 09, 2006

It's a beer bust

Five University of Connecticut football players, three of whom played in Saturday night’s 38-16 loss to South Florida in Tampa, Fla., were dismissed from the team Monday by head coach Randy Edsall for a violation of team rules.

Junior defensive back Ricky McCollum, redshirt freshman wide receiver Todd Dorcelus, junior defensive end Harold Stanback, redshirt freshman linebacker Carl Teague and sophomore receiver Nollis Dewar were all caught entering the lobby of the Tampa Marriott Westshore with beer on Friday night, according to sources.

Of the five dismissed, only Teague, 19, was under the legal drinking age. Edsall had no comment on Monday.

All five players were backups. Three of the five played against South Florida on Saturday. Stanback, from Temple Hills, Md., and Dewar, from Windsor, had played in all five games this season. McCollum has played in three.

McCollum played considerably Saturday after starting safety Allan Barnes went down with a pulled hamstring. McCollum made three tackles. Barnes was starting only because Dahna Deleston of East Hartford was left in Storrs earlier Friday for arriving 40 minutes late for a team meeting.

Stanback did not make a tackle and Dewar did not make a catch on Saturday. Neither Teague or Dorcelus had played a game.

The announcement comes three weeks after junior starting safety Marvin Taylor was dismissed after an arrest for illegal use of a credit card.

The Huskies (2-3) play host to Army at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Saturday at noon.

Five players dismissed

This press release just in from UConn....

Five Connecticut Football Players Dismissed From Team

STORRS, Conn. — University of Connecticut head football coach Randy Edsall announced on Monday that sophomore wide receiver Nollis Dewar (Windsor, Conn.), freshman wide receiver Todd Dorcelus (Irvington, N.J.), junior safety Ricky McCollum (Washingtonville, N.Y.), junior defensive end Harold Stanback (Temple Hills, Md.) and freshman Carl Teague (St. Petersburg, Fla.) have all been dismissed from the program for a violation of team rules.

The University will have no further comments on this matter.

I'm working on finding out more. Check back for more info.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

South Florida blues: the day after

Hated to leave Tampa today, but it had to be done. I could have used another day or two of that weather and the swimming pool. ... A couple of Sunday updates...William Beatty has a broken leg and will most likely miss the rest of the season. He is scheduled for surgery early this week. ... Graig Vicidomino will be the field goal and extra point kicker for the Army game on Saturday. Matt Nuzie will handle kickoffs. ... Allan Barnes is questionable for Army with a hamstring pull. ... The man left behind on Friday, Dahna Deleston, returns to his starting position Saturday. And how do you show up 40 minutes late for a meeting? I can see 5. Fifteen maybe. But 40? Come on.


Two weeks ago the University of Connecticut's defensive unit was the team's saving grace.

Coach Randy Edsall had lost faith in an offense that was piling up almost as many turnovers as first downs playing at Indiana. So Edsall went conservative on offense and put the game in the hands of his defense, which overwhelmed the Hoosiers in a 14-7 UConn victory.

But after Saturday's 38-16 Big East Conference loss at South Florida, the second consecutive blowout loss for the Huskies, it appears the defense isn't at all what it was thought to be. UConn was exposed and exploited by another mobile quarterback both on the ground and in the air.

Matt Grothe, the Bulls' redshirt freshman quarterback and an apparent star in the making, rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another despite missing part of the second quarter after being carried off the field with a foot injury.

A week earlier, Navy's Brian Hampton ran roughshod over the Huskies in a 41-17 victory.

UConn (2-3, 0-1) had no answer for Grothe, who ran for 58 of his 82 yards after his injury and found a disturbing amount of wide open receivers in completing 12-of-15 passes for 146 yards. Meanwhile, walk-on tailback Benjamin Williams rushed for a career-high 108 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

Outside the UConn lockerroom in the bowels of Raymond James Stadium afterward, senior defensive tackle and co-captain Rhema Fuller took responsibility for the defensive downfall.

"It's my fault," Fuller said. "I'm the captain of the defense and the captain of this team. This is the second week in a row we lost the game for our team. It starts with me. I take full blame for what's going on out there."

It was admirable of Fuller. But the problems appear to be much deeper than one player's self-perceived lack of leadership.

