Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Former UConn OL Donald Thomas to appear on SportsNation

Former UConn offensive lineman Donald Thomas will join his New England Patriots teammates Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker in tomorrow's episode of SportsNation.

The Patriots team, called Team Gronk, will face a New York Giants trio captained by receiver Victor Cruz in something called the "Halo 4" Bowl.

Thomas has appeared in all eight games including four starts this season for the Patriots this season.

For those interested, you can tune in tomorrow at 5 p.m. to ESPN2.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No wholesale changes plans to fix UConn's offense

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but if there's anybody who expects to see a completely different looking offensive approach when UConn takes to the field Saturday night, that simply is not going to be the case.

The nasty weather prevented UConn from holding its normal Tuesday luncheon but head coach Paul Pasqualoni, quarterback Chandler Whitmer as well as linebackers Yawin Smallwood and Jory Johnson were made available courtesy of a conference call hookup.

Pasqualoni said the focus is on executing the blocks and running the plays better rather than to change the entire offensive philosophy even with an extra week to prepare for the USF game.

“I don’t think after eight games you change everything you do,” Pasqualoni said. “That is not easy to do. We’ve been really, really close in a lot of these games. It has been one thing here and one thing there. I just look for greater efficiency and not turning the ball over, not getting behind, not giving up plays in the kicking game. I don’t think you can start to make wholesale changes at this point.”

The day after a humbling 40-10 loss at Syracuse when the Huskies lost more yards on the ground then they gained, Pasqualoni hinted that he may look to streamline the offensive play calling a little bit. That may still be the case and perhaps he doesn’t want to come out and alert South Florida which running plays the Huskies will be looking to rely on but Pasqualoni made it seem as if status quo will reign once again.

“We have so many runs in our offense. We’ve got power schemes, we’ve got counter schemes, we’ve got gap schemes, and we’ve got trap schemes,: Pasqualoni said. "We have all of those schemes. We are just trying to work on the efficiency of getting those things blocked and getting plays executed. That is really where our focus is.”

Whitmer said he has seen progress during in practice and he is hoping it translates to more continuity when the Huskies attempt to run the ball.

“In the practices that we had in the bye week, I have definitely seen improvements up front,” Whitmer said. “People are flying around and hopefully know what they are doing a little better and be able to execute at a high level. We are trying to simulate the game speed with the scout team and they are doing a good job as well. It is just a matter of continuing to do that and taking it down to Tampa with us.

"What’s best about those guys is that they are all just doing their job," Whitmer said. "Steve Green has been doing a good job making the calls all year. I know Gus is going to step in and do a good job up front for us. I just hope these guys can bring it together and enjoy playing with each other. I think that will show on the field and we have been doing a good job with that in practice. It is just a matter of those guys getting on the same page and I think they will do that."

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Report: South Florida's leading rusher may be out for the year

The Tampa Tribune is reporting that South Florida's leading rusher Lindsey Lamar could be out for the season after injuring his clavicle in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to Syracuse.

Lamar was averaged 7.2 yards per carry and had 475 yards on 66 carries for the Bulls. Lamar also had three of South Florida's 14 touchdown receptions.

The Tribune story quoted USF coach Skip Holtz  as saying he does not expect to have the services of receiver Derrick Hopkins (who is third on the team with 19 receptions and 278 receiving yards), starting offensive right guard Danous Estenor and tight end Evan Landi (9 catches for 121 yards) for Saturday's game against UConn. If all three miss the game, the Bulls will be without players accounting for nearly 30 percent of their receiving yards this season.

NCAA to implement new tier system for violators

The NCAA announced that it will be going to a four-tier system which the organization states will be a more efficient enforcement program.

The top level is for severe breach of conduct, Level II is for a significant breach of conduct, Level III is for breach of conduct and Level IV is for incidental issues and the new format will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2013. Under the current format, the violations are considered either serious or secondary ones.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rennick Bryan eager to return to UConn

With UConn not having a game this weekend, I took the opportunity to drive up to Dean College to catch up with Rennick Bryan, who began the summer practicing with the Huskies before academic issues resulted in him heading to the junior college.

Bryan, who was seeing some snaps with the second-team offensive line by the end of the first week of practice during preseason camp, made it clear that he still wants to play at UConn. He is planning to take enough summer school classes at Dean so he can graduate from Dean by December of 2014.

“If my home university wants me back, I will go back to the University of Connecticut,” Bryan said.“That is my goal and that is what I want to get back to, going back to UConn. I’ll be taking summer classes here hopefully doing a year and a half and be there by second semester of (2014).”

Bryan has been starting at guard at Dean but he was dealing with some injuries which limited him to blocking only on extra points and field goals.

Through his entire ordeal, Bryan has maintained a positive attitude.

“It was been a change,” Bryan said after Dean College’s 44-6 win over Globe Institute of Technology. “It’s been a dramatic change being at UConn and coming to a junior college but I just had to adapt and rise to the occasion and do what I had to do here and be a better player.

“My emotions, I’ll admit I was down but I knew I had to be a man and clear my mind of things. I knew I had to focus what I wanted to focus on. I still had to come to another school, I still had to do my school work and I still had to play football no matter what. Yes, I was down and I had to step up to the occasion.”

Bryan and his family drew rave reviews from Dean College football coach Todd Vasey on the way they have dealt with the suddenness of going from UConn to Dean.

“He (Bryan) has handled it great,” Vasey said. “He and his family have been fantastic. They come here and are making this work. As long as he needs to be here, we are going to get him back to UConn. Jason Sylva was offered by UConn, he is going to get his Associates (degree) and then we are going to get him back to UConn.”

If he does end up back at UConn, he could see some familiar faces. Dean’s sophomore defensive tackle Lance Burlingame, who missed Saturday’s game with an ankle injury, has committed to UConn. Freshman middle linebacker Jason Sylva also signed with UConn in February and came to Dean with the hope of being able to suit up for the Huskies after graduating from Dean.

UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown was at Dean on Friday and Dean head coach Todd Vasey is determined to help Bryan and Sylva get back to UConn for their junior and senior seasons.

Bryan said he still keeps in touch with his former teammates at UConn and is eager to head up there to visit.

“That is my Husky family,” Bryan said. “I love them and I will be making a visit up there to say hi to my fellow teammates. Hopefully I will be back over there soon. It is tough to watch them struggle because being with them with the whole camp and during the summer. They work and every Saturday I hope to see them step up their game and get better, get hungrier and just win. I’ll be glad to go back there and help them out with that.”

Vasey was reluctant to say if there were there other players from Dean the Huskies are looking at.

It's just my opinion, but the best player on the field was uncommitted sophomore defensive end Rashard Simmons. I had Simmons with three sacks and four tackles for losses but he seemed to be in the backfield on nearly every play. Simmons is listed as being 6-5 and 227 pounds and looks like he could easily add 15-20 pounds onto his frame and be a dynamic edge rusher at the next level.

Bryan is far from the only former Southern Connecticut Conference star who has found a home at Dean.
DaShon Riley and Byron Pinkston, who played at Hillhouse and Hamden respectively, are two-year starters at offensive tackle while former Law High star Chris Laporte started at left guard for a Dean team which ran for 253 yards and had 416 yards of total offense in Saturday’s win.

“They are my boys, I didn’t really know them until I got here but we are like brothers now,” Pinkston said.
Of the 12 offensive linemen on Dean’s roster, six played scholastically in the New Haven area.

“We love the high school talent in Connecticut,” Vasey said. “We go down and try to get the best guys we can that need a junior-college opportunity. We are working with UConn, we work with Southern, New Haven, they recruit our guys and they help us so we are all working together.”

Former Sheehan High star Maxx Frisco is a starting linebacker who had four tackles in Dean’s sixth win of the year.

All the local products came to Dean with the hopes of securing a football scholarship. Pinkston’s dreams are close to becoming a reality as he was recently offered a full ride to Florida Atlantic University. The others also hope to catch the eyes of major college football program.

“This is probably New Haven’s finest right here,” Riley said. “We have to get everything together and get ready for the next level hopefully.”


