Monday, September 30, 2013

Pasqualoni reacts to his firing at UConn

Former UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni has his flaws but being a stand-up guy is certainly not one of them.

When coaches get fired from their jobs as Pasqualoni did today, they tend to go into hibernation and avoid the media at all costs. However, Pasqualoni agreed to do a conference call with the media about an hour and a half ago and by the sounds of things, he was handing what must have been a brutal day for him pretty well.

Here are his thoughts.

"I didn’t not really (expect to be fired) as a coach you always know that there is a chance that things can happen but I didn’t necessarily anticipate it," Pasqualoni said.

"My next move is to be around my family and my kids and just enjoy my family. You have to wait and see what happens. I am not the kind of guy who is going out to look for jobs or apply for jobs, the next job has always came. It is the middle of the season so we will see what happens."

After being informed by AD Warde Manuel that he was being let go, Pasqualoni addressed the UConn players one last time before leaving campus.

"I told them I enjoyed very much the opportunity to coach them, appreciated their commitment to the program and a commitment to doing things the right way in the classroom and off the field, on the field and the tremendous effort that they have given," Pasqualoni said. "We had some really good Saturdays, we didn’t have enough good Saturdays but that does not diminish the enjoyment and pleasure I had with being with them."

The players definitely appreciated that he took the time to say goodbye in person.

"It gave us some closure and it is nice to have somebody before they leave come and wish us the best of luck in a personal manner," said junior cornerback Byron Jones.

Here is what junior receiver Geremy Davis had to say.

"He talked to team, he said if you need anything call. He was loyal to us. We are going to respect the guy for what he did, the environment that he tried to build and you can respect the man."

Pasqualoni knows this UConn team is much better than its 0-4 record.

"I just think that the kids were fine. This year when you look at the teams we played, regardless of what conference they are in, Towson I-AA program, we have faced some very good teams this year. The four Saturdays (actually a Thursday and three Saturdays) that we had, we were not able to play well enough or be good enough on those four Saturdays against some very good teams. I thought the kids have effort, I thought we tried, we made some critical errors and we turned the ball over, made a mistake that really cost us and that was really what cost us this year.

"I really would have loved the opportunity to get over the hump, I was looking forward to having a great plan for the South Florida game, we were going to make some changes and try to get this thing back on the road, get some players who were out get back and healthy and get ready for the conference season. I sure would have loved the opportunity to take a good shot at the rest of the season and try to get the thing going in the right direction but it didn’t work out that way."

One of the changes Pasqualoni said he was planning to make was inserting true freshman Tim Boyle as the starting quarterback which is the way interim coach T.J. Weist could go.

"I am used to having success in football so for me disappointing for me that I wasn’t able (to get) the number of wins that you needed to collect but at the same time I feel good about the kids we brought in.

"I hope that they do well. I told them before I left that get ready to play, South Florida has good players, you can beat them and the coaches have a great plan. I thought we had a . Just go 100 miles an hour going, win this game and take them one game at a time. I’ll be rooting for those guys.

"I love football. I may go down and coach the South Windsor eighth grade team. I don’t know if they need a coach. I will see what opportunities develop. I have football in my blood, I love it, we’ll just kind of see what happens."

Pasqualoni said this will be the first in-season weekend that he won't be preparing for a game since 1964.

"I don’t know., It will be a little different. This will be the first high school weekend since I was in high school that I am not playing or worrying about a football game, probably since 1964, that is a long time ago. It will be different."

Pasqualoni wished the remaining UConn coaches well as they try to turn the frustrating season around.

"They are great guys,we worked hard this is not from a lack of effort I promise you and I think the defensive staff will continue to work hard and the T.J. will do the best he can do, you have to get another coach in there because now he is shorthanded and he needs coaches to recruit, coaches to coach and I told him when I left if I can help you I am down the street, just give me a call."

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T.J. Weist named interim head coach at UConn

UConn made it official that offensive coordinator T.J. Weist has been named the interim head coach following the firing of Paul Pasqualoni.

Weist is in his first season as UConn's offensive coordinator and receivers coach. He said he was unsure of how he's going to handle all his duties. I would think he would have a hard time running the team while still being the receivers coach but we'll have to see how that plays out.

"We have to talk about how we are going to replace those two coaches whether it is within the staff, within our program or outside of our program, I will sit down with our guys and look at the options," Weist said. "I have to be realistic about being the head coach and the responsibilities that I have. I want to put my focus on being the head coach and this team and that has to be my focus first and I will go there whether I will be the coordinator, call the plays, coach the receivers I don’t have that answer yet."

Weist was one of the major reasons why receiver Brian Lemelle, one of the most high-profile recruits in this current true freshman class, came to UConn. Now he is the guy running the show recruiting wise (although linebackers coach Jonathan Wholley became the recruiting coordinator earlier this year).

Both Weist and AD Warde Manuel said all verbal commitments will be honored but of course that won't stop opposing teams from going hard after the UConn commits to see if they can get them to flip.

"Right now we are honoring the commitments that we have," Weist said. "We are going to call them and make sure they know there is stability, we want the players we are recruiting to know there is stability and understand the direction of the program and that will be a big focus for us in recruiting. How are we going to handle them in recruiting and their questions, we aren’t going to ignore it and we are going to reach out the them and keep recruiting. Right now this is my job. What happens in December is up to Warde, this is my job and this team is my focus and nothing else. I agree with him when he said the bottom line is to win, I don’t disagree with it. If we want to lead this program then we have to win, we have to do it in a style and manner with character and the things from us, I understand what he wants and I think our recruits need to understand that."

While part of me questions the promotion of an offensive coordinator of an offense ranked dead last among 123 FBS teams in rushing offense and near the bottom in sacks allowed and total offense, I know that the UConn receivers swear by Weist.

"He brings fire to that position," junior receiver Geremy Davis said. "He played that position, he is a fundamental guy and he is going to bring that to a team as a whole He brings fire and he is a player’s coach so we are going to show his mentality."

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Rival coaches react to Pasqualonis's firing

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood and Louisville's Charlie Strong are the only active American Athletic Conference head coaches who squared off against the Paul Pasqualoni coached UConn squads so I asked both of them for their reaction to Pasqualoni's firing on today's AAC conference call.

"Paul Pasqualoni is somebody I looked up to at a very early stage in my career as a high school and college coach in the New York/New Jersey area as a coach at Syracuse and Coach P really set the standard for what a college coach’s relationship should be with the high school coaches," Flood said. "He is a very well respected figure in New York and New Jersey and that is because of the genuineness of the relationships that he has built over time and I think all of us as younger coaches hopefully some day the high school coaches will feel about us the way I know they feel about Paul Pasqualoni."

Strong was on the wrong end of Pasqualoni's signature victory at UConn, a 23-20 Huskies' road win over Louisville a season ago.

"He is an outstanding coach and I know he will do well wherever he ends up," Strong said. "He has an outstanding staff and just what they where able to accomplish and I have no doubt they will be able to bounce back because it is all about getting the players behind you."

Southern Methodist coach June Jones also reacted to today's news.

"I am a little bit surprised, that is a guy who knows football as well as any guy I have ever sat around and talked to," Jones said. "To not be given a chance , the opportunity to build the program in this day and age it is kind of shocking. I don’t understand the dynamics of that whole situation up there but I know that Paul is a great football man, a good guy and  and sometimes life isn’t far."


Pasqualoni and DeLeone fired by UConn

UConn pulled the plug on the Paul Pasqualoni era, firing both him and offensive line coach George DeLeone today.

The school announced Monday that it had fired Pasqualoni, a Cheshire native, after an 0-4 start to his third season. Pasqualoni posted a 10-18 record as UConn’s head coach with nine of those losses by at least 10 points.

Pasqualoni, hired prior to the 2011 season after Randy Edsall left for Maryland, was fired just four games into his third season. The school also fired associate head coach and offensive line coach George DeLeone.
Taking over a program which had posted four consecutive winning seasons, Pasqualoni posted back to back 5-7 seasons and there were calls for Pasqualoni’s removal at the end of the 2012 season by UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel who was hired after Pasqualoni was brought on board by former UConn AD Jeff Hathaway.

Pasqualoni will receive a $750,000 buyout.

Manuel said in a statement that he was hoping to see “improved performance” as the team headed toward conference play.

“I am disappointed in the record of our team thus far, but I am confident that our coaching staff and student-athletes will continue to work hard to improve and that will be reflected on the field of play as we start our American Athletic Conference season,” Manuel said.

UConn will hold a 4 p.m. news confernece to discuss the firing and announce plans for a replacement.

