Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Smallwood's Pick-6 perfect way for UConn's losing streak to end

It would be pretty hard to find a player in the country who has the respect of admiration of his teammates more than UConn junior middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood.

So when it was Smallwood stepping in front of a P.J. Walker and racing 59 yards for the winning touchdown in Saturday's win at Temple, for his teammates it was the perfect way for the Huskies to end the season-long losing streak.

"That was perfect," said cornerback Tyree Clark, who saw action as the nickel corner due to injuries to David Stevenson and Jhavon Williams. "That is how the game should have ended. My man goes in motion and I see him breaking, I plant, look over and I can see Yawin coming and know we had this play. I had to make sure I blocked my man so he couldn’t catch him."

Senior defensive end Tim Willman, who had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, was not shocked to see Smallwood step into a starring role when the Huskies needed him the most.

"When the game is on the line, your best players have to make plays and he is clearly one of our best players," Willman said.

Smallwood had a chance to intercept a pass earlier in the game and showed some frustration when he couldn't hold onto the ball. Given a second chance, he made sure history did not repeat.

"We’ve been going over that route concept all week in practice," Smallwood said, "I was geared up for it and I was waiting for it. I dropped one earlier and I just missed it so the scoreboard was 21-21 and I knew a play had to be made. I am not the type of guy who is going to wait for somebody else to make it, I needed to make the play myself. I am the leader of this defense, leader of this team so I have no problem stepping up and doing it."

This has not been the easiest of seasons for Smallwood even if he has recorded his second straight 100-tackle campaign. A year ago he was flanked by veteran linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson, senior playmakers Trevardo Williams and Ryan Wirth were up front with Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwyane Gratz at cornerback. Injuries and graduation led to Smallwood playing alongside a relatively inexperienced defensive unit. The losses ate away at Smallwood.

"It definitely has been rough for me," Smallwood said. "I am a competitive guy and I don’t like to lose and especially since we’ve been working really hard and putting in a lot of effort but there is nothing else I can do except keep grinding, keep pushing to get better and get this team better. That has been my focus all season."

The biggest question with Smallwood is whether he will be back for his senior season. There have been multiple reports from NFL draft insiders speculating that Smallwood is going to make himself available for the 2014 NFL draft and he has been rated among the top 50 players on multiple draft databases. He said he will put his focus on his pro future at the appropriate time.

"Right now I am a college football player. I owe my respect to my team, to my coaches to focus on college football right now so that is what I am going to do," Smallwood said.

When I did a feature on UConn commit Logan Marchi in the preseason, he said his No. 1 goal was to lead his St. Paul team to the playoffs as a senior. That is not going to happen as St. Paul has been eliminated from postseason contention. So tonight's game against Xavier will be the final one of his remarkable high school career.

Marchi has had an outstanding season season. His 3,220 passing yards is the seventh highest total in state history. Marchi would need to throw for 489 yards to set the state single-season record set by Cromwell's Anthony Morales in 2011. It's more likely he moves into at least the No. 3 spot (currently held UConn starting quarterback Casey Cochran) or perhaps even into the second spot. Marchi does already hold one state record with 1,182 career passing attempts.

Speaking of records, Marchi is currently tied with Cochran for the state career record with 112 passing touchdowns and he needs nine completions to break Cochran's state career record in that category. Marchi also needs 298 yards to join Cochran as the only players with 10,000 career passing yards.

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