Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday notes: Free speech and the new media

It's Tuesday. That means a drive to Storrs and lots of news and notes.

  • We knew Zach Frazer wouldn't be available to the media this week. Randy Edsall got a little annoyed when someone asked for an explanation why. Visibly peeved for a moment, he wound up giving a reasonable and logical response. Then, he got a little huffy again for a few questions afterward (all of them unrelated to the Frazer situation), giving one word responses, before settling back down and finishing the extended media session strong.

  • Here's Randy's reasoning about Zach. "(Laughs) I tell you what. It's unbelievable. I'll deal with it because I know everyone wants to do a story about it and that'll be the big thing. Guys, what you've got to understand is this. The young man is making his first start this week. The only thing he needs to focus on is trying to get himself prepared for the game and to play the best game he can. It's my prerogative as a head coach to protect my players and allow them to prepare in the best way that I feel possible so they can be successful. And that's what I'm doing. And I told him that. And he appreciated that. Very much so. That's all it is. When the game is over, next week, you can talk to him all you want. This is what I feel is best for him and our program. Its not a slight to anyone. Just like you guys make decisions on what you want to write, you write it. I'm making the decision what's best for the young man and this program."

  • Asked if 10 minutes is too much to ask for a little Frazer time, Edsall said, "I know you're going to make a big thing of it no matter how I answer. But if I thought 10 minutes would be good, I would give you 10 minutes. I didn't think 10 minutes would be good, so I'm not doing it. But this will get blown out all over the newspapers tomorrow, the blogs, all that stuff. So good. I can take some of the attention off the starter this week. That's good. I like that."

  • I can't speak for everyone in the media, but I understand Edsall's logic of wanting to keep a player focused on a big game under extenuating circumstances. But Randy HAS to give us an explanation as to why he made the decision so we can relay to the reader. The new quarterback is the big story out of UConn camp this week. As reporters, we need to explain why there's no comments from Frazer this week. It's that simple.

And, I think Randy understands where we're coming from for the most part. He gets annoyed because he's anticipating getting slammed in the papers and blogs for not letting his quarterback speak when everyone wants to hear from him. Maybe it really is a no-win situation for him, and he'll be criticized no matter what. I, for one, can accept an explanation as long as it's logical and makes sense. If he was keeping Frazer quiet for the rest of the season, or something to that effect, maybe I feel differently. But we talked to Zach after the Louisville game, and we'll hear from him after the UNC game. I may be in the minority, but I can live with it. The irritated attitude from the coach for asking a question that has to be asked is a different story. To Randy's credit, as always, he didn't let his frustration with us linger.

  • The health of the defensive line is good. That's about the extent of the detail we got. But Polito, Lunn and Reyes are all on the depth chart.

  • Lorenzen is still out 6-8 weeks, but he'll travel with the team, watch film in practice and serve as a student-assistant coach during that span.

  • "(Frazer) can run if if he wants," Edsall said. "He's a better passer than Tyler was. He's an even-keel guy. He understands when you make a mistake, you let it go. That was evident on Friday night. He fumbled the snap, and had the turnover, but he never let it affect his play."

  • It wasn't decided until a few days ago that the UConn-North Carolina game would be televised on ESPN2. How much difference is it for a college football team to play on ESPN2 as opposed to ESPNU? About $150,000. "This game gives us a little extra money in our pocket," Edsall said. "Not mine, the university. It's about $150,000 for this game. To be on ESPNU you don't get anything."

  • The UConn coaches are constantly taping college football games, and scanning local newspapers and blogs of opposing teams to get any little information they can. "You get information off the TV you don't get on (game) film. Maybe something came up, maybe one of their guys said this. We tape every game, and go back and look to see if there's something we can pick up."

  • In the same regard, the coaches all give Edsall highlighted reports of various quotes from websites and blogs (both home and opposing) to keep him informed of what's being said. Among his recent decisions was telling Rob Lunn to take some things off his increasingly popular blog. "You have to be very careful what you say, how you say it and when you say it," Edsall said. "In 20 seconds, it could be up on the Internet, and it's there forever. Anyone can Google your name and find the blog. Maybe it's a potential employer, and there's some things on there that they might find offensive and prohibits you from getting a job someday. Plus, we don't want to provide bulletin board material down the road."

  • Nate Sherr will be making all the road trips from now on. Why? He's the only other long snapper. The Huskies were a Martin Bedard injury away from having no experienced long snapper at Louisville because Alex Polito didn't make the trip (ankle) and Rob Lunn got hurt. In fact, Lunn, who hurt an ankle, had been planning to take the pads off at halftime and watch from the sidelines in the second half Friday. Instead, the coaches forced him to keep them on just in case something happened.

  • Scott Lutrus faced a couple of NFL running backs in Ray Rice and Steve Slaton last year. He also tries to stop Donald Brown in practice everyday. How does the Donald compare with the NFL rookies? "He's right up there with them," Lutrus said. "Ray Rice is similar. He's a little bit bigger, but Don is faster. Strength-wise, they're about equal. Steve Slaton, I don't know if he got a little shiftier with his speed. Productivity-wise, they're about the same. All of those guys are hard to bring down, and he has a lot of the same qualities."

  • Lutrus was also asked what he thought about Lunn's blog. Lutrus is often a target of Lunn's comic barbs and one-liners (see his Meineke Car Care Bowl blog on uconnhuskies.com). "I think it's bull****," Lutrus said, selling mock anger for a second before breaking down and laughing. "No. I'm trying to get him back one of these days. Maybe I'll start my own blog, soon."

Monday, September 29, 2008

UConn's Bama wins honor

Lawrence Wilson was named Big East Conference player of the week. The Tuscaloosa, Ala. native had a key interception against Louisville (in case you hadn't heard), had six tackles and recovered and returned a fumble 18-yards.

Donald Brown made the honor roll, as USF's Matt Grothe was the offensive player of the week. Brown probably should have won, but I suppose they want to let some others have a chance at this honor.

Also, Randy Edsall said Tyler Lorenzen and Steve Brouse both got through surgery well, and will be out 6-8 weeks each.

Zach attack on hold

There will be an update around noon today after the always exhilarating Big East media conference call today. But wanted to give you a head's up that Zach Frazer is off limits to media this week. There's a sure-fire media frenzy awaiting the Huskies new quarterback, but Randy Edsall would like him to concentrate on his first start and a tough North Carolina squad instead.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

Howdy. Just got back home from Louisville via Charlotte, an hour or so delay, and then another hour or so drive from Bradley. I'm too tired to make jokes or wisecracks today. At least funny ones. So, I guess it's business as usual. Busy night last night. Didn't leave Little Caesar's Pizza Pizza Stadium until close to 2 a.m. Woke up around 8, and wrote as much as I could for the paper before leaving for the airport at 10:45. I was so exhausted, I pulled off the rare double of putting my shirt on backwards AND inside-out this morning. Finally realized what I did about 2 hours later, when the lady working the counter at the Louisville airport Quizno's said "Nice shirt". I was too tired and hungry to care. So I simply ordered my favorite sandwich "Italian Classic, and don't skimp on the vinegar!", ate it, and then flipped the shirt the right way.

Here's a recap of the call with Randy Edsall today.
  • Injuries: Tyler and Brouse have surgery tomorrow. Lunn should be fine. Polito is expected back this week. Reyes is day-to-day. Witten is fine. That's it. Oh, no time table on Tyler and Brouse's returns until after the surgery. But it will probably be at least six weeks (according to Dr. Malafronte's estimate).

  • Zach Frazer starts at UNC Saturday (no brainer), Cody is the backup. Johnny McEntee is 3rd string.

  • Bedard is the starting TE. Yianni moves in at No. 2. John Delahunt is third string. Yianni needs a nickname. I like Yianni the Greek. Plain ol' Yianni would be cool, too. But that creepy looking pianist has the trademark on that.

  • Edsall on the defense, "I’m not pleased with all the yards that we gave up, because I think again, if we played better fundamentally and executed better technique, we would have been better off. But you know, the bottom line is keeping people out of the end zone. We gave up 21 points, but there was other times when they went down. Jazz (Jasper Howard) strips the ball on that first series and made a tremendous strip getting that ball out, and the two interceptions, the fourth-down plays and all that – when we had to make a play, we did, but we have to get better fundamentally and better technique-wise, and if we do that and guys take care of their assignments, we won’t give up so much yardage when we give up the big plays.

  • UConn cracks the AP Poll at No. 23 tomorrow.

RIP Paul Newman. One of my favorite actors, and someone I had the honor of meeting a few times, including at his Westport offices. He was a great actor, and a great man. My five favorite Paul Newman movies: 1) Slap Shot (even though he borrowed his wardrobe from a 70s pimp); 2) The Hustler (I became a pool shark after watching him and Jackie Gleason); 3) Cool Hand Luke (My boy here can eat 50 eggs); 4) The Sting (great flick); 5) tie. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Color of Money (because money won is twice as sweet as money earned).

Frantic Louisville postgame

Say this about the Huskies'....they've got guts. Impressive night overall, considering the circumstances. Quickly...