With the departures of Pasqualoni and DeLeone, the only current member of the UConn coaching staff with previous head-coaching experience at the college level is Mike Foley who was the head coach at Colgate from 1987-92.

On a conference call with the media on Sunday Pasqualoni addressed the growing discontent from the UConn fan base on the direction the program is headed.

“I understand the nature of this game,” Pasqualoni said. “I understand the nature of fans and people, everybody has their opinion and are free to express their opinion but that doesn’t discourage me. I understand it is part of it. I have been in this for a long time in a lot of places and it all goes with the territory. It is my job to do the best we can do here, utilize the personnel and trying to move the program forward. That is my job and that is what I am going to do.”

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood and Charlie Strong of Louisville, the only current head coaches in the American Athletic Conference to have squared off against Pasqualoni at UConn reacted to the news of Pasqualoni’s firing.

“Paul Pasqualoni is somebody I looked up to at a very early stage in my career as a high school and college coach in the New York/New Jersey area as a coach at Syracuse and Coach P really set the standard for what a college coach’s relationship should be with the high school coaches,” Flood said. “He is a very well respected figure in New York and New Jersey and that is because of the genuineness of the relationships that he has built over time and I think all of us as younger coaches hopefully some day the high school coaches will feel about us the way I know they feel about Paul Pasqualoni.”

Pasqualoni’s signature victory was 23-20 win at Louisville last season.

“He is an outstanding coach and I know he will do well wherever he ends up,” Strong said. “He has an outstanding staff and just what they where able to accomplish and I have no doubt they will be able to bounce back because it is all about getting the players behind you.”

The players publicly stood behind Pasqualoni. With no game until the Huskies host winless South Florida on Oct. 12 at noon, they have a little more time to deal with the change in leadership.

“Really it is unbelievable,” UConn senior offensive guard Steve Greene said. “We would never have thought that we would have started 0-4 like this. I think it is important that everybody knows that all of our goals and still right in front of us. We set out every year with our goal to win the conference and that is still in front of us so. We have this bye week to regroup, to get our stuff corrected an start that next chapter of our season; there is no quit in this team.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

While others calling for his job, it's business as usual for Paul Pasqualoni

One Internet site lists UConn's Paul Pasqualoni as the No. 1 college football coach on the hot seat and others are taking to referring to Pasqualoni is the past tense and openly throwing out names of possible successors.

However, for Pasqualoni he did not approach this Sunday any different that he did a week ago when the Huskies nearly knocked off national power Michigan.

"I am a very optimistic person," Pasqualoni said on a conference call with the media on Sunday afternoon. "A week ago we are a couple plays away from beating one of the top teams in the country so my attitude and my feeling is the same, it is not different this Sunday that it was last Sunday so I am looking to improve and get the team, get the thing straightened out and get the guys going, get into winning some games. I do this because I love it, I do this because I have passion for the game and the people you are associated with and everything that goes along with it. It hasn’t changed for me ever."

Pasqualoni said that he is not contemplating making changes to his coaching staff and with no game until Oct. 12, he is planning to spend more time focusing on his team than on South Florida.

"I think what they need is to focus on what they are doing and what their job is and making sure that what they are doing is 100 percent before making sure of the other phase of the game," Pasqualoni said. "That will be the lecture if that is the lecture.

"We played very poorly for the get go yesterday for the third play of the game on we didn’t play very well. The ball ends up on the 8 yard line, then we have the pass interference call on the hold, we have the missed alignment , missed tackle on the touchdown. We come back and get a field goal but we don’t really play very well on either side of the ball. We give up a long pass to get another one in and offensively we didn’t have any production. Coming out in the second half when we really needed it we didn’t get anything really done at all offensively. We just did not play in that game really well at all. We didn’t cover kicks well, we didn’t cover punts well so there are a lot of area that need to be addressed."

Pasqualoni said he has not had a conversation with UConn director of athletics concerning his future at UConn. He also knows that as the losses pile up so does the discontent among the UConn fan base on the job he has done in the last 2 1/3 seasons.

"I understand the nature of this game," Pasqualoni said. "I understand the nature of fans and people, everybody has their opinion and are free to express their opinion but that doesn’t discourage me. I understand it is part of it. I have been in this for a long time in a lot of places and it all goes with the territory. It is my job to do the best we can do here, utilize the personnel and trying to move the program forward. That is my job and that is what I am going to do. It doesn’t really discourage me

Pasqualoni said that some of the mistakes that cost UConn in its first four games are of the repeat variety which is obviously not a great sign.

"The strip of the ball on the first (pass) play is a protection issue, that is kind of a repeat of a protection deal," Pasqualoni said. "A missed alignment on defense on the goal line is kind of a repeat of that and some of it is certainly a repeat. Other things, one of the touchdown passes is on a freshman cornerback and I asked him to play press coverage on the guy so they couldn’t throw a hitch on first down so they went on top and he got beat up top. Some of it is young guys in the game. We have a lot of those young guys in the game so it is kind of a combination of a lot of things."

So where does Pasqualoni go from here?

"A week ago I envisioned beating Michigan," Pasqualoni said. "You get ready to play every single week, you do the best you can do. We just went up to Buffalo and did not play well from the beginning, we just couldn’t get any kind of momentum going and they have a good solid football team. They had a week of, they had a couple of weeks to get ready for us and utilized every minute of it and did a good job."


Saturday, September 28, 2013

UConn lays an egg in road opener

Everything was in place for this to be the day where the UConn football team got things back on the right course.

With plenty of positive vibes coming off a spirited effort in a narrow loss to national powerhouse Michigan and facing what figured to be the weakest of the non-conference teams on its schedule there was a chance to head home with its first win of the season.

Instead, they will make it back to Connecticut with even more questions than they had before the embarked for Western New York.

After throwing two interceptions including one which was returned for a touchdown and a costly fumble on the third offensive play of the game resulted in a quick TD for the Bulls.

UConn actually outgained Buffalo 115-1 in the first quarter and were down 14-3. It would only get worse. The 41-12 final score actually makes it sound closer than it actually was.

“I thought we practiced well last week,” UConn Paul Pasqualoni said. “When we came over here I thought we were very focused. We had great meetings, a great walkthrough so the game starts how it started today and they keep going that way, we come out in the second half and force them to punt the ball and we couldn’t get anything going. It’s 28-12 and if we get one in now it is a game.”

UConn committed four turnovers that led to 17 points. Buffalo’s first 14 points were set up by a fumble and interception by Chandler Whitmer.

“That was completely my fault, no ifs, ands or buts about it, that was my fault,” offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett said. “I (messed) up. I set them up for a touchdown.”

There is actually more to Bennett's quote than that but there are some words that I simply can not put into my blogs or stories and a fired-up Bennett used pretty much all of them.

It was actually nice to see some emotion from Bennett. Too many times, including tonight, the same emotion-less answers come from the UConn players and from Pasqualoni as well. While guys going at each other is not good for team morale, at some point you would like to see some passion coming off a performance like this.

“There is not much to say,” Whitmer said. “We are not running well, we are not throwing well, we are not protecting well. There is a lot of things we have to fix, there’;s too much to talk about right now.”

Whitmer finished 10 of 24 passing for 182 yards with nearly half of those coming on completions to Deshon Foxx and Geremy Davis. Whitmer was replaced in the fourth quarter by redshirt freshman Casey Cochran. Cochran’s first pass came under heavy duress and resulted in an interception.

“It is demoralizing, there is no question,” Pasqualoni said. “The turnovers kill you and (especially) where the turnovers were (on the field).

“We just have to play better, you have to compete better and you have to make things happen and we just got beat out there.”

With a bye week there will be even more clamoring for UConn AD to make a move with Pasqualoni. With each passing game it seems more and more likely that a different coach will be at the helm of the Huskies in 2014. Manuel was on the sidelines when Pasqualoni walked off with a state trooper on either side of him. Manuel did not flinch, did not turn to say anything to Pasqualoni as the head coach walked by.

I asked Pasqualoni if these losses leave him doubting himself or his staff.

"I wish there was something I could have done to help them, there is no question," Pasqualoni said. "As a coach you always feel that way. I felt that was last week and if there was one thing we could have done differently and you always feel that way."

Another question is about the quarterback position. Whitmer again hurt the Huskies with the turnovers and Casey Cochran finished the game. Pasqualoni said true freshman Tim Boyle is the No. 2 quarterback but "I just didn't feel comfortable putting him in at this point."
UConn played without four starters — offensive tackle Kevin Friend missed his second straight game with a high ankle sprain, linebacker Graham Stewart was out for a second consecutive game with an ankle inury, a hamstring injury kept top receiver Shakim Phillips out once again and cornerback Taylor Mack missed the game with a shoulder injury.Davis was knocked out of the game with a leg cramps in the third quarter and finished with 102 yards on five receptions.

