Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jory Johnson delivers for Huskies

Pretty much from the opening snap it was pretty evident that the Buffalo skill players would be getting acquainted with UConn senior linebacker Jory Johnson on Saturday afternoon.

Johnson brought down Buffalo running back Brandon Murie for a 1-yard gain on the Bulls' first offensive play. By game's end Johnson, who came into the game with a total of 23 tackles in four games, finished with 14 tackles in a 24-17 victory.

Coming off a disappointing loss to Western Michigan and being one of the four UConn captains, Johnson knew he needed to set the tone for the Huskies.

"I want to make all the plays I can," Johnson said. "All of our calls we have different guys doing different things. I just want to do all I can to help the team. Some games I’ll be more active than others. As long as I am helping us win I am fine with that."

Johnson isn't the most vocal player on the UConn team. His fellow senior linebacker Sio Moore is the one who gets the Huskies fired up just before they take the field but Johnson provides leadership in other ways.

"Jory is one of the guys, he may not talk as much but he is going to give you everything he’s got," Moore said. "I love to see him flying around. That is what he does, he goes out there and makes plays. I have never known anybody get to the ball or be around the ball as much as Jory so he is always a good guy to play with."

Shortly before kickoff UConn AD Warde Manuel had a chance to catch up with some familiar faces.

Manuel spent 6 1/2 years as the athletic director at Buffalo before he accepted the job at UConn in February. So shortly before kickoff I asked Manuel to reflect on his time at Buffalo.

"It was great," Manuel said. "Much like here there was a lot of great people, a lot of great student-athletes. It was my first opportunity to be an AD and I will always fondly remember my experience at Buffalo. I got a chance to see some of the guys before the game. It was good to see them but once the ball is kicked off it is a Husky Day in my mind."

Rutgers, which will host UConn Saturday at noon, moved up one stop to No. 22 in the latest Associated Press poll.

Louisville checks in at No. 19 while Cincinnati is the next team to receive votes or No. 26 in terms of number of points.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, September 29, 2012

UConn wins an ugly one

When Lyle McCombs crossed the goal line and Chad Christen added the extra point with 5:03 left in the third quarter everything was going according to plan for the UConn football team.

Visiting Buffalo figured to have trouble staying with the Huskies especially with tailback Branden Oliver (who came into the game ranked fifth in FBS with 142 rushing yards per game) and receiver Fred Lee missing the game with leg and hand injuries respectively.

However, the Bulls did not go away quietly with a touchdown courtesy of a hook and ladder play and then a 44-yard field goal pulling Buffalo within seven points.

UConn, which ran 24 offensive plays in Buffalo territory in the second half but only had seven points to show for it, was left to hang on. Buffalo did get one more possession but after reaching its own 39, the Bulls turned the ball over with incompletions on second and third down and then Buffalo QB Alex Zordich was tackled two yards shy of the first-down marker by Yawin Smallwood.

UConn will take the win but with a chance to lower the boom and head into Big East play with a dominating win, the Huskies seemed to play not to lose in the second half.

The good news is the Huskies won to go to 3-2 and it didn't seem as if there were any injuries suffered in the game. The pass protection by the UConn offensive line was solid. Whitmer was sacked three times but two of those were a case of holding onto the ball too long. Whitmer looked as comfortable in the pocket as any other time I have seen him play. He was setting his feet on his throws and being patient on his progressions. He also spread the wealth by hitting eight different receivers. Other highlights included safety Ty-Meer Brown getting an interception and playing a solid game even though he was limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury and Martin Hyppolite ripping off a 50-yard TD run on his first carry of the game. Angelo Pruitt, starting his second game at DE, played a pretty good all-around game. I liked UConn getting Nick Williams more involved in the passing game and senior linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson played much of the game like they had something to prove which they did after last week's slow start at Western Michigan.

The bad news is that Buffalo outgained the Huskies 361-360 and 39 rushes by McCombs accounted for 97 yards which is simply not good enough. I also wonder if giving a running back listed at 166 pounds 39 carries is a smart move heading into the Big East portion of the season. UConn had issues staying with Buffalo receiver Alex Neutz and it is something that could have been exploited more by Buffalo than it was.

Now the Huskies head into the Big East opener on Saturday when they play at Rutgers. It will be interesting to see how UConn handles the challenge of Big East play.

Labels: , , , ,

Branden Oliver won't play against Huskies

Buffalo junior running back Branden Oliver is in sweat pants during pre-game drills so, as expected, leg injury suffered against Kent State a week and a half ago will keep nation's No. 5 rusher out of the lineup today. Starting receiver Fred Lee (hand) is also out for the Bulls.

For the Huskies, safety Ty-Meer Brown (shoulder) is out there warming up while center Alex Mateas (ankle) is in uniform but not taking part in pre-game drills.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Smallwood added to Bednarik Award list

UConn sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood was one of 12 players added to the Bednarik Award watch list which is presented to the nation's top defensive player.

He joins teammate Trevardo Williams, who was among the players named to the initial list of candidates back in July.

Smallwood, the leading tackler for a Connecticut defense ranks fifth in FBS in total defense, is tied for 13th nationally with an average of 10.5 total tackles, and is tied for fourth with an average of 2.38 tackles for losses.

Center Alex Mateas, safety Ty-Meer Brown practicing

On a conference call with the media on Thursday UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni said he was optimistic that starting center Alex Mateas and starting safety Ty-Meer Brown will be also to play Saturday against Buffalo.

Mateas injured his ankle and Brown suffered a shoulder injury in a loss at Western Michigan. While they were limited in practice earlier in the week, Pasqualoni said they have been able to practice.

"Everybody is practicing," Pasqualoni said. "We are working our way through it but we are optimistic that the injured guys will be available and will be up."

Pasqualoni also talking about the message the team received from wounded veterans this week including a powerful speech which I was able to get video of after Tuesday's practice.

"The message was in difficult time you have to take care of each other and be there for each other," Pasqualoni said. "The example that was given was the  lieutenant who was injured and members of their platoon risked their lives under heavy fire to go get him and bring him in, get him in a safe place even though he was injured very seriously, shot very seriously. The message was if you protect each other, you take care of each other, you have to be able to trust each other, you have to be loyal to each other that is what it is all about. I thought it was a great message."

Labels: , ,

Buffalo's star RB yet to practice this week

According to reports from the Buffalo media, Buffalo's junior tailback Branden Oliver has yet to practice this week after suffering a leg injury in the first half of the Sep. 19 loss to Kent State.

A story in Wednesday's edition of the Buffalo News said the Oliver, who is fifth among FBS players with an average of 142 rushing yards per game, is "likely out" of Saturday's game.

Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn addressed the issue on a call with the Connecticut media on Tuesday.

"We are going to wait and see," Quinn said. "We are hopeful we are going to have him but we are playing him both ways, that is a part of his deal. I feel good about where his progress is and where his leadership is. If not you will see Brandon Murie and you will see Devin Campbell. Our other receiver Freddie Lee (will miss Saturday's game with a hand injury) that hurt us a little too. We have other playes ready to step in and step up and we are exicted for their opportunities to showcase their God-given abilities."

At Tuesday's press conference I asked UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni who the potential absence of one of the nation's best running backs could impact the Buffalo offense.

"I don’t really believe it is going to change what they do," Pasqualoni said. "I know it is very hard in three days to all of a sudden change the concept of the offense and do things different."

It will be a busy afternoon at Rentschler Field on Saturday with several groups being honored.

Here are the details courtesy of UConn

The UConn men’s basketball team will sign autographs at the “Fan Fest” from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. “Fan Fest” is located between Gates C and D. The 2012-13 Huskies will also be introduced during the first quarter of the game.
* Participants in the “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities” (EBV) will take part in the pregame coin toss and will be recognized at halftime.  The program is an initiative designed to leverage the resources of UConn and other universities to offer training in entrepreneurship and small business management to veterans with disabilities resulting from their military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
*The Trinity College women’s lacrosse team that won the NCAA Division III Championship last spring will be honored between the first and second quarters. UConn traditionally honors collegiate teams from the state of Connecticut that have won NCAA team championships. 
* The New Haven-based Walter Camp Football Foundation will be recognized during the second quarter with many of their officers and members present. Each year, the Foundation names a College Football All-American team and their team is the oldest in the United States – first given 120 years ago in 1892. The annual Walter Camp Football Foundation Weekend is January 10-12, 2013 when all of the greats of the college football world converge on New Haven.
*Local Boy Scout troops have a parade at halftime around the field. These scouts are also having a campout at Rentschler Field on Friday night.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

UConn, Buffalo coaches to wear special patches

I figured I would pass on some information I received that the coaches from UConn and Buffalo will be wearing arm patches to raise awareness for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

This is the fifth year of the Coach to Cure MD partnership between the American Football Coaches Association and Parent Project MD, Fans can agree to donate $5 by texting the word "Cure" to 90999 or go to to donate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Special visitors at UConn

Usually the Tuesday press luncheons at UConn consist of head coach Paul Pasqualoni entertaining questions for about 30 minutes following by selected players conducting interviews between bites of food.