UConn in a holding pattern

Under normal circumstances, the UConn football team would be meeting today and begin going over the game plan for Saturday's game at South Florida.

However, this is hardly any ordinary Monday. With the nasty storm shutting the state down and closing the UConn campus, there are no football-related activities taking place today.

"It is affecting us in the sense that we can’t practice," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said on Monday's Big East conference call. "The facility is actually closed so there are no meetings, there is no film (study). Now the wind is starting to blow pretty good. We are expecting this thing to hit here in a few hours pretty severely. We just have to hang in there and hope this thing comes through and it lets up. We are hoping by Tuesday afternoon that we can kind of get things going again."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gus Cruz officially listed as starting guard

UConn just posted its two-deep chart for Saturday's game at South Florida. As expected, sophomore Gus Cruz moves into the starting spot at right offensive guard due to the season-ending ankle injury suffered by Adam Masters. Sophomore Bryan Paull enters the depth chart as the top backup to Cruz.

The only other change I noticed is Martin Hyppolite being listed as the No. 2 fullback to take the place of Seymour's Mike Osiecki, who is still sidelined with a concussion. In a corresponding move, Max DeLorenzo is now listed as the No. 2 tailback, a spot previously held by Hyppolite.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

UConn AD talks about current state of football program

These are tough times for the UConn football program. The Huskies are coming off a humbling 40-10 loss at Syracuse and also lost starting guard and team captain Adam Masters for the season.

The Huskies are sitting at 3-5 and have yet to play Big East powerhouses Louisville and Cincinnati. UConn is in danger of finishing without a Big East win for the first time in program history and a 3-9 final record is certainly not out of the question.

With all those factors being in play, I headed up to Rentschler Field on Thursday morning  because UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel was speaking at a press conference announcing UConn's partnership in a men's health initiative called "Man Up."

Following the press conference I spoke with him on a few different matters including his thoughts on the state of the UConn football program which I used for a story on the state of the program running in tomorrow's edition of the Register.

Here are his thoughts:

"We are struggling, we need to improve. I talked to Paul (Pasqualoni), I have been around the kids and they are working hard at it. They are not happy with where we are and it is not what they envisioned starting the season and it is not where we thought we’d go particularly when you look at where we were after the Maryland game and very close NC State game. We have to ability we just haven’t put it together for 60 minutes. The coaching staff needs to put them in the right position and when they are in the right position the student-athletes need to make the plays that they can make. We make them in one series and then in the next series we miss something or we do something that let them get a first down or lets them stop us from getting a first down.

"It is not for a lack of effort.  The one thing I look for in our teams is what is the effort? They haven’t given up, they haven’t quit, they are still playing hard. That is the expectation I have for them. We will improve. I was at practice last week and I will be at practice next week when they go back into their preparation and they are giving the effort, they are working at it. Our fans, I know they are frustrated, I am frustrated, Paul and the team is frustrated but stick with us, this team is working at it. The plan is to go to South Florida and make some adjustments and play harder, play smarter, play for 60 minutes and we will see what the outcome is. The plan is to win, we don’t plan on going in there to lose. We don’t accept losing and I am not a very good loser at all but we have to stick by the team, be there with them because we will keep fighting. I know many of our fans will."

Manuel was on the field before the Syracuse game talking to the UConn players and I was curious whether that was a sign that he was keeping closer tabs on the team for other reasons other than just being the AD. Manuel said that was not the case and that he has confidence in the current UConn staff (even if he was not the one who hired them).

"I have had many conversations, I have watched practice. We have a very experienced staff who is working hard to put them in the right position. I am sure they second guess themselves in the plays they call offensively or defensively and wish they could do it again and do it over. They are not trying to design a game plan to lose. They make mistakes at times in what they call and wish they could have thought differently and called something else but it is not for a lack of effort. I have faith in them that they will make the corrections they have to make, put the kids in position, coach them up."

Finally, I asked him if UConn were to lose the rest of its games to finish 3-9 would he make his presence felt in the offseason by making changes to the coaching staff. He did not directly address the possibility of firing coaches.

"I am making my presence felt. We could be 12-0 and I’d be making my presence felt. My presence is going to be felt because I want them to know I am supporting them. It is not for me win or tie, it is win, lose, tie and my presence will be there for our coaches."

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UConn's career sack leader a fan of Trevardo Williams

One of the benefits of UConn's bye week is it has given me some additional time to work on a feature on senior defensive end Trevardo Williams. I just filed the story and it should appear in Sunday's edition of the Register.

Among the people I interviewed for this story is Mark Michaels, whose sack record Williams is on the verge of breaking.

Michaels had 27 sacks from 1982-85 before becoming a coach. Among his stops were gigs at the University of New Haven, Brown, UMas and Fordham. He also had NFL stints with Seattle, Jacksonville and Cleveland. He is currently is in his fifth season on the staff at Ridgeview High in Orange Park, FL. When I asked him if he was planning to make the trip to UConn's next game at South Florida when Williams would break Michaels' record with one sack, he said he would like to do just that.

Here are some of Michaels' thoughts on Williams.

"I have read up on him a little bit through the internet, in the media guide and his background. He is a great player, he has a lot of physical attributes. He comes off the ball, he is quick and he has the flat out speed. He has all the attributes to become an outstanding pass rusher and he has demonstrated that obviously throughout his career.

The game is so much different now. When I played it was primarily I-backs, just not all of the spread offenses you see now a days. People are spreading things out, the protections now are so much more sophisticated. You are seeing more passing. I just feel fortunate I guess that it (the record) has been able to hold up. I guess that is what records are there for – to be broken. I knew it would happen, I am thankful it has been about 25 years. It is kind of ‘where did the time go?’

"Trevardo, from what I heard from people up there, is a class act. I hope he goes onto being an NFL player and I can say that the guy who broke it is playing on Sundays. He deserves it, you don’t get them by accident so he must work extremely hard. He has good coaches up there in Hank (Hughes) and Donnie (Brown). Some of it is just timing and being able to play early. He is a quality kid and he is reaping what he put into UConn football. My hat is off to him. Whatever happens in the next week or two, I’ll feel fortunate that he will probably will get it."

I asked Michaels what he remembers the most from his time playing at UConn.

"Just playing. I have a son playing Pop Warner and just seeing the camaraderie when you are out there, guys that you played with for a while and just the excitement of the game day, the preparation and everything. I look back at some of the coaches. Some of the guys I played with, I still keep in touch with. My first two years I was able to share a conference championship my sophomore year at UConn I was able to play with John Dorsey, Vernon Hargreaves. We had a real good defense and John Dorsey and others that signed NFL contracts. I just have a lot of fond memories of Connecticut, it is not just one thing. A lot of things, just the campus environment, football environment and the academics so I guess it was just the combination of a few things."

With stops in the NFL and in college, I was curious how he enjoys coaching high school ball.

"It is different. I like the people I am working with. We have a good chance to make our state playoffs this year and if we win our next two games we can continue our own fate. That is what you play for, what you coach for regardless of the level, whether it is high school, college or the NFL it is to challenge, compete and win as much as possible."

I also spoke to Bridgeport Central coach Dave Cadelina, who coached Williams in high school and was unable to get much of that interview into my story. It wasn't for lack of good material, that is for sure. Among the highlights was Cadelina recalling an experience with Williams in the weight room.

"He was hardly ever in the weight room. We tried to get him in there a couple of times a week and whenever we could and there were times he could time. I remember one of the initial times. He came in and I was going to introduce him to the power clean. I said we are going to start you off light, you are never in here and we had a week or two in between track indoor track and outdoor track and let’s get a couple of weeks of lifting in and let’s see what you can do. In the middle of my talk, I didn’t even get to demonstrate it. He just grabbed one of his buddies' bars and there was like 225 pounds  on there which is not a ton but for a kid who is just starting to lift ... He lifted it up like it was nothing and he said ‘like this, Coach?’ I said ‘well, yeah kind of like that.’"

I also asked him if he had any particular memories of Williams chasing down an opposing quarterback with the speed that made him one of the state's best 100 meter runners when he was at Bridgeport Central.