Different challenge for UConn defense this week

After facing two of the most elusive quarterbacks in the last two games, there will be no such issues today as Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata has not had a run for a positive gain.

However, the Huskies weren't exactly doing cartwheels this week about facing the strong-armed Licata.

"Be careful what you wish for," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "This is a different style of quarterback than we have faced the last two weeks that for sure. This quarterback can really get the ball out on time. He throws it very accurately. He is a taller player, he is probably around 6-3 or so, he has good receivers and they have a very good scheme, they really do, they have some quick backs and they have some excellent receivers and some very good tight ends to throw the ball."

Licata has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 592 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target has been Alex Neutz, who has more than half of the Bulls' receiving yards and has a team-leading 25 catches.

"We have a guy not running around back there who can throw the deep stuff," UConn safety Ty-Meer Brown said. "We have to make sure we are on our toes and being able to finish."

The lack of a running threat at quarterback could give UConn's front seven a chance to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

"When you are playing a scrambling quarterback, you can’t really attack," UConn defensive end Angelo Pruitt said. "You have to be aware of his ability to scramble outside the pocket and his speed and quickness. Playing a pocket passer will allow us to be more aggressive, allow us to run more twists and everything."

UConn down four starters against Buffalo

According to UConn SID Mike Enright, starting offensive tackle Kevin Friend, cornerback Taylor Mack, receiver Shakim Phillips and linebacker Graham Stewart did not make the trip and are out today.

Friend and Stewart have ankle injuries, Phillips is still dealing with a tender hamstring and Mack has a shoulder injury.

DeLorenzo hoping to make an impact for UConn

Let's see if my math is correct here. In the season-opening loss to Towson sophomore running back Max DeLorenzo did not carry the ball once, against Maryland he got three carries and in last week's loss to Michigan he ran the ball six times. Using that formula one can only assume he will tuck the ball under his arm 12 times when UConn faces Buffalo this afternoon.

That would be just fine for the former Berlin High School star

"I think I can help this offense, each game I am getting more confidence and each game I am getting into more of a rhythm which is big for me," DeLorenzo said. "After my first carry (against Michigan) I felt like the game atmosphere, I felt like how they were hitting, how they were playing on defense so I kind of got a feel for it for each of my next runs throughout the game so I like the way I am progressing and we have to keep moving the chains, we have to get better."

DeLorenzo is listed at 207 pounds and he offers the physical inside the tackle running style that Lyle McCombs (listed at 175 pounds) doesn't bring.

"I think me and Lyle, we complement each other nicely," DeLorenzo said. "He is more of a quick, make people miss and I am more of an inside the tackle (runner), I can make people miss but move the chains and get those 10 hard yards You see a lot of teams, they use multiple backs and it is going to help him maybe even break a few and keep him fresh throughout the game and it is going to help me and help our team which I think is the most important thing

UConn comes into the game ranking 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense and facing a Buffalo team which has had some issues against the run, perhaps this is the week when UConn can get something going on the ground.

"We want to break some, we want to be why our offense is (successful) but it is tough," DeLorenzo said. "Right now we are trying to move the ball and get our quarterback Chandler into some third and 3’s, 3rd and 4’s because that is a huge weight off of his shoulders. We are dying to make some plays, dying to turn this thing around."

"Coach P (Paul Pasqualoni) this past week with Michigan really emphasized the run and we really need to run the ball better," DeLorenzo said. "I think for the most part we did, the stats with the sacks didn’t help but we just ran the ball decent against Michigan so now against Buffalo let’s go, we have to turn this around and we have to get a win on the board."


UConn to be shorthanded in secondary today

UConn senior cornerback Taylor Mack tweeted that he did not make the trip for the Buffalo game

Taylor Mack @TMVeinti9
this injury kept me from traveling with my team this week, but i know that we'll go up to buffalo and handle business #bleedblue #UCfootball

So redshirt freshman Jhavon Williams, who was one of the most impressive players for UConn in the Michigan loss, figures to get the start. Tyree Clark would be the likely choice to play the nickel cornerback position although I wouldn't be surprised to see Wilbert Lee be in the mix as well. It was Lee who deflected the pass (after it went off Jeremy Gallon's hands) which led to an easy interception by Williams against the Wolverines and I was impressed with Lee's play at the practices I attended during preseason camp.

Mack left the Michigan game in the first half with a shoulder injury. His absence means the Huskies will play without three players who were expected to be among their top five defensive backs coming into the season as Andrew Adams was injured during the preseason and David Stevenson has been suspended indefinitely. It does help UConn that safeties Ty-Meer Brown and Obi Melifonwu are capable of locking up with receivers but the Huskies are getting pretty thin in the secondary. We'll have to see if true freshman Javon Hadley gets pressed into duty today.

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UConn commits Newsome, Rodrick have big nights

UConn commits Arkeel Newsome and Tom Rodrick added another chapter to impressive seniors seasons.

Newsome ran for 309 yards on just 11 carries and had a 38-yard touchdown reception as Ansonia, the No. 1 team in the Register's Top 10 poll, defeated Holy Cross 62-13. In three games Newsome has run for 657 yards and averaging an outrageous 21.9 yards per carry

Leicester (MA) star Tom Rodrick ran for 93 yards including a 5-yard TD and returned an interception 60 yards for another score in 15-0 win over Bartlett.

Offensive lineman Lamont Bradford, who was named the team's player of the year by his coaches in last week's win Eastern, helped Timber Creek run 287 yards and pass for another 333 in a 52-28 win over Cherry Hill West.

Also, I haven't seen any stats for him yet but Luke Carrezola helped his Neshaminy (Pa.) team improve to 5-0 with a 35-7 victory and he was also recognized as Neshaminy's homecoming king.

Fellow Pennsylvanua commit Alec Bloom's Ligonier Valley squad also improved to 5-0 with a 33-26 win over Windner

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fixing third-down issues a major priority for UConn

Chandler Whitmer has been under duress with so many 3rd-and-long
plays in the last two games, losses to Maryland and Michigan.
A look back at the last two games and nothing jumped out at new more than the nightmarish performance by UConn's offense on third downs.

Things actually starting off in promising fashion against Maryland with the Huskies converting four times on their first six third downs. Since then the numbers are frighteningly horrendous with UConn 2 for 23 on third downs. Wait, it gets worse. During that span there have been just three plays with positive yards to go against 11 incomplete passes, six sacks and a would-be sack that turned into an intentional grounding call in the end zone. Over those 23 third-down play the Huskies have minus 46 yards of offense (if you could the intentional grounding penalty as a nine-yard loss).

When we met with UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni I asked him how the Huskies plan on fixing the issues and his answer was long enough that he actually apologized for the length of his response.

"You try to come down with down and distance and what you think your best chance to convert is and we work really hard at it," Pasqualoni said. "We are rehearsing, rehearsing and rehearsing and just didn’t play very well on third down last week. We have to go out and come out with the plan, make sure we’ve got the protection right, we get the coverages right and make sure the quarterbacks are seeing the right reads and the receivers are running the right routes. We are playing with a lot of young guys and I thought Peyton Manning had a great point in routes on the drill, what we call routes on air and how important that drill is. I think he called it the most important drill in practice and the point is that it is a drill when you go out and run your pass routes and there is no defense there, you just go out and run your pass routes so the quarterback goes back and his job is to get the ball out on time and the receivers’ job is to get the proper depth, get the right stems and get to the right landmark on the field because the quarterback has got to throw the ball before he gets to the landmark, the quarterback has to have 100 percent confidence that the receiver is going to be exactly where he needs to be because the run, the blitz and everything else is coming. Part of the issue with us is we have so many young players and so many first-year guys in the game that you have to work and work and work on that.

"The touchdown to (Spencer) Parker (one of the two successful third-down conversions) he was in exactly the right spot, it was well done and Chandler did a great job of getting the ball out. At any level that was done as well as I have seen done. You have to do that consistently and there are a lot of routes, we got one picked two weeks ago because we weren’t exactly where we needed to be. But if you are going to be a team that drops back and throws the ball, that is how you have to do it. It is a huge commitment to do it and you hope that you develop chemistry, players have confidence in each other, they are dependable and doing the right thing. That is a long answer but that is how you do it. I wish we could do it overnight; I really do because if we could do it overnight, I promise you we would do it."