However, special people were on hand today leading to unique circumstances.

Wounded war veterans Justin Nash of Cheshire and Doug Yeager of Winsted met with the media Tuesday afternoon to discuss their circumstances and plans once they graduate from UConn with Master's degrees.

However, the highlight to me was Pasqualoni inviting veterans to watch the end of Tuesday's practice. Thanks to UConn SID Mike Enright, I was allowed into the practice (which is normally closed to the media once the season starts) to shoot video of Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities director Michael Zacchea address the UConn team following practice.

As the video shows, Pasqualoni is using the heroic circumstances of Zacchea, Nash and Yeager to serve as inspiration to the UConn team which is coming off a loss at Western Michigan.

Stephen happy to be back

One of the developments that flew a little under the radar in the last week and a half is Shamar Stephen working his way back into a starting spot at defensive tackle for the first time since injuring his knee early in fall camp.

Stephen got in for a few plays in the Sep. 15 win at Maryland and then saw a more expanded role in Saturday’s loss to Western Michigan. Stephen is back listed as a starter at defensive tackle and will make his 2012 home debut when the Huskies play Buffalo on Saturday.

“Watching people play and working all season to play and not playing was kind of hard but you just have to motivate and help the younger guys and just be a factor (as a leader).”

Stephen’s return allowed UConn to move reserve defensive tackle Angelo Pruitt out to defensive end to replace Jesse Joseph, who suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury against Maryland.

Stephen is nearly back to 100 percent and looking to provide a strong presence in the middle of UConn’s defensive line for the remainder of the season.

“It was kind of exciting when I first got in especially against Maryland,” Stephen said. “It was pretty fun. I was excited to come back and play. I am having fun doing it and just creating a vibe where everybody is coming in and playing together as a defensive line.”

Like so many others around the nation, UConn players looked on in disbelief at the way the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers came to an end.

Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept Russell Wilson’s desperation heave into the end zone but as Jennings was falling to the turf, Seattle receiver Golden Tate got his hands around the ball. After some indecision the ruling on the field was a Seattle touchdown. The call was upheld after a video review leading to even more calls for the NFL to agree to terms with the locked out officials and stop having replacement officials call NFL games.

“I thought it was a clear interception even though I am an offensive player I would want that ball like Golden Tate did,” UConn senior receiver Michael Smith said. “I thought it was an interception but I am no referee or anything like that but just from the naked eye I thought it was an interception

“After losing any game you are already heartbroken because nobody plays to lose but going home with a loss on a Hail Mary, I have actually had that feeling like when we lost to Rutgers a few years ago. I've had that feeling and it is a pretty bad feeling.”

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni, who spent the previous six years as an NFL assistant coach before taking the job with the Huskies, chose his words carefully when the subject came up during his weekly Tuesday press conference.

“All I will say about the officials is I promise you it is a very fast game and they have to officiate the game in real time,” Pasqualoni said. “They have one heck of a hard job. My heart goes out to the replacement officials. They have not experienced that level of football which things happen right away, how competitive and how tough these guys are not backing down from anything I can understand if there are some missed calls and a few messes out there, I can understand how it happens.

“The powers that be have a very good reason (for locking out the officials). I am sure in their minds, to do what they are doing. It is a business and I am sure the business side of it is a big factor. I hope they get it resolved.”

Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn spent several minutes on the phone with members of the Connecticut media. While he did not give an update on the Bulls’ injured running back Branden Oliver other than to say that he continues to be day to day after suffering a leg injury in Wednesday's loss to Kent State, he did have an entertaining story of a memorable fishing trip he took with UConn athletic director Warde Manuel when he held the same position at Buffalo.

“I outfished him,” Quinn said with a laugh. “It was a best fishing day I ever had, one of the best. We were out there, we were chatting and talking and talking and next thing he caught one, he caught two and before you know it he was (up) five fish to zero. There was no conversation - trust me. I went to work. We finished and I think I had one more fish than he did at the end of day.

“It was the funniest thing. We were having a great conversation for about an hour and the next thing you know (Manuel said) ‘I had five fish to your none and you didn't say a word.’ For the next hour we didn't say a word to each other and I just went to work, that is how competitive the two of us are. He is one of the finest in the business and you guys are fortunate to have him along with Doug Gnodtke (UConn’s associate director of athletics). He is a great family man, a great leader and I certainly couldn't be more appreciative of him that he gave me a chance to be the head football coach at the University of Buffalo.”

Labels: , , , ,

Darius Butler signed by Colts

Cornerback Darius Butler was signed by the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday and guard Trai Essex was released to make room for the former UConn star.

The Colts certainly seem to take a shine to former UConn stars. Not only is Donald Brown the Colts' No. 1 running back but linebackers Scott Lutrus and Greg Lloyd and receiver Kashif Moore also spent time in camp with Indianapolis.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Time set for Rutgers game

The Oct. 6 game at Rutgers will kickoff at noon and will be televised on ESPNU.

Rutgers is off to a 4-0 start and is ranked 23rd in the Associated Press' national writers' poll and is 25th in the coaches' poll.

Buffalo RB Branden Oliver is "day to day" with leg injury

On the weekly MAC coaches call Buffalo's Jeff Quinn said that junior running back Branden Oliver is considering "day to day" because of the leg injury he suffered in Wednesday's loss to Kent State.

"He is going to be day to day," Quinn said. "We have an outstanding medical staff that knows how to get these guys back on the field. He really banged up his leg in Wednesday night's game. I am not sure exactly where he is at in terms of today. We have to keep a close eye on him  and see how he is progressing. (Receiver) Fred Lee, it was a tough play and a very physical play but he has his hand banged up, he has it in a splint and  he is going to miss this week's game. Boomer Brock our fullback had a chest injury that is probably going to require some surgery, (defensive lineman) Steven Means is OK. Those are the four guys who had issues on Wednesday night."

Oliver current ranks fifth among FBS backs with an average of 142 rushing yards per game, a number which would be even higher if he didn't miss the entire second half on Wednesday night due to the injury.

Couple of changes in depth chart

UConn just updated its two-deep chart for Saturday's game against Buffalo. The only changes were on the defensive line as Angelo Pruitt went from being listed as a reserve DT to the starting DE while DT Shamar Stephen is listed as the starting DT. With those moves Julian Campenni moves from first to second string at DT while Kenton Adeyemi is no longer on the two-deep at DE.

It should be noted that starting center Alex Mateas and safety Ty-Meer Brown are both on the depth chart even though both players will be limited in practice this week with ankle and shoulder injuries respectively.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Two starters could be limited this week

On his weekly day after conference call with the media UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni said that starting safety Ty-Meer Brown and starting center Alex Mateas will be limited early in the week after suffering shoulder and ankle injuries respectively.

"(Brown) bumped his shoulder so he is going to be limited for a couple of days and I will know more on Wednesday so it is going to be a day by day deal," Pasqualoni said. "He came out and then we went back in. He came out, the trainers took a look at it and he was able to go back in and finish.

"(Mateas) has a little bit of a sore ankle so he will be limited as we start and we will monitor that as we go through the week. We will know more when we get to Tuesday just like Ty-Meer they are kind of in the same category, I would say."

Pasqualoni said that the plan was to start reserve defensive tackle Angelo Pruitt at defensive end to replace the injured Jesse Joseph although Pruitt played more snaps than Pasqualoni would have preferred.

"He (Pruitt) is a little bit bigger, a little bit more physical in the run game," Pasqualoni said. "We felt we would get a little bit more in the run (defense) and go back with E.J. (Norris) and Timmy Willman, put them in there and let them play some and use them maybe a little bit more in passing situations. For the first time out I thought Angelo played a lot of plays. I would have preferred he didn't have to play that many plays but he played quite a few. I thought we made some progress and got started with it. We will start this week the same way with Angelo over there. We will use E.J. Norris, Timmy Willman and also will have Kenton Adeyemi up and ready to go."

Pasqualoni was not happy with the mistakes which prevented UConn from returning with a win. Chandler Whitmer's interception on UConn's second offensive possession was a killer since the Huskies would have had a chip-shot field goal had the third-down pass fell incomplete and the sack, fumble and defensive touchdown by Desmond Bozeman in the fourth quarter proved to be the winning margin. There was also a blown coverage leading to a WMU touchdown pass, a missed field goal and dropped pass on fourth down which came back to haunt the Huskies.