"Not as much in high school as we are seeing now. Where we had seen most of the stuff occur is mostly on special teams or on long runs. A team would be returning a kickoff or returning a punt or going around and it looked like they were going for a touchdown and Trevardo came in and you would see No. 40 flying into the picture on the backside some play outside the frame of film. He was a devastating player catching people from behind."

Cruz settling in as starter; Osiecki still sidelined

UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni and offensive coordinator George DeLeone spoke at the National Football Foundation New Haven Chapter's dinner on Thursday night and after wrapping up my work following UConn women's basketball practice, I headed down to New Haven just in time for the speaking portion of the event.

Afterwards I caught up with Pasqualoni and DeLeone to catch up on some things since there hasn't been any access since a conference call with Pasqualoni on Saturday.

High up on the list of things I was interested in was the progress that new starting guard Gus Cruz was making stepping in for senior and team captain Adam Masters.

"He’s good, he is practicing full speed and he has had a pretty good week of practice," Pasqualoni said. "He doesn’t have the experience but Gus is a pretty athlete, he moves pretty good but he just doesn’t have that high level of experience because Adam had all those games under his belt but I am very encouraged, he is enthusiastic for it and he has passion for football. He just needs experience and that it why we are playing him."

DeLeone, who also coaches the offensive line, also talked about Cruz move from reserve to starter.

"They like to say the most popular person on the football team is the backup quarterback but also I say that being a backup guard is a pretty good job too," DeLeone said. "Now he is in the heat of the battle and he has to raise his expectation level. He is making progress and I am hoping down the road he can play up to a starter’s level for us."

Pasqualoni said it will be a straight move of inserting Cruz at the right guard spot Masters manned so there won't be a case of shifting Steve Greene to right guard and putting Cruz in at left guard. Rather than mixing things up too much, Greene will start at left guard and Cruz moves in at right guard.

I asked Pasqualoni which of the offensive linemen has picked up the leadership void lost by Masters' absence and Greene was the first player he mentioned.

"Steve Greene has been awfully good in the communication aspect of the offensive line," Pasqualoni said. "He has really been good. Tyler Bullock is trying hard to get in there as a center and be a vocal guy and give some leadership. They all in their own way are working pretty hard at it, they really are. I like what their approach."

From an injury standpoint, Pasqualoni said sophomore fullback Mike Osiecki is still unable to practice due to a concussion which forced him to miss the last two games but everybody else he was expecting to be back at practice has been able to go.

Finally, the Graduation Success Rates (GSR) were released today and the football team came in at 69, one point above the national average. Although the numbers should be credited more to the work during the Randy Edsall regime, Pasqualoni was still thrilled to hear that they came in above the national average.

"That is important," Pasqualoni said. "I’d be disappointed if we weren’t. All the years at Syracuse, we were up there very high and one year we won it. My expectations of the kids off the campus, in the classroom are as high as my expectations are for them on the field. You can do both, you can be a good student and you can be a great football player. That has always been our philosophy."

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Kashif Moore signed to Chargers practice squad

Former UConn wide receiver Kashif Moore has been signed to the practice squad by the San Diego Chargers today.

It was one of a flurry of moves by the Chargers who also signed receiver Danario Alexander, placed kicker Nate Kaeding on injured reserve and released receiver Marques Clark from the practice squad.

Moore was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals and had one catch for five yards in a preseason game against the New York Jets and in the second week of the preseason Moore had three yards on one rushing attempt against Atlanta.

After being cut by the Bengals, he was picked up by Indianapolis and ironically played against the Bengals in the preseason finale and had a 15-yard reception/


Game time set for South Florida game

It was announced today  that UConn's next game at South Florida on Nov. 3 will kickoff at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.

Also, the 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award (presented annually to the nation's top linebacker). UConn senior Sio Moore was among the players named to the Butkus preseason watch list but he did not make the cut.

The only Big East player to make the list of semifinalists was Rutgers' senior Steve Beauharnais.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ryan Griffin honored

UConn senior tight end Ryan Griffin, who had a team-high six receptions and the Huskies only touchdown in Friday's 40-10 loss at Syracuse, was among 11 tight ends given honorable mention recognition in the weekly College Football Performances Awards.

Eastern Michigan's Garrett Hoskins, who had seven catches for 158 yards including a 10yard TD reception in a 48-38 win over Army, was named the national tight end performer of the week. Among the other honorable mention picks at tight end was former New London High star Jordan Reed, who had a pair of TD catches in Florida's win over South Carolina.

Griffin joined Brian Kozlowski as the only UConn tight ends with 100 career receptions. He hit the milestone on UConn's first scoring drive on a 21-yard reception.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Adam Masters lost for the season

Things just went from bad to worse for the UConn football team as head coach Paul Pasqualoni confirmed on Saturday that senior offensive guard and team captain Adam Masters' left ankle injury will require season-ending surgery.

Masters has started 30 games during his career including seven this season at right guard. He has seen time this season at both guard and tackle positions and on the offensive side of the ball the Huskies might not have a tougher player to replace than Masters.

"His ankle is going to require surgery so he is done for the season," Pasqualoni said on a conference call on Saturday afternoon. "He was our most versatile guy, our swing guy. Not only that, he was probably played the most snaps up there so we are going to lose a guy with versatility and we are going to lose a guy with experience. Gus Cruz will have to step it up. Dalton Gifford will get some reps as the next tackle. Tyler Samra will get reps as a guard so we will continue to have seven people who will be prepared to go in the game.

"It is difficult on him. He is obviously disappointed. It is at the end of his senior year and he is very disappointed. He is a tough guy. He is optimistic. He will get the surgery and do the rehab but it is going to take some time and as it would be for anybody, it is really disappointing for him."

Masters' injury seems to be the only one serious one coming out Friday's 30-point loss to Syracuse.

Defensive end Tim Willman had his left arm in a sling after the game but Pasqualoni doesn't expect him to miss practice time. Linebackers Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood, defensive end Trevardo Williams and receiver Michael Smith all had to come out of the game but Pasqualoni believes they will be good to go.

Moore's emotions got the better of him late in the game but Pasqualoni just chalked it up as being part of football.

"It is no big deal, just a little bit of frustration, guys are playing hard and it is an intense, emotional thing," Pasqualoni said. "One minute it appeared to be a little bit of a scuffle  but in 30 seconds everything was fine. There was no big deal made about it."

UConn won't play again until traveling to South Florida on Nov. 3 and Pasqualoni thinks the bye week comes at an ideal time.

"We had a very physical preseason, eight very tough games in a row," Pasqualoni said. "I don’t know if anybody else has played eight in a row. We are a little banged up so this open week comes at a good time for us, we will be able to get some work done but at the same time give the kids a good amount of rest.

"One of the things we really need to take a look at it is running the ball. We have not been able to run the ball especially in the past two weeks which is frustrating for us so those are things that we are going to work on and are going to have to improve on as we move forward. We have to establish some sort of runs and the runs that we feel the run concepts we feel like we would be the best at, try to narrow those down and do a good job with what we decide to do."

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UConn simply overmatched against Syracuse

The final numbers, as frightening as they are, don't fully tell the story of Friday night's game against Syracuse.

The Big East tilt was a test of wills and it is safe to say that Syracuse passed with flying colors while UConn quite honestly just couldn't match up.

Syracuse set the tone on its first drive of the game by ripping through the vaunted UConn defense with runs right up the middle. By game's end the Orange ran for 251 and passed for another 251 in a stunningly routine 40-10 victory.

“It is very upsetting,” UConn senior receiver Nick Williams said. “We had a lot invested in this game. We came out and lost by 30, it is not exactly the story line we could have foreseen. During the game when things like that happen, you can’t get down on yourself because there are still snaps to be played. You have to go out like a man and play each play hard and you can’t quit on the game or the team.”

The game was clearly won up front as the Orange dominated on the line of scrimmage both on offense and defense.

The Huskies finished with minus six yards rushing which is tied for the third worst performance by the FBS school this season and is the worst effort since the Huskies became a BCS program.  On the defensive side of the ball Syracuse ran for 251 yards. For good measure, the Orange also passed for 251 yards.

“It makes me angry,” UConn senior defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. “I am just upset. We are going to have to do back to the drawing board and have to work on that.”

UConn, which came into the game ranked sixth nationally in total defense, allowed 239 yards in the third quarter alone.

Syracuse scored on five straight possessions to turn what was expected to be a tight defensive struggle into a blowout that had UConn public relation employees searching the record books for all the wrong reasons.
The Huskies also lost starting offensive guard Adam Masters. Masters was seen leaving on crutches with his left leg wrapped.

"It is disappointing that we didn’t do a better on the zone play," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "The first possession they were bound and determined that they were going to run the ball and not have to throw it. They were going to have to establish the run and take a little pressure off the passer which is good strategy on their part.

"We did not have a good day for whatever reason. We will go back and watch the film and going through it in detail but we kind of got pushed off the ball."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Syracuse coach open to keep rivalries alive

Although this will be Syracuse's final season in the Big East, head coach Doug Marrone professed his passion for Eastern football and hinted earlier this week that he would have no problems meeting up with Big East schools even when the Orange are playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I have already stated that it goes back a long time ago. I am from New York, I played college football here (at Syracuse), I am a big Northeast football fan and I always believed in the Penn States, the Boston Colleges, maybe Maryland who has been there and we would play those teams year in and year out when I was a player," Marrone said. "With the way the conferences are now, it is very difficult. There is a lot of good football going on and to me I would look at, when I growing up that is what I would like to see happen. As far as scheduling that is complex too. I don’t know what the future is going to hold but I am not too worried about the future because right now I have enough to worry about in the present getting our team to play better and not turn the ball over."

UConn's pass defense figures to be tested tonight

As impressive as the UConn defense has been this year, I've been struck by the fact that they haven't faced a team with an established quarterback and a veteran group of receivers.

It's been kind of an either/or scenario. Western Michigan has a prolific senior QB in Alex Carder but graduation hit his group of receivers pretty hard. Rutgers have some experience at receiver but quarterback Gary Nova is still learning on the job. Well, when the Huskies play at Syracuse tonight at 8, the Orange will be led by senior QB Ryan Nassib and senior WR Alec Lemon.

Nassib is on pace to set Syracuse records with passing yardage and total offense this season. He will likely leave Syracuse with the top three seasons in program history in terms of passing completions and ranks in the top five in nearly every major single season and career passing category at Syracuse. All Lemon has done is caught a pass in his last 21 games which ties him with none other than former NFL great Marvin Harrison for seventh all time at Syracuse.

Obviously it will be imperative for the Huskies to not only apply pressure on Nassib but also be able to stay with the Syracuse receivers tonight.

“They have some good guys, Nassib the quarterback is he good,” UConn senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson said. “I know they like to throw the ball around. We have to make sure our coverage and our D line and linebackers play at another level.“We did a good job against the pass and late in the game we had a few breakdowns. When we look at it, we realize that there is still room to get better so we just need to keep working. When you get out there and play there are only so many opportunities. You never know when your time is so you have to make sure you are ready and you are in the moment.”

While UConn is concerned about the Syracuse passing offense, the main concern for the Orange is limiting turnovers.

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said earlier this week that cutting down on the turnovers is paramount if the Orange wants to make a push towards a winning season.

"My frustration level is extremely high because it doesn’t give you a chance," Marrone said. "We have been here in the 24 losses we are minus 30 in turnover margin and in our 19 wins we are plus 12. This isn’t rocket science, we have to a heightened intensity to protect the ball. On defense we have to create turnovers and not turn the ball over. Since I have been here that has been the problem. I think if we can correct we will win and I believe that in my heart."


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Paul Pasqualoni preparing for return to Syracuse

Paul Pasqualoni has no idea how he will be received when he coaches his first game at the Carrier Dome in eight years and to be honest, he hasn't given the subject much thought this week.

“I don’t know, that will be interesting,” Pasqualoni said.

Pasqualoni has made it clear that the trip to Syracuse is being taken with only one goal in mind.

“This is a business (trip),” Pasqualoni said. “We are not going up to central New York to pick apples and ride on the hay wagon. On this trip my focus, all I can see is getting ready to play.”

Pasqualoni, who had only one losing season in 14 years as Syracuse’s head coach, has yet to lead the Huskies to back to back victories as he prepares to coach his 20th game at UConn. With a bye week coming up the last thing Pasqualoni or the Huskies want to ponder during a week without a game is a three-game losing streak.

“It’s a Big East Conference game, a big game,” Pasqualoni said. “That is where my focus and my energy is. To be honest with you, I haven’t really thought about the other part of it. They are a good team, they are doing well. I know they don’t have the number of wins that they would like but they have played a very tough schedule.

“I met my wife there, my kids were born there, and I spent 18 years there. I spent 18 years going from my office to my house. I couldn’t even tell you where things are in Syracuse and I am not proud of that. Don’t ask me for directions I can’t help you. I am just looking forward to going back up there and having a Big East conference game.”


Virginia RB commits to UConn

Josh Marriner, a running back/defensive back out of Western Branch High in Chesapeake, Va., has committed to UConn according to multiple recruiting databases.

Marriner had rushed for at least 100 yards in six of the first seven games of the season including a 261-yard effort against Deep Creek. In seven games he has run for 1,107 yards and 11 touchdowns after rushing for more than 1,300 yards during the 2011 season. He also has 22 tackles, 3.5 sacks and is averaging 24 yards per kickoff return.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Short memories for Huskies during a short week?

Perhaps it is a blessing that everything is moved up by a day with UConn playing at Syracuse on Friday night rather than on Saturday so the Huskies can get back onto the field and wipe away the frustration following last week's loss to Temple.

"We came in yesterday and we reevaluated," said senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson. "People looked in the mirror which is a good thing rather than pointing fingers instead of trying to put blame on somebody. Going into this week it is going to be a good challenge and we are up for it.

"Playing on the road, it brings the best out of you. It makes you have to focus and have to come together, It is a Friday night game so the loss, it gave us almost a short memory. It forced us to have a short memory. We have practice today and everything is pushed forward a day so it is good for us."

Much like they did a week ago following the loss to Rutgers, the UConn players said all the right things about the team having the proper leadership and guys stepping up and being ready for the challenge.

I thought it was only fair to pose the same question about the coaching staff's performance to UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni and did just that at today's press gathering.

"When you lose a game regardless of how you lose a game, you always go back as a coach and spend an awful lot of time on the film," Pasqualoni said. "You go back to see what you didn’t practice, did you cover the right things? Did you give the kids the reps on those things? You try to address anything you feel (they missed), you talk to your staff about it and you try to address it anything you feel like you missed or you are negligent on and you try to do a better job. There is self evaluation in this business every day.

"I thought we did a really good job. I thought the kids and the staff worked really hard and did a really good job getting ready for this team. There are things that we took away from them on defense. They hit us on the one run where we didn’t close on the back as hard as we needed to. I thought overall that we played with a great deal of energy. I thought we were excited to play and there were times in that game when you watch that film, you watch that game and you say that this team can really be a good team. It is just unfortunate that it worked out the way it worked out."

In other news, Pasqualoni said that tailback Lyle McCombs, who missed last week as he had a cast on his injured left wrist, should be able to practice this week and is probable. The issue last week was the cast prevented him from properly gripping the ball and with the swelling going down, the cast can be modified well enough for McCombs to be able to secure the ball. The news isn't as promising for reserve fullback Mike Osiecki who seems likely to miss his second straight game as he recovers from a concussion.

I also asked Pasqualoni for an update on which of the true freshmen will be redshirted.

Defensive end E.J. Norris, offensive lineman Tyler Samra and running back Joe Williams will not be eligible for redshirt seasons. No decision has been made yet on quarterback Casey Cochran and defensive tackle Mykal Myers, who are both on the travel squad but have yet to get into a game this season.

"Casey Cochran is up, his cast is off and he is 100 percent now  so we will see how this goes as preparation to whether we would consider playing Casey in a backup role or not," Pasqualoni said. "For the most part the guys that we have played, we have played and the guys we haven’t we haven’t. Mykal Myers is another guy who we have not redshirted. We haven’t played him yet but he is with us every day and every game he is up and he is ready to go in the game if we have to put him in the game."

So what would it take for the highly-touted Cochran to play this season?

"Injuries and depth (if) we needed (it) at the position. He has taken 7 on 7 reps what we call routes on air routes which is throwing the ball without defense but really hasn’t taken live snaps yet so we will see. We will try to get him a few this week and see how he looks."

Pasqualoni was asked about burning Samra's freshman eligibility even though he not in the main offensive line rotation.

"Next year we are going to graduate a couple of seniors on the offensive line and I didn’t want to be in a situation where we come back in the spring and in the media guide it says nobody has any playing experience," Pasqualoni said. "I am not big on that ‘no playing experience’ so there are certain situations of when the player in the game plan meetings and he is getting reps during practice, he is on the trip, his mindset is that he has the responsibility to being prepared to go in the game, that is a lot different from being redshirted and being home and not on the travel squad. It is critical at the quarterback position so Casey will continue to do that regardless and in the case of Tyler, I thought it was important for us to bring him along. We would like to have gotten him into a few more games but that hasn’t worked out yet but we still have five weeks left."

Finally, both in the press conference with us and on the Big East call, Pasqualoni naturally was asked about returning to coach his first game at Syracuse since he was fired following the 2004 season. I will save most of the stuff on this subject for later in the week but Pasqualoni had a great answer when he was asked if he was bringing his family to the game on Friday.

"This is a business (trip)," Pasqualoni said. "We are not going up to central New York to pick apples and ride on the hay wagon. On this trip my focus and  all I can see is getting ready to play."

UConn senior tight end Ryan Griffin was among the players named to the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award, annually presented to the nation's top tight end. However, when the 26-member midseason list was announced on Monday, Griffin's name was not among the candidates. Connecticut wasn't completely left out, however, as New London's Jordan Reed out of the University of Florida made the cut.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

UConn suffers a stunning loss

There are teams that seem to find a way to win games. In my first season covering UConn, the Huskies seem to find way to lose games.

None of the four losses this season will hurt as much as Saturday's 17-14 overtime loss to Temple.

UConn jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead against Temple and seemed to be in complete control against the Owls.

The UConn offensive coaches finally took the training wheels off of first-year starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer and allowed the junior-college transfer to take more shots down the field than at any other time this season. The defense rose to the occasion and twice stopped the Owls on 4th-and-short to seemingly wrap up the Huskies’ first Big East victory of the season.However, an untimely defensive breakdown, the inability of the Huskies to score after a 14-point first quarter and four missed field goals by Chad Christen resulted in one of the most disappointing home losses in recent memory.

“I think it was the last three drives it was ‘how did we walk off the field without scoring points,’” said UConn senior tight end Ryan Griffin, whose 42-yard touchdown reception with 5 seconds left in the first quarter gave UConn a 14-0 lead. “It hit me before the field goal went through As an offense you put it on our shoulders. We should have closed the game out. “It leaves a bad taste in our mouths going into Syracuse. It is going to be interesting to see how we respond.”


The player asked to be replace the always reliable Dave Teggart should have been bursting with confidence considering that he hadn’t miss a kick under 49 yards in the Huskies first six games. Yet, just two days before the Temple game Christen’s kicking mojo was nowhere to be found.Perhaps it was a torn up playing surface on UConn’s on-campus practice field but Christen couldn’t find the range on kicks he normally makes with little difficulty.

Well, it turned out that the playing surface was not the issue.

Christen was wide right on kicks of 36 yards in the first quarter, 44 yards in the fourth quarter, 28 yards in overtime and had a 45-yard attempt blocked. Had any of those kicks made it through the uprights, UConn would have beaten the Owls. Instead, UConn suffered a demoralizing 17-14 overtime loss.

“We talked all week about going out there all week and doing your job to the best of your ability and that is what I hope to do next week,” Christen said. “Thursday I didn’t have a good practice and Thursday is our dress rehearsal day. It is a direct reflection of what I did on Thursday and that carried over to the game. You have to be able to bounce back.

“It is very frustrating when you miss back to back kicks and then you take away the one that is blocked. I just have to take a step forward.”

Talk about your memorable homecomings...

A week after recording 15 tackles in his first start at linebacker for Temple, Stratford's Tyler Matakevich made 19 shots in Temple's win. It was an effort all the sweeter for Matakevich since UConn did not recruit him either when he was a star at St. Joseph of Trumbull or at Milford Academy.

“Playing here means everything in the world,” Matakevich said. “I’ve always wanted to come here (UConn) growing up. UConn never really gave me any looks so after prep school I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship here and just making the best of it.

“This week I definitely put a lot of time in the film room. I was in there all night long. I couldn’t sleep. I’d wake up and go there early in the morning. I definitely wanted this game a little more than others. To come back into the Big East and be 2-0, there is no greater feeling.”

Offense will be under glare of spotlight again

Heading into the second half of the season not much has changed for UConn as there are questioning surrounding the Huskies ability to move the ball on offense.

Things could be even more challenging today as there are reports that Berlin's Max DeLorenzo will start at tailback for UConn (becoming the first Connecticut native to earn a start at tailback for the Huskies since Matt Lawrence started the first two games of the 2004 season).

“This year it is like ‘why aren’t we having that same success?’" UConn senior offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett said. "It is not like we are not working for it. Maybe we aren’t finishing, nine or 10 guys are going in one direction and one or two aren’t Sometimes I feel like we take some things for granted, there will be a six-man box and to do special things out of a six-man box, there are the twist guys up front and maybe we aren’t expecting that.”

If there is a silver lining, it should be noted that Rutgers ranks second, Maryland is seventh and North Carolina State 24th nationally in rushing defense while Temple is tied for 74th in rushing yards allowed with fellow Big East foe South Florida.

The struggles aren’t limited to the running game. First-year starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer had 10 interceptions this season including four coming last week. For all the clamoring for UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni and offensive coordinator George DeLeone to open up the playbook, it’s a risky proposition considering that the Huskies also rank near the bottom of the national rankings in turnovers committed.
The veteran members of the offense have become increasingly frustrated with their lack of continuity and success and believe that UConn’s stifling defensive unit deserves better than to constantly be asked to clean up their messes.

“I feel like our offense is not holding up our end of the deal,” said UConn senior tight end Ryan Griffin. “Our defense played outstanding again, since the season started they have been playing unbelievable. We have to do a better job as an offense holding up our end of the deal.”

It's an interesting dilemma. If the Huskies continue to pound the ball up the middle and don't open things up in the passing game teams will continue to put eight or nine people within a yard of the line of scrimmage and dare UConn to beat them by throwing the ball. However, to take the pressure off Whitmer the Huskies do need to establish the run.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Tyler Bullock officially the starter at center

Beginning with the start of fall camp there might not be another position on the UConn team more hotly contested than center.

After Moe Petrus was the unquestioned guy in the middle of the line in recent years, Penn State transfer Alex Mateas and Tyler Bullock were running neck and neck.

Mateas earned the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at the start of fall drills and remained there until yesterday when Tyler Bullock was named the starting center.

It's been an interesting competition because early on in camp I noticed that Bullock was seeing plenty of time with the first team offensive line before he was slowed by injury. Mateas started the first four games before he got hurt in the loss at Western Michigan.

Mateas, although he was in pads the following week when UConn hosted Buffalo, was held out of the game. He was back for the Rutgers game but it was Bullock who earned his second straight start and figures to start again when the Huskies host Temple on Saturday.

“During preseason camp there was a lot of competition for that spot,” Bullock said. “You sign up to come here and play and that is what we both wanted to do. Obviously the injury had a huge impact on my outcome at the start of the season. That is just the way the game is. Guys will go down and you have to pick up the pieces and go in for that offensive position. We have nothing against each other, we are teammates. I’ll help him and he will help me, we give each other advice. That is pretty much how that is going so far.”

Matteas, a redshirt sophomore, began his career at Penn State before opting to transfer. He started the first four games before injuring his ankle in a loss at Western Michigan. Mateas was in uniform against Buffalo but was held out with the hopes that the extra week of rest would help him get closer to 100 percent. He got some time in last week’s loss to Rutgers. Even though he is healthy enough to return to a starting role, Mateas doesn’t not blame the coaching staff for keeping Bullock in the starting lineup for UConn’s game with Temple on Saturday.

“It has been a close battle between me and Tyler Bullock,” Mateas said. “At that point in time the coaches decided that he was healthy and he’s been practicing pretty well. I think they made the right decision because he did have a very good game (against Rutgers).

"On Saturday against Rutgers I did get a couple snaps. It definitely could have gone a little better. I didn’t change anything in my preparation. It is not what I expect from myself and definitely not what the coaches expect. I have some work to do to get back but me and Bullock will be fighting for the spot I hope a little longer.”

Interestingly enough, it was the process of recovering from an injury which ultimately resulted in Mateas leaving Penn State for UConn.

“It was just a difference of opinion on some treatment,” Mateas said. “It wasn’t anything that was extremely horrible in terms of the injury but I felt like it was the best decision and it looks like it has turned out pretty well for me. I am very happy with where I am but it is time to get back in there a little bit, get healthy and start fighting again.”

Obviously much has changed since Mateas left Penn State. Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno resigned under pressure shortly before his death because of the handling of the sexual abuse allegations against his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Tuesday. The NCAA came down hard on Penn State for their handling of a Sandusky situation. Connecticut natives Silas Redd and Khairi Fortt were among the players who transferred.

"I've definitely been in touch with a couple of the guys I was really close with," Mateas said. "It is tough for them to talk about it even with me even though we are good buddies but it is just something tough to talk about. I think the players who decide to transfer or players who decide to stay on the team or stay at school, most of the guys are happy with their decision. They are slowly getting over it and getting over it in the right way so I think it is good."

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McCombs: "It makes me and her seem like people we are not"

Following Saturday's loss to Rutgers, Lyle McCombs talked briefly about his regrets that a fight with his girlfriend led to both of them being charged with a misdemeanor for breach of peace.

McCombs, who was held out of the game for the first quarter because of his indiscretion, went a little further on Tuesday saying that he was a distraction to his teammates and apologizing for his actions.

"The only thing I can say is I apologize," McCombs said. "It makes me and her seem like people we are not. I have already apologized to her for that and hopefully people can forgive me for this situation. I am really sorry about it. It is uncharacteristic for me. I am looking to learn from it and hope and pray to move on and learn a big lesson.

"I need to be as careful as possible and I put myself in a tough situation.

"At the end of the day I was a distraction with what happened. I apologized to my teammates. I don’t want to say I am to blame for the game on Saturday but I was a distraction."

McCombs is expected to start at tailback when the Huskies host Temple on Saturday at 1 p.m.


Monday, October 08, 2012

Steve Addazio looks ahead to reunion with his mentor

Temple coach Steve Addazio may have been the last coach on Monday's Big East weekly conference call but he was certainly worth the wait.

Of course many of the questions centered around Addazio getting the chance to coach against UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni who gave Addazio his start in the coaching profession when he hired him as an assistant coach at Western Connecticut State in 1985.

“Obviously Coach P started me in this business. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without him, it begins and ends right there,” said Addazio, who will lead Temple against UConn on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Rentschler Field. “He taught me how to be a football coach. He is absolutely the most detailed guy I have ever been around.

“At WestConn, I could tell you stories – just crazy stuff. We all slept in the office. You are cutting old 16 millimeter film; you have strips of film hanging on the walls. Coach P has this makeshift wall where his coach was as the head coach which was nothing. We are all on the other side of the wall and go to sleep there going ‘night guys, night, Coach.’ It was like something out of The Waltons. That is how we all started washing socks and jocks. I came back from my wedding and Coach is on a tractor, I am on my hands and knees putting irrigation down to water the field. You just can’t make this stuff up. He is the best there is and I just have the greatest amount of respect for him.”

Addazio wasn't done yet heaping lofty praise on both Pasqualoni and UConn offensive coordinator George DeLeone.

"We are playing against a team coached by arguably one of the finest coaches certainly in the conference and maybe in the country," Addazio said. "I have worked with Coach Pasqualoni and Coach DeLeone and those are two just tremendous college football coaches, You watch them on film and they are extremely disciplined and well coached. They play hard and are one of the finest defenses in the conference. They certainly have some real marquee players on their team, especially on defense. We know that going on the road and into Connecticut is going to be very difficult. I am looking at a very talented football team, a much more experienced team than we are and I say with my heart that one of the very best coaches in the country in Paul Pasqualoni who I have the utmost respect for."

Pasqualoni wasn't in as much of a storytelling mode as Addazio during Monday’s call but it is clear that he holds Addazio in high regard as a motivator and tactician.

“He has always been a high energy, very positive, very motivational, give everything you have coach,” Pasqualoni said. “You could see that in him as a very young coach. There was no question that he had the skill set and ability to be a very good head coach at this level.

“Temple is obviously back in the conference so it is a big conference game. Every game in the conference is a big game so it is more of focus on get your team ready to play and if you get sidetracked with anything else you might be in trouble.”

When he wasn’t reflecting on the years coaching alongside Pasqualoni on Monday’s call Addazio did say that senior running back Matt Brown, who injured his ankle late in last week’s win over South Florida, is considered day to day.

“Matt’s an awfully competitive guy so if anybody’s got a chance to play it is Matt Brown,” Addazio said. “In his mind there is no doubt he will be playing.”

He also talked about former St. Joseph of Trumbull star Tyler Matakevich, a freshman linebacker who had 15 tackles in the win over USF.

“We knew he was a tough kid and that is why we brought him here,” Addazio said. “He is tough as nails and this is the kind of guy we want to bring in here. He was that way in the weight training but he got a little overwhelmed at everything that goes into playing college football. He is a smart guy but it takes a while. He is finally digesting it and really starting to come into his own.”

Addazio did talk a little bit more about the emotions of returning to play a game in Connecticut.

"I am really a proud guy from the state of Connecticut," Addazio said. "I’ve got a lot of family and lot of friends there. I spent my first 35 years in the state of Connecticut, all my children were born there so I have a great fondness for the state of Connecticut. I am excited to go back and bring our football team there to play a football game. There are a lot of different things, sidebars and I have a lot of guys on the staff from the state. That is always exciting and it is always fun. We are going in there to compete at a high level and try to win a major college football game. It is honestly all business. We have to play well, we have to execute and it has nothing to do with any of that other stuff."

There was only one change in the UConn two-deep chart and that was at center where Tyler Bullock, who has started the last two games, was listed as the starter while Alex Mateas, who has been the starter on the depth chart each week, is listed as a second stringer.

Johnson named to Big East honor roll again

UConn senior linebacker Jory Johnson was named to the Big East's weekly honor roll for the second week in a row after recording 10 tackles in Saturday's 19-3 loss to Rutgers.

Also making the honor roll was Stratford's Tyler Matakevich who made his first career start and had 15 tackles in Temple's 37-28 win over South Florida.


Sunday, October 07, 2012

UConn to collect winter clothes on Saturday

UConn will be collecting winter coats, hats, mittens and other winter gear at Saturday's football game against Temple. Here is the official release from UConn

The University of Connecticut Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will conduct a "Winter Wear Drive" this year at the UConn vs. Temple game on Saturday, October 13 at Rentschler Field, which begins at 1 p.m. The “Winter Wear Drive” has become an annual tradition of the SAAC at a UConn home football game.
Patrons are asked to bring gently-used coats, hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, etc. to the game and they will be collected as they enter the stadium. 
The items will be donated to the Cornerstone Foundation in Rockville, Conn.; the Windham Area Interfaith Ministries of Willimantic, Conn., and the Salvation Army of Willimantic, Conn. 

Leadership will be tested this week

These are the times when team captains and leaders show what they are made of.

UConn had a forgettable performance in losing at Rutgers in the Huskies Big East opener and now comes the aftermath. The good news is that 10 seniors and five four-year juniors who started against the Scarlet Knights so they have the people in place to be able to move forward.

“We have to go back to drawing board,” UConn senior linebacker Sio Moore said. “We have to figure out what we need to do in order to get these W’s on a consistent basis and not a roller coaster effect. It is just not productive especially for the seniors; this will not be the way we go out. There will be change, there is no other choice.

“You figure out what you have to do and get the mistakes corrected, It is very frustrating for a team like ours because we are a good team. We sat there and busted our tail through the entire week preparing for this game and we can’t lose sight of that kind of faith to keep working in that manner and start putting wins on top of wins.”

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said on a Sunday conference call that he considers the punishment for sophomore running back Lyle McCombs to be “a done deal.”McCombs was arrested for second degree breach of peace on Friday and Pasqualoni held McCombs out until the second quarter against Rutgers.

“My sense of it is that it is a done deal,” Pasqualoni said. “I tried to make certain that I had all the facts and I knew what direction it was going before I allowed him to play.”

Pasqualoni also said sophomore reserve fullback Mike Osiecki of Seymour suffered a concussion on Saturday and he is considered to be day to day. Osiecki spent most of the first two quarters sitting on the trainer’s table but after the initial evaluation indicated that Osiecki had a concussion, he did not return to the game.

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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Huskies lose a slugfest in Piscataway

UConn didn't only got beat by host Rutgers but got beat up and pushed around by the more physical Scarlet Knights.

The four interceptions by Chandler Whitmer and fumble by Nick Williams were too much to overcome but so was the conservative play calling and inability of the Huskies to establish the run against a Rutgers team which came into the game leading all FBS teams in rushing defense.

Then there was something you don't see every day, the UConn defense failed to wrap up and make tackle against Rutgers RB Jawan Jamison.

In other words there was plenty of blame to go around. Senior leaders Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, being the stand up guys they are, said that the first order of business will be making sure everybody is still on the same page and realize a 3-3 start doesn't have to doom a season. The amazing thing is that even after Whitmer's third interception which was returned by Wayne Warren for a touchdown, UConn was only down by two scores and were moving the ball before Whitmer forced the ball into triple coverage trying to get a pass through to Ryan Griffin. In other words, even though the Huskies couldn't get out of their own way many times today, they still know this is a game they could have won.

“This is the third of the winnable games (UConn lost) and we didn’t come up with it,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “We need to take advantage of the scoring opportunities. We didn’t have a ton of scoring opportunities in this game (but we have to) be able to cash in when you have those opportunities. We lost some chances today.”

Whitmer was 14 of 32 for 191 yards and the four interceptions although three of them came when UConn had no choice but try to make plays in the passing game because of the score.

“It is everybody not clicking, all of 11 of us and we didn’t do our job today,” said Whitmer, who was 14 of 32 for 191 yards. “It is tough, you want to be balanced. When we are good we are balanced and we didn’t do either well today.”

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McCombs says little regarding situation

UConn sophomore Lyle McCombs, who was arrested on Friday on second degree breach of peace following an alleged argument outside the Hilltop Apartments on Friday.

McCombs only said it was a “coach’s decision” and did not offer further comment on the situation.
Pasqualoni said “Lyle, unfortunately, violated a team policy and we will move on from there.”

Pasqualoni said he has been briefed on McCombs situation and he does not anticipate any further disciplinary action.

McCombs teammates made a point of offering support to him on the sideline when he was left to watch Hyppolite and DeLorenzo struggle to find holes against the well-designed and relentless Scarlet Knights’ defense.

“Lyle will be all right,” UConn senior linebacker Sio Moore said. “He is a hard-working kid. I am with Lyle all the time. He is always in my room and I am one of the guys who kind of took him under my wing. I’ve talked to him and he is going to be all right. He’s got the flame under him. He is going to come back and be all right.”

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Lyle McCombs in uniform despite arrest

Lyle McCombs, UConn's leading rusher, will not start today.

McCombs was arrested for second degree breach of peace on Friday but he made the trip and warmed up before game.

Martin Hyppolite (who had a career-long 50-yard touchdown run in last week's win over Buffalo) got the start at tailback for UConn. Berlin's Max DeLorenzo or Joe Williams could see expanded roles.

Ground games to be key today

Rutgers comes into today's game with the top-ranked defense against the run among all FBS teams and UConn is not far behind. However, look for both the Scarlet Knights and Huskies to look to establish the run behind their talented starting tailbacks.

“It is what we live for,” UConn senior offensive guard Adam Masters said. “It is going to be smash mouth football and that is why I play the game. Without a doubt this is what we look forward to. It should be an exciting game.”

No. 22 Rutgers come into the game allowing a mere 62.5 yards per game. By contrast, UConn’s rushing attack ranks 109th among 120 FBS squads averaging 112 rushing yards per game. A closer look at the numbers shows that the Huskies are one of nine FBS teams to average less than three yards per rushing attempt.

“As you enter Big East play you have to try to run the ball with more consistency,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “If there is one thing that we would like to do it is run the ball with more consistency and be able to support Chandler so we don’t get into these deals where we have to throw 33 or 34 times especially against teams that can really rush the passer.”

As much as the Huskies want to establish the run, the story is the same for the Scarlet Knights. Junior tailback Jawan Jamison was ineffective when the teams met a year ago and he is looking to find room to run against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses.

“They have excellent players on defense,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “Trevardo Williams is the most disruptive defensive lineman in our league and that certainly shows up year in and year out. Their linebackers No. 33 (Yawin Smallwood) and No. 3 (Sio Moore) combined (have) 7½ sacks, 16 TFLs (tackle for losses) and Donnie Brown is an excellent defensive coordinator. I coached against him at a number of places. Year in, year out he does an excellent job with his defense and he is very aggressive. He has a different scheme but same objective to make plays in the backfield like we do here at Rutgers.”

Rutgers will get a boost from the return of reserve RB Savon Huggins who missed the last two games with a back injury. Meanwhile, Martin Hyppolite is coming off his best game at UConn and considering how many times Pasqualoni brings up talented freshman running back Joe Williams' name, it seems like it will be only a matter of time before Williams is unleashed on somebody. Is today the day? We'll have to wait and see. Of course the news that starting tailback Lyle McCombs was arrested on Friday on second degree breach of peace charges could potentially change the pecking order of UConn's tailbacks.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Big night for UConn commit

I just got back from my first New Jersey high school football game and it looks like I picked a good one to go to as (by my unofficial statistics) UConn commit Jamar Summers had seven catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns to go with three tackles and one pass breakup in Orange's 35-19 win over Millburn.

Traffic was not fun getting from Connecticut to New Jersey and then from my hotel to Bell Stadium in Orange, N.J. so I missed the first few minutes of tonight's game. However, the first offensive play I saw Orange run was a swing pass which Summers turned into a 78-yard touchdown.

I spoke to Summers after the game and at halftime I interviewed his brother Alvin Bowen, a former NFL player who leaves Sunday to join the Calgary of the CFL. I will have more on Summers tomorrow and will put up some video from the game as well.

Jimmy Bennett ready for Big East debut

There are no lack of emotional sidebars to write about leading into tomorrow's UConn/Rutgers game.

Defensive stalwarts Dwayne Gratz and Ryan Wirth, two of the six New Jersey natives on the Huskies' travel squad, didn't hide their contempt for Rutgers when they met with the media earlier this week. On the Rutgers side, perhaps there is still some emotional baggage after UConn's 40-22 win over the Scarlet Knights a year ago, a game that ended Rutgers' hopes of earning the Big East's bid to a BCS bowl.

However, to me one of the most remarkable story lines has to be that tomorrow will be the first Big East game for the Huskies' often-injured fifth-year senior Jimmy Bennett.

Bennett, the starting offensive left tackle, was downright giddy when he looked ahead to finally getting able to play in a conference game in his fifth year at UConn.

"It seems like it has turned into a little bit of a rivalry against them," Bennett said. "I feel like it is going to be a really good game so be in the atmosphere of playing there I am excited. I’ve never had the opportunity to go to Rutgers. Each time I’ve had the opportunity to go, I’ve been injured. I am excited to get down there and play and see what everybody is talking about.

"My first season I got hurt in camp so I didn’t play in any games at all. The next year I got hurt in the Vanderbilt game so I didn’t get to play in the Big East because the Rutgers game was the next week. It is upsetting to be out there, be healthy and then get hurt again and not be able to play those games. I’ve watched them, I’ve been around them for home games. I know what the atmosphere is like but being in the game is probably a whole other level."

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Nick Williams drawing inspiration from Devin Hester

Nick Williams was already in good spirits after catching a career-high four passes in Saturday's win over Buffalo. Then his spirits went soaring even higher when he saw legendary return specialist Devin Hester corral  a 34-yard touchdown reception in the Chicago Bears' 34-18 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

Hester's role with the Bears is similar to the one Williams has with the Bears as his main priority comes as a game-breaking return man but he is always looking to become more involved as a receiver.

It was clear when I spoke to Williams yesterday that he did get a charge out of seeing a special-teams ace making a play on offense.

"I love watching Hester play and I think he has 18 career returns for touchdowns and that is ridiculous, it is like some video game statistics but any time there is a returner/receiver playing on Monday night I watch those guys first to be entertained and then to try to learn something from them," Williams said.

I thought I would pass on a couple of links about Rutgers players expecting to return to action on Saturday when the Scarlet Knights host UConn.

The first is on sophomore RB Savon Huggins who has missed time with a back injury and the under the radar response to Huggins' return.

The other one is on defensive lineman Michael Larrow who was suspended for the first four games of the season for the dreaded "violation of team rules."


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Redshirt appears likely for Casey Cochran

UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni was not ready to come out and say that he would be redshirting former Masuk High quarterback Casey Cochran but admitted that a "hand grenade would have to go off" for Cochran to get into a game right now.

Cochran came into the season as a likely redshirt candidate but when he injured his left wrist when he fell off his bike during the summer, it became even less likely that the record-breaking passer would suit up for the Huskies in 2012. Cochran's recovery process has taken a little longer than anticipated.

"We thought Casey was going to get the cast off for the Maryland game but those x-rays didn’t come out the way we would have liked," Pasqualoni said. "It is a little longer process so that has pushed it into a week by week deal. We are going to evaluate it again this week. Casey is out there and he is going everything he can do, we just can’t give him hard snaps from center play after play. He can take a shotgun snap, he can throw the ball and do all of those things.

"He has not been 100 percent cleared at this point and we will evaluate it again this week and see how it is this week. He is still up and still in development. My sense is that we will keep him going that way. I don’t know if we would play him. A hand grenade would have to go off right now for us going into game six. We will see how he is at the  end of the week and we will see what kind of clearance we get. If he is not cleared 100 percent then we will start over again next week plastic cast."

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Rutgers game is extra special for some Huskies

Opening Big East play on the road against a nationally-ranked opponent would get the members of the UConn football team raring to go under normal circumstances. But when you add in the fact that six New Jersey natives are expected to be members of the travel squad and get to play in front of friends and family at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. and clearly motivation is not going to be an issue.

UConn has three starters who hail from New Jersey led by senior cornerback Dwayne Gratz from Piscataway. Gratz did not pull any punches when talking about playing in his hometown for the final time.

“I get to play in my hometown,” Gratz said. “A lot of people come to see me every time I go to Rutgers. It is a special feeling to play in front of everybody who watched you grow up as a child. I hate Rutgers and that is all that really matters. It doesn’t matter if we are going back home, I am there to beat them. We are just going to go there and try to get this ‘W’.”

Gratz still recalls how Rutgers was indifferent towards him until the Huskies began to pursue him.

“The funny thing about that is they offered me a scholarship only because UConn did,” Gratz said. “I couldn’t respect that and hated them for that because I wanted to go to Rutgers so I am going to use that for motivation.

“(Rutgers) week is always heightened intensity. The team sees how much the guys from New Jersey hate Rutgers and it rubs off on them. Every time we play Rutgers the emotions are high.”

Although there are 10 New Jersey natives on the team, only six are expected to be on the travel squad including starting receiver Nick Williams and defensive tackle Ryan Wirth who were also recruited lightly or not at all by the Scarlet Knights.

“The stage is set,” Williams said. “They are ranked in the top 25, they are undefeated. They just went down to Arkansas in front of 90,000 people and beat a pretty good team. I know the Jersey guys on the team set the tone on the team early on this week and everybody kind of feeds off that energy and I am expecting that to happen this week.

“I think in Big East play everything turns up a little bit. I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish you could simulate that atmosphere for every single game but it is human nature, it is impossible to do that. If you are playing in the Super Bowl it is going to be different than if you are playing in week one. For us New Jersey guys this is kind of like our Super Bowl. The rest of the team sees that, the game is in New Jersey and we lost a couple nail biters to them. It is an important game for us.”

For Wirth, who was called the most pleasant surprise of the team by Paul Pasqualoni during Tuesday’s press conference, one of the highlights of the early portion of his career at UConn was a matchup against former high school teammate Ryan Blaszczyk back in 2009.

“Growing up a couple of my buddies from high school went to Rutgers,” Wirth said. “Ryan Blaszczyk was a center there so looking up to him; that was a place I wanted to go to first. My redshirt freshman year I actually got to play against Blaszczyk. I wanted to go to Rutgers and I landed here and playing Rutgers is going to be exciting.

“I have the same story as everybody else. I guess I wasn’t good enough for them. I am happy where I ended up.”

Other New Jersey products on the two-deep chart are reserve linebacker Ryan Donohue and backup offensive guard Tyler Samra while linebacker David Kenney is a key special teams' player for the Huskies.

Competition for tickets has been fierce among UConn's Jersey contingent.

"All the Jersey guys including this one next to me (Gratz) scooped up all the tickets," Williams said with a laugh. "I struggled to get tickets. I couldn’t meet the demand and couldn’t decide who gets these four tickets out of x amount (he is allotted) so I told everybody you are on your own for this one. I spoke to my mom, my aunts and my brother plus my friends and there will probably be over 100 people at the tailgate they are throwing."

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Monday, October 01, 2012

No changes in UConn's depth chart

UConn's two-deep chart for Saturday's Big East opener at Rutgers is identical to the one posted by the Huskies for last week's game against Buffalo. Here is a link to the depth chart

It was also announced that the game against Temple on Oct. 13 will begin at 1 p.m. but it will only be available online via espn3. It makes sense that the game will be played in the afternoon since UConn figures to have prominent basketball recruits on official visits and if the game was at night then the 48-hour window that recruits can be on campus or at UConn events might run out.

UConn, Rutgers get defensive

A quick look at the latest NCAA stats shows that Rutgers leads all FBS teams in rushing defense allowing a mere 62.5 yards per game while the Scarlet Knights are 20th in overall defense (310 yards allowed per game). Meanwhile UConn is sixth in total defense (242.6) and rushing defense (74.2) and 13th with an average of 3.2 sacks per game.

On the weekly Big East coaches call, Rutgers' Kyle Flood and Paul Pasqualoni of UConn talked about the defensive units they will be facing on Saturday at noon.

"It starts with their players," Flood said. "I think they have excellent players on defense. Trevardo Williams is the most disruptive defensive lineman in our league, that certainly shows up year in and year out. Their linebackers No. 33 (Yawin Smallwood) and No. 3 (Sio Moore) combined (have) 7½ sacks, 16 TFLs (tackle for losses) and Donnie Brown is an excellent defensive coordinator. I coached against him at a number of places whether it was Hofstra/UMass, Delaware/Northeastern or Rutgers and Maryland and now Rutgers/UConn. Year in, year out he does an excellent job with his defense and he is very aggressive. He has a different scheme but same objective to make plays in the backfield like we do here at Rutgers."

Pasqualoni was just as quick to heap praise on the Scarlet Knights' defense.

"I think they have good people in there," Pasqualoni said. "Scott Vallone is just playing really good defense, their linebackers are very athletic, they move very well. The kid (Khaseem) Green is about as fluid an athlete, explosive, can get to the ball. I see continuity in the defense in the sense that most of these kids played last year and they have taken it up to a different level."

Pasqualoni also stated that he considers starting center Alex Mateas, who missed last week's game against Buffalo with an ankle injury, to be probable for Saturday's game.