There are a multitude of issues resulting in these third down struggles. First, is the inability to get into manageable third down plays. Over those 23 plays the average spot is 3rd and 8. The last five third-down plays against Michigan were 3rd-and-goal at the 11, 3rd-and-9, 3rd-and-12, 3rd-and-18 and 3rd-and-17. The first play resulted in a touchdown but that was followed by an incompletion, a pass for a 2-yard loss, an incompletion and a sack.

Play calling is a problem as there was only one designed running play and that resulted in a first down.

The absence of receiver Shakim Phillips and offensive tackle Kevin Friend have had the Huskies facing an uphill battle on offense. Pasqualoni was optimistic that Friend would play against Buffalo while Phillips has done some work at practice this week and will be a game-time decision.

Without Phillips against Michigan, the outside receiver opposite Geremy Davis was a freshman. I asked Pasqualoni how much that lack of experience changes the play calling when Phillips is forced to sit out.

"Well it certainly doesn’t make it any easier," Pasqualoni said. "We are trying to give them everything, we are trying give the team the best chance, we are trying to give the players the best chance to succeed, the team the best chance to win so we are going to do everything we have to do with those young players. Obviously we are probably not going to do as much with them as we would with Shak in there but at the same time they have to be able to handle the game plan we put together."

If there is a silver lining it is Buffalo ranks 87th in third-down defense and 116th in rushing defense (among 123 FBS programs) so perhaps the Huskies can get the nation's 122nd ranked rushing offense going. Of course it should be noted that Buffalo has faced Baylor (which leads all FBS teams in total offense) and Ohio State (which ranks 15th in total offense).

“We have to get better that is all we can do,” UConn junior running back Lyle McCombs said. “We have to keep working hard and hope the game flows the way it should for the games to come.”

The Huskies tried to address some of those issues by featuring bigger backs like Max DeLorenzo and Martin Hyppolite into the game plan against Michigan.

“We want to break some, we want to be why our offense is (successful) but it is tough,” DeLorenzo said. “Right now we are trying to move the ball and get our quarterback Chandler into some third and 3’s, 3rd and 4’s because that is a huge weight off of his shoulders. We are dying to make some plays, dying to turn this thing around.”

Tim Boyle confident Xavier's loss only a bump in the road

UConn freshman quarterback Tim Boyle enjoyed an incredible amount of success during his days at Xavier High School but he also knows what it is like to overcome an early loss to win a state title. So when Boyle heard about the Falcons' 42-28 loss to North Haven, he was disappointed but confident in what the season has in store for his former teammates.

"It was a tough game and it was an away game," Boyle said. "I don’t think there are any problems down the road. Last year we lost to Hand and there was this pit in our stomach, we didn’t want to feel it again so I don’t think they are going to lose another game. I read the newspapers, I read the online stuff, I text the captains, I text all the players and I am still close with them. I just want to see how they are doing and tell them to keep their heads up. I tell them to enjoy high school football because once you are in college it is a business and you have to enjoy high school football especially playing at Palmer Field and being at a historic program like Xavier, you have to take it in before it is gone."


Thursday, September 26, 2013

UConn "optimistic" OT Kevin Friend can play

Not too much has changed in the injury department although on a conference call with the media today UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said he was optimistic starting right offensive tackle Kevin Friend will be able to play against Buffalo. Pasqualoni considers cornerback Taylor Mack, linebacker Graham Stewart and receiver Shakim Phillips questionable for the game. He said all four players have been able to practice this week as has receiver Kamal Abrams, who was hurt warming up before the season opener against Towson.

"He (Abrams) is one of the guys practicing this week and we are very close on him so we will see how he does today," Pasqualoni said. "I’ve got him in the questionable category but he has practiced all week. He practiced on Sunday."

Pasqualoni quickly shot down the notion that he might hold out one or more of the injured players since UConn is off next week before the Huskies head into conference play.

"If they are healthy they are playing. If they can play they are playing. This is an important game."

Pasqualoni also spoke for the first time since the news broke that freshman defensive end Sha-ki Holines left UConn and is now at UMass.

"Sha-ki was a great kid, we would have loved to have him stay," Pasqualoni said. "There were some personal issues that he wanted to be even closer to home than he was here. I would have liked to have him develop, I think he could have developed over time but we wish him good luck."

On a lighter note, Pasqualoni was infomed that UConn was staying in a different hotel than the Huskies did two years ago when Pasqualoni had a mishap of being trapped in an elevator.

"The first thing I asked today in the staff meeting was if we were staying in the same hotel and I was told we are not so I am not worried about the elevators this time," Pasqualoni said.

UConn is capitalizing on Pruitt's versatility

Angelo Pruitt has been able to contribute while playing nearly
every spot on the defensive line over the last two seasons
One advantage of having UConn's game against Michigan televised on ABC is it gave me a chance to look back at what transpired.

At the top of the list of the things I was eager to get a closer look at was how the playing time at defensive end was doled out.

By my unofficial tally, the snap count was divided almost equally among Tim Willman (46 snaps), Jesse Joseph (42) and Angelo Pruitt (41) while Reuben Frank was used almost exclusively on obvious passing downs.

When Joseph was in the game he was usually lined up at the left defensive end while Willman was used to the right DE. However, Angelo Pruitt was moved all over the place. Not only did he play both defensive end spots but every once in a while he would be used inside when the Huskies lined up defensive ends side by side in an attempt to breath some life into what was a struggling pass rush.

By game's end I thought that other than defensive tackle Shamar Strephen (who drew praise all night long from analyst and former NFL linebacker Chris Spielman) no defensive lineman was more impressive than Pruitt.

I asked UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni about Stephen's performance on Saturday which went under the radar not only by us media folks but also the stat keepers. The tape shows that Stephen threw the Michigan offensive lineman into quarterback Devin Gardner which resulted in Gardner's fumble. Ty-Meer Brown scooped up the ball and ran it in to put UConn up 21-7.

"I think he is playing really consistent," Pasqualoni said. "He is probably our most consistent, steady player on defense. He is not going to get a lot of the fanfare not going to get a lot of accolades but he is a guy who gives you everything he's got with effort, fundamentals and dependability. Shamar is very smart, he wants to be a great player and he is playing very consistently."

In one sequence Pruitt drew a hold on Michigan's all-everything left tackle Taylor Lewan wiping out a long run by Devin Gardner and then dropped tailback Fitz Toussaint in the backfield. Pruitt finished with six tackles including two tackles for loss.

"Although I am moving around on the field, fundamentals and techniques stay the same," Pruitt said. "When I am on the outside, I am setting the edge on the inside and taking on a double team, being in great position to take on the block."

Pruitt usually split time with Joseph at the left DE spot in the first two games but he saw more time on the right side against Michigan. Considering that meant a matchup with Lewan, who is projected to be a top five pick in April's NFL draft it is an indication of how much confidence the UConn coaches have in Pruitt. Pruitt said the approach doesn't change regardless of which side he lines up on.

"Teams are changing their tight ends so any moment each side can be the strong side," Pruitt said. "I think both sides are the same with technique and responsibilities and setting the edge. It works hand and hand."

Pruitt said while his teammates never lost faith in their ability to be a top-flight defense after rough games against Towson and Maryland, it did feel good to show the nation that the Huskies can still be an elite defensive unit.

"This game didn’t really prove anything to us because we knew who we are and our record doesn’t reflect us as a team or reflect our work ethic but I think it just proved to the world that we are the UConn defense that has been pretty good for the last couple of years," Pruitt said. "We have the potential to do something great."

Since Pruitt hails from Cincinnati I was curious if he had any reaction to the tragedy suffered by his hometown school as Cincinnati freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick died in a car accident and two other Bearcat football players were hospitalized after the Saturday night crash.

"For my teammates and teammates across the nation, that is a very unfortunate event," Pruitt said. "You never want someone to get hurt on the field or off the field so me hearing about that, I am saddened about it and I wish that program the best of luck so they can recover from this."

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Former UConn CBs still in Jhavon Williams' corner

Even a few days after the fact it was evident that redshirt freshman defensive back Jhavon Williams was honored and appreciative that current NFL cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz are still serving as supporting role models for one of the rising stars on UConn's defense.

The night before UConn hosted Michigan and Williams would be one of the players being asked to contend with the Wolverines' dynamic Jeremy Gallon, Wreh-Wilson spoke to him via phone hookup in the team hotel. Following the game, Dwayne Gratz picked up the phone and called Williams as well.

Williams was being touted as one of the top players in last year's group of true freshmen but he was able to be redshirted with all the depth the Huskies had in the secondary. He worked his way into the two-deep chart as a redshirt freshman and when nickel corner David Stevenson was suspended indefinitely between the Towson and Maryland games, Williams was the first DB off the sidelines when UConn went to its nickel package.