  • Tyler Lorenzen (foot) and Steve Brouse (fibula) both suffered fractures, and both will undergo surgery on Sunday. No time frame is known at the moment on possible returns, but expect both to be out at least six weeks, depending on the severity of the fractures.

  • Here's toughness for you. Lorenzen broke his foot on the 11-yard run in the second quarter. He knew he broke it, and was jesturing toward the sideline, Edsall said. But Tyler remained in the game for the next seven plays. He handed off every time, mostly to Brown, but that's pretty gutsy.

  • Kendall Reyes (ankle) and Rob Lunn (ankle) were also among the wounded. Their status at the moment is unclear. Darius Butler (knee to the back) told me he's fine. No problems. Lindsey Witten (knee) returned to the game and knocked a pass down. Edsall said he'll give the team the next three days off to recoup.

  • Zach Frazer did a tremendous job once he settled down. Have to be impressed with his day. To me, he seemed to show some fire following a roughing the passer call against the Cards in the third, with the score 21-10. Frazer bounced up, pumped his fist when he saw the flag. He was on his game from that moment. Consider: prior to that play, he wasn't even close on two passes, fumbled a couple of snaps and had the pitch that was fumbled by Donald Brown. After that play, he finished with a scoring drive, that included his first career completion and TD pass (to Todman and Butler, respectively. Frazer finished a respectable 8-for-15 for 90 yards.

  • "I was a little nervous," Frazer said. "But it's fun being out there. I like it when the crowd is like that. I don't mind getting hit. Halftime we came in, everyone got together and focused. We said we're going out in the second half as a new team. We did it together as a team. People were going down left and right, and we still got it done."

  • More from Frazer, who talked about his abrupt entrance to college football (he'd never taken a snap in a game before), "It happened in a flash. One second, I'm standing there listening to the headphones. Next thing, I'm putting my helmet on and going in. My team had my back the whole way and I appreciate that."

  • "I was impressed with his composure," Edsall said of Frazer. "I saw good things out of him this week and made the decision to make him the No. 2. I saw that fesitiness and competitive spirit again. He was calm. He was a great leader on the sideline. He's a guy that really wants it. I'm proud of him, and he'll have to start for us now."

  • "Defensively, we stunk in the first half. We got some things straightened out, and shut them out," Edsall said. "We had enough left in the gas tank to pull it out. We're banged up and beat up, but we just have to live with it."

  • "They have a lot of belief in each other. They love each other, they care about each other, they'll do whatever they have to do for each other. They're just willing to do whatever it takes," Edsall said. "They came out and hit us hard, and hit us quick. it was a 15-rounder, and we were the last ones standing. We hit back, but they hit us pretty good."

  • Donald Brown has now rushed for 906 yards in five games. That's 181 yards-per game, with 11 touchdowns. Have to include him in the Heisman Trophy watch list, now.

  • Could the Huskies break into the top 25 this week? Well, that all depends on what happens Saturday. At the very least, they should be right on the bubble.

  • Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe on the game-winning interception, "They played a little bit of man and three coverage there. They draw the same linebacker underneath it. He was freed up because they were in a position to rush four guys with a man and three and he was freed up for a little robber coverage. (Cantwell) just didn't see the guy, he was trying to get it in there."

  • Kragthorep on the adjustments UConn's offense made in the second half, "They went to more quick passes. They went to some maximum protection passes off of play action running where they could block up to seven or eight guys and throw the ball down the field. They went to more quick passe to try to get the ball out of their hands. The guy (Darius Butler) caught a string down there in the red zone. It was a good job on their part. They got away from some of the passes they'd thrown earlier in the game where we could get pressure on them."

  • Lawrence Wilson said, "We ran the slant route (to prepare for Louisville's offense in practice). With Chichester, they have a big, tall receiver. They ran it out of a different formation tonight, but we finally caught on to it. And when we really needed to, we did."

  • How about this stat? Total offense for the game: UConn 279 yards, Louisville 508!!!

  • Louisville defensive end Maurice Mitchell, talking about UConn's offense, "It seemed like they were going to little three step drops, just to get the ball out. Hitches and slants to get six or seven yards at a time, instead of dropping back and passing, giving us time to get there."

I'll add some stuff periodically soon. Just wanted to get the injury info out there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lorenzen has fracture

UConn senior quarterback Tyler Lorenzen will be out for several weeks after suffering a broken right foot in the second quarter during Friday night's game at Louisville.

Lorenzen headed to the locker room after Donald Brown’s touchdown run in the second quarter, which gave the Huskies a 10-0 lead with 9:23 remaining in the half. X-rays later revealed a fracture. Lorenzen is expected to be out at least six weeks, though no official determination on the amount of time the injury will require had been released.

Zach Frazer, a sophomore transfer from Notre Dame, took over for UConn after Lorenzen left. The action was the first of his college career. Frazer had been the Huskies' third-string quarterback through the first four games before being promoted to backup earlier in the week. Redshirt freshman Cody Endres is the Huskies' third quarterback.

Lorenzen, in his second season at UConn after transferring from Palomar CC in southern California in January 2007, was 13-4 in his career with the Huskies heading into Friday's game. The left-hander's strengths were in his leadership and running ability.

Lorenzen out for game

Word from the UConn locker room is Tyler Lorenzen injured his right foot, and is out for the game. He is having X-rays.

Mystery injury solved

It's been confirmed. Alex Polito is the "mystery" player who was injured. Alex was hurt late in the game against Baylor, and limped off the field. He did returned to action that game, but the injury has lingered. He did not make the trip to Louisville. Expect Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin to see more reps.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Greetings from Looeyville

It seems to happen every road trip. I take the 6:45 a.m. flight so I can get in early and have the afternoon to finish my work for the next day. But I forget the need to be at the airport at least an hour early, and since it's almost an hour drive to Bradley from my house, I have to set the alarm for a 4:30 a.m. wake-up. By the end of the day, I'm exhausted and saying to myself "what was I thinking?" I got my work finished, and I'm ready to crash.

No problems getting in here today. Howie Dickenman, the former UConn assistant men's basketball coach now the head guy at CCSU, and Desmond Conner from the Courant were on the flight from Hartford to Charlotte. When we landed in Louisville, the flight attendant began to announce the time of day then stopped cold. "I switched from a digital watch to a new one, and I can't read the hands," she said. "Does anyone know what time it is?" I resisted the urge to shout, "Time for you to go back to first grade!" because, well, that wouldn't have been very nice.

Arrived at the hotel in Louisville and noticed there were an awful lot of men in white collars milling about the parking garage and the lobby. Must be a convention for Catholic priests here. A good omen, perhaps? Weather is perfect, and it's expected to continue to tomorrow for the game. Sunny, clear skies, in the 80s.

Been getting a few emails about who the mystery injury might be...we still don't know. But I'm confident you can rule out these key guys: Donald Brown, Scott Lutrus, Tyler Lorenzen and Darius Butler. All appeared to be just fine Tuesday. So did Cody Brown, Rob Lunn and Keith Gray. I hate to speculate, but Alex Polito limped off against Baylor (he returned later).

Also getting endless emails from Louisville fans unable to let last season go. The conspiracy theorists need to get a grip. Seems everyone short of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jimmy Hoffa helped Larry Taylor dream up his dastardly plan. Whatever. I'm done. Like Mark McGwire, I'm no longer willing to talk about the past.

USC plays Oregon State tonight. Kickoff is at 9. Game will be in hand for SC by 9:15.

Catch you all pre-game from Pizza Hut Stadium.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Runway Challenge Week 5

Not much happened in the 24 hours since we left the Huskies, so it was a brief today. The mystery player with the ankle injury is still hurting. A decision will be made today. Edsall still doesn't want to reveal his identity.

Also, Zach Frazer is your backup QB this week. He's looked good in practice the past week and a half. Edsall said the concussion Zach suffered in the preseason may have posed more of a problem with his play than anything. "I told Rob (Ambrose) that he seems different now," Edsall said. "He's back to where he was before. He's more competitive, more feisty, more take-charge."

And few random thoughts before the picks.
  • Are the wild, champagne-soaked locker room celebrations for clinching a playoff spot truly necessary? You celebrate with champagne when you win a title. Sure, players should celebrate a little. Whoop it up with hugs and handshakes on the field. Drink a few extra beers in the clubhouse. Maybe Jonathan Paplebon can bake cupcakes. If you're the Rays, maybe champagne is OK considering what they accomplished and where they came from. But it's so phony and pre-meditated for teams like the Red Sox. They've known they were getting the wild card for a while, and it they underachieved as it stands. Take off the stupid underwater goggles, save the champagne for the real celebrations and act like you've been there before. And no, it isn't sour grapes. I felt the same way when the Yankees did it every year, too.

  • I didn't get misty-eyed watching the pre-game ceremony for the final game at Yankee Stadium, but I was pretty bummed out that the place is going to see the wrecking ball. It needed another overhaul, just wish they could have built it on the same site again. The place means a lot to so many people. I saw my first game there in 1978, when I was 6. Reggie hit one out, and even though it was the only run the Yanks scored that day (they lost to Wilbur Wood and the White Sox 6-1) the way the crowd roared for that shot was the most thrilling thing I'd ever experienced at the time. For weeks I had dreams about that homer, except in my dream I managed to walk to the area in front of the right-center field bleachers and get the ball for myself.