"We had enough explosive plays, we had enough yardage," Pasqualoni said. "If somebody was to tell me that we would have more passing yards in the game than Western Michigan I probably wouldn't have believed it. We have to find a way to eliminate the turnovers.

"It is hard to overcome those and don't forget we missed a field goal,  we dropped a pass on fourth down which would have put us in really good field position so not only did we fumble and have an interception."

First things first for pair of UConn recruits

While I wasn't able to make it out to Kalamazoo for Saturday's game with Western Michigan, I did use this weekend to catch up with UConn commits Matt Walsh and Noel Thomas who each played games in New Haven.

Walsh, who had five tackles to help the visiting Tigers to a 37-19 win over Hillhouse Friday afternoon, caught the eye of UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni as he led Hand to a 34-10 win over New Canaan in the 2011 CIAC Class L championship game which was played at Rentschler Field.

“I will still go up to their games whenever they are home and talk to Coach (George) DeLeone (UConn’s offensive coordinator) a few times a week but I am focusing on this to play the second game in my life in Rentschler Field before I even get up to UConn. That is our goal and if we don't win a state championship it is not a successful season.”

Walsh’s “second game at Rentschler Field” refers to the 2012 Class L championship game in December.
He is no stranger to UConn’s home field as he attending the Huskies’ home games against UMass and North Carolina State and is expecting to be on hand for Saturday’s home game against Buffalo.

“It's a fun atmosphere,” Walsh said. “It kicks in a lot more when you go to a full blown game there.”

Thomas, normally a receiver, was pressed into action at quarterback as starting quarterback Charlie Nelson was sidelined in Saturday's game at Hopkins. Thomas, who took his first snaps at quarterback during Monday’s practice, was 8 of 15 for 110 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception while rushing nine times with 133 yards including a 64-yard touchdown in a 32-13 victory. Thomas spent a large portion of the game on the sidelines when the Storm was on defense so he could work on throwing the ball.

“It was different but when I was younger I always wanted to play quarterback,” Thomas said. “I like having the ball in my hands. I trusted my guys.”

Thomas, who projects as a receiver with the Huskies, is planning to enroll at UConn in January which will allow him to take part in spring practice.

“My last day of school is December 21 and I will be leaving (for UConn) after New Year's,” Thomas said. “I think it will definitely help because when I get affiliated with campus, I start classes Jan. 22 and I get to know my guys, my teammates.”

Thomas hasn’t been to a game at UConn yet this season but he is planning to be there when the Huskies host

Labels: ,

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Loss to WMU still fresh in Huskies' minds

When UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni took questions from the media on Tuesday it did not take long before he was asked if he was concerned about a letdown following an emotional win over a Maryland squad coached by former UConn head coach Randy Edsall.

Perhaps if Buffalo was Saturday's opponent that would have been the case but Pasqualoni knew that motivation would not be an issue this week.

When UConn and Western Michigan played at Rentschler Field on Oct. 1 it was a day that the members of the UConn defense would like to forget. Pasqualoni wanted to make sure they did not let those painful memories fade.

After misfiring on his first pass of the fourth quarter, Western Michigan completed his final 14 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns to lift the Broncos to a 38-31 win over UConn.

“That is definitely going through our heads a little bit that this team put up so many yards, we have that in the back of our minds,” said senior linebacker Jory Johnson. “We are preparing like it is another game but we know this team is talented and we kind of owe it to them for what they did to us last year.”

The good news is that senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson is expected to be back in the lineup after a tight hamstring sidelined him in last week’s win at Maryland. Wreh-Wilson also missed the ’11 game against the Broncos and his absence certainly didn’t help UConn match up with Carder’s stable of playmaking receivers.

Most of those guys are now gone including Jordan White, who had 12 catches for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Huskie, and Chleb Ravenell, who had two TD receptions in the final six minutes and had eight of his nine catches in the fourth quarter.

Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit bluntly said “they are better and we are not as good.”

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni is having none of that especially with dynamic freshman Jaime Wilson (29 catches for 330 yards and four touchdowns) leading a new group of targets for Carder.

“I really like their receiving corps,” Pasqualoni said. “I know that they lost some outstanding receivers but I think they have some outstanding receivers. Alex does a great job of engineering the whole thing and driving the bus. It is pretty impressive.

“He throws it very well, we know that. He threw it against us for almost 500 yards against us last year. He's a senior, he has been through everything. I don't know if there is anything we can give him that he hasn't seen before.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Andrew Adams making an impact

After spending the 2011 season on the sidelines as a redshirt trying to get acclimating to college life Andrew Adams was eager to make an impact at UConn. However, the odds were not in his favor as the Huskies were returning both starting safeties (Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown) and both starting cornerbacks (Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson).

Gradually Adams has been carving out playing time and he started against Maryland as the Huskies opened up with five defensive backs. Maryland's final offensive play Adams came down with Perry Hills' desperation heave into the end zone. Unfortunately for Adams, he was not able to get one of his feet in bounds as he snared the pass.

"I tried to get my foot down but I couldn't quite do it," said Adams, who also had five tackles in the game. "I wanted my first college interception but I am sure it will come soon."

The chance to play with three safeties against Maryland seems like a good dress rehearsal for tomorrow's game against a pass-happy Western Michigan team.

"It definitely will help us because it makes us a more versatile defense, not just lining up in the same thing," Adams said. "Hopefully we get into the quarterback's head a little bit with the three safety stuff."

Adams did not play in last year's game against Western Michigan but was on the sidelines watching WMU quarterback Alex Carder complete his final 14 passes and throw three fourth quarter TDs to lead the Broncos to a 38-31 win.

"It is a big challenge and I feel like our secondary from last year to this year has made a giant step," Adams said. "We are a year older, a year more experienced. I feel like we have a big challenge ahead of us. I feel like we are going to take it head on and be successful."

Adams came into fall camp knowing that earning playing time would not be an easy chore but he has played his way into a key role on one of the nation's top defenses.

"I knew that Byron and Ty-Meer were two very good players, they started last year. I just came out every day in practice (knowing) I had to work hard, know my assignments, play hard and in the end everything will work out."

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wreh-Wilson, Masters expected to play Saturday

On a Thursday conference call with members of the Connecticut media UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni said that he considers senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson to be probable for Saturday's game at Western Michigan and that senior guard Adam Masters is also expected to play.

Wreh-Wilson missed Saturday's game with a hamstring injury but Pasqualoni said Wreh-Wilson has been able to practice this week. Masters missed the Maryland game due to a stomach bug which impacted several team members.

Pasqualoni said that while the stomach bug issue is still impacting the team, he doesn't anticipate it preventing any players from making the trip or playing against the Broncos.

Saturday's game will not be televised but will be available on ESPN3. Here is the link

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Robert McClain making an impact in Atlanta

Former UConn defensive back Robert McClain is certainly making the most of his opportunities with the Atlanta Falcons.

With All-Pro CB Brent Grimes out for the season and then Asante Samuel temporarily forced out of Monday night's game against Denver, McClain got his chance to shine in national television. Almost immediately McClain intercepted future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to help the Falcons to a 27-21 win.

Today Falcons coach Mike Smith was asked about McClain's impact and Smith made it clear that he expects him to play a bigger role this week when Atlanta plays San Diego.

“Robert McClain is a guy that’s very feisty," Smith said. "I think you saw that in the preseason. Every time he’s gone out on the field, he’s made something happen. He did that again last night. He got in for a couple snaps and had the nice interception and nice return. He’s a guy that has played a little bit in this league, but doesn’t have a whole lot of experience. His role is probably going to change some this week because of his play and because of other circumstances with our defensive group.”


Honors keep rolling in for Smallwood, Williams

UConn sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood, fresh off winning the Big East Defensive Player of the Week award for the second time in the last three weeks, was named the Football Writers Association of America/Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, the Chuck Bednarik Defensive Player of the Week from the Maxwell Football Club and the ECAC Defensive Player of the Week. On Monday, Smallwood.

UConn senior returner Nick Williams was named the ECAC Special Teams Player of the Week after earning the same award from the Big East on Monday.

Smallwood made 14 tackles (3.5 behind the line of scrimmage) to go with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Williams accounted for 112 all-purpose yards, including a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 24-21 win over Maryland.

Labels: ,

Teammates react to Jesse Joseph's season-ending injury

When senior defensive end Jesse Joseph gingerly walked off the Byrd Stadium field during Saturday's game there was a sense of deja vu as the scene was eerily similar to the sight of fellow senior DE Teddy Jennings leaving the field in a season-opening win over UMass. Unfortunately for the Huskies the final result was the same as Joseph joins Jennings on the list of players whose season is over.

Joseph is one of the more energetic, vocal and positive players on a defensive unit with more than their share of soft-spoken play makers. Joseph's teammates admitted that the intangibles that Joseph added to the defense might be harder to replace than what he brings in terms of run support and pass rush ability.

"I talked to Jesse yesterday," UConn senior linebacker Jory Johnson said. "He seemed happy still the same old guy he is not letting it get to him too much. I haven't seem Teddy but I have talked to him a few times. He is ready to do his recovery and he is ready to come back."

Junior Tim Willman is now listed as the starting DE in place of Joseph and while he will do his best to fill the void he knows that replacing what Joseph and Jennings brings to the team is a near impossibility.

"You hate to see anybody go down but especially Jesse," Willman said. "He is a really good friend of mine. He is a great guy, a good leader and has so much experience but the game is going to be played no matter what so we have to send guys out there and we can't miss a beat.

"It is tough to see anybody no matter who it is go down and of course there is a little heartache for all of us. (Joseph brings) a lot of leadership, he has a lot of experience and he has such good technique and fundamentals. He is always doing the right thing."

Senior defensive tackle Ryan Wirth benefited from having a responsible veteran like Joseph on the defensive line.

"They are good guys and they are very, very close to me," Wirth said. "They are hard workers, I joke with them and try to lighten them up saying I am going to bring my family to their games next year because they are going to be there so long. You can't replace guys like that leadership wise, talent wise they are just great guys all together now we have some young guys who have to step up. Those guys are going to have a key role in getting them ready. I think they can help us still even though they can't physically play. My heart goes out to them every week and as I take the field every week I really, really think of those two guys. It was Teddy now it is Jesse. It just shows that you have to play every play, you really don't know when it is over in this game or when you have to sit out for a little bit. It is sad. It hurts me the loss of those two guys.

"Jesse, he has been starting since he was a freshman. Just a great guy. When people were down he was always firing people up. Physical ability, he is a great defensive end hands down but there is even another spectrum of how much he helped our defense. It is something hopefully he can still bring to the table."

The feeling is that Joseph, who played as a true freshman, should not have a problem recapturing the year of eligibility although the process of petitioning the NCAA does not begin until the season is over. It's a little trickier with Jennings since he had a redshirt year and getting a sixth year of eligibility doesn't figure to be an easy task.

UConn AD Warde Manuel was not available to discuss rumors of a possible game against Notre Dame at Fenway Park in 2014 and UConn officials refused to comment on the reports that negotiations are underway for the Fighting Irish and Huskies to play the first football game at Fenway since 1968 citing a policy of not commenting on games until the contract is signed.

At the current time there is no contract between UConn and Notre Dame to play in 2014 but there is an opening on the schedule to make it happen. Since it will be a Notre Dame home game, the negotiations with Fenway Park need to come from the ND side of things.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni chose his words carefully when the subject came up today.

"It would be exciting but that is all I know. I am just a coach here."

"Warde is working on that really hard," Pasqualoni said. "Connecticut has always played a really high-level non-conference schedule. We have some pretty good ACC teams, we have Tennessee coming on. We talk about it but that scheduling business that is a full-time job especially in this day and age."

I asked Pasqualoni what it would be like to play in a historic venue like Fenway. Maybe it was the fact that I grew up on the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border (even though I was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan rather than a supporter of the Red Sox) that led to me referring to Fenway as a "magical place" in my question to Pasqualoni. That choice of words wasn't too well received by the Yankee fans in the room.

"Green Monster seats, it is a good place there is no question about that. I know this, my kids would be excited," Pasqualoni said.

In other news, Pasqualoni said that senior CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson is getting better after missing the Maryland game with a hamstring injury and that the Huskies continue to deal with the stomach bug which weakened players over the weekend.

Pasqualoni said that junior DT Shamar Stephen, who saw his first action in Saturday's game at Maryland, could see an expanded role even though he is not listed on the two-deep chart. He also said that freshman QB Casey Cochran's status has not changed even though he had the cast removed from his injured left thumb.

Report: A possible UConn/ND game at Fenway?

The Boston Globe and The Day of New London are reporting that officials at both UConn and Notre Dame would be willing to agree to play a game at Fenway Park during the 2014 season.

The Globe story said that talks are in the early stages and that officials at UConn think the idea has merit. If the game does happen Notre Dame would have to agree to switch a home game and let the game be played in Boston. It would be the first football game played at Fenway Park since 1968.

UConn officials would not comment on the report citing university policy not to talk about non-conference games until the contract has been signed.

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick called the report "inaccurate" in a statement.

“We have work to do on our future football schedules, given the announcement last week relative to our upcoming Atlantic Coast Conference relationship. However, media reports today that we will play Connecticut in Fenway Park in 2014 are inaccurate,” Swarbrick said in a statement

Monday, September 17, 2012

Willman listed as starter at DE

With the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by starting defensive end Jesse Joseph, junior Tim Willman moved into a starting spot in UConn's depth chart heading into Saturday's game against Western Michigan with redshirt freshman Kenton Adeyemi moving into the two-deep chart.

The biggest surprise is that Shamar Stephen, who saw his first action of the season in Saturday's win over Maryland, was not listed in the two deep at defensive tackle.

There were no other changes in the two-deep chart.

Labels: ,

No sophomore jinx for Yawin Smallwood

When UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni fielded questions on the weekly Big East conference call there was only one topic he was asked to address - sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood.

Smallwood is coming off a brilliant game as he had 14 tackles (matching his season high) including 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble which led to Chad Christen's 34-yard field goal in the third quarter.

Pasqualoni, who spent much of his coaching career working with linebackers, had high praise for the sophomore from Worcester, Mass. even if he deflected any comparisons to some of the NFL linebackers he  has coached and twice basically ignored questions about Smallwood's pro potential.

"Yawin is still very young he is only a sophomore," Pasqualoni said. "I really like his approach to football. He is a very steady, very dependable guy in everything he does. He is very dependable academically, he is very dependable off the field, in the weight room so he is a very good work ethic guy, football is very important to him and he prepares hard. He works hard in the offseason so he is going to have a chance if he can continue to develop and learn this position he will have the chance I think to develop into a really good player. It is very, very had to tell at this point because he is still so young."

Pasqualoni recalls pretty much having little choice but throwing Smallwood into the fire as a redshirt freshman during the 2011 season. All Smallwood did was finish second on the team with 94 tackles.

As good as he was last season, Smallwood has erupted into a player opposing offensive coordinators need to account for on every play. Smallwood leads UConn with 35 tackles and has more solo hits (20) than any of his teammates have total tackles. He is tied for the national lead with an average of three tackles for losses per game.

"Last year coming into preseason camp we lost our middle linebacker over the summer and of the group we didn't have anybody who ever played there," Pasqualoni said. "We sat down and had a discussion about each of the players and we just felt like Yawin of the group with his measurables and his ability might have a chance to help us at that linebacker position of the group that we had to choose from so we just put him in there. It was almost like this is our best guess. Let's put this guy in there and let's see how he does. It was a rough start for him but little by little he has gotten better."

Smallwood is aided by having senior linebackers on either side of him. Smallwood and fellow linebacker Sio Moore have been given more freedom to get into the backfield and make plays. Smallwood loves the fact that he is being asked to rush the quarterback on some plays and other times will drop in coverage. He is not being utilized as the old-fashioned middle linebacker who merely patrols the middle of the field and is expected to  focus his attention on stuffing the run.

"Most teams think about the middle linebacker usually stays there but we are different because of our coach (Don Brown, UConn's defensive coordinator). He is going to make sure we are coming off the edge and coming up the middle so I feel like it is a great situation."

Smallwood, who is on pace for 140 tackles, 36 tackles for losses and 16 sacks, has started to draw national attention. He was the first player listed in the weekly draft risers and sliders segment on

Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit was brief and to the point when he was asked what role last year's 38-31 win over UConn has on Saturday's rematch.

"Zero," Cubit said on the MAC weekly teleconference. "It is a new year. It is the second year under Coach Paul (Pasqualoni) and he has done a nice job there. They are physical, they are big and is a good all-around football team."

Western Michigan returns quarterback Alex Carder, who torched the Huskies for 479 passing yards and five touchdowns but the players who caught the five touchdowns and accounted for 433 of those yards are gone.

"They (UConn) are better and we are not as good," Cubit said. "We don't have the kids, unfortunately we've had some injuries at the wideout position and right now the two kids we are counting on the most are true freshmen. We've had four injuries at the wide receiver spot going back to the spring. It is a work in progress and we have to do it a different way."

Labels: ,

Smallwood, Williams honored by Big East

UConn nearly swept the Big East weekly awards as sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Week (for the second time in three weeks) and the Special Teams Player of the Week award goes to UConn senior Nick Williams.

Smallwood had 14 tackles including 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage along with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble while Williams returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown and finished with 112 yards in return yardage in a 24-21 win over Maryland.

Pittsburgh senior quarterback Tin Sunseri (19 of 28 for 283 yards in upset of Virginia Tech) was named the Big East's offensive player of the week.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nick Williams, Yawin Smallwood earn national honors

UConn senior Nick Williams was one of five players named by the College Football Performance Awards site as national punt returner of the week while sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood earned honorable mention recognition.

Williams returned a punt 58 yards to account for the first points in UConn's 24-21 win over Maryland. He finished with 60 yards on two punt returns and added 52 more on a pair of kickoff returns. He shared the weekly honor with Duke's Lee Butler (106 on three punt returns including 65-yard TD in win over North Carolina Central), Wisconsin's Kenzel Doe (82-yard yard punt return in win over Utah State), Rashad Greene of Florida State (60-yard return for a score among his five punt returns) and Virginia Tech's Kyshoen Jarrett (returned punt 94 yards for a score in loss to Pittsburgh).

Smallwood, CFPA's national linebacker of the week following the season-opening win over UMass, had 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble which led the Chad Christen's field goal.

Smallwood is tied with Florida State's Bjoern Werner atop the FBS statistics with an average of 11 tackles for losses (teammate Sio Moore ranks 19th with 1.83 TFL), is eighth with four sacks in three games and is tied for 10th with an average of 11.7 tackles per game. Trevardo Williams (with 4.5 sacks in three games) ranks third nationally while Moore checks in at No. 12 with 3.5 sacks in the first three games. Also, senior cornerback Dwayne Gratz's two interceptions in three games ranks 13th nationally.

Williams is eighth among FBS players with an average of 21.7 yards per punt return and also ranks 28th nationally with an average of 26.6 yards per kickoff return. Williams and Temple's Matt Brown are the only FCS players to average more than 20 yards per punt and kickoff return this season.

For a team standpoint the Huskies are tied with Tulsa for the top spot with an average of 10.67 tackles for loss a game, UConn is ranked third in total defense, having allowed 174 yards per game and fifth in rushing defense (51 yards per game).

Labels: , , ,

UConn loses another veteran defensive end

When the season began there may not have been a position with more veteran playmakers on the UConn team than defensive end with the return of seniors Trevardo Williams, Jesse Joseph and Teddy Jennings.

Well, after three games Williams is the only one left standing.

Less than a week after the news that Jennings underwent season-ending knee surgery comes another major blow for the UConn defense as Joseph tore his Achilles tendon in Saturday's win over Maryland and he will also miss the rest of the season.

"Jesse is out for the season," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said on a conference call on Sunday. "We will try to appeal because it happened in the first three games and did not redshirt so we will try to make an appeal for the redshirt season and apply it to this year. E.J. (Norris) is in the mix, Tim Willman has been playing there, Kenton Adeyemi has been working and was on the trip (to Maryland) so we are putting the next guy in and moving on. We are going to get the surgery done as soon as we can. It i clearly a torn Achilles tendon so there is no messing around. We are going to get it done quickly. I don't think we will have him back for spring practice, it will be spring practice and the goal is to get hi back for the start of the summer."

Pasqualoni also said that not playing senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the Maryland game because of a tender hamstring was the right decision and he is hoping that Wreh-Wilson will be able to play in Saturday's game at Western Michigan.

"I wasn't being overly cautious, believe me we did the right thing," Pasqualoni said. "We didn't go down there not to play with Blidi Wilson. Blidi did this last year and I think he was out five weeks. We are going to get a good look at him today and get a good look at him on Tuesday. If you have to put him in a category I would probably list him somewhere between questionable and probable so I think there is a chance (he will play)." 

Pasqualoni also said that the team is doing better dealing with the stomach bug today than they were at Saturday's game when senior offensive guard Adam Masters missed the game and other key players were playing at less than 100 percent.

Also, Pasqualoni said game balls were given to sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood (14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble), senior linebacker Sio Moore (2.5 sacks) and senior returner Nick Williams, who had a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Finally, after the Maryland game Pasqualoni said that he wanted to get a closer look at the tipped ball play which resulted in a Stefon Diggs touchdown catch for Maryland believing there may have been offensive pass interference which was not called.

"It is a very hard thing to see on our film, we do not have great angles on it and I haven't gotten a TV copy yet but we are going to send it in to Terry McAulay (the Big East's coordinator of football officiating) and we are going to get his point of view on it."


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Wildcat finally makes an impact

During the first two games of the season the impact of the wildcat formation was - to be kind - marginal. However, when Scott McCummings checked into Saturday's game the Huskies' wildcat quarterback positively impacted the game.

Not only did McCummings score the first offensive touchdown early in the second quarter on a 3-yard run but he also set up Lyle McCombs' 11-yard TD with back to back runs of 21 and 8 yards.

McCummings, who came into the game with nine rushing yards on nine carries, finished with 44 yards on eight carries.

"I felt like I was being unproductive but this game we exploded," McCummings said. "Lyle had a couple of good runs and I had a few good runs as well. The line was blocking great. They made big holes and we  made some plays after contact.

"I was excited with this whole atmosphere, I just love playing on the road. I love being the bad guy, all the hecklers and that kind of stuff so I just wanted to go out there and quiet the crowd a little bit."

McCummings also attempted and completed his first pass of the season as he connected with Ryan Griffin. It   wasn't exactly the world's longest completion as it went for two yards but McCummings believes that now that opponents have seen that he can throw the ball out of the wildcat that it pay dividends down the road.

"It definitely worked at keeping them a little more honest, they couldn't just kind of pin their ears back and go against the run so it definitely helps add variety to the package," McCummings said.

Staying on the subject of quarterbacks, freshman Casey Cochran did not have a cast on his left thumb. It was the first time since he broke his thumb on his non-throwing hand that I saw him without a cast. It is really little more than a footnote because it seems likely that barring injuries at the quarterback position, he won't see the field and will likely redshirt this season.

UConn picks up gutsy victory

When the week began all the focus was centered on the UConn players' upcoming reunion with their former head coach Randy Edsall's University of Maryland Terrapins.

When it ended all the attention was on a weakened UConn defense looking to hold on for an emotional victory in the Huskies' 2012 road opener.

It wasn't pretty but UConn did leave Byrd Stadium with a 24-21 victory which was not secured until Maryland quarterback Perry Hills' fourth-down pass into the end zone was incomplete with 17 seconds to play.

Making the win all the more impressive is that senior cornerback and two-year captain Blidi Wreh-Wilson did not play because of a tender hamstring, fellow captain and starting right offensive guard Adam Masters missed the game due to a stomach bug which hit the UConn team in the last 48 hours and also sapped the energy from defensive stalwarts like linebacker Sio Moore and cornerback Dwayne Gratz.

"If one person gets sick everybody does it is like a family," UConn senior defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. "It (the win) was sketchy. I would have liked it to be a little better but we got the win. Coach (Don) Brown (UConn's defensive coordinator) always tells us that there is always going to be adversity. It is how we rise up and come together. We did that and got the job done today. I am proud of all my guys."

UConn held Maryland to eight yards of offense in the first quarter but by game's end the Huskies were holding on against an offensive unit led by true freshmen Perry Hills (quarterback), Stefon Diggs (receiver) and Wes Brown (running back).

"It was a great feeling, everybody was real excited," said sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who had 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for losses and a forced fumble. "We came out here we were on the road, came out and got a big victory. Everybody knew they had to step up, everybody had to make that one play. If there was one play, they had to make that play if it was special teams, if it was defense everybody knew they had to make that one play."

The win may have come at a cost as starting defensive end Jesse Joseph had to be helped off the team with what UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni thought was an Achilles injury. Pasqualoni said the injury did not look good but he wouldn't know for sure until he hears from the UConn medical staff.

"We have to evaluate that," Pasqualoni said. "That is going to be tough if we lose Jesse."

After the game there was a surreal scene as Pasqualoni could barely be heard in the post-game press conference as Maryland broadcasts Edsall's press conference on the big screens inside Byrd Stadium and blasts the volume so people in the stadium can hear what Edsall said.

Pasqualoni chuckled when he was asked whether it was fitting that he would be overshadowed by Edsall once again this week since so much attention was paid to the storyline of Edsall facing his former team for the first time.

"Randy is fine," Pasqualoni said. "I know Randy I was in the room with Randy every day for four years (when both were assistant coaches at Syracuse). Coaches move around in this day and age, it is nothing unusual. I think they handled it big league. I think we have guys who act with class and they are good kids."

Pasqualoni chose his words carefully when the topic turned to a call and non-call by the officials in the second half.

The first one came after UConn forced a punt and appeared to be taking over at its own 6. Following a television timeout Maryland suddenly had a first down on the UConn 29. Pasqualoni said that a personal protector was called for getting his hands up into the facemask on a rushing Maryland player. Just three plays later freshman receiver Stefon Diggs snared a deflected pass out of the air for a 29-yard touchdown. Mack was whistled for defensive pass interference on the play although more than a few on the UConn sideline thought the call was going to be offensive pass interference. Pasqualoni said he plans on reviewing the play and if it occurred like he thinks it did he will be sending a copy of the top to the Big East.

"I have a lot of confidence in those guys. I think they are trying to get it right. I am not saying a word until I see it," Pasqualoni said.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Report: Former UConn RB plans to sue NFL

According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, former Bloomfield High and UConn running back Matt Lawrence is suing the NFL alleging  "fraud, conspiracy and negligence" in the handling of concussions when he was an undrafted free agent running back in camp with the Baltimore Ravens.

Lawrence played eight games for the Ravens in 2009. He had four carries for no yards and also had one reception in a game against Cleveland on Sep. 27, 2009. Lawrence did carry the ball 20 times for 46 yards and have five catches for 56 yards in four preseason games in 2009.

Lawrence played 16 games at UConn in the 2003 and 2004 seasons rushing for 267 yards before transferring to UMass.

UConn hoping to get out of first gear

Considering that Lyle McCombs is coming off a 1,000-yard season as a freshman and the Huskies return four offensive linemen with previous starting experience and both of its top tight ends, the struggles of the UConn offense to run on a consistently effective basis is a bit of a head scratcher.

Heading into tomorrow's game against Maryland, the Huskies have been saying all the right things about how the necessary adjustments have been made and they still believe in their ability to churn out yardage on the group.

“It is just little things we need to get fixed,” said McCombs, who is averaging just 78 yards and 3.3 yards per carry in the Huskies’ first two games. “It is uncharacteristic for this team to make mistakes like that but I think we will get it straight. It definitely surprised me but there is a reason for it. The running game has been good (in the past) and we have taken it for granted.”

Of course, talk is cheap. We'll see tomorrow what happens when UConn faces 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-2 situations and if they'll be able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage of get back to being a dominant team running the ball.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Former Husky Donald Thomas on Jim Calhoun

Thanks to the blog on the New England Patriots official website here are some thoughts from former UConn offensive lineman Donald Thomas regarding the retirement of UConn men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun and the promotion of Kevin Ollie to head coach.

Here's the portion of the blog featuring Thomas' quotes

“Wow!” said a stunned Thomas, who grew up in New Haven. “As long as I’ve been a kid growing up in Connecticut, it’s been Calhoun and (UConn women's basketball coach Geno) Auriemma. I mean, that’s going to be a big blow for UConn, UConn’s family, the whole state of Connecticut. You know, he’s had a lot of health issues lately. You don’t want to see the guy suffer. Every year, it’s something new.

“He knows what he’s doing. He’s going to make the best decision for himself… we’ll see what happens with the program, how they rebuild. Whoever steps up has some big shoes to fill.”

Regarding Ollie's promotion Thomas said “Oh, well, I kind of figured that, too, when they brought him in to groom him. So, it shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off. He’s going to bring some more young energy to it. It might even be a more exciting basketball team to watch. You never know.”


Pasqualoni reacts to Jim Calhoun's retirement and legacy

UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni had rather high praise for the Huskies' retiring Hall of Fame men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun during Thursday's conference call.

"Obviously Jim Calhoun is a legendary coach, a guy I have tremendous respect (for) his toughness. I have tremendous respect for his coaching ability. He has won every place he has ever been. He won here early in his career. I remember when he came here it was probably a so-so first year. The next year they were on the rise and never stopped getting better. It is one thing in sports, in high level I-A athletics and pro sports, it is one thing to get there, to bring your program, to elevate your program but it is a whole another thing to keep it there. What I admire the most about Coach Calhoun is the same thing I admired about Coach (Tom) Osborne when he was at Nebraska. Not only did these coaches get their programs to the top at the highest level, they kept them there and that is a true sign of greatness to me."


DE Teddy Jennings out for year; DT Stephen will play

There was a mixed bag of news surrounding UConn's injured defensive linemen.

On a conference call with the media on Thursday UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni said that senior defensive end Teddy Jennings had knee surgery earlier this week and he will miss the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, Pasqualoni said that junior defensive tackle Shamar Stephen will play against Maryland.

Jennings injured his knee in the season-opening win over UMass while a knee injury suffered in the preseason prevented Stephen from playing in UConn's first two games of the season.

Here is what Pasqualoni said about Jennings and Stephen.

"Shamar will play. He adds a big guy who has playing experience. He adds another big guy in there who is an experienced guy. It will be helpful, it will add to our depth. We expect to have to play against this (Maryland) no huddle (offense).

"We decided to do the surgery on Teddy and he is out for the season. That surgery was done and it all went very well but he is out for the season."

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ACC football coaches react to Notre Dame news

As luck would have it the weekly ACC football coaches teleconference happened to take place just after news came out of Notre Dame joining the ACC in all sports except football and hockey.

I was on the call for Boston College's Frank Spaziani, Dabo Swinney of Clemson, Jimbo Fisher of Florida State's and Maryland's Randy Edsall.

Without question the best stuff came from Spaziani which is not a shocker since BC and Notre Dame play on an annual basis. He best line came towards the end of his time on the call when he said "we play them every year, I thought they were in the ACC to be honest with you."

Here is more from Spaziani.

"We have a long standing tradition with Notre Dame. I think we have a mutual respect and understanding. We understand what a great institution it is. I think it is tremendous for our league and certainly for Boston College. We play them and  now to be playing them in other sports is valuable

"It is a marquee brand and I think anytime you add a marquee brand to the established tradition and wonderful stuff that you have, it enhances it.

"We play them every year anyways so  I would have to digest that and I think that is an evolving situation. I think it is good for the league and I don't see any disappointment in there at all (on Notre Dame not becoming a full-fledged member in football)."

Next up was Clemson's Swinney.

"It is great news for our conference," Swinney said. "It says a lot for a program like Notre Dame to want to come. I am sure they can have their pick of conferences. For them to choose the ACC is, I think, a great thing. They are making a commitment to play five games (against ACC teams) even though they are not going to be a full member. For them to make that commitment, that is very strong. It is exciting, it further secures this conference's strength of schedule moving forward as we get into  the playoff scenarios and all that stuff

"I think they bring a lot to this conference. Who knows what the future holds but I think it will even enhance our bowl opportunities down the road, TV and all that kind of stuff as this thing moves forward."

I'd like to share you the highlights of what Fisher had to say but there weren't any as he said he heard the news three seconds before calling in and was still processing the news and did not want to comment on the situation.

Finally, here are Edsall's thoughts.

"I think they are a quality institution, they are a quality opponent and look forward to having the opportunity to play them.

"Personally, yes I wish they were all in for football but until I get all the information of how those five games are going to be structured, is it going to be a home and home situation, who are the five teams they are going to play. There are still so much information but I think for the good of the league is is a quality institution and a quality program."

Statement from Big East's Mike Aresco on Notre Dame

Here is a statement from Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco on the news that Notre Dame is leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“The University of the Notre Dame has informed us that it is joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports other than football. Notre Dame has been a valued member of the BIG EAST Conference and we wish them success in the future.  However, Notre Dame’s departure does not change our plans.  We have prestigious institutions that are excited to be a part of the BIG EAST.  We remain committed to making the BIG EAST stronger than it has ever been.”  

I jumped onto the ACC football coaches call this morning and have some reaction I will post later this afternoon with the best stuff coming from Boston College's Frank Spaziani.

Notre Dame headed to ACC

New Big East commissioner Mike Aresco's job just got significantly more challenging with the news that Notre Dame has agreed to leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The biggest surprise isn't that Notre Dame made the jump to the ACC but the Fighting Irish did it while maintaining its status as an independent in football (although Notre Dame did agree to play five games annually against ACC teams). The feeling was that when Notre Dame joined the ACC in all sports, a team (likely either UConn or Rutgers) would be added. Now that Notre Dame is not joining in football it remains to be seen if there will be a push to add another team to the ACC.

Here is the release from the ACC:

GREENSBORO, N.C. - The Atlantic Coast Conference Council of Presidents has unanimously voted to accept the University of Notre Dame as a new member. The Irish will compete as full members in all conference sponsored sports with the exception of football which will play five games annually against league programs.

"We are committed to keeping the Atlantic Coast Conference a vibrant and competitive league dedicated to ensuring the appropriate balance of academics, athletics and integrity," said the ACC Council of Presidents in a joint statement. "The addition of Notre Dame further strengthens the rich tradition and culture of the ACC as well as allowing for future academic collaboration and we enthusiastically welcome them into the league."

"The ACC was founded on the cornerstones of balancing academics, athletics and integrity," said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford. "Our partnership with Notre Dame only strengthens this long-standing commitment. Notre Dame enhances the league's unique blend of public and private institutions that are international in scope. The collective alumni and fan bases cover the entire country with exceptionally strong roots up and down the Atlantic Coast. This is a terrific milestone in the evolution of the ACC and showcases tremendous solidarity and vision by our Council of Presidents."

"The ACC is composed of some of the most highly respected universities in the country, and we at Notre Dame look forward to joining them," said Notre Dame President, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. "With a mix of institutions - many of which are also private, similar to Notre Dame in size, and committed to excellence in research and undergraduate education - the ACC is an exceptionally good fit for us academically, as well as athletically."

"We have monitored the changing conference landscape for many months and have concluded that moving to the ACC is the best course of action for us," said Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Vice President and Director of Athletics. "We are able to maintain our historic independence in football, join in the ACC's non-BCS bowl package, and provide a new and extremely competitive home for our other sports."

With the addition of Notre Dame, the ACC's future membership includes 11 institutions ranked among the top 58 in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report survey of "America's Best Colleges", more than any other conference also competing at the highest level athletically.

In addition to extending an invitation to Notre Dame, the Council of Presidents voted to increase the conference exit fees to three times the annual operating budget. Currently this would equate to an exit fee of over $50 million. 

Kashif Moore released from Colts' practice squad

Former UConn receiver Kashif Moore was released from the Indianapolis Colts practice squad when the NFL team signed center A.Q. Shipley to the practice squad.

Moore was originally signed by Cincinnati as an undrafted rookie free agent before the Bengals cut him. He was signed by the Colts on Aug. 28. Moore was released on Aug. 31 but signed to the Colts' practice squad the following day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

UConn moving on from NC State loss

While much of the focus of the questions the UConn players faced today centered around Saturday's game against Maryland which is coached by former UConn coach Randy Edsall, a more pressing matter is how the Huskies were moving forward from a disappointing loss to North Carolina State.

While we won't know for sure until the ball is snapped on Saturday, the players I spoke to said they have liked what they have seen when UConn hit the practice field to prepare for the Maryland game.

"You could feel that out there, you could feel the camaraderie and so far things are going in the right direction," said senior offensive guard Adam Masters.

While UConn's defense ranks near the top in most categories in the national FBS rankings, the offense is languishing near the bottom.

But the UConn offensive stars have not lost faith.

"There was a little higher energy," UConn sophomore quarterback Chandler Whitmer said. "I tried to do a god job of keeping the tempo up like Coach P (Paul Pasqualoni) always preaches and we are going to continue to work on that."

In terms of the meeting against the Edsall-coached Terrapins, Pasqualoni continued to downplay the entire situation and said he did not instruct the players not to address the issue when they were asked about it today. Still, there wasn't much anti-Edsall venom to be heard coming out of the mouths of the UConn players  today. Pasqualoni said that coaching moves are a part of the business and he was not concerned about the way Edsall departed for Maryland when he began pursuing the job at UConn.

"You guys probably know more about this than I do," Pasqualoni said. "I never asked, I never read any articles on it. I was coaching Dallas, interviewed for the job here. Once I was offered the job here my focus was on recruiting.

"I thought Randy left the culture of this program very good. The kids from an off the field standpoint understood the expectations academically. It is a lot along the lines of what we did at Syracuse."

Edsall spoke to the media on a conference call but wasn't exactly in a mood to talk about any lingering bad feelings from his departure from UConn. When he was asked how he would liked to be remembered at UConn, Edsall ignored the question and said that he wanted to focus on questions about the game.

He did express regret with the fact that he accepted the Maryland job without informing any of his players at UConn of his decision face to face.

"I have nothing but great memories, great times at the university and what we were able to do," Edsall said. "I was very proud  of what we were able to do there at the University of Connecticut, it was a special place to me and my family in the sense that my daughter graduated from UConn, my son has spent all his years at school in there in the state. If I could do it over again, I wish there was some way that I was able to see the players and tell them face to face that I was going to leave and come to Maryland. Due to the circumstances surrounding that, I wasn't able to do that and that is something I have to live with.

"This is where I grew up and I spent a lot of time here  at Maryland in terms of being a young man, I went to camp here As we move forward we are looking to build a program here at Maryland."

It seems as if junior defensive tackle Shamar Stephen is getting closer to returning to the field after spraining a knee during fall camp but there is nothing more to report on defensive end Teddy Jennings' injured knee. Also, freshman quarterback and former Masuk star Casey Cochran still has a cast to protect his injured left thumb.

"Shamar is still questionable," Pasqualoni said. "We are going to get a look at him today and see how he moves around. He won't do everything today but we will get something out of him. 

"I have to see him today. Sometimes if you put a lot of pressure on it it swells up. If he works on it today and it doesn't get swollen than I will be encouraged."

As for Jennings, Pasqualoni said he wasn't sure if another MRI was necessary.

"I don't know if he will get pictures but the trainers know exactly what they are looking for," Pasqualoni said.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, September 10, 2012

Could injuries open door for former Huskies?

I couldn't help but notice that two of the most severe injuries during week one of the NFL season happened on teams and at positions where former UConn stars could be in line to see expanded roles.

Let's start in Atlanta where Pro Bowl CB Brent Grimes suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Among the reserve cornerbacks on the Falcons' 53-man roster is former UConn product Robert McClain. McClain made the team with a strong showing in the preseason but was inactive for the first game against Kansas City. It will be interesting to see if McClain can work his way into the nickel package with Grimes no longer in the equation.

In Buffalo the season-ending knee injury suffered by David Nelson may lead to Marcus Easley being promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. Easley did not have a strong camp but did return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the final preseason game against Detroit and has more familiarity with the Bills offense than a player who could be brought in to try to replace Nelson.

Labels: ,

No changes to UConn's depth chart

UConn released its depth chart for Saturday's game at Maryland and there were no changes on the two-deep chart on offense, defense or special teams.

Following Saturday's loss to North Carolina, UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni was noncommittal when asked about any possible changes with an underperforming offensive line. He was asked about the subject again on Sunday's call with the media but said he was still evaluating the offensive line. The reality of the matter is that it doesn't make sense to bench tackles Jimmy Bennett and Kevin Friend or guards Adam Masters (which will never happen) and Steve Greene since the alternatives would not be an improvement. If there were to be a switch I would guess that center would be the likely spot since starter Alex Mateas and Tyler Bullock have been running neck and neck since the start of camp.

Here's a link to the depth chart

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Pasqualoni: Offensive line still be evaluated

It shouldn't be a stunner that the first question UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni was asked on his day after teleconference centered around the offensive line and if any changes would be made personnel wise heading into Saturday's game at Maryland.

"What we saw on the film was not good execution and not consistent enough execution," Pasqualoni said. "We had 15 drives in the game and it seems like in 14 of those drives we made a mistake that really put us behind the chains or there was a turnover created. I would say it is just a lack of consistency. We had a fourth and four which would have put us in position to score or kick to tie the game at least. The game probably came down to one or two plays.

"Right now we are still working through the film and I haven't decided on any changes at this point. If we do (change the starting line) that I would announce it during the week. This week from an offensive standpoint each position group, each unit could have done better which in the end could have resulted in a couple more plays which would have put us in position to win the game. It is just a matter of everybody doing a little more, doing a little better."

Pasqualoni said that health wise the Huskies seemed to have come out of the game in good shape. He is still uncertain about the status of DE Teddy Jennings and DT Shamar Stephen. Jennings missed the NC State game and Shamar Stephen has missed the first two games with knee injuries.

"We are going to evaluate that this week very closely so we are optimistic," Pasqualoni said of Stephen's availability. "I would say right now questionable and we'd keep you posted day by day. The swelling is going down (in Jennings' knee), we are going to get a little bit more of a good evaluation this week. We are waiting for the swelling to go down to do the pictures and all of that."

Of course he was asked about the possible distraction of the Huskies going up against their former head coach Randy Edsall on Saturday.

"That is all stuff that you guys like to write about, it gives you some material," Pasqualoni said. "There is so much to get ready for and the game requires so much focus and attention that if we fall into that trap of getting involved into that kind of emotional stuff before a game it is going to make us less competitive and less prepared.

"The coaches at Maryland and the coaches at Connecticut , because we have (former Maryland defensive coordinator) Don Brown here too, the coaches are not playing the game, I promise you that. I promise you they are not going to be in for one play. They are not playing, they are not up they are not in he game plan so you guys  need to get ready to play the opponent so let's concentrate on that."

Labels: , , ,

Story on UConn commit Matt Walsh

Thought I would pass on a link to a story in today's Register on UConn commit Matt Walsh and fellow Hand High senior star Pete Gerson, who is headed to Yale.

Hand opens the 2012 season when it hosts Amity on Friday at 7 p.m.

UConn's defense is no longer ranked first among FBS teams in total defense but the Huskies do lead all FBS team with an average of 28.5 rushing yards allowed in the first two games of the season.

UConn is No. 3 nationally in total defense with an average of 158.5 yards per game. TCU, which allowed 70 yards in its only game to date, and Florida State (92 yards per game) rank ahead of the Huskies. UConn also ranks third in first downs allowed, tied for seventh in sacks and ninth in passing defense.

Unfortunately the numbers aren't as positive on the offensive side of the ball. UConn is 104th in total offense (among 120 FBS teams), 103rd in passing efficiency and 105th in rushing offense.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Offensive struggles sinks Huskies

No losses are easy to take but when a team struggles to move the ball as much as UConn did in Saturday's 10-7 loss to North Carolina State it was not going to be a fun time in the Huskies' locker room following the game.

Senior offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett described the scene when UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni addressed the squad after the Huskies managed just 239 yards and turned the ball over four times.

“Coach (Paul Pasqualoni) was talking after the game and there was dead silence. A lot of guys were shaking their heads. He was obviously upset with our offense. He didn't know why we didn't perform like we were supposed to. Honestly we all don't. It is a group thing. It is not just one person. We have to put it together.” 

Pasqualoni wouldn't commit to making any changes on the offensive line until he and his staff has a chance to break down the film but there were signs that there are some issues with the offensive line in a season-opening win over UMass. When the final numbers were tabulated, the Huskies finished with 35 rushing yards on 32 plays. Those totals include the two times when Whitmer tripped and fell over the feet of his offensive linemen. Whitmer's tendency to staring down his receivers and gunning the ball into double or triple coverage cost him and the Huskies against the ball hawking NC State defense.

“We have to make plays on offense,” Whitmer said. “We have to hold up our end of the deal. I didn't play within myself, take what the defense is giving me. It was in the back of my mind 'I want to hit a big play.' “I want to play my best football out here. I have to come back and have a short memory and play the next game after a bad game and look to be more consistent. This one hurts but that is the great thing about college football, you have the next week. We are going to have to bounce back.”

Pasqualoni said it was a dehydration issue which led to senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson being sidelined for some plays on Saturday including the one when reserve cornerback Taylor Mack was beaten by Bryan Underwood on a 46-yard touchdown reception.

Video of UConn commit Matt Walsh

Thought I would pass on that we have a video up on the Register's site of Hand senior Matt Walsh discussing why he committed to UConn.

 Look for more on Walsh in Sunday's edition of the Register

Friday, September 07, 2012

Motivation won't be lacking for Sio Moore

UConn senior linebacker Sio Moore always seems to be going 100 miles an hour whenever he is on the football field but Moore's motor could be running even higher when the Huskies host North Carolina State tomorrow.

Moore grew up in Apex, N.C. just about 15 miles away from the NC State campus but the Wolfpack didn't show very much interest in Moore when he was at Apex High. UConn was more than happy to scoop up Moore and watch as he has recorded more than 200 career tackles during his time in Connecticut.

"They weren't really big on me," Moore said. "I felt some type of way about it so now getting to play them, it will be a good deal. I've always had a chip on my shoulder regardless of (playing) NC State or not. I've always had a chip on my shoulder just because of everything I have been through and the distance I have gone to get to where I am now. This will be more of an opportunity to prove myself."

Moore knows a veteran NC State team will pose quite a challenge to UConn's defense which is coming off a shutout in the season-opening win over UMass.

"They are a good team, they have a good quarterback thwey have a good run game and have a good offensive line and a good group of receivers."

Look for more on Sio Moore and fellow senior outside linebacker Jory Johnson in tomorrow's edition of the Register.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Former Hillhouse lineman and UConn commit at Dean College

Former Hillhouse lineman Rennick Bryan, who originally committed to UConn and took part in preseason camp with the Huskies, is enrolled at Dean College in Franklin, Mass. according to Dean athletic director John Jackson.

Bryan, who was seeing some time with UConn’s second-team offensive line early in fall camp, had a couple of core classes that were not approved by the NCAA clearinghouse and would have been academically ineligible to play at UConn according to Jackson.

Bryan, who did not play in Dean’s season-opening loss to Navy Prep, is expected to see some action when Dean plays its home opener on Saturday against Monroe Community College.

As of Wednesday morning Bryan was still on the UConn roster but he was not in the stadium when UConn played UMass in the season opener on Thursday night. UPDATED AT 3:15 P.M.: UConn announced that Bryan is no longer enrolled at UConn and has removed him from the roster. Other than UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni saying “we are just trying to gather as much information as we can right now before we (proceed),” after Thursday’s game UConn has not commented publicly on Bryan’s status.

Bryan is one of three former Hillhouse linemen on the Dean College squad joining freshman Khamil Rangolam and sophomore DaShon Riley. A fourth New Haven native (former North Branford lineman Damoy Hunter) is also on the team.

Bryan had impressed the UConn coaching staff and before the end of the first week of fall camp he was being worked in at guard with the second-team offensive line.

Since he was considered to be a non-qualifier coming out of Hillhouse, Bryan will need to spend two years at Dean and graduate from the junior college before he could return to UConn or another four-year school.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Shorthanded defensive line to be tested this week

UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni said that knee injuries will keep senior defensive end Teddy Jennings and junior defensive tackle Shamar Stephen out of action for Saturday's game against North Carolina State.

It would be challenging enough to face the Wolfpack with the full complement of defensive linemen but going forward without two of the more underrated linemen on the squad is certainly a cause for concern among the UConn staff.

North Carolina State's starting offensive line had combined to play 137 games and start 104 of them with 85 of those starts coming from guards Zach Allen and R.J. Mattes and center Camden Wentz.

"This will be by far our biggest challenge," Pasqualoni said. "It is a very good offensive line, players who have been in big games. We'll find out where we are this week."

Here is what Pasqualoni had to say in updating the status of Stephen (who injured his knee during fall camp) and Jennings, who was hurt in the third quarter of Thursday's win over UMass.

"Right now I would say that Shamar, for this week, is out. We had an evaluation over the weekend and it is not realistic (that he will be back). I could say he is questionable but my sense is he is going to be out for this week. Losing Teddy is a big deal for us. He is one of three (defensive ends) in the rotation for us, he  is a senior and a good player so that is a huge loss for us. Somebody else is going to have to step it up. Timmy Willman  came in and stepped it up, E.J. Norris played a little bit as a freshman and he stepped it up. The way I always looked at a guy being injured, you don't get emotional or sad about it. You get the next guy and put them in the game, keep going that is what you have to do. Those guys are going to pick it up.

"I thought (senior defensive tackle) Ryan Wirth played a solid game for us. I thought he played pretty solid. I think the younger guys in there Angelo Pruitt, Julian Campenni, they've got technique there, they gave effort but they have to keep going. They still have Mykal Myers in the wings, we still have B.J. McBride, they have to continue to improve and get better in there."

Pasqualoni also addressed UConn's non-conference schedule which features the next two games against ACC squads.

"I think in this day and age with how important every conference victory is,  preferably early in the year you'd like to have a game where you say 'OK,  this is our early  first game of the year and we are going to go out and work out the kinks.' From there non-conference wise we  are going to play some good people, we are going to have some ACC people, Big 10 people, SEC people and we have always done that and see how we stack up against that level of play. Hopefully we will be battle tested and know exactly where we are when we go into the conference schedule.

"We have two ACC teams, Western Michigan is an awfully good team. I know everybody considers the MAC not to be the ACC or SEC but they are a very good team. Buffalo went down to Athens, Georgia and are hanging right with Georgia Bulldogs... I am happy with the schedule right now."

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 03, 2012

More recognition for UConn's Smallwood

UConn sophomore middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who was named the Big East's Defensive Player of the Week earlier today, can add another honor thanks to his outstanding game in Thursday's win over UMass.

Smallwood was one of 10 linebackers at the FBS level to earn honorable mention status by the College Football Performance Awards site.

Cory James of Colorado State was named the CPFA's outstanding linebacker after recording three sacks, forcing a fumble and making seven tackles in a 22-17 win over Colorado.

Smallwood, who had seven tackles including 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage including a sack and also broke up a pass, was an honorable mention selection along with Northwestern's Chi Chi Ariguzo, Auburn's Daren Bates, DeAundre Brown of Tulsa, West Virginia's Isaiah Bruce, Tim Hasson of UNLV, Alabama's C.J. Mosley, Derrick Mathews of Houston, Denzel Perryman of Miami and Illinois' Ashante Williams.