"Actually Coach Perk (UConn cornerbacks coach Darrell Perkins) grabbed me (before the Maryland game) and said ‘get ready to grow up because I am throwing you in,’" Williams said. "We spoke to Blidi the night before the game and he told us that it doesn’t matter if it is Michigan, they put on their pads just like we do and they play football just like we do. He said just play technique and we will be fine. I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew if I did what Coach Perk told me to do and coached me up to do then I would be fine. I did what he told me to. It definitely helped (talking to Wreh-Wilson), I talked to Dwayne Gratz after the game and he told me what I can do a little bit better, how I can improve my game. It was a win-win situation to be able to talk to those guys and having them reaching out to me from the NFL  and telling me I could do it."

Williams intercepted a pass, forced a fumble, had four tackles and also recovered by muffed punt by teammate Brian Lemelle against Michigan.

Starting cornerback Taylor Mack hurt his shoulder in the first half of the Michigan game and his status for Saturday's game at Buffalo is still up in the air so if Mack can't go, Williams could draw the start at cornerback. Whatever his role is, Williams vows to be ready.

"Whatever he (UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni) asks me to do, I am going to do. If he asks me to get water that is what I am going to do. He knows what he is talking about, I never doubt him and do whatever my coaches tell me to do.

"It is a big week of practice and just going out there playing fast, dominating and doing whatever they want me to do."

Williams will be playing in his first road game at UConn but there is at least one familiar face waiting for Williams as Buffalo sophomore running back James Potts played with Williams at American Heritage before Williams transferred to Palm Beach Central for his senior season.

"I am looking forward to being able to see him in 1 on 1 in the open field and it is going to be fun," Williams said. "We spoke in preseason and he (busted my chops) a little bit and I can’t wait to be able to see him. We got the best of them last year so I know they have a chip on their shoulder."


UConn/Buffalo coaches to wear "Coach To Cure MD" patches

Coaches from UConn and Buffalo will wear Coach To Cure MD patches during Saturday's game as they will be a part of more than 10,000 college coaches from 611 schools taking part in Coach To Cure MD events.

This is the sixth year of Coach to Cure MD, a partnership between the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and Parent Project MD. The program has raised more than one million dollars in donations since 2008 for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Fans can donate $5 by texting the word CURE to 90999, or they can donate online at

UConn will play at Buffalo on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

DE Holines leaves UConn for UMass

Freshman defensive end Sha'ki Holines has left UConn and has enrolled at UMass. UMass coach Charley Molnar confirmed the news on his Twitter account.

Charley Molnar @CharleyMolnar
#UMassNation, FINALLY welcome @ShakiHolines to the family! #ShakiAndAwe #HolinesThanThou #MadeInMassachusetts #MarchOn

UConn confirmed that Holibes is no longer enrolled there.

According to a report by Bob McGovern on Maroon Musket, Holines is practicing with UMass but he is ineligible to play this season because of NCAA transfer regulations. Since he did not appear in any games at UConn, he will have four years of eligibility.

Holines is the third true freshman to transfer out of UConn as linebacker Cory Jasudowich is now at New Haven and quarterback Richard Lagow is enrolled at Oklahoma State.

We don't get to watch practice once the season starts but Holines was seeing some time with the third team defensive line during preseason camp.

I spoke to Holines after he played in the Chowder Bowl in June and he spoke about his decision to commit to UConn after originally being committed to UMass.

When I get there in the summer I am going to work out, use the facility to my best advantage to try to get as good as I can be so I can play my freshman year.

"When I was a freshman I used to watch them practice and after a while it became my dream school," Holines said. "Once I saw the facility I feel in love with that and I felt that was probably the way to get me out and go to the next level

"We have some good defensive players coming in, good quarterbacks and hopefully we can get some good recruits in next year so hopefully we can win the (American Athletic) conference championship.

"I think this group, with a couple of years together can by junior year, sophomore year we can make some things happen."

By my count there are seven players signed by UConn in Paul Pasqualoni's first two recruiting classes who are no longer with the program.

Former Hillhouse star Rennick Bryan headed to Dean College after he was declared academically ineligible. He is now enrolled at Gateway Community College finishing up the credits he needs to enroll at either New Haven or Southern Connecticut State, Ricky Gutierrez left the team after spring camp, Jason Sylva also headed to Dean and after he graduates, he will enroll at UMass while Wyatt Vinci also left after spring camp and he is enrolled at Diablo Valley Community College. He is on the football roster at Diablo Valley but has not played in any of the team's first three games.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

UConn is committed to Whitmer as starting QB

Whenever a team is sitting at 0-3 and sitting near the bottom of the NCAA database in most offensive categories there will be questions surrounding the starting quarterback.

Certainly that was the case today as UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni was asked more questions about Chandler Whitmer than any other player beginning with his take on the interception which led to the tying touchdown in Saturday's loss to Michigan.

"The only issue was that it was a tight window and he thought we could get it over the linebacker’s head," Pasqualoni said. "It is kind of the same exact throw as the last play of the game where he fit it in there. The linebacker just had a little bit more depth and really surprised me that he got up in the air with one hand.

"I’d like to see the approach that Chandler took after Geremy’s catch was replayed and taken back. What happens now? So we make this great play and they rule it is a no catch and in a game like that it is a big play. We come back on the sideline, Chandler had a great look and we are calling the next play. They are replaying it and I am saying ‘let’s get ready for the next play.’ I grab Chandler and say ‘OK Chandler this is what we are going to do.’ He has a great look in his eye and we all know what happened. We got to a third down and he made the play. That type of fire, that type of toughness mentally let’s come back and go after it, I’d like to see that every single series is what I would like to see. He knows it and he is working on it. That is what I would like to see out of any quarterback who plays here, to tell you the truth."

After Pasqualoni said all of that I asked him if Whitmer was playing at a good enough level to remain the No. 1 quarterback.

"Chandler’s playing," Pasqualoni said. "When he gets the ball out on time, he is managing the run game well, he gets the ball off quick. We need to run the ball better, we need to protect better, we need to help him too. It is always the quarterback (getting the credit or blame) but it is the supporting cast that helps too so we have to do a better job all the way around."

After the Michigan game Whitmer gave his thoughts on his performance through the first three games of the season.

"I’ve been happy with my decision making so far but the kids they are going to make plays, you have to be as smart as possible and try to protect the ball," Whitmer said. "I am going to try to improve on that and see where I could have done better."

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Former-walk on making an impact at UConn

When Spencer Parker graduated from Newington High and peered into the crystal ball at his future he has visions of a promising athletic future.

However, it was on the volleyball court where Parker thought he would be leaving his mark and not playing in front of a record 42,704 at Rentschler Field against 11-time national champion Michigan in a nationally-televised college football game.

Parker did more than just play in the game, he scored the Huskies' first touchdown when he caught an 11-yard pass from Chandler Whitmer with 3:54 to play in the first half.

He finished the game with 17 yards on a pair of catches. He caught a two-point conversion pass in the season-opening loss to Towson which isn't too shabby for a former walk-on.

"It is just awesome that it has worked out like that," Parker said. "Chandler threw a perfect ball and you can’t really ask for anything more. Things are unreal right now, it is awesome..

"My phone was completely blowing up with text messages, facebook messages, it is awesome to see everybody show so much support."

Parker originally enrolled at Division III Lasell College in Newton, Mass. As a freshman in 2010 Parker had a team-high 228 kills to go with 35 blocks and 95 digs. However, Lasell did not have a football team and Parker wasn't ready to give up on his football-playing days quite so quickly. As a senior at Newington High Parker passed for 1,487 yards and eight touchdowns while running for an additional 1,282 and 15 more scores. So he decided to transfer to UConn and take his chances at making the Huskies as a walk-on.

Arriving in time to take part in spring drills in 2011, Parker worked his way into being a key special teams' producer last season. Now he is the second-stringer tight end who has more straight-line speed than former UConn tight end and current Houston Texans' rookie Ryan Griffin according to UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni.

So this is how he drew it up coming out of high school, right?

"Not even close," Parker said. "I thought going to a school for volleyball I thought I would stay there for volleyball or transfer somewhere else bigger for volleyball. But initially I never thought that this would be anything that could happen, this is such an unreal experience and it is just awesome."

His teammates have a tremendous amount of respect for how hard Parker has worked to get to this point.

"For him and even the walk-ons who don’t play, I give them an unbelievable amount of credit and respect because what they do through day in and day out and to know  in the back of their heads that they are not going to even play," UConn sophomore running back Max DeLorenzo said, "Spencer is a different breed, a great athlete. He got an opportunity for his last year and credit  to him and all those guys because they are mentally tough."