The Huskies are in disarray as a unit. They can't stop the pass. They can't stop the run. They are vulnerable to the big play, especially early.

After Grothe scored from 16 yards out on South Florida's first play from scrimmage, it marked the third consecutive time an opponent needed only one play to score on UConn to start a half. Navy did it twice a week earlier.

The streak was snapped in the second half Saturday, but it was hardly comforting considering the Bulls needed only six plays to score on their opening drive of the half.

When Grothe pump-faked UConn defensive end Dan Davis off his feet, then spun away and rambled in from 8-yards out to turn a five-point game into a 21-9 Bulls' lead, it was all over but the shouting.

"I was psyched," Grothe said. "I knew as soon as we scored the game was over not because we were up, but they're not a good enough team to score three or four times against our defense."

So true. Edsall admitted the same sentiments after the game. Offense and kicking woes only add to the faultering Huskies, whose season is spiraling out of control. While it's still mathematically possible for UConn to become bowl eligible, it seems like a pipe dream given the current state of affairs.

Right now, the Huskies need to fix a myriad of problems and focus simply on trying to win another game.

Finally, let me finish today with a rant on the Yankees. I think Joe Torre has done a good job considering what's happened injury-wise this season. I was preparing for no postseason when Sheffield, Matsui and Cano went down in the span of a couple weeks this spring. But the Yanks still ran away with the division. That said, I won't be disappointed if he's fired although I'd rather watch Joe picking his nose for nine innings in the dugout than Lou Piniella yelling at everyone and everything that gets in his way. Sweet Lou was one of my favorite players when I first started following the team in the late-70s. But everyone made such a big deal about him returning home to coach the Devil Rays and he mailed it in the entire time he was there. His time as a big league manager is passed.

As for player personnel, they need to do whatever it takes to unload A-Rod and his contract in the offseason. I haven't hated a Yankee this much since Chuck Knoblauch. I'd love to see A-Rod traded to Florida for Dontrelle Willis. I'm also prepared to say 'adios' to Mussina, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Bernie and Sheffield for some young arms and bullpen help.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Postgame from Tampa


  • Trainers told Randy Edsall William Beatty likely broke something, though he will be reevaluated later. Expect Dan Ryan to play left tackle for a while.
  • Allan Barnes pulled a hamstring in the second quarter.
  • It looks like Graig Vicidomino will be kicking field goals for the forseeable future. Matt Nuzie just isn't getting the job done, Edsall said.
  • Edsall didn't feel the need to challenge the Darius Butler near interception in the third quarter because all plays are reviewed upstairs. He also said from his viewpoint it was a simultaneous catch by Butler and the receiver, which isn't an interception by rule.
  • Rhema Fuller told the media he takes full blame for the poor play of the defense. "I'm the captain of the defense and I'm the captain of the team. Two weeks in a row now we've lost the game for our team. It starts with me."

That's it for tonight.

Live from RayJay

Computers suck. Wait. Let me rephrase that. My laptop computer sucks. I arrived at Raymond James Stadium over 2 hours early because I wanted to walk around and soak in a pretty cool looking NFL stadium. But I spent close to 2 hours trying to figure out why I couldn't pick up the internet in the press box. No wireless, no ethernet. So I am forced to use my dial-up connection tonight. It's slow, it's inconvenient. It's also amazing how far we've come. To get a working analog phone line at Raymond James Stadium, I had to move way, way, way down the end of the press box, whhere it seems like I'm a quarter mile away from the rest of the media. I'm basically in exile. Strange.

Adding to my frustration is the Yankees laying yet another egg in the playoffs. I drove by Legends Field this morning, hoping it would spark a little kharma. Guess not. One of the reporters said he was in the Legend's Field gift shop earlier, and Alex Rodriguez '13' t-shirts were selling for half price. An omen? I hope so.

Back to football, Raymond James is pretty nice. It looks like some sort of Pirates of the Caribbean theme park at Disney World. Between the pirate ship and the pirate-themed concession stands, I expect to see Johnny Depp stumble onto the field at some point. But I like the stadium. There are palm trees and pirate flags place, fun atmosphere. At least for Bucs games, I assume. There's a virtual sea of empty seats. South Florida doesn't have a massive fan base. Hard to imagine they ever will unless they turn into a national power overnight. Tampa is too much of a pro city.