  • Anyone else amazed that Babe Ruth's daughter is still alive? Certainly didn't expect to see her throwing out the first pitch. Pretty cool.

  • My post from yesterday about the "unfair catch" got linked up to a bunch of places, and a few people emailed me with varying opinions. I saw the replay after I posted, and had to make an edit. UConn recovered on the 1, not in the end zone. However, there was no video review. The refs huddle for a second, make the decision, spot the ball, and play resumes.

  • I'm more surprised no one had any opinion on the Tyler Lorenzen/Tim Tebow comparison by Steve Kragthorpe.

On to the picks:

Game 1: Connecticut (+3.5) over LOUISVILLE - To be honest, I really don't know what to expect here (aside from the fact that 40,000 or so Cards fans will be making animated fair catch signals every time Jasper Howard catches a punt).

Game 2: WEST VIRGINIA (-14) over Marshall - Nice job on the buyout clause in Bill Stewart's new contract extension, West Virginia. Guess the 'Neers had so much fun with the Rich Rodriguez saga, they'd like to try it again, if possible.

Game 3: Pittsburgh (-15) over SYRACUSE - Syracuse AD Daryl Gross would like all you ungrateful, whining Orange football fans calling for G-Rob's head to know the men's lacrosse program is still a juggernaut. Oh, yeah! That's right! OK, Daryl. Everything's cool again. I'm sure you won't hear any more complaints.

Game 4: North Carolina (+8) over MIAMI - Tar Heels' quarterback is out. 'Canes will relax. Carolina will cover. It's almost too easy.

Game 5: Cincinnati (-10) over AKRON - Ben Mauk still locked in his bedroom, holding his breath, waiting for the NCAA to overturn its decision and allow him to play. Meanwhile, Tony Pike tossed for 314 yards and four TDs last week. Bearcats still dangerous.

Game 6: NOTRE DAME (-1) over Purdue - Why is it so hard for me to pick against Notre Dame?

Game 7: NEBRASKA (-7) over Virginia Tech - Hokies get exposed in corn country.

Game 8: GEORGIA (-6.5) over Alabama

Game 9: AUBURN (-6.5) over Tennessee

Game 10: MICHIGAN (+6.5) over Wisconsin

Game 11: NC STATE (+9) over South Florida - Great smack talk between the coaches this week. But USF's defensive coordinator shouldn't have preceded his great line by first saying how their program handles things with class by not talking about opposing programs. Just zing him. Hey, it's worked for Don Rickles for over 50 years!

Game 12: Illinois (+14.5) over PENN STATE

Results from last week

1. Gary 7-4-1

Caleb 7-4-1

Pete 7-4-1

Kevin 7-4-1

Den 7-4-1

6. Ian 6-5-1

Stretch 6-5-1

Vinny 6-5-1

Sammy 6-5-1

10. Chip 5-6-1

JZ 5-6-1

Dougo 5-6-1

Dan O 5-6-1

Sean O 5-6-1

15. Rich 4-7-1

16. UConnhuskies 86 2-9-1

Running standings (4 weeks)

1. Vinny from East Haven 24

2. Dougo 23
3. Rich 22
Kevin 22

5. Stretch 21

caleb mandranke 21

Pete 21

8. Chip 20

9. Ian 19

10. JZ 17

11. uconnhuskies86 16
Sammy 16

Den of stupidity 16

14. Dan O 15

15. will 13
16. Sean O 12

17. Gary 7

Get your picks in by clicking "comments" below.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday notes by the campfire

Still getting over a cold and horrid cough that's plagued me since Thursday. I may have hacked up my spleen during Randy Edsall's conference call with state media on Saturday (yeah, that was me, guys), and spent all day Sunday and most of yesterday laying on the couch like an inanimate carbon rod. Feeling better today, just popped another Halls' menthol lyptus and there's lots of notes.

Just so you know, I'm typing this (as always) in the bowels of Gampel Pavilion, just outside the door to the women's basketball team players' lounge. And as always, it sounds like a slumber party is happening in there. Today there was an extended sing-a-long, followed by 10 minutes of giggling and stomping. And I think I smell s'mores. No wonder every female hoopster in the country wants to play here.

  • So much time has been devoted to Larry Taylor's "unfair catch" from last season's game, but few people (aside from the UConn faithful) seem to recall that the referee's evened the score that very night. Let me refresh your memory, rest of the college football world. UConn punted deep into Louisville territory, and the kick clearly grazed a Louisville player before hitting the turf. That made it a live ball. UConn fell on the ball in the end zone (late edit: It was the 1-yard line, still..), and it should have been a touchdown. But the refs' missed it, there was no official video review of the play, and Louisville retained possession. Seven gift points on one punt, seven (highly likely) stolen points on another. Perhaps that's why there was no "Justice" marketing campaign coming out of Louisville. Of course, we know the Cardinals' athletic department would never be that petty (looking at you, Temple).

  • There was a media swarm awaiting the wisdom of The Kentucky Hammer today. Television cameras and reporters gathered with baited breath for punter Desi Cullen, who returns to his hometown of Louisville for the final time as a college player. You'd have thought Barack Obama was scheduled to walk in to the cafeteria. In case you didn't know, Desi is a media fave. He's personable, funny and ever so slightly off his rocker. He can fill a reporters' notebook without even opening his mouth. But the media waited and waited. Desi, it turns out, had a class after his noon lift. And we're all a little less cheerful for it.

  • Andre Dixon is ready to play. Randy Edsall again wants to find ways to use Jordan Todman. Edsall also wants to preserve Donald Brown from another 34-carry day. But if the going gets tough, and there's no one else to rely on, expect him to carry the load once again.

  • We have another mystery injury. Someone has "an ankle". But Edsall said a sudden case of selective amnesia caused him to forget who it was. He did say the player should be OK.

  • Steve Kragthorpe called Tyler Lorenzen "The Tim Tebow of the Big East" because of all the designed runs in the UConn offense for the quarterback. "I really feel that way," Kragthorpe said of the comparison. "He's a big, strong physical runner. I saw him at Big East Media Day, and he looked like a dag gum linebacker. (UConn) does a lot of things like Florida does to put the ball in his hands and run things with him that you normally don't see, like quarterback power, quarterback wrap, quarterback counter. There's definitely a designed quarterback run package they use with Tyler, and they should because he's a very good runner." I had the pleasure of letting Lorenzen know what Kragthorpe said about him. Tyler laughed, "What? I don't know about that."

  • I believe that's the first time I've had to write the phrase 'dag gum' in my life. All I need now is something a grizzled 19th-century prospector might say, like "con sarn it", and my career as a journalist will be complete.

  • Offensive lineman Moe Petrus has been the breakout star of the offensive line. Edsall says he brings athleticism, aggressiveness and toughness to the line. It's been contagious. The line has been tremendous so far. More on Moe in the paper, but you should know a couple of things about him now. Born and raised near Montreal, he followed the Montreal Canadiens run in the playoffs last season but has only been on ice skates twice (and one of those was in Charlotte before the bowl game last season). Also, he was a defensive player his whole life and only switched to the o-line when an injury on his Canadian team forced him to fill in for a half season. Safe to say he's picked up the trade fairly quick.

  • Louisville isn't a bad team -- certainly better than the opening game stinker against Kentucky might have showed. Hunter Cantwell is a good passing quarterback (remember him filling in for Brian Brohm at the Runway back in December 2005?) with a strong running game to keep defenses honest. No longer a "substitute teacher", he's a full-time classroom guy now (Kragthorpe's metaphor, not mine) and he is continuing to improve.

  • Lorenzen received a box filled with sausage links produced from his family's company in Iowa. He then disappeared into the kitchen area of the cafeteria today with them. I thought he was going to pull on a chef's hat and cook them up for the players and media today (heck, the media luncheon is a sausage fest anyway). Alas, the sausage...or, saw-SEECH, as my paisans call it...was for some class project. Maybe next week.

  • Rob Lunn is easing off the gas pedal on his blog, "Thoughts from a Fat White Guy". Rob, of course, is blessed with a wicked sense of humor as well as a true gift for writing. His blog was mostly satire, but gained steam last week on fan message boards, including that of Baylor. Rob says his dad, the esteemed Judge Bob Lunn (who is up for re-election to the Supreme Court in upstate New York), provided some sound advice about making sure he's not supplying bulletin board material for opponents or distracting his own team. Rob agreed, as did Edsall, who didn't know about the blog until a few days ago. So Rob did some minor editing on a previous post or two, and says he's going to keep the focus on the Huskies for the rest of the year. Rob is also sticking to his story that the photo of a shirtless Matt Damon he posted on the blog is actually him from his senior year of high school.

On a side note, several scouts were at the Shenkman Center today, boning up of film of UConn's pro prospects, no doubt. Is it odd that scouts, be it football or baseball, insist on wearing clothing with the insignia of the team they work for everywhere they go? Just seems tacky to me. OK, that's all. I gotta go. Now where's my 1950's-style fedora with the "PRESS" placard in the brim band?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sometimes, imperfect wins feel twice as sweet

Nothing’s ever perfect for a perfectionist.

Take UConn football coach Randy Edsall, perhaps the state’s most noted perfectionist – at least since Martha Stewart sold her Westport home and moved to New York last year.

His Huskies were as close to perfect as it gets in dismantling Virginia on Sept. 13. And while he acknowledged such, he couldn’t help but mention problematic issues on kickoff return coverage that needed work.

On Friday night, UConn was far from flawless in its thrilling 31-28 victory over Baylor, keeping the team undefeated after four games. Yet the Huskies found a way to win, making big plays on both sides of the ball when needed. So the victory, while imperfect in form, may have been all the more satisfying for Edsall after the fact.

“I’m very comfortable with this team, because this is who we are,” Edsall said. “Every game is a different game, and to me, you’re always a work in progress. You’re always going to make mistakes in games, and then you work on them. We’ve been tested, we’ve done things well and some things not so well. You just have to minimize mistakes, and if you do that you’re going to have a chance to win.”

What did UConn do well Friday? Plenty, starting with another outstanding performance by the offensive line; this set up yet another big day on the ground for junior tailback Donald Brown (34 carries, 150 yards, two touchdowns).

Even the defense, which had allowed a total of 19 points in three games prior to Baylor, managed to come through when it counted in the fourth quarter. They also punished sensational Bears freshman quarterback Robert Griffin, directly responsible for all four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). When they were able to hit Griffin, they hit him hard.

The Huskies also committed just two penalties for the second successive game – and at least one of those was likely a bad call, as video replays showed.

UConn cornerback Darius Butler was whistled for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty that negated a key interception by Dahna Deleston, and eventually allowed Baylor to take a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. The referees told Edsall it was a late hit. Replays showed otherwise.

Problems? Too many big plays and third-down conversions, for starters. But much of that can be attributed to the above-average athleticism of Baylor, a team Edsall feels will upset some teams in the Big 12 Conference this season, and Griffin, who seems to have a better-than-average chance to be an NFL quarterback someday.

“Every game some type of adversity sets in,” Edsall said. “I think it’s how you react to that adversity that determines if you can go out and win the game. We had some of that defensively and offensively and even a little on special teams. I don’t think anyone ever goes out and plays a perfect game. But if you work hard and minimize mistakes, you have an opportunity to be successful.”

That’s what the Huskies have done for four games so far and will look to continue when Big East Conference play starts this Friday night at Louisville.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Notes from the wee small hours of the morning

These 8 p.m. starts are brutal on newspaper writers. It's a mad scramble to get a story filed in the minutes after the game ends for the early editions, go down and get quotes, come back up and write like crazy again to have a story filed before final deadline.

It's 12:15 a.m., and the post-game notes will be brief. Not because it's so late, but there's just not much time to get good info. Here's what I have.
  • If you saw the game, you could only come away extremely impressed with Baylor. Robert Griffin is incredibly poised for a true freshman playing in his first road game, and his talent is remarkable. How many times did it look like he had nowhere to go, only to scramble out of trouble and make something happen? And we knew he was fast -- he's an All-American hurdler -- but he did the most damage throwing the ball tonight. "He was fast, man," UConn defensive end Julius Williams said. "There were some times we knew what was coming, and still couldn't stop them."

  • Bad call on the non-safety call. From what I could tell, it seemed there might have been enough evidence to overturn the call on replay. Maybe someone who saw all the replays or Tivo'ed the game can enlighten me further. Williams, who made the sack, certainly thought it should have been a safety. "It definitely was," Williams said. "I got snaked real bad." Edsall refused to comment on the officiating. "I can't afford to pay a fine," Edsall said. That elicited more than a few chuckles from the media.

  • This was by far UConn's most entertaining game since the double-overtime win against Pitt two years ago.

  • UConn's offense relied heavily on Donald Brown (now over 700 yards rushing in four games...which puts him on pace for over 2,100 for the season). His 34 carries is more that Edsall feels is ideal, but he needed them all tonight. "34 in a game like this...I don't mind that." Andre Dixon was healthy, and played a few snaps, but didn't fit into the game plan tonight. Same with Jordan Todman. Brown said he didn't feel tired at all in the fourth quarter, and felt fine after the game.

  • Two more interceptions from Lorenzen, giving him six in four games. "I'm not concerned with Tyler," Edsall said. "The first interception he was late on, the second he threw on the back shoulder instead of the front shoulder. Even Peyton Manning throws interceptions. Everyone throws interceptions. Tyler is a tremendous leader."

  • Is UConn ready for the Big East schedule? Absolutely, says Edsall. "I like that we are a team. They pick each other up, they work hard, they give it their all until the very end, and they are resilient. On the other hand, we have to work on a lot of things. Not that it is bad. But we want to strive to be perfect if we can. We have to get better on third down both offensively and defensively. If we continue to play tough, physical and with good fundamentals and technique, then we are going to have a chance to continue to win."

  • Darius Butler had some punishing hits on Griffin. Perhaps he took offense to all the hoopla over Griffin's athleticism. Butler is a guy who thinks he's the best athlete on the field or court, no matter what. A quarterback in high school, Butler was asked earlier in the week if he was as good as Griffin at the position back in the day. "I would say so," Butler said, quite seriously. "Others might not agree." He should have pulled up on the late hit on Griffin that cost UConn an interception...at least it appeared that way live. EDIT: Looks like I'm wrong. Video shows Butler's hit wasn't late and clean.

  • How about that Hochuli family? What a week, eh?

  • The conference schedule starts next weekend, but it certainly seems the BCS bid is there for the taking.

Baylor pre-game

This is always a fine way to start a work day. I got flipped off on the Merritt Parkway on my way up here by a woman who, I kid you not, was at least 65 years-old. OK, to be honest, I cut her off. But it was only because some other walnut with blue hair driving a Buick the size of a submarine blew through a yield sign while merging onto the highway and cut me off. This happens all the time, too. They see the yield sign, figure it's not a stop sign, and don't slow down or look to see who's in the right lane. Yield means you don't have the right of way, people. Glad I got that off my chest.

Not a lot of pre-game notes right now, but you might be interested to know there's a boatload of NFL personnel here. On a normal game day, there's usually five or six. Tonight, there's 17, including Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. To be fair, Ireland is a Baylor grad (a kicker back in the late 80s, early 90s) and Miami is playing at New England Sunday. But, after the success of drafting Donald Thomas (before his injury), you can bet Ireland is checking out the UConn talent, including Darius Butler, very closely.

Also of note, the back judge tonight is Shawn Hochuli. He's the son of longtime NFL ref Ed "Hercules" Hochuli, who, in case you hadn't heard, made a bad call last Sunday.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Runway Challenge Week 4: The Baby Mozart edition

Syncing my iPod this morning, I discovered a disturbing fact. The 18 most-played songs come from "Baby Mozart". And it's not even close. We have an iPod dock in the baby's nursery, and whenever he's having a tough time going to sleep we just play Baby Mozart. It's great because he's usually out like a light within a few minutes. The only problem is I can hear the music from my home office, which shares a wall with the nursery. Between this and "The Wiggles", which my son also loves, my brain is turning into oatmeal. I hum these freaking tunes all the live long day.

Things need to change, I decided today, because I can't take anymore. Plus, my wife wasn't home to stop me. So I experimented with some of the other tunes on my iPod for nap time. I'm happy to say, it worked. My son was cuddled up with his blanket and sucking his thumb in his crib -- calm as can be -- while listening to The Who's "Quadrophenia". His favorite new tune was "Love, Reign 'oer Me". And when the wife asks what happened to Baby Mozart -- she's big on classical music and classical music only for the baby -- I have an excuse. I mean, Quadrophenia is a rock opera.

On to the picks:

Game 1: CONNECTICUT (-12.5) over Baylor - I wasn't worried about Baylor until seeing the cover of the football media guide yesterday. It's a shot of their stadium in the orange-blue sky of the Texas twilight. It looked like the cover of "Friday Night Lights". Plus, Baylor has 93 guys from the state of Texas. So they must be fairly talented, right? Nah. UConn will still cover.

Game 2: East Carolina (-7.5) over NC STATE - Skip Holtz has suddenly become the next young "it" coach-in-waiting. Could his next stop be in Syracuse?

Game 3: Iowa (+1) over PITTSBURGH - Speaking of Syracuse, and since I have nothing to add on this game, nice job by the Orange with the Ernie Davis statue recently dedicated on campus. Ernie, who finished his Syracuse career in 1962, is depicted in his statue wearing Nike cleats and with a Nike swoosh on his jersey.

Game 4: Notre Dame (+9) over MICHIGAN STATE - Charlie Weis tore knee ligaments while on the sidelines last weekend, and is pondering surgery. On a positive note, it's the first time in 20 years Weis has actually seen either of his knees. You know, cause he's kinda heavy? Let's move on.

Game 5: Florida (-7.5) over TENNESSEE - Too much orange. Let's move on, again.

Game 6: NAVY (+6.5) over Rutgers - Went back and forth on this one a few times. The argument was, in a nutshell, "Rutgers is bad. Are they that bad? They can't be. But I think they are."

Game 7: NORTH CAROLINA (-3) over Virginia Tech - Every year, it seems the Huskies' play the surprise ACC team that turns out to be much better than anyone expected, and ends up contending for the league title. It was Wake Forest in 2006, Virginia in 2007. Methinks the Tar Heels might fit the bill, this year.

Game 8: South Florida (-28) over FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL - I always get FIU and FAU confused. Then again, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Game 9: Miami-Ohio (+11.5) over CINCINNATI: The oldest non-conference rivalry in college football playing for the lamest-sounding trophy in college football. Yep. It's the Battle for the Victory Bell!

Game 10: Louisiana State (-3) over AUBURN - Auburn's college president sent out a university-wide email this week asking students to behave themselves and, specifically, not to boo. That should work out well.

Game 11: Georgia (-7) over ARIZONA STATE - Dawgs never travels this far for regular season road games, dag nab it!

Game 12: Wake Forest (+4) over FLORIDA STATE - 7 p.m. start. Someone be sure to wake Bobby Bo before then.

the week 3 results:
1. Pete 8-3
2. JZ 7-4
caleb 7-4
4. Chip 6-5
Rich 6-5
6. Sean O 5-6
stretch (anonymous) 5-6
kevin 5-6
Vinny 5-6
Sammy 5-6
wil 5-6
ian 5-6
13. Uconn86 4-7
Dougo 4-7
15. Den 3-8

Running standings (3 weeks):
1. Dougo 18
Vinny from East Haven 18
Rich 18
4. Chip 15
stretch 15
kevin 15
7. uconnhuskies86 14
caleb mandrake 14
pete 14
10. ian 13
will 13
12. JZ 12
13. Dan O 10
Sammy 10
15. Den of stupidity 9
16. Sean O 7

Dixon, Witten cleared

From Randy Edsall's Thursday media call:
  • Andre Dixon and Lindsey Witten were both cleared to play Friday.
  • Cody Endres earned backup quarterback status this week again, though Edsall said Zach Frazer had an improved week of practice. "Next week, that could change," Edsall said.
  • Weekday games are supposed to be a boon for college programs from a recruiting standpoint because they're the only game on TV. Not quite on Friday nights, though. Recruits are all playing high school games, so very few, if any, can make the trip to Storrs to visit. They usually miss most of the TV broadcast, as well. "It hurts more than it helps," Edsall said. "You don't get as much exposure as you think you do on Friday night from a recruiting standpoint." Of course, a school can always say no to the almighty ESPN. But, there goes the revenue from that night.

The college picks for the week to be posted soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday notes: Which is better, the Boston accent or Texas drawl?

A rundown of the Tuesday media luncheon:

  • Baylor true freshman quarterback Robert Griffin is a star in the making. He graduated from high school a semester early so he could participate in spring ball at Baylor. When spring ball was over, he ran track and finished third at the NCAA Division I Championships in the 400 hurdles with a 49.55. That's amazing, especially since he should have been a senior in high school at the time and had only been with the track team for about six weeks before the NCAA meet.

  • Randy Edsall compared Griffin to Pat White. He's the fastest player on the field, one of those guys who hopes a play breaks down because he can use his speed to turn it into 30 or 40 yards. But he can throw the ball, too. "We need to be disciplined with what we're doing," Edsall said. "The kids need to execute and play their assignments. They can't have their eyes in the wrong place or be putting their nose where it doesn't belong. We have to have kids running to the ball." Isiah Moore and Josh Massey (who ran in the vicinity of 10.6 in the 100 meters in high school) both simulated Griffin in practice this week. It's not the same, Edsall said. "We won't be adjusted to that speed until we see it Friday night. No one is as quick and fast with that kind of athleticism."

  • Andre Dixon is practicing, and cold be close to a return. Same with Lindsey Witten. Jordan Todman says he felt no pain or soreness in his shoulder at all following his debut against Virginia. Edsall said Todman will definitely be used because he's a different type of back than Donald Brown and Dixon.

  • Speaking of Brown, he's now fully entered the national spotlight. No surprise. Both Sports Illustrated and the New York Times were here today to write about Mr. Brown. Edsall downplayed the Heisman Trophy watch hype, but Brown will be mentioned more and more in the same breath as the Tebow's, White's and Daniels'. Edsall said the 25 touches (20 carries, five receptions) is right around where he'd like Brown to be each week.

  • Edsall says the reasoning behind scheduling Baylor is to help UConn make more recruiting inroads in Texas. The land of armadillos, relaxed open container laws and dudes named after cities is also the high school football capitol of the world. "If you look at the rosters of those (Division I-A) schools in Texas, they don't have very many from outside the state," Edsall said. "Football is important in high schools, and you usually get someone who understands the commitment and what it takes to play at a very high level."

  • Edsall called Darius Butler "perhaps the best athlete we've ever had since I've been here". We all know Butler if off-the-charts in terms of athletic ability, but this quote he gave today regarding fatherhood and his week-old daughter really tells everything you need to know about him as a person. "I think about her constantly. It's just a different feeling. You create somebody, you have to take care of them, go see them. It definitely did something to me."

  • Baylor has a strong tradition of sending players to the NFL, and rates 32nd among colleges with the most NFL draft picks ever with 208. Any guesses as to the top five? Actually it's not that hard. I'll tell you later. Ex-Baylor guys include, of course, Mike Singletary. But the program is more of an afterthought in Texas. It's been 13 years since the Bears have had a winning record and 16 since they last won a bowl game. All indications are this is a much better Baylor club, even though crushing I-AA Northwestern State and Washington State isn't exactly difficult. The Bears have several athletes. "It seems like they could all run track," Butler said.

  • Among the alumni Baylor claims as famous are Thomas Harris, author of "Silence of the Lambs", Jeff Ireland, GM of the Miami Dolphins, five-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson, ESPN's Trey Wingo and the actress who plays Angela on "The Office".

  • I've talked with Jordan Todman briefly a couple of times before, but never noticed anything out of the ordinary. Today, Joe D of WTIC pointed out beforehand that Todman had a wicked kill-ah Boston accent when he did the post-game radio show Saturday. Talking to him today, I can't believe I missed him dropping his Rs (oops, I mean dropping his ah's). He and Anthony Sherman could have fit right in on the cast of "The Departed". At the very least, they could have helped the mottled pseudo-Boston accents of Jack Nicholson and Leo DiCaprio so they sounded a little more believable as Southie tough guys.

  • I'll take a Beantown accent over the Texas drawl any day. Baylor coach Art Briles may have been a good interview this afternoon. Then again, maybe not. I need to find a translator before I decide. Briles did, however, call Brown "a stud". That I understood. And please kick me in the rear end if I ever use the phrase 'stud' to describe someone.

  • The top five colleges with the most NFL picks are: 1. Notre Dame (461); 2. USC (450); 3. Ohio State (383); 4. Oklahoma (334); 5. Michigan (330). Rounding out the top 10 are Nebraska, Tennessee, Penn State, Texas and Miami. Florida International is a little farther down the line.

  • If you watch anything during the week, make sure it's Rob Lunn's "Lunn-sung" Hero of the Week on Channel 8's Huskies All-Access Show. The last two winners gave the honor high marks...Anthony Sherman put it up there with both his first communion and confirmation, Zach Hurd said it was better than sprouting his first chest hair. Desi Cullen is this week's honoree, and The Kentucky Hammer being interviewed by Lunn alone makes it must-see TV.

  • I purchased a Moylan's ginger ale from the UConn student center, and everyone stared in horror as I took a few swigs on the way over to Gampel. It comes in a clear green bottle, and it looks like I'm chugging a Rolling Rock. Why am I telling you this? I have no idea.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Party's over.

I'm hungover today. No, I wasn't doing keg-stands or guzzling grain alcohol (college was a long, long time ago). I'm feeling the after-effects of throwing a party for baby's first birthday on Sunday. Our house was overrun by a swarm of infants and toddlers, not to mention a large portion of friends and family members. And Italians can eat!

Throwing a party as a single dude is easy. You stop at the package store. And that's that. Maybe, if those football bets panned out, you pick up a couple bags of chips. It's a tad different nowadays.

Basically, we spent the morning scrubbing and scouring the house (inside and out) and running around picking up last-minute essentials like balloons (made two trips, the first batch floated out over Long Island Sound and are currently steaming across the Atlantic after a mishap trying to tie them onto the deck. Be on the lookout, Portugal). Then you tend to the guests, explain the concept of sharing to crying toddlers who all want to play with the same game at the exact same time, eat a few scraps (if there's anything left) and spend the evening cleaning up. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled everyone was able to celebrate our son's big day with us. It's just an exhausting ordeal.

So this morning I hooked myself up to a coffee IV and listened in on the Big East conference call, which is about as exciting as cleaning wax out of your ears. Coaches don't like to give much up as it is. They are even more guarded on a national call. But here's a few tidbits that came out of the morning.
  • Donald Brown was the Big East offensive player of the week. No surprise. He's been the best running back in the country through three games.

  • UConn and Virginia are in talks to get another deal for more football in the future (probably not until at least 2014). It's a good matchup, though I'm still waiting for the UConn-Hawaii or UConn-UNLV series. Edsall also repeated the Huskies will play a Division I-AA opponent every season as long as the schedule is 12 games and it's allowed. But we knew that already.

  • Syracuse had Friday to celebrate a once-proud football tradition. There was a Hollywood-style premier of "The Express" (not to be confused with "The Pineapple Express") in the city. The movie is about the life of ex-Syracuse great Ernie Davis. Dennis Quaid and Rob Brown, stars of the film, were there as were school legends like Floyd Little, Art Monk and Jim Brown. A day later, it was back to reality and a grim reminder of a program that has fallen into the abyss of major college football. Penn State crushed the Orange, who fell to 7-31 since 2005 under coach Greg Robinson. A loss to Division I-AA Northeastern this weekend could very well mean G-Rob won't be extended the courtesy of finishing out the season.

  • Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza is likely done for the year. Brian Kelly says it'll be three weeks before his cast comes off, then several more before the bone is strong enough for him to play again.

  • Each coach on the call is asked to give an opening statement before reporters start asking questions. Most of these statements are brief: 20-30 seconds, tops. West Virginia coach Bill Stewart spoke for a good six minutes before anyone was able to ask him a specific question.

  • Aside from UConn and South Florida, the Big East has been awful so far. Aside from the aforementioned duo, the rest of the league is 1-9 against I-A opponents (and that one win is over Buffalo). Moreso, the league has been outscored 208-63 against BCS opponents. This week is a chance to get back on track. The conference has three games against the Big XII (UConn-Baylor, WVU-Colorado and Louisville-Kansas State) and one with the Big 10 (Pitt-Iowa). A clean sweep will go a long way toward restoring some respectability.
Catch you tomorrow. I have to scrub cake frosting off the ceiling.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Virginia post-game notes

  • Donald Brown is making a serious case to be included on the Heisman Trophy watch list. Through three games, he's averaging 188.8 yards and has eight rushing touchdowns. He's also averaging 7.2 yards-per carry. Brown's been fantastic, but both he and Randy Edsall attribute part of the success to much-improved offensive line play. Brown singled out Mo Petrus today.

  • Tyler Lorenzen said he told the offensive line to keep blocking even if it looks like Brown is going down. "It might look like he's going down, but he isn't," Lorenzen said.

  • Darius Butler has jumped on a few national NFL Draft projection boards as a potential first-round pick because of his amazing athleticism. Edsall told the story of how Gene Smith, the Jaguars director of college scouting, came to practice to visit. Edsall told Smith about Butler's 40-plus inch vertical leap before hand, but it didn't take long for Smith to witness it for himself on an on-sides kick drill. "The ball bounced high, and But went up and jumped, and he was sky-high, and just grabbed the ball with one hand right in front of Gene. Gene called me the next day, and I said 'did you see that?' and Gene said, 'yeah, he's really athletic.' He's an exceptional athlete.

  • I wrote about this in my game story, but UConn was as close to perfect as can be for a football team in the first half. How's this for proof? The Huskies' scored touchdowns on each of their four possessions (not counting the final play of the half, when the Huskies’ elected to run out the clock after taking over with 10 seconds remaining). They didn't punt. The defense didn’t allow a point. Lorenzen completed all 11 of his pass attempts. The Huskies were 3-for-3 on third downs, 4-for-4 in the red zone, and didn’t commit a single penalty. That's being perfect. "That was as good a first half we've had since I've been here," Edsall said.

  • Edsall equated UConn's offensive attack to an NFL team. He said this when asked about the running game complementing the passing game, "When you have the running game going the way we did, and then you throw it and make completions, it falls hand in hand," Edsall said. "Some people will be committed to using the pass game to open the run game, but we are the other way around in the sense that we run the ball to open the pass game. Some days we may have to switch that, but we felt that we could be productive in the run game, and we try to use the run to setup our passing game."

  • Jordan Todman found out early in the week he'd be playing some role tonight. He had a nice debut, though he isn't sure how he'll be used from here on out. "I'm not sure what my role is," he said. "I they say go grab a bottle of water, I'll grab a bottle of water. I'm here to play. I'm an extra guy that they'll plug into different packages and formations." He says he doesn't see himself getting in on returns yet because Jasper Howard (punts) and Butler and Grey (kickoffs) are doing so well now.

Hope that will hold you over. It's late, and you're probably in bed anyway. Time to hit the highway.

Pre-game injury update

Looks like Andre Dixon and Lindsey Witten are out. Neither are in uniform for warmups. Jordan Todman was catching punts in pregame, and is in full pads. He may play.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Runway Challenge Week 3

First things first. I participated in Allstate's "Kick for Charity" event this morning at Rentschler Field. Media members for UConn football were invited to attempt a 25-yard field goal. Allstate made a $500 donation to the charity of our choice for anyone who made the attempt, and $250 for those who missed. I'm proud to say I nailed my attempt. It would have been good from at least 60 yards. Uh, not really. Tony C's job is safe. My kick squeaked just inside the right upright. I donated the money to The Connecticut Hospice, and to be honest, I feel great about it. So thanks to Allstate for a great event.

On to the weekly picks. The good news: it can't get much worse. I picked only four of 11 games correctly, but managed to finish 6th of 15 entries last week. Props to Dougo for going 8-3 and winning the week. Poor Sammy was last with one correct pick. With that in mind, I vow to give a perfect record to anyone who goes oh-for-the-week from now on. Much like George Costanza, you'll have to pick the opposite of everything logic dictates. This new rule includes my own picks. And I just ordered lunch: chicken salad, on rye, untoasted...with a cup of tea.

Game 1: California (-15) over MARYLAND: Protesters at Cal, angry over the decision to clear 42 trees for new athletic facilities, had been living in said trees for the last 21 months until they finally came down earlier in the week. The four protesters were arrested upon descent, thankful to have a spacious holding cell to stretch out in for a while.

Game 2: Temple (+6) over BUFFALO: Not long ago, winning one game was a season's-worth of accomplishment for these programs. Now, they appear to be among the better teams in the MAC.

Game 3: BAYLOR (pick'em) over Washington State: Wazzu allowed 66 points to Cal last week, and rank 118th in scoring defense and 117th in total offense. Keep in mind there are only 119 Division I-A teams. And this week it's a pick'em on the road? Good to see Baylor's program getting respect from the odds makers.

Game 4: East Carolina (-13) over TULANE: Pirates open season by stunning Virginia Tech and West Virginia at home. ECU fans who rush the field to celebrate the monumental upset over WVU are greeted by police goons throwing punches. Welcome to the Top 25!

Game 5: Penn State (-28) over SYRACUSE: Orange paper bags with eye holes to be handed out to Syracuse fans entering the Carrier Dome.

Game 6: UCLA (+8) over BRIGHAM YOUNG (home): Third time in just over a year these schools meet on the gridiron. But it's the first time in Provo. ( Provo, Utah. Not Provo, Spain).

Game 7: Michigan (-2.5) over NOTRE DAME: Lou Holtz gets his own bronze statue at Notre Dame Stadium, to be dedicated Saturday. School officials proceed to hire the statue to replace Charlie Weis as Irish head coach. Players welcome the change.

Game 8: CONNECTICUT (-11) over Virginia: Cavaliers starting quarterback Peter Lalich says he never violated his probation, and is staying behind in Charlottesville this weekend because he doesn't want his legal troubles to be a distraction for his team. Um, too late, Peter. Thanks for nothing. This sounds a little fishy.

Game 9: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (-11) over Ohio State: OK, so I watched "Boyz n the Hood" on cable for the 100th or so time yesterday. Questions I've never figured out: 1) Why would Ricky be considering joining the army when he had all but locked up a scholarship to play football at USC? Even if he didn't get a 700 on his SAT (which he wound up getting) he obviously could have played somewhere. 2) Why was Ricky taking a leisurely stroll down the middle of the street, rubbing a damn scratch-off ticket, when only seconds earlier he and Trey were running for their lives from the gang bangers in the car? No wonder he got smoked. What a dope. On a positive note, "Furious Stiles" is one of the top three movie names of all time and Ice Cube wears a Jheri curl with the best of them.

Game 10: Wisconsin (-2) over FRESNO STATE: Former Notre Dame-West Haven star John Moffitt (center) and Norwich Free Academy grad Matt Shaughnessy (defensive end) among the Badgers top players.

Game 11: Oregon (-8.5) over PURDUE: Oregon claims it has 400 different uniform combinations, when socks, shoes, helmets and pads are thrown in. The Ducks' custom-designed Nike jerseys are also 34 percent lighter in wet conditions than the average game jersey. Too bad they're still ugly as sin.

Last week's results

1. Dougo 8-3
2. Vinny 7-4
3. Kevin 5-6
Dan 5-6
Rich 5-6
6. Chip 4-7
Stretch 4-7
wil 4-7
uconn86 4-7
10. ian 3-8
caleb 3-8
12. pete 2-9
Den of stupidity 2-9
sean o 2-9
15. sammy 1-10

Overall points (2 weeks)
1. Dougo 14
2. Vinny from East Haven 13
3. Rich 12
4. huskies86 10
stretch 10
Dan O 10
Kevin 10
8. chip 9
9. ian 8
wil 8
11. caleb 7
12. Pete 6
Den of stupidity 6
14. JZ 5
sammy 5

Enter picks by clicking "comments" below.

Thursday notes

A few notes from Thursday:
  • Alex LaMagdelaine had surgery on his shoulder Wednesday, and will miss the remainder of the season. Everything went well, but there's no chance he'll be back before the year's over.
  • Decisions on whether Andre Dixon, Lindsey Witten and Jodan Todman will play this week haven't been made yet.
  • Edsall said nothing will change in the Huskies' game preparation now that quarterback Peter Lalich is staying home and Marc Verica will start. "All three quarterbacks have a similar style, from all the things we've read, and when you look at what he did in high school," Edsall said. "It won't affect what we're preparing for and practicing for. There are always things you cover with your team, the 'what if' situations, so a lot of that is carry-over. We're not changing what we plan to do."
  • Tony Ciaravino's struggles weren't due to weather conditions, Edsall said after revewing tape. It was a minor mechanical flaw. "His plant foot was open," Edsall said. "He should have had it closed. It was a minor technicality that cause him to pull it left." All's fixed, and Tony C had a good week of practice.

The weekly picks for the Runway Challenge coming soon.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Pre-Virginia media lunch notes

  • Jordan Todman has practiced, and will practice all week. Same with Lindsey Witten and Andre Dixon. Determinations on whether the three will play and how much will come later in the week.

  • Dixon is frustrated because his ankle sprain is healing slowly. He thought he was ready against Temple, and even got in for a couple plays, but said the ankle wasn't ready for game speed and he probably shouldn't have played. "Right now, it's day-by-day," Dixon said. "It's tough having to sit out. We expect a big year in this program, and I want to contribute."

  • UConn has left lots of points on the field. Fourteen against Hofstra, another 20 or 23 against Temple, and there’s been criticism of play-calling by media and fans. Edsall said the criticism doesn't bother him, but these quotes seem as if it's been bugging him a little. “If you think I’m worried about other people criticizing the plays we call, that’s the furthest thing from my mind. I couldn’t care less about what anyone else thinks of the play calling. I can tell you this, no one is putting in the kind of time we’re putting in every day, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. trying to come up with game plans … to try and win football games. It’s a second-guess society. People are entitled to second guess. I’ll even go back after games and say 'geez, we could have done this, we could have done that.' But you use personnel the way you think you can use it. I just know that we’re 2-0, and we’re going to continue to do the things we have to do in order to get wins. We have to be more productive in passing game. I know that’s what we have to do. If we don’t leave points on the field, maybe we don’t get that question. But we spend a lot of time and hours putting together a game plan we think can get us a win.”

  • Offensive coordinator Rob Ambrose also catches flak over the play-calling, which touched another nerve with Edsall. "Our society is about flash and glitter. Looking pretty. I'm trying to make the best decisions I can to win games. I have no problems with any game he's called. We're 2-0. And everything runs through me, guys. Put the blame on me. I'm the head coach. Don't criticize my assistant coaches. The buck stops right here. If anyone wants to take shots, take them at me,. That's why I'm the head coach. I've got great assistant coaches. They work their tails off. If people want to criticize us, that's fine. That's the nature of our business. But take your shots at me. Take them at me. Cause I'm the guy that's in front of everybody. It's amazing, though, that you have to have this conversation when you're 2-0. They were 9-4 a year ago. But hey, that’s the world."

  • Congratulations to Darius Butler, who became a father Saturday just before kickoff with Temple. His daughter, Maya, and is doing just fine.

  • Al Groh wasn't too bad on the conference call. I remember a few years ago when he was coaching the Jets through a miserable season and catching all kinds of grief from the New York media he decided to do a conference call from his office after a practice. Problem was, the horde of media he was speaking with was in the same building, gathered just down the hall from his office. The first question to him was, "Al, why are you doing this?" That all but sealed the inevitable end of Groh's tenure with the Jets.

  • Groh said Stratford's Torrey Mack, a tailback out of Bunnell High, will likely redshirt the season because Virginia's current backs are strong. "He's tough, he has vision and skills," Groh said. "He's everything we'd seen of him on tape."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

One more good quote

One more good quote worth checking out: Al Golden's reasoning for that baffling decision to go for it deep in his own territory with the score tied in the fourth quarter.

"It speaks to everything we’re trying to do here,” Golden said of his decision. “Anybody can punt the ball. It’s conventional wisdom. But we’re trying to change 30 years of this crap, and I want to show them we’re going to go for it and make it right here. There is going to be a day, I pray it’s sooner rather than later, that we are going to make that yard.”

Great quote. Still a lousy decision.

Also, just wanted to give a quick word of thanks to Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant. After finishing all my post-game writing for the paper and blog, I was one of the last to leave the press box at Lincoln Financial Field after the game tonight. I got down to the lobby, but took the wrong exit. The outdoor concourse area I mistakenly wandered into had been locked up, and I wound up trapped inside the 15-foot steel gates. Outdoors. With a tropical storm raining hell upon me. It was the equivalent of stepping into the shower fully clothed. And I couldn't get back into the stadium because, of course, the doors locked behind me when I exited. Desmond was still in the press box when I had left. I called him. He called stadium security. They came out to find me. They did, more or less, after 20 or so more minutes in the monsoon. So, I owe you one, Dez. Now let's hope I don't catch malaria.

Help me Hanna: postgame notes

Wasn't pretty, but it was a win. That was Randy Edsall's attitude post game. Some notes:
  • Edsall feels Temple will contend to win the MAC's Eastern Division.

  • The weather affected the UConn game plan, but not as much as you might think. "I would have like to pass more. But we felt we could run on them, and we did. We also know we're going to have to throw the ball better. It was a tough day under tough conditions. We survived," Edsall said.

  • Donald Brown's 214 rushing yards were a career high. The 36 carries were second only to his 43 against Pitt (also OT) back in 2006. "He might not practice again until Thursday," Edsall said. "That was vintage Donald Brown. The thing about him is, the longer he goes, the stronger he gets."

  • Andre Dixon saw limited time because he's still not 100 percent, and the weather may not have been conducive to his ankle. Also, there wasn't much need to spell Brown today.

  • Edsall thought about going for it on 4th-and-6 from the Temple 30 with 2:33 left in regulation. .But he had confidence Ciaravino could hit a 47-yard field goal. That's confidence in a kicker who had already missed two in difficult conditions.

  • Edsall was asked why he didn't go to Brown after UConn's critical stop on 4th-and-1, when Al Golden made the bizarre decision to go for it from his own 35 and time running out in regulation. The Huskies would have needed only about 10 yards to get into legit field goal position. Instead of going with the hot hand, UConn went with two QB keepers and an out to the tight end. "You can second guess us all you want," Edsall said. "And that's fine. I don't have a problem with that. But we're calling plays we hope will get us first downs. Every play we call, we think can be a big play."

  • Tony Ciaravino on his day, "No excuses, I know what I need to work on. Thank God for Donald Brown. He can have my sandwich if he wants it." Asked if he was over thinking his kicks, Ciaravino, showing some self-deprecating humor, insisted he's not the guy to over think anything.

  • Lorenzen on playing today, "Throwing the ball was ridiculous. It's different when you're 10 (years old) and just throwing it around when nothing matters. In big-time college football, with everything you're supposed to do, it's a lot different."

  • Looks like Temple is still going to be looking for justice when the teams meet again in a couple of years. Al Golden said the referee's made a mistake in awarding Temple 1st-and-10 from the 19 in overtime after a holding penalty. It should have been 1st-and-4. The chains were set up wrong. "When you're 1st-and-4, you guys who go to A.C. (Atlantic City) know, you're playing with house money. They ruled it wrong on the field. And they apologized after the game. First-and-4, you're taking shots at the end zone. It's a lot different. You are ahead of schedule on second down. How can they do that? I don't know. End of story." He's right. Start the new video and marketing campaign.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Runway Challenge Week 2

UConn announced earlier that it has a new non-conference foe on its schedule for 2015 and 2016. Tennessee. And, the Vols will be playing at Rentschler Field in 2015 (Sept. 26). The 2016 contest (Sept. 3) is in Knoxville. That, folks, is exciting news. The future UConn schedules now include Notre Dame, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Maryland.

Sept. 5: at Ohio
Sept. 12: vs. North Carolina
Sept. 19: at Baylor
Sept. 26: vs. Rhode Island
Nov. 21: at Notre Dame

Sept. 2: vs. Northeastern
Sept. 18: at Temple
Sept. 25: vs. Buffalo
Oct. 2: vs. Vanderbilt
one open date

Sept. 3: vs. Division I-AA opponent TBA
Sept. 10: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 17: vs. Iowa State
Sept. 24: at Buffalo
Nov. 5: at Notre Dame

Aug. 30: vs. UMass
Sept. 8: vs. North Carolina State
Sept. 15: at Maryland
Sept 29: vs. Buffalo
one open date

open with Division I-AA TBA
Sept. 7: vs. Maryland
Sept. 14: at Buffalo
Sept. 28: vs. Temple
Oct. 26: vs. Notre Dame at Gillette or Giants Stadium

Also: Notre Dame: 10.18.14 (away); 10.24.15: (neutral); 11.12.16: (away); 9.30.17: neutral. Tennessee 9.26.15; at Tennessee 9.3.16

Not much to update you on from Edsall's call this afternoon. No injury news, no decisions on Brad Kanuch or who the backup quarterback will be. Of all the features in the Shenkman Center, they forgot to build a rain machine and wind tunnel, so there was no way to simulate the anticipated tropical storm conditions for Saturday in Philly.

Shall we move on to the weekly picks? Pretty much everyone in the contest had a rough week, including yours truly. Let's hope this one's better.

Game 1: Tennessee Tech (+24) over LOUISVILLE: Hunter Cantwell looked like a walk-on quarterback last week. Much like Tyler Lorenzen, he's better than that. We think. Forget the spread, Cards need worry about winning on the field.

Game 2: Georgia Tech (+7) over BOSTON COLLEGE: Everyone wanted to know why BC wasn't available for the picks last week. Here you go...don't forget your best BCU insults.

Game 3: SYRACUSE (-4.5) over Akron: Zips' angry over preseason criticism of program. We were as shocked as anyone. People actually follow the Akron football program?

Game 4: Cincinnati (+22) over OKLAHOMA: Cincy dedicates this one to Beary the Bearcat, recovering nicely at the animal hospital after his parachute jump into Nippert Stadium went awry last week.

Game 5: West Virginia (-8) over EAST CAROLINA: Skip Holtz's boys are flying high. Pat White drags 'em back to reality.

Game 6: Buffalo (+13.5) over PITTSBURGH: Who'd have thought opening with Bowling Green and Buffalo would be so difficult for Wanny and the Fighting 'Staches?

Game 7: South Florida (-14) over CENTRAL FLORIDA: Capitalizing on the national attention of it's phone sex conference call earlier in the week, the school has booked Jackie Moon to sing his hit song "Love Me Sexy" prior to game (special appearance by Coffee Black). UCF then adopts it as new fight song. Leigh, you'll find this hilarious one day.

Game 8: FLORIDA (-21.5) over Miami: Tim Tebow plays this one wearing his powder blue Crocs in place of cleats, along with an infant strapped into a Baby Bjorn hanging from his chest. Still runs for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Game 9: MICHIGAN (-14.5) over Miami-Ohio: Rich Rod sweating a little more.

Game 10: WAKE FOREST (-8) over Ole' Miss

Game 11: Southern Connecticut State (+4.5) over BRYANT: My tip for all football fans in Connecticut. Get over to see SCSU tailback Jarom Freeman at some point this season. He is worth the trip, and could be the best player in Division II. Ran for 418 yards last season against Bryant (now in Division I-AA), and had 35 carries for 242 yards at West Virginia Wesleyan in the opener.

EDIT: I forgot to include UConn/Temple in the picks, as someone pointed out in the comments. A glaring oversight on my part. News of the Tennessee series came as I was writing the picks, and it threw me off my game. It's too late to include it in the challenge (too many have already entered) but I ain't ducking it. Temple (+7) over UConn. Feel free to make your predictions on it. For those who've already entered, if all make a pick before kickoff, we can include it for the challenge.

The week 1 results and overall standings:

1. Rich 7-3
2. huskies86 6-4
dougo 6-4
vinny 6-4
stretch (the anonymous guy) 6-4
6. chip 5-5
JZ 5-5
ian 5-5
dan O 5-5
kevin 5-5
11. pete 4-6
sammy 4-6
wil 4-6
den of stupidity 4-6
caleb 4-6

Get your picks in by clicking "comments" below.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


So it's not as egregious as the UCLA marketing campaign (though the Neuheisel campaign got off to a pretty nice start), but Temple has been hyping its rematch with UConn since last spring. The Owls, it seems, are looking for justice. Speaking with Randy Edsall and UConn players this morning, the Huskies have accepted that they got away with one at the Runway last September. They all just want to forget the past and move along. And while the Owls are searching for justice (have they thought about taking it to the People's Court? Judge Wapner's retired; is Doug Llewellyn still around?) I'd think the Huskies would gain some motivation from this saga, too. Something along the lines of "let's show these guys some tough justice". They aren't publicly saying as much, but know this...they have taken on that attitude. It should make for a very entertaining game on Saturday.

Some other news and observations from Tuesday's media luncheon:

  • Injury updates: Lindsey Witten is "questionable to probable". His knee was wrapped as he walked around the player's lounge. Brad Kanuch (hamstring) is practicing with the first two units at WR, and could return to action this week. Andre Dixon (ankle) should be dressed and playing. Alex LaMagdelain (shoulder) will miss significant time, maybe the season, as he's expected to undergo surgery soon. Trey Tonsing moves over to guard, Gary Bardzak is now the backup center. Jordan Todman (shoulder) is still week-to-week, but next week that could change to day-to-day. If that makes any sense, you're either a football coach or listen to football coaches speak way too much. Sad to say, it made sense to me.

  • Anthony Sherman, one of last week's unheralded stars, is a natural to make plays from fullback or on special teams because of his athleticism. "He has good hands, and we can utilize that to make us more diversified on offense," Edsall said. "He'll do the dirty work, and he doesn't care if he gets any credit or not. He's not as good a blocker as Deon Anderson was. He doesn't show it as vibrantly as Deon does, but he loves to play the game." And I vote for "The Sherminator" as his nickname. Not original, but we need more Schwarzeneggar/American Pie references.

  • Asked how important it was for UConn to develop a down field passing game, Edsall said he didn't know. "There comes a time when we will take our shots down field. When we take those shots will depend on how well we run the football. To me the better you run the football, the more you people you get to come up, now you have a better chance of getting people behind them. Its the chicken or the egg theory. What comes first? Throwing it down field to loosen them up or running the ball, getting them to come up and then throwing behind them."

  • Edsall on getting questionable calls that favor his team, "It all evens out in the end. It usually winds up being 50-50. But who's to say what calls went for you and what calls went against you?" Cue the angry emails from Temple and Louisville fans....NOW!

  • Donald Brown and Temple coach Al Golden are both alums of Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic. Brown's Algebra II teacher was the football coach when Golden played. Golden got his start as an assistant coach there in the early 90s. Brown's uncle is good friends with Golden's brother. And Golden was the defensive coordinator at Virginia when Brown was a senior. Care to guess why Virginia tried so hard to steal Brown away from his commit to UConn at the last minute back in 2005? "A lot of the (Virginia) staff (including Golden) ended up bailing, so it's a good thing I didn't go there," Brown said.

  • Kevin Gilbride Jr. is the wide receivers coach at Temple. He grew up in Florida, however, unlike his dad who was reared in North Haven and attended SCSU.

  • The Temple media guide features a photo of its most famous football alum, Bill Cosby, wearing a knit, pullover letterman's sweater. Yep. It's the first Cosby sweater. Can someone call the Smithsonian? This belongs between to Fonzie's leather jacket and Alex P. Keaton's necktie.

  • Some mixed player reactions to said Temple highlight video -- which is on the Owls' website football page and is edited together with dramatic music. It should be retitled "CSI: East Hartford". Donald Brown saw it and thought it was pretty funny. Tyler Lorenzen, apparently, viewed it more seriously. "We definitely don't get a laugh out of it," Lorenzen said.

  • It was an adventure getting Al Golden for his conference call with Connecticut media today. No one at Temple seemed to know where he was or how to get a hold of him. After 30 minutes of waiting, we got him on the line. Golden made up for the delay. He was tremendously insightful and helpful. Among the highlights was his calling his old pal Donald Brown one of the more unheralded running backs on the East Coast, gushing about the other talent in the Big East and on UConn (specifically Cody Brown and Darius Butler) and speaking extensively about the many Temple players from Connecticut. He called New Haven's Dy'Onne Crudup a leader, said New Haven's James Nixon was the fastest player the Owls have and someone who will likely be returning punts or kickoffs once he masters wide receiver, and told of how Stamford's Alex Joseph won the team's slam dunk contest. "I couldn't be more pleased with the Connecticut kids we've gotten. We've been lucky," Golden said. "We've done well in Connecticut."

  • Andre Dixon's coming out party was against Temple last season -- he went for 129 yards on 21 carries in his Husky debut. But he called the Owls the hardest-hitting defense he faced last season. "They're a real good team in my eyes," Dixon said.

  • This story is hilarious, although I'm sure Leigh Torbin isn't quite ready to laugh about it today. One day he'll be able to chuckle. For those who don't know, Leigh was UConn's football sports information director until about three weeks ago, when he took the same job at Central Florida. It seems the phone number Leigh provided for UCF's next-day conference call between the Orlando-area media and coach O'Leary was off by one digit. Reporters who phoned in were greeted by a voice saying, "Hi sexy, you've reached the one-on-one fantasy hotline." Turns out the number was for a phone-sex service. It was an honest mistake, of course, and could have happened to anyone. Leigh has been missed in Storrs, and particularly here on the Runway, where he stoked many an idea for my off-topic pop-culture ramblings. Hang in there, Leigh.