Parker received the ultimate compliment from his head coach when Pasqualoni informed him earlier this semester that he was giving Parker a scholarship for his final season at UConn.

"I was down in the training room and he came down that day," Parker said. "I usually don’t see him that often he came in and he told me he was going to be able to put me on scholarship, shook my hand. It was such an awesome experience, I was just so happy."


Monday, September 23, 2013

UConn in NFL: Week 3

Former UConn star Jordan Todman scored his first career NFL
touchdown in Jacksonville's loss to Seattle on Sunday.
The biggest news surrounding the UConn products in the NFL other than the buzz being created by Jordan Todman's ill-advised touchdown celebration while Jacksonville Jaguars were being blown out is the number of former Huskies unable to suit up.

Donald Thomas, an offensive lineman for the Colts, went on injured reserve and four former Huskies were inactive due to injuries. The good news is that there are reports that one of those injured players, Jacksonville CB Dwayne Gratz, was seen today moving around without the aid of  a walking boot.

Here's a look at how the UConn profucts did during week 3.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 38-0 loss to Carolina
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland: Was inactive (leg)
Donald Brown, RB Indianapolis: Ran three times for 25 yards in 27-7 win over San Francisco
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had two tackles in 27-7 win over San Francisco
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Had two tackles in 27-20 loss to New York Jets
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Was inactive (ankle)
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Had one tackle in 30-9 loss to Baltimore
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had six tackles including a sack in 27-23 loss to Miami
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Was inactive (concussion)
Dan Orlovsky, Tampa Bay: Was inactive
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had two tackles in 20-17 loss to Tennessee
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had one catch for 10 yards
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Ran twice for five yards and had first career TD on 3-yard run in fourth quarter. Also had two tackles in 45-17 loss to Seattle.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Was inactive (hamstring).

UConn's injured starters "getting better"

On the American Athletic Conference weekly teleconference UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said that injured starters Kevin Friend, Taylor Mack, Shakim Phillips and Graham Stewart are making progress.

"They are all going to be out there trying (Tuesday)," Pasqualoni said. "Kevin will be out there trying, Shakim was out there yesterday. Those guys are all in doing their rehab work, doing their treatments. They moved around a little bit yesterday so tomorrow we will get a good idea of where we stand and where those guys are

"Everybody is getting better. There is nobody who went backyards so it is a day by day thing so we are optimistic that we will have some improvement as we work through the week"

Pasqualoni also said the atmosphere at Rentschler Field on Saturday night was "as good of an atmosphere that I have ever been around at any level of football anywhere."

Ty-Meer Brown receives CFPA honor

UConn junior safety Ty-Meer Brown was one of nine defensive backs to earn honorable mention recognition from the College Football Performance Awards site.

Brown had eight tackles,one of the Huskies' season-high 10 tackles for loss, forced a fumble and returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown in Saturday's 24-21 loss to Michigan.

Iowa's B.J. Lowery was named the national FBS Defensive Back of the Week after returning a pair of interceptions for touchdowns in a span of 3:34 in a 59-3 win over Western Michigan.

Brown is the second UConn player to earn CFPA honors this season as receiver Shakim Phillips was an honorable mention selection after his big game against Maryland.

Linebacker Yawin Smallwood was named to the American Athletic Conference weekly honor roll after recording 13 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble against Michigan.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Son's future at UConn among comments from Jack Cochran in interview

Jack Cochran, who is in his first season as the head football coach at Harding High after leading Bloomfield, New Britain and New London to a combined eight state titles, is not one to mince words. So when he appeared on the Laxworm X High School show on he gave an honest answer to what he thinks his son Casey should consider doing at the end of the season.

Cochran said that Casey, a backup redshirt freshman quarterback at UConn, figures to be on his third offensive coordinator in three years which is the nicest way of him saying he expects Paul Pasqualoni and his staff to be shown the door by season's end. The elder Cochran said he'd Casey to consider transferring from UConn.

"I just left, I went to the Michigan game and I got to see him after the game," Cochran said in an interview conducted earlier today. "The biggest thing now is he has to be happy with where he is in football, right now he is on his second offensive coordinator and at the quarterback position it is thousands of hours to learn the playbook and the chances are he is going to be his third offensive coordinator next year. He has to sit back and think about what he wants to do his last two years of college. I’d like him to maybe take a step back and go somewhere where it is not as business like in hours and just have a little bit of fun for the rest of his career."

So has Casey, who has fallen behind true freshman Tim Boyle in the battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot, expressed any interest in transferring?

"No, he’s on UConn now and he loves it there," Jack Cochran said. "He loves the kids on the team and enjoys it. I am not saying he is going to leave but with a third offensive coordinator in three years it is going to be tough. It is early in the morning, late at night just trying to learn a new offense. He’s got to enjoy it too, right now it is early in the morning and late at night and it is not too much other than football."

Other topics are raised in the interview with Cochran and his segment starts at the 25:00 mark


Whitmer reacts to game-changing interception

When Chandler Whitmer lofted a pass in Geremy Davis' direction early in the fourth quarter he thought he was putting it in a place where only Davis could come down with it. Michigan's Desmond Morgan, however, had other ideas.

Morgan broke on the ball, reached up with one arm to tap the ball to himself. One play after a 25-yard return, Michigan tied the game and would add a field goal to escape with a 24-21 victory over an inspired UConn team.

Whitmer addressed the interception following the game and said it was more of a case of Morgan making an exceptional play than it being a poor throw on his part.

"I was holding him with my eyes but he made a great play," Whitmer said. "He stuck his hand up there and was able to bring it back down. I am trying to get the ball to Geremy (Davis) and it is tough when you don’t have Shak (Phillips) out there and they can zero in on one guy but they ran a great route but the guy was able to reach up there. I tried to put it up high for Geremy to go up and get it but the guy made a great play.

"As soon as I let it go I thought ‘we have another big completion’ and I was ready for the next play. I’ve been happy with my decision making so far but the kids they are going to make plays, you have to be as smart as possible and try to protect the ball. I am going to try to improve on that and see where I could have done better

"I am a competitor and I was doing everything I could to give our team the best opportunity to win the game. Everybody was fighting for each other and that was positive to see."

This was Whitmer's eighth straight game with an interception and he was sacked four times bringing the total of 14 in three games (UConn gave up 33 sacks all of last season). It was a sack on the final two drives which ended any chance of the Huskies answering with a score of their own.

With Phillips out of the game due to a hamstring injury, there was nobody who could stretch the field. With no running game (UConn ranks 122 out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense), Michigan could get away with dropping seven players into coverage and made Whitmer fit balls into tight spaces.That was what happened on the interception.

"I think the linebacker really made a good play," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I think a lot of times I think you can fit that ball in over the linebacker but this kid just went up and got it with one hand. Are you asking me ‘do I wish he didn’t throw it?’ Yeah, it was intercepted and I wish he didn’t throw it but he fits a lot of other tight ones in there in the course of the game and especially the last one when we had a chance to almost make a first down on the last play and it is the same play. It is a tight window, a tough decision."

Some quick observations about the game. As Register columnist Chip Malafronte wrote, UConn played with much of passion last night than it showed in the first couple of the game. Who knows what UConn's record would be right now if the defense played with the same ferocity against Towson and Maryland as it did against Maryland.

Jefferson Ashiru and Angelo Pruitt had strong game against Michigan
I thought the right offensive tackles played better against Michigan without Kevin Friend out there. UConn used both Xavier Hemingway, who replaced Friend against both Towson and Maryland, and Dalton Gifford. They were beaten for a couple of sacks but it wasn't quite as harrowing for Whitmer as it had been in the first two games.

When last season ended I would have figured that Andrew Adams, Taylor Mack and David Stevenson to be among UConn's best five defensive backs. Adams and Stevenson missed the game due to injury and suspension respectively and Mack was knocked out of the game with what Pasqualoni termed a stinger. Still, dynamic receiver Jeremy Gallon to 31 yards on four receptions and Devin Gardner managed just 97 passing yards. Redshirt freshman Jhavon Williams had an outstanding game and even if Stevenson has his suspension lifted I can't him reclaiming his nickel corner spot from Williams.

Defensive coordinator Hank Hughes seemed to be more aggressive sending his linebackers and defensive backs on blitzes which helped the secondary. LBs and DBs had six of the Huskies' season-high 10 tackles for loss.

Up front Angelo Pruitt, Jesse Joseph and Reuben Frank made impact plays. Frank gives UConn some speed off the edge and I only see his role increasing as the season moves on while Pruitt played as well as I have seen him play in the last two seasons. Linebacker Jefferson Ashiru is making a case for more playing time even when Graham Stewart returns to the field. On the other side of things, this is the second straight game that seniors Tim Willman and Ryan Donohue were way too quiet and I have to wonder if they will lose snaps to more productive teammates as we go forward.