It was brutally hot today in Tampa. Temps passed 90 degrees, and the humidity made it unbearable. I saw a few UConn football players wandering around the hotel earlier. A couple of them tried to sit outside by the pool to relax, but couldn't take it more than a few minutes before heading back to the comfort of the air conditioning inside. It's cooled down somewhat now, but still in the low-to-mid 80s. No wonder they play all night games at USF.

One player I didn't see at the hotel was Dahna Deleston, who was left back in Storrs by Randy Edsall for arriving 40 minutes late to a team meeting Friday. Allan Barnes will start in his stead.

We're just getting ready for the teams to charge out of the tunnel onto the field. USF has a fairly large band, and a very large group of cheerleaders and dance team members. Should be a fun game. I'll check back later, as long as the dial-up connection holds.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Welcome to Tampa, home of the Storm

Welcome to Tampa, City of Champions: Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, Arena Bowl.

So reads the billboard as you enter the city limits of Tampa, Fla. How does an arena football championship deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as two of the most prestigious sports titles in the world? The Tampa Bay Storm, pride of central Florida.

Anyway, I'm here. The one thing I hate about plane rides to Florida is they are usually filled with kids. Not that I don't like kids. But it got tiresome this morning sitting next to a hyperactive 7-year old who couldn't sit still and spent the 2 1/2 hour flight sneezing and opening and closing the window shade. In the row in front of me was a 2-year old who threw everything her mother handed her either in the aisle or in my lap (including her bib). Then there was the screaming 2-year old two rows in front. I did get a laugh when it was all over and I saw a poor little girl on the end of a leash tethered to her mom's suitcase while waiting on line at the car rental center. Cruel, yet comical.

But the weather's great, and they didn't even lose my bag. I saw a few fans with UConn football t-shirts in the hotel lobby, and I think the team is staying here as well. OK. It's 85 degrees and sunny. Time to eat and take a dip in the pool.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ivy brawlers, 103 mph heaters and football picks

No changes or surprises coming out of Randy Edsall's Thursday teleconference, so I'll take the slow news day as another opportunity to go completely off-topic before I get to my weekly picks.

  • Two Yale football players, including the starting quarterback, were arrested early Sunday morning after a brawl with three Yale hockey players at Gourmet Heaven on Broadway in New Haven that eventually broke the storefront window. No word if the fight began after an argument over recent developments in the Middle East, non-euclidean geometry or whether an Oregon pinot noir or classy chardonnay better complements a dinner of sea bass and asparagus.

  • Joel Zumaya was consistently hitting 103 mph on the radar gun against the Yankees today. That is ungodly. But he was a little too pleased with himself trotting off the field after striking out three in his inning-plus. The Yanks will make him pay for that.

  • One of my many, many, many pet peeves is that the workers at Starbucks (I refuse to refer to them as baristas) ask for your name when you order coffee. So I spend my time in line thinking of false names to give them. I've been sticking with "Jerametrius" lately. Always good for a chuckle. From me, at least. I implore you all to try this. Fun times.

  • I talked about wanting to see more non-conference games against non-ACC opponents for UConn in the future. I found out they have secured or are working on home-and-home's with Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Iowa and Baylor. Hey Jeff Hathaway and Randy Edsall...don't forget to look into Hawaii and UNLV -- (there are no ulterior motives from the traveling beat writers, I swear).

On to the weekly picks. Let me first pat myself on the back by saying I wiped the floor with all challengers last weekend with a sparkling 6-4-1 record., bringing my season record to 21-21-5. I will brush past the fact that only four of you had the guts to challenge me. It's OK, I'm not one to gloat.......

Game 1: Louisville (-31) over MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE: Spud, my keystone combo partner from high school who used to call everyone "Hank", played baseball at MTSU. That's about all I know about them.

Game 2: SYRACUSE (+7) over Pittsburgh: The Orange have been a royal pain in the posterior to everyone this season.

Game 3: West Virginia (-21.5) over MISSISSIPPI STATE: How great for the Big East if Steve Slaton wins the Heisman, and the Mountaineers make it to the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz. this season?

Game 4: CINCINNATI (+6.5) over Akron: Bearcats seem to be much improved. And doing well against the spread, I might add.

Game 5: SOUTH FLORIDA (-6.5) over UConn: Hate to do it, but I'm just feeling 28-14 at RayJay.

And for the non-Big East games

Game 6: Penn State (-3) over MINNESOTA: JoePa also gets through the game without making a third-quarter dash for the crapper.

Game 7: Navy (+2.5) over AIR FORCE: This is going to be a hell of a game.

Game 8: LSU (+1.5) over FLORIDA

Game 9: TEXAS (-4.5) over Oklahoma

Game 10: Missouri (+4) over TEXAS TECH

Game 11: GEORGIA (+3) over Tennessee

Game 12: Yale (-4) over DARTMOUTH

I'm off to Tampa in the morning, where I plan to spend as much time as possible in the hotel swimming pool. I love my job.

And don't forget to make your picks. The field is thinning by the week! Click "comments" below to enter.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Notes a'plenty

As always, lots of tidbits and info coming out of the Tuesday media luncheon. A sampling...
  • No injuries. Or at least none that will keep anyone out of the lineup. Donta Moore (broken arm) and Jason Ward (ankle) are both back and will practice full speed this week. Ward will give UConn nine defensive lineman at South Florida as opposed to the eight Edsall has been using. Darius Butler and Danny Lansanah were noth nicked up against Navy, but are considered healthy.

  • Edsall addressed a comment by Lansanah that the defense gave up late in the Navy game. "He was dead wrong. I don't think anyone gave up. What happens sometimes is young people get a little frustrated they might take something and put in context. But we watched the film. No one gave up. Did we miss tackles in the end? Yes, we did. Were there maybe some guys who didn't have the same intensity at play 75 that they had on play 71? Yeah. But to say people flat out gave up or flat out quit, that wasn't a very good statement. I think it was frustration more than anything."

  • Edsall also discussed criticism the program has received from fans in recent weeks. Perhaps he's been reading some of the comments on the Runway blog? "It's great that we have rabid, enthusiastic fans. We want them that way. But we are still a program in progress. And I think that's what we are. We're going to continue to work and get better. The expectations because of past successes have been elevated. That's fine. Someone once told me the toughest thing to do is manage expectations. We just have to keep doing what we're doing and stay on course...If we do that, good things will happen. It wasn't like all of a sudden we become an overnight sensation and win the Big East championship in the short period of time we've been doing this. I mean, let's be realistic."

  • Scott Lutrus will redshirt the season. Aaron Bryant moves from scout team to fifth linebacker. Good for a pair of local boys.

  • Florida is a hotbed for Big East recruiting, and Saturday's game is an opportunity for UConn to fan out across the state and make its presence known. UConn will dispatch seven coaches to every corner of Florida a day early so they can watch Friday night high school football games.

South Florida coach Jim Leavitt held a teleconference with state media. What a waste of a phone call. Leavitt is about as interesting as a grilled cheese sandwich. I don't expect him to divulge his game plan or anything like that, but at least give a little insight. He was so stiff they might want to think about driving him to Saturday's game in a hearse. A few samples...

(On the health of his team): "We're probably about the same as everybody. When you get towards the end of the season, guys get banged up."

(On the development of his running backs) "It's a work in progress. They're getting better as they go. They are working about as hard as they can."

(On bouncing back after a tough loss to play UConn). "No one likes to lose. Nobody was real happy. You're happy when you win and when you lose you're not. We've lost a few games here and we've won a few. We have to figure out how to get better."

(On kick returner Ean Randolph): "He's pretty good player. He catches the ball well and tries to keep people from tackling him by running as fast as he can."

Good grief. Leavitt's an absolutely fantastic football coach. But as you can see he's not exactly the most quotable man around.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Monday mailbag

It's Monday, I have the day off and I'm sick. Perfect time to answer some viewer mail.

Question: I've heard that UConn has turned down a potential game at Texas and will be discontinuing it's series with Army. I disagree with both decisions. I've been to both Army games and had a ball both times. It's good for Army as well as many UConn fans make the trip. We should play our closest, non-backstabbing neighbor every year. And why not play Texas? We played Miami and VTech a few years back when they were at an equal level to where Texas is now. Why be fraidy-scared all of a sudden? Doesn't make any sense to me. What do you think?
-- Bill, Manchester, CT

CM: The contract for the Army series expires after the Oct. 14 game at the Runway. The series isn't exactly being discontinued. Army's schedule is booked solid through 2012. It's certainly possible another series of games will be scheduled sometime after that. Randy Edsall has said he likes having Army on the schedule and wants to keep it running. It's too much of a natural not to continue. Plus, Michie Stadium is one of the great places to watch a football game. As for Texas, Edsall recently told the WTIC radio crew that UConn was offered the chance to take on the Longhorns. He said one of the reasons it was turned down because it was a 2-for-1.

I'd love to see a little more flavor in the non-league schedule. But with West Virginia and Louisville in the top 10, I don't know if a Texas or, say, Michigan is right for the program at this point. Part of the process of building a program is making bowl games, even if they are insignificant ones that nobody watches aside from fans of the two teams involved. You need to schedule "winnable" games against the Navy's, Wake Forest's and Indiana's. Vanilla? Sure. But it's a time-consuming process. What I'd like to see is a series with a comparable Pac-10 or Big 12 opponent to spice it up. Maybe Arizona or Kansas State. Better yet, a WAC opponent. Road trip to UNLV or Hawaii? That would make me happy.

Q: I was at the game yesterday, had front row seats .First of all let me say P.U.
Is that what Uconn can do against a good team? What really gets me is these Uconn fans, some of them act like Uconn should be running all over Navy and one said Uconn should be a top 25 team soon. Chip, do these people watch games on TV or do they just live in their own world?

-- Tony, West Haven

CM: I guess you weren't sitting near any of my blog readers.

That's it for now. I need some orange juice and a cup of Thera-flu.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Anchors Aweigh

I had to get to a buddy's stag in New Haven last night, and I'm not feeling so hot today. But I just wanted to get a few thoughts in before retiring to the couch and a day of watching the NFL on TV.
  • I've had Tivo for a few months, but I finally remembered to record a UConn game before I left for the Runway Saturday. I figured watching game film would give me a little better perspective on what I write for the follow-up stories (and make me feel a little like Ron Jaworski, minus the Malcolm X glasses and the enormous football IQ). I didn't count on the game being so one-sided. But I managed to watch the first half, mainly to see what happened on those Navy big plays. The Huskies were too confused and made too many glaring mistakes. Campbell's TD catch on the first play was the result of M.J. Estep letting the little guy blow right past him up the seam. Ballard's 81-yard run (on a dive!) was because Ryan Henegan and one of the safeties (not sure which, those numbers are tough to read) cheated too far over to play the QB. They couldn't recover in time as Ballard blasted through a big hole and was gone.

  • At 2-2, the Huskies MUST win the next two games or else they'll be home for the bowl season again. Anything less than a 4-2 record going into the West Virginia game will be too difficult a hole to dig out from.

  • The sideline reporter for the ESPN Regional broadcast was, what's the nicest way to put this, a little frazzled. Not only could I barely understand her because she was so quiet, she was so jittery she didn't make sense.

  • UConn needs to get Larry Taylor and Brad Kanuch more involved in the offense. Taylor doesn't get a chance to return kicks because opponents are so wary of him. How about an end around or a few more quick dump offs? And Saturday was the first time all season Kanuch was even targeted for a pass. He got a chance to make a play downfield, and he came through.

  • Deon Anderson best described the game afterward, summing it up as "a complete mind f***."

  • Why don't more teams use the triple option?

  • Don't refer to Navy as the "Middies". It's Midshipmen or Mids. They are sensitive about this. Also, don't call the Navy cadets dress whites "sailor uniforms". They don't like that either.

  • Lastly, it was a rough week for Connecticut college football. Southern blew a 27-7 lead in losing to Merrimack and Trinity's nation-best 31-game win streak ended in ablowout at Williams. At least Yale turned in a nice win at Lafayette.

Randy Edsall has a conference call this afternoon. We should know more about the status of Donta Moore (broken arm), Darius Butler (shoulder) and Danny Lansanah (ankle). Check back later for an update.

UPDATE: Moore is listed as probable for South Florida despite his broken arm. Scores a perfect 100 on the toughness scale.