I liked seeing Max DeLorenzo getting a chance to carry the ball as he has six carries to eight for Lyle McCombs. In the first two games McCombs had 36 carries to just three for DeLorenzo. DeLorenzo gives UConn more of a downhill runner. Martin Hyppolite received his second carry of the season and it went for seven yards. I thought Hyppolite was the most impressive of the running backs during preseason camp and he is another big back. It will be interesting to see how the carries get allocated moving forward.

UConn has to improve on third down on both sides of the ball. Michigan ran eight plays of 3rd-and-10 or longer and picked up the first down three times which is an unacceptable ratio. Counting a 15-yard pass interference penalty, Michigan picked up 78 yards on eight plays of 3rd and 10 or longer. On the other side of things, UConn was 1 of 11 on third down. The only conversion was a big one as it was Whitmer's 11-yard TD pass to Spencer Parker. However, the other 10 third-down plays resulted in a total of minus 20 yards with six incompletions, two sacks and a pair of Whitmer to McCombs completions both going for minus 2 yards. UConn ranks 119th out of 123 FBS teams in third-down conversions going 10 for 42.

The best news for UConn's defense is that they are facing a quarterback who is not a rushing threat on Saturday as Buffalo starter Joe Licata has a total of minus 33 yards on 10 carries this season which includes eight sacks.After facing Maryland's C.J. Brown and Gardner, it will likely come as a relief that the Huskies don't need to be as concerned about the opposing quarterback making plays on scrambles and designed runs.

Strong ratings for UConn/Michigan game

The primetime football games which aired on ABC drew an overall 3.1 rating and while there is no breakdown of the total numbers for UConn/Michigan versus what the Texas/Kansas State drew but according to ESPN's Mike Humes, the game had an impressive 8.3 rating in the Hartford/New Haven market.

UConn, playing in front of the largest crowd in Rentschler Field history, led No. 15 Michigan 21-7 early in the second half before losing 24-21.

Paul Pasqualoni reflects on Michigan game

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni has had some time to digest what happened both positively and negatively in last night's game against Michigan and shared his thoughts on his weekly day after conference call with the media.

"There were some very encouraging things on film on both sides of the ball, some things that we obviously have to do a better job of finishing with but I think we are getting better and there are some things that we can build on

"We played with so many young players. The encouraging thing is we have young wide receivers in the game, we have first-year players in the game. Johnny Green is really trying to step up, trying to fill some big shoes, Deshon Foxx is still a first-year player gaining experience. He played and tried to be as productive as he could be. I thought Max DeLorenzo went into the game, played 15-19 plays and did a good job. I thought Martin Hyppolite went in and helped us in protection, Dalton Gifford came in and played really hard. Jefferson Ashiru went in and played his first game, an inexperienced guy really played down to down. He’s got some things to clean up but tried to give us good effort. Tyree Clark had to go into the game for Taylor Mack and he showed us that he could compete, he tried really hard assignment wise and made some plays for us. Brian Lemelle came in and caught some punts. I probably shouldn’t have put him in that situation right before the half, I should have let the clock run out but we were returning punts well and I got a little greedy. Jon Hicks went in on special teams and made some plays for us.

"We asked some guys to step up. We asked the older guys to try to take their game up a notch and I think we did that

"I don’t know if anybody has done the job on Gallon that our kids did in this game not letting him get a big one. I thought Byron Jones came back and made a great play (on the interception). He got beat on that play in the first game, he came back and got that play right. I thought first-year corner Jhavon Williams made some plays, played pretty consistent assignment wise so we played with a lot of first year and young players and I thought they tried to step up and that was very encouraging."

Obviously with injuries sidelining OT Kevin Friend, LB Graham Stewart and WR Shakim Phillips and CB Taylor Mack getting knocked out of the game with a stringer, Pasqualoni had little choice but to throw the young players in there.

"We don’t have a choice in some cases here," Pasqualoni said. "When you get as many people hurt as he have somebody has to play. It is not a matter of want to, it is a matter of need to and we need to put them in. I thought they did a respectable job. We are playing the 15th ranked team in the country, the most storied, winningest program in the history of college football and if you count up the number of young guys who are in that game, I thought they fought it pretty hard for the whole night."

Pasqualoni was asked to react to Chandler Whitmer's costly interception which led to the tying touchdown.

"I think the linebacker really made a good play. I think a lot of times I think you can fit that ball in over the linebacker but this kid just went up and got it with one hand. Are you asking me ‘do I wish he didn’t throw it?’ Yeah, it was intercepted and I wish he didn’t throw it but he fits a lot of other tight ones in there is the course of the game and especially the last one when we had a chance to almost make a first down on the last play and it is the same play. It is a tight window, a tough decision."

Pasqualoni addressed the decision to take back to back timeouts before that 4th-and-29 play.

"The first one was to see how they are lining up and we could see what the coverage was going to be and what the front was going to be and we were trying to garner information," Pasqualoni said. "The second time, I think they figured out what we were trying to do so we put Geremy on the other side and we tried to change the formation on them which worked. Chandler had the opportunity to go inside and go outside, they were both open so he took the inside guy. The safety came back over the Deshon and stopped him a couple yards short. It was the right thing to do."

With this being perhaps the most important recruiting weekend during the season, certainly playing in front of not only the largest home crowd but perhaps the loudest one as well and giving No. 15 Michigan all it could handle was a positive.

"What I said to them that this is the kind of atmosphere, the kind of fan support, the kind of game day conditions you will play in at the University of Connecticut," Pasqualoni said. "There will be a very tough conference (schedule), or non-conference opponents are going to be high level people just like what you saw tonight. For recruiting, for exposure, for our program it certainly was a very good night. We had a lot of kids there and we had a good time with them in the tent before the game, we had a great time with them on the sidelines and as disappointing as it was, they were all in the locker room after the game, we got a chance to talk to them and say hi to them and they had a chance to just be a part of a great effort and really a very good college football game. We are disappointed we lost but it was a great game in the state of Connecticut and in the Northeast for our conference, for our university and I thought we got a lot out it."

With yet another game when UConn made just enough mistakes to lose, Pasqualoni was asked if he thought the law of averages would come into play and perhaps the Huskies can start winning some of these tight affairs.

"I would hope so," Pasqualoni said. "I would hope we have a chance if we keep doing what you have to do, in the end the game is a fair game and you win your share of those. It is tough to lose a game like that but under the conditions of how many young kids we had to play, I thought the staff did a great job of getting the kids ready and the kids gave great effort."

Pasqualoni said it is too early to get a sense of the availability of the injured players for Saturday's road opener against Buffalo.

AAC commissioner talks about future and bowl tie-ins

Before last night's game against Michigan American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco sat down with the media for about 20 minutes and did what conference commissioners do and that is express optimism regarding the future prospects of their member schools.

Aresco certain did his fair share of that.

"The last 10 months have been pretty interesting but we are in a pretty good place with the conference and optimistic about the future," Aresco said.

"The top of our conference will be fine. This is a crossroads period for UConn obviously and they will build the program, no doubt about it. When teams used to join the old Big East they elevated their program whether it was Cincinnati, Louisville or South Florida. I think that is going to happen in this league. I am very optimistic. I talked to people who felt and still feel that this league has a chance to be a better football league than the old Big East because of where our markets are, where our teams are, the commitments our presidents and Ads are making to those programs. It is going to take a little while but Temple went out and played competitively against Notre Dame, played competitively against Houston yes we’ve have some FCS losses but so has everybody. You saw some losses in all the big conferences to FCS teams and there are some good FCS teams. SMU had a very good win against Montana State, that is a very good team so that is going to happen."

Aresco said specific details surrounding the AAC bowl tie-ins could be announced by the middle of next month.

"We will have in the range seven tie-ins. We haven’t finalized anything yet but we are very close. We will be working with the ESPN bowls again, St. Pete, Birmingham, Texas, we feel very confident we will get those finished. We also had a chance to go to Hawaii, we have the Military Bowl already done. We will be announcing our bowl game in Miami, we are getting it finished and it is going to happen. We think it is a great thing. The kind of conference we are and where we stand, we are competing with those five and we want to be closer to them and we think we are. We needed to do something innovative and bold and with the game in Miami we are getting very close and we will have good opponents to play.

"In addition we are going to do some backup deals. We’ve done one with the Liberty. We talked about being a backup so we can potentially put a team there, the power tier conferences some of them have gone pretty deep and there is a question of whether there will be a team available for certain bowls. We are going to have a couple of backups and remember we also have the opportunity to play in the college football playoffs if we are the highest ranked team among the conferences among the five conferences Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC. I think based on this year I think we will have a shot. I don’t know if it will be every year but we certainly think we could. If we are in one of those spots, we don’t lose any of the other spots we had in the bowls.

"We will have an 11-team league in ’15 so we may not need seven tie-ins in ’15 but most years we will have seven tie-ins. We will announce the rest of the games fairly soon, we think by mid October we will have it completed. We will be able to play the tier teams, In the Military Bowl we are playing the ACC all six years, in Birmingham we would play the SEC all six years, in Texas we would play a combination of Big 12 or Conference USA, in Hawaii we would probably play the Mountain West and we will have some other opportunities to play if we were ever in the Liberty Bowl down the road, we think we will have the opportunity to play either SEC or Big 12 and I think that might happen a few times over the six years, maybe even three times and some of our other backups will give us that opportunity. We are hopeful in our Miami game, the Pac-12 has not gone as deep as some other conferences and if there is a team available we can talk to them and we would hope that they would consider going to Miami to play one of our teams. We tried to keep flexibility of where we send our champion if our champion doesn’t go to the college playoffs, we have a range of bowls were we could potentially find a good team for that champion to play the most appropriate team in the most appropriate bowl. What we told our membership is we wanted to go to desirable destinations which we pretty much are and we also felt like we wanted to play as many of the power tier teams as possible. I think our bowl situation is going to work out well for the conference."


Late Wolverines push spoils special night for UConn

I'm not going to lie, once I heard that Kevin Friend, Graham Stewart and Shakim Phillips were not going to play, I thought this had a chance to get ugly really quickly.

Considering how much the Huskies have struggled to protect quarterback Chandler Whitmer when Friend was out of the lineup and the fact that Phillips is the closest thing UConn has to a game-breaking performer on offense, I didn't know if the Huskies would be able to stay with Michigan.

Yet, there they were with a 14-point lead in the second half before it all unraveled as Michigan rallied to beat the Huskies 24-21 before a record crowd of 42,704 at Rentschler Field.

“We will be better for that,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “We will be a better team for what we went through tonight. There are no moral victories, the outcome we are not discouraged but just a little disappointed.”

The biggest play in Michigan's comeback was a Chandler Whitmer interception which was snared by Desmond Morgan with a leaping one-handed play.

“We had the momentum but the kid made a play,” Whitmer said. “It is tough because we were making plays all night. It was tough because we really wanted this one and this really hurt. You have a team like that, a great team and in an atmosphere ad they made plays. It was a hard-fought game but it in the end they were able to put three more points on the board that we did.”

After a quick 3 and out by UConn and nifty punt return by Drew Dileo set up Brendan Gibbons for the go-ahead 21-yard field goal by Brendan Gibbons with 4:36 to play.

The final drive for UConn was short circuited by a costly sack.

The game came down to a 4th and 29 on UConn’s own 33. Whitmer found Deshon Foxx down the middle of the field but Foxx was tackled seven yards shy of the first down. With UConn using its final two timeouts before the fourth down play, all that was left was for Michigan to take a knee three straight times to improve to 4-0.

UConn played without three injured starters as offensive tackle Kevin Friend (ankle), linebacker Graham Stewart (ankle) and receiver Shakim Phillips (hamstring) were held out of the game after being injured in the loss to Maryland. Pasqualoni said none of them were particularly close to playing against Michigan. Starting cornerback Taylor Mack was knocked out of the game in the first half with a shoulder injury.

Foxx led UConn with five catches for 60 yards while Smallwood had 13 tackles including two tackles for losses.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

More high-profile home games in UConn's future

Home games don't get much bigger than hosting Michigan on Saturday night in a game being televised by ABC.

However, there will be other games of note being played at Rentschler Field in the future including a Nov. 8 game against Louisville. Next year BYU and Boise State are coming into play the Huskies with Tennessee and Virginia coming to Rentschler in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

"We want, I want for our team and for our fans to bring as attractive of a schedule in the non-conference and do the things home and away to prepare our teams for the conference and to go on and be successful in our conference," UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel said. "We are going to continue to work at that, continue to try to schedule a strong schedule in the non conference, one that will prepare our team and that our fans will enjoy. That has sort of been where I am as a competitor. I want us to be able to play against top teams and to bring them here to our stadium and play more home and home against top teams when I can. It all depends on how it works out, who is available and who wants come and what dates are available."

Look back at UConn's history against ranked teams

UConn's history against FBS top 25 teams sits at 2-18 including 1-5 mark at home.

Here's a list of the games against ranked teams

9-1-2001: at No. 9 Virginia Tech 52-10 loss
10-5-2002: at No. 1 Miami 48-14 loss
9-27-2003: at No. 5 Virginia Tech 47-13 loss
10-13-2004: vs. No. 17 West Virginia 31-17 loss
9-17-2005: at No. 16 Georgia Tech 28-13 loss
11-2-2005: at No. 16 West Virginia 45-13 loss
12-3-2005: vs. No. 16 Louisville 30-20 loss
10-20-2006: vs. No. 4 West Virginia 37-11 loss
10-29-2006: at No. 15 Rutgers 24-13 loss
12-2-2006: at No. 6 Louisville 48-17 loss
10-27-2007: vs. No. 11 South Florida 22-15 win
11-24-2007: at No. 4 West Virginia 66-21 loss
12-6-2008: vs. No. 23 Pittsburgh 34-10 loss
9-12-2009: vs. No. 19 North Carolina 12-10 loss
10-24-2009: at No. 23 West Virginia 28-24 loss
11-7-2009: at No. 5 Cincinnati 47-45 loss
1-1-2011: vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl) 48-20 loss
10-8-2011: at No. 16 West Virginia 43-16 loss
10-6-2012: at No. 22 Rutgers 19-3 loss
11-24-2012: at No. 19 Louisville 23-20 (3OT) win

Touchdowns galore for UConn commits last night

Alec Bloom had three touchdown receptions including a 48-yard scoring catch to lead his Ligonier Valley team to a 29-8 win over Marion Valley.

Bloom, a 6-foot-7 tight end, finished with 84 receiving yards on five catches.

Luke Carrezola had a 26-yard touchdown reception as Neshaminy defeated Tennent 41-7. Carrezola also helped hold Tennent to 154 yards of total offense.

Logan Marchi passed for 350 yards and three touchdowns and scored the go-ahead 5-yard touchdown with less than 7 minutes to play as St. Paul defeated Watertown to pick up its first victory of the season while Arkeel Newsome ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns in less than a half of football as Ansonia defeated Sacred Heart 54-6.

Tom Rodrick had scoring runs of 5 and 23 yards in Leicester's 40-7 win over Oxford.

Friday, September 20, 2013

UConn/Michigan tickets in high demand

According to the site, the average ticket price of $144 for tomorrow's UConn/Michigan is the highest for any UConn home game.

The previous high was $68 per ticket for the 2010 game against West Virginia. Here's some of the highlights courtesy of an email I received this morning.

At an average ticket price of $144, this is the most in-demand Huskies home game ever. In fact, it is more than twice as expensive as any other UConn home game, including the Huskies' 2010 game against West Virginia ($68 average ticket price), which previously held the title. Activity on the secondary market is also at a record high for a UConn game, as twice as many tickets have already changed hands for this game as for any other Huskies game we've tracked.
Demand for this game is also 32 percent higher than for the 2011 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, which featured UConn and Oklahoma. The average ticket price for that BCS bowl game was $109.
This game ranks as the second-most expensive sporting event in the state of Connecticut that we've ever tracked, behind only the UConn men's basketball team's 2012 game against Syracuse ($174 average ticket price).
The Wolverines' visit to Rentschler Field is by far the Huskies' biggest draw of the season. The average ticket price of $144 for this Michigan matchup is six times the average ticket price of UConn's other six home games this year ($24), including a meeting on November 8th with No. 7 Louisville. Seats for that Cardinals-Huskies game are selling for $30 per ticket on the secondary market.
Demand is at an all-time high for a UConn home game despite the Huskies' disappointing start to the season. In fact, we would have expected to see an even higher average ticket price for this game had UConn not suffered disappointing home losses to Towson and Maryland over the past few weeks. The average ticket price for the Michigan game has fallen 16 percent from $172 the day before the Towson loss to its current value of $144.
Right now on SeatGeek, the cheapest seats available for this game are $88 per ticket in Section 117, but we've seen front-row seats sell for as much as $565 per ticket. All the latest information on ticket prices and availability can be found on SeatGeek’s event page for the game: