Tuesday, September 30, 2014

UConn Foundation raises enough funds to erect Jasper Howard memorial statue

UConn announced that a statue honoring the late Jasper Howard will be unveiled at halftime of the Nov. 1 game against Central Florida after the required amount of funds were raised by the UConn Foundation.

The movement to have a permanent memorial to Howard, who was stabbed to death on Oct. 18, 2009, was spearheaded by Dan and Lisa Lowry of Prospect. They started an online petition that received the support of the UConn alumni playing in the NFL, many of them former teammates of Howard's. That led to the UConn Foundation opened a secure giving fund with Maryland coach Randy Edsall, the UConn coach at the time of Howard's death, provided the lead gift in the fundraising campaign.

“Jasper Howard represented everything that is good about college athletics,” Edsall said in a statement. “He loved being a student-athlete at UConn. His tragic death had a bonding reaction with the entire UConn community that none of us will ever forget for the rest of our lives.”

The current UConn players, although they never played with Howard, threw their support behind the project including sophomore cornerback Jhavon Williams, who has worn Howard's No. 6 in each of the last two seasons.

"I wear the jersey now but it is not actually my number, it will always be Jasper Howard's," Williams said. 

"It always means something since day one when I stepped on this campus, I have been honored to wear that number knowing all eyes are going to be on me," Williams said, "I have to work harder than I have ever worked before on the field and off the field. It is a blessing to wear that number knowing that somebody like Jasper Howard (wore the number) and only a few number of players get to wear that number 6 so it is phenomenal.

"I have so much respect for Jasper Howard, what he went through and his family (endured), I have to be close to perfect wearing that number. Every day I wake up, everything, going to class on time, it makes me have a different approach about a lot of things."

Funds will continued to be raised for the Jasper T. Howard Endowed Scholarship Fund at UConn, which is presented annually to a cornerback on the Husky football team who best embodies the qualities of Howard. For information on how to contribute to that fund, visit http://s.uconn.edu/howardscholarship.

UConn in the NFL: Week 4 report

These are tough times for the UConn alumni on NFL rosters.

A leg injury sent Tyvon Branch of the Oakland Raiders to injured reserve (where he joins fellow former Husky Donald Thomas of the Indianapolis Colts). Then cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Blidi Wreh-Wilson of the Tennessee Titans suffered concussions on Sunday. They join the growing list of UConn products on the injury list as Marcus Easley of the Buffalo Bills missed Sunday's game against Houston and is expected out another 3-5 weeks with a knee injury while an ankle injury has kept Sio Moore out of the last two Oakland Raiders' games.

It wasn't all bad news as four former Huskies (Donald Brown, Kendall Reyes, Dwayne Gratz and Jordan Todman) got into the San Diego/Jacksonville game while Will Beatty continues to show that he is back among the top left tackles in the NFL.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 45-14 win over Washington and was named to the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week.
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Had 19 yards on 10 carries and 35 yards on four catches in 33-14 win over Jacksonville
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had three tackles in 41-17 win over Tennessee
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Did not play
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had three tackles in 33-14 loss to San Diego
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have a catch in 23-17 win over Buffalo 
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had three tackles in 27-24 win over Pittsburgh and he is now listed as a starter on depth chart
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had three tackles in 38-21 loss to Minnesota
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Did not play
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had one tackle in 33-14 win over Jacksonville
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Did not record a stat but helped Knile Davis and Jamaal Charles rush for 199 yards in 41-14 win over New England
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had one tackle in 38-21 win over Atlanta
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had two catches for 20 yards and a 4-yard catch in 33-14 loss to San Diego
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had four tackles in 41-17 loss to Indianapolis

Monday, September 29, 2014

Former soccer player emerges into team leader for UConn football team

As the most experienced player on a struggling offensive line, it has not been the best of senior seasons for Alex Mateas.

He was whistled for costly penalties on more than one occasion in Saturday's loss to Temple and when I asked UConn coach Bob Diaco how Mateas, a team captain, has been handling his leadership role on a conference call this morning he basically said that he'd like for Mateas to merely focus on his responsibilities and leave the job of working with the other linemen to the coaching staff.

With all that being said, Mateas' journey to becoming a team captain at UConn is a rather unique one.

His father is a former professional soccer player and well-respected soccer coach in Canada, his former AAU basketball coach spent a few years as an assistant with the Canadian national team and yet Mateas has made his mark on the football field. I spoke to Mateas during media day about his soccer background and finally got around to writing the story on how he landed at UConn.


UConn's Melifonwu is "day to day"

On Monday's conference call with the media UConn football coach Bob Diaco said that starting safety Obi Melifonwu, who appeared to injure his shoulder with 4:34 left in the second quarter of the loss to Temple when he dove at the legs of Temple running back Jamie Gilmore, is considered day to day and he is hopeful that Melifonwu will be able to play against Tulane on Oct. 11.

Diaco said Melifowu, who is third on the team with 20 solo tackles, was having his best game of the season before he was injured.

The news is not as promising on starting right tackle Dalton Gifford and backup safety Ellis Marder who Diaco said with both "be out a while" with lower-leg injuries suffered against Temple. I didn't see when Gifford was injured but he barely played at tackle following the opening series. When he did come back, he was clearly hobbled on the play resulting in Temple's second defensive touchdown while Marder, who had two tackles and a fumble recovery on special teams, needed help getting to the sidelines after going down on Saturday. After Melifonwu went down Marder was the player summoned off the bench to replace him and saw the majority of snaps at the position before he was injured.

Although Gifford started, Andreas Knappe played almost the entire game on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Tommy Hopkins will be Knappe's primary backup while Gifford is sidelined.

"He is a freshman trying to get better," Diaco said. "He will do a fine job, tough guy hard worker and wants to be good."

Diaco also didn't make a big deal out of former Hand High star Matt Walsh making his first career start at fullback against Temple saying that he likes both Walsh and Jazzmar Clax, who started three games this season (UConn went with two tight ends and no fullback to open up against Boise State. Diaco said Clax had a good week but also likes the progress he has seen from Walsh.

"I like them both," Diaco said. "I want to be sure we are honoring the preparation, creating accountability. The only way to do to do what we say and what we make important is important. Jazz has some great skills and ability and Matt is coming on too."

The bye week will not only give Melifonwu time to get healthy but should help backup quarterback Tim Boyle heal from his lower-leg pain. Diaco said if Boyle is health enough his plan is to play him every game and he is open to utilizing receiver Deshon Foxx at quarterback in future games. 

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Former UConn OL Beatty recognized by PFF

It wasn't long ago that fans of the New York Giants were calling for former UConn offensive tackle Will Beatty to lose his starting job. Now he is among the top-rated left tackles in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, a site that breaks down game tape to provide individual player ratings.

Beatty and Pittsburgh's Marcus Gilbert were named as the offensive tackles on the PFF Team of the Week. Beatty has given a perfect rating on pass protection and finished with a plus 3.3 rating in Thursday's win over Washington.

Beatty was also named to the PFF Team of the Week after the Giants' week 2 game against the Cardinals. He is the only former UConn player named to the PFF Team of Week although Anthony Sherman was the honorable mention selection at fullback last week.

The American Athletic Conference announced that Oct. 11 UConn/Tulane game will kickoff at 8 and air on ESPNews.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Plenty of highlights for UConn commits over the weekend

Quarterback Tyler Davis ran 30 times for 373 yards including touchdown runs of 30, 64 and 59 yards and was 13 of 20 passing for 143 yards with scoring strikes of 20 and 24 yards as Mepham (N.Y.) defeated Elmont Memorial 42-26.

Chris Lee caught six passes for 96 yards including touchdown receptions of 10, 8 and 7 yards but his Severna Park (Md.) team lost 28-27 to Annapolis in overtime.

Frank Battle had four catches for 116 yards to lead his Belen Jesuit squad to a 10-7 win over South Fort Myers on Friday. Battle has 12 catches for 171 yards in the first four games of the season.

Nazir Williams had five catches for 84 yards including a 30-yard touchdown in Bridgeton (N.J.) High's 27-26 loss to River Dell.

Aaron Garland returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown in Fenwick (Ill.) High's 38-0 win over DePaul Prep

New potential wrinkle in UConn's offense

It is wise not to read too much into any production during the garbage time portion of football games.

As was the case with Tim Boyle's impressive drive late in the Boise State, Deshon Foxx's impressive work running the read option in the closing minutes of yesterday's loss to Temple was done against second-string defenders and a conservative defensive game plan. Still, with an offense that has done little except to prove it can consistently hand the other team glorious scoring opportunities, perhaps UConn has something new to bring to the table.

Foxx has been quietly seeing some time at quarterback in practice since one final concussion ended Casey Cochran's playing career with the Huskies.

It was the way I thought UConn would end up going because I specifically looked for walk-on Will Rishell, who has been listed as the No. 3 quarterback since Cochran stopped playing, to take some snaps in pregame warmups (we aren't allowed into practice once preseason camp ends) and have yet to see it. I didn't even see Rishell among the Huskies who made the trip to South Florida earlier this month. I speculated that Kamal Abrams, a productive high school quarterback, could be the guy but a couple of weeks ago the word was that Deshon Foxx was the one who would be the Huskies' emergency quarterback moving forward.

When Bob Diaco met with the media the day after announcing that Cochran's playing career was over I asked him if Abrams or another player was being groomed to be an emergency quarterback.

"Not any that I am interested in saying" was Diaco's guarded response.

It wasn't an emergency that resulted in Foxx lining up in the shotgun on UConn's final offensive possession yesterday. He handed off to Ron Johnson on the first three times and five times during a nine-play drive.

For those wondering, Foxx said he played quarterback at Brookville High School in Lynchburg, Virginia although his team operated in a spread offense.

On Saturday Foxx ran the ball three times including a 26-yard effort, the Huskies' longest run since Lyle McCombs rumbled for 38 yards against Southern Methodist on Nov. 16. Likely just to give future opponents something else to have to prepare for, the UConn staff had Foxx throw the ball and he completed a 4-yard pass to Noel Thomas.

"It is the end of the game, you don't want to risk anything happening to your two quarterbacks," Foxx said. "I have been doing it here or there.

Foxx, who did not catch a pass in the game, isn't sure if he will get future opportunities to play quarterback but he does offer the dimension of a running threat at the quarterback position which is something the Huskies haven't had since Scott McCummings was used as the quarterback in the wildcat formation a couple years ago.

"If they feel like it will help the offense," Foxx said. "I know they will do whatever for our team to win they will do whatever they have to do."

Diaco made it clear after the Temple game that not only is Foxx viewed as a potential option at quarterback, but he will not just be a running threat if called upon again in live game action.

"Foxx is a quarterback," Diaco said. "He can throw too, he can throw down the field. He can throw the intermediate (routes), he can throw the ball shallow, he can move with the ball and throw on the run and we have a whole package of plays for him, runs and passes."

A trace of a smile came across Foxx's face when he was asked if he could throw the ball down the field.

"I can do a little something, maybe one day we will see," Foxx said.If nothing else, that final drive enabled UConn to finish a game with more than 100 rushing yards for the first time this season.

Max DeLorenzo ran eight times for 31 yards on the opening drive of the game while freshman Arkeel Newsome took a pass from Whitmer 74 yards for the Huskies' only offensive touchdown and the team's longest offensive play since Shakim Phillips' 75-yard touchdown reception in a Sept. 14, 2013 loss to Maryland.

"That was definitely cool," Foxx said of the former Ansonia High star's first collegiate touchdown. "I was very happy that he was able to get the touchdown especially as a freshman to show what he could do. He got into the open field, he made a couple people miss and he was in the end zone quick. That is another weapon we have.

"He doesn't complain, he doesn't say anything. Whatever you tell him to do, he does it to the best of his ability. I am proud of him and happy to have him on our team."

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

UConn continues to make things difficult for itself

It would be easy to think that the members of the UConn football team believe there are bonus points for a higher degree of difficulty.

Beginning with a 31-10 loss to Louisville on Nov. 8, UConn has surrendered multiple non-offensive touchdowns in three of the last 10 games including the two defensive touchdowns Boise State scored in a 38-21 loss on Sept. 13 and the two defensive scores and safety surrendered to Temple today.

"Sixteen uncontested points (on two defensive touchdowns and a safety) make it impossible to win, period," Diaco said. 

"You have some exposure there that creates some of those circumstances," Diaco said. "We are unhappy with the four explosive play passes (allowed) because that is just not what we do. We don't have our defense structured to give up explosive play passes so when they had the four explosive play passes, that was disappointing. They only really had two scoring drives, the other field goals were plus-field setups and we gave up 16 uncontested points. We are all disappointed. 

"We are not crushed, players understand what we are going to do. We have a bye week and we are going to concentrate on getting better."

The win was extra special to Temple junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, a Stratford native and former St. Joseph High standout.

"We just stuck to our game plan and we get stronger as the game went on," Matakevich said. "We knew the defense was going to keep us in the game. We were playing excellent on defense and that is what we do, that is our brand. We are going to make big plays. It was just a matter of time before P.J. and the guys got things rolling."
Former Ansonia High star Arkeel Newsome drew a charge from the home crowd when he took a screen pass, shook off a tackle at the 30 and zig zagged his way across the field for a 74-yard touchdown.

Any momentum the Huskies might have gotten ended when after a defensive stop, Temple pinned the Huskies at the 2. On the next play there was miscommunication between Whitmer and Newsome resulting in Matakevich getting credit for the safety.

"I thought they were going to blow the play dead because they had people moving on the line and as soon as I saw them stop, I filled the hole and I just whacked him," Matakevich said. "The next thing you know you see the ref putting up the (safety) signal and we started going nuts."
UConn lost starting safety Obi Melifonwu to an upper body injury in the second quarter as he attempted to make a tackle. He immediately came off the field with his shoulder slumped.

"I'd say it is not insignificant," Diaco said. "I would say that he is probably going to be classified as injured. I just don't know if it is going to be day to day of it is going to persist."

UConn  played without punter Justin Wain, who suffered a lower-leg injury in Thursday's practice. 

Geremy Davis, who led UConn with eight catches for 80 yards, left the game but Diaco said is was merely an issue with dehydration and he could have returned to the game. UConn did run for a season-high 133 yards and Marquise Vann led UConn with nine tackles.

UConn still running in place

It wasn't too long ago that UConn was among the most productive running teams in the nation as Husky running backs had 200-yard rushing games seven times from 2003-2009.

However, that seems like ancient history when looking at this year's team.

There are 125 teams playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level and UConn joins Kent State and Washington State as the only programs without a 100-yard rushing game this season. No, I am not talking about a back breaking into triple digits but a team putting up 100 yards on the ground.

UConn coach Bob Diaco said he is seeing progress. He thought there were more creases in the run game against South Florida than in previous games but the backs, forced to improvise to try to make something out of nothing earlier in the season did so unnecessarily in that game.

"It is getting a lot better," UConn redshirt freshman Josh Marriner said. "Coach is with us every day as far as the running backs and the offense, we just continue to move forward."

So where does Marriner think he can make the most improvement?
"Being a little more patient," Marriner said, "I am kind of quick some on some plays sometimes."

Diaco is still moving forward with the plan of having four tailbacks carry in the ball. Before the season he said he'd like to have one guy get the call 20 or so times but no running back has carried the ball more than 10 times in a game this season. It is a subject I asked Diaco about in Tuesday's press conference.

"It's been one guy one week, one guy the next week and one guy the next week," Diaco said. "We have three talented freshmen backs, I will tell you that. Max (DeLorenzo) is doing a hell of a job in leading the team, leading the offense and being a tough guy for us without a doubt. We are pleased with Max and when you think of Josh, Arkeel (Newsome) and Ron (Johnson) for the next 3 1/2 to four years, it is pretty awesome."

With all the focus on Diaco's decision to abandon the passing game until the closing minutes against South Florida after disastrous results the first four times UConn attempted to throw the ball against USF led to me asking Diaco how a team gets to the point to not being able to drop back to pass regardless of the weather conditions.

"The front right now needs a massive amount of work, the offensive line and tight ends need a massive amount of work in the run game and the pass game," Diaco said. "Rome wasn't built in a day and this won't be either. It is a fair question. they made improvement in the area of the run game and still have a long way to go there but an even further distance to go in the pass game so again you probably have to do even more things to help them and manage the game for them so they can kind of take baby steps in that area of protection."

Temple has given up rushing yardage this season so it will be interesting to see if UConn can establish a consistent running game today.

They always work hard and fight, now they are executing their assignments much better, have a better idea of knowing what to do and when you know what to do, you can play fast and physical. They are starting to do that.

We prepared to win the game and run whatever plays we can. It is not like I just go to sleep on the run game or the receivers aren't blocking. I think they did a good job out there being physical and that is where the long runs come from with the receivers blocking downfield. We can use the weapons both in the pass and run game. You want to stay balanced but you also want to do what is the best for the team.

I think it can be an explosive offense passing and running as well. There are a lot of backs who can really move and play and I think it is exciting. We know what we can do in the pass game as well and when we put it all together, I think we will be explosive.

Progress wel, they kind of got thrown into this with the running back only have two (returning players) so it is great ot have them on the team, great for them to step up to the challenge and do what they need to do so it has been a great asset 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Honoring the true heroes this weekend

It is just a coincidence that UConn's Military Appreciation Day is going to fall on a day when the military was already planning to be at the center of football festivities in the state.

A few hours before a field-sized American flag will be on display during national anthem and a flyover by “Miss Hap”, the oldest surviving B-25 in the United States dating back to World War II, about 1,000 cadets from the U.S. Military Academy will be marching into the Yale Bowl before Army faces Yale.

For those planning to be at both events, it would require an early exit from the Yale game since UConn officials are requesting that fans are in their seats by 3:30 p.m. for the ceremony and the Yale game doesn't start until shortly after 1 p.m. However, it should make for some special moments for fans heading out to either game on Saturday.

As for those wanting to see the Cadets march into Yale Bowl, I would suggest getting there early. The plan is for them to arrive around 9:30 (Derby Avenue will be closed for about 10 minutes around the time of their arrival) and then will proceed across Derby Avenue. There will also be paratroopers coming into Yale Bowl closer to kickoff time.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Freshmen making an impact on defense for UConn

One of the more intriguing aspects of the way UConn has gone about things on the defensive side of the ball has been how the younger players are being utilized more and more with each passing week.

In Friday's loss at South Florida the freshmen class had more solo tackles than either the senior or sophomore classes.

Junior Joseph led the way with four solo tackles including two tackle for losses, Foley Fatukasi had three tackles including one of the Huskies' 10 tackles for loss while Jamar Summers and Luke Carrezola each had a solo tackle.

"Foley played his best game Friday night and I am looking forward to him participating more," UConn coach Bob Diaco, "These guys are going to be around here for a long time. It is not just the end of '14 and '15, these guys are here '15 and beyond, Mikal (Myers, a sophomore defensive lineman), (freshman linebacker) Vontae (Diggs) played a bunch, (Luke) Carrezola played a bunch, Junior Joseph is making a big impact in the games at outside linebacker, it is exciting."

For those interested in the class breakdown, here you go
SENIORS: 6 solo tackles, 5 assists
JUNIORS: 29 solo tackles, 13 assists
SOPHOMORES: 8 solo tackles, 2 assists
FRESHMEN: 9 solo tackles

"I couldn't imagine playing as a true freshman going back to when I was 17/18 years old," said Byron Jones, one of three seniors to have tackles against USF, "I wasn't mature enough, physically mature enough at that time to even think about playing so the fact that those guys are out there and playing well is a testament to their work.

"They have to continue to stay on the right path. It is a long career for them, they have to keep working. They understand that and coach Diaco is going to pull every little piece he can out of them."

UConn's Mueller a semifinalist for Campbell Trophy

UConn senior Adam Mueller is one of 167 players named as semifinalists for the prestigious Campbell Trophy.

Mueller was a member of the Big East All-Academic team in 2011 and 2012 and the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team in 2013 when he was the Huskies' top long snapper for the first 10 games of the season.

Here is the official criteria to be named to the list of semifinalists

Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates for the awards must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. The class is selected each year by the NFF Awards Committee.

Southern Connecticut State's Jack Mallis, Trinity's Mike Mancini and Yale's Tyler Varga are also among the semifinalists.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Football A-listers react to death of UConn's Toner

Yesterday Geno Auriemma and Jim Calhoun, the Hall of Fame basketball coaches John Toner hired during his time as UConn's director of athletics, weighed in on his legacy after news hit of Toner's death at the age of 91.

Today courtesy of the National Football Foundation, there are more tributes coming in for Toner, who was UConn's football coach from 1966-70 and the AD from 1969-87.

Toner, a former NFF vice chairman and winner of the organization's Distinguished American Award in 1986, made enough of an impact through his service to the NFF that they established the John L. Toner Award in 1997 given out annually to a college athletic director.

Here are some quotes from Archie Manning, NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell and Columbia AD Dianne Murphy.

“John Toner stood as a giant among athletic administrators, and the mere mention of his name meant integrity and respect,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “He brought immediate credibility to the efforts of the National Football Foundation, and he served on the NFF board with extreme passion and enormous impact. He put the scholar-athlete first, and his opinions and actions helped shape the NCAA and the college football landscape for decades. Today marks a very sad day for the NFF and all of college athletics. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

“John Toner was a good friend and supporter long before I arrived at the National Football Foundation,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “And that trust only grew as we served together on the NFF Board. His insights and guidance helped frame the direction of our organization during the past two decades, and he provided critical counsel on numerous occasions, especially as it related to NCAA matters. When John spoke people listened, and it is a fitting tribute that the ultimate award in college administration is given in his name each year. We extend our deepest condolences to his family. We share their loss, and we will work hard to carry on his legacy.”

“I was privileged to know John Toner as both a mentor and friend.  The world of collegiate athletics and Columbia Athletics has lost a wonderful advocate and giant in the business,” said Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, Director, Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education at Columbia in a statement on the school’s website.  “John had an amazing and prestigious career at the University of Connecticut.  He was a beloved part of the Columbia Athletics Family and we were always so happy to have him with us at Homecoming and The Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame.  We will miss him.  I will miss him.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

UConn's Lee making an impact on special teams

Wading through UConn's team stats on the NCAA site isn't always the easiest of tasks considering the way the Huskies have struggled in the first four games of the season.

However, while many of the offensive and defensive numbers aren't exactly pretty, the Huskies' special teams' unit has more than held up its end of the bargain.

Not only has kicker Bobby Puyol gone 5 for 5 on field goals and produced four touchbacks on 13 kickoffs but punter Justin Wain is averaging 40.7 yards per kick.

The coverage teams have also been rather special as UConn ranks second among 125 FBS teams allowing 13.6 yards per kickoff return and are 49th nationally with an average of 5.5 yards per punt return.

Junior safety Wilbert "Junior" Lee has been at the forefront of the Huskies' stingy coverage units. In Friday's loss to South Florida he had four tackles on punt returns and another on a kickoff return.

"I just sprinted up the field and made the tackle every time I could,' Lee said.

"When I go out on special teams, if I miss the tackle I am going to go out there and fight to get back in there."

On at least one occasion Lee was knocked to the ground but was able to get up and still be the guy making the primary tackle on special teams which shows that he not only has the talent but desire to be an impact player on special teams.

"My job was to force him inside and make sure he doesn't get outside," Lee said. "I did that and at the same time I was like 'look, he is not going to break anymore tackles' so I sprinted my way and made the tackle.

"I want coaches on the opponent's end to watch film and say 'look, we have to find a way to stop this guy. Most people don't look at it that way on special teams, don't take it to that level but what I do that I get in this zone that these coaches will recognize me in the next game and they will try to find a way to stop me."

Lee is starting to earn more playing time at safety and he plans on being ready whenever his number is called.

"He (head coach Bob Diaco) didn't know me (when he was hired) but the best thing to do is get their trust, earn their trust. Let him know and show him I know all the plays, I know the checks, I know where my fits are in the defense. I strive for that in practice and once he sees that I will continue (to produce) and see if I can get some plays in."

Lee has certainly gotten Diaco's attention.

"He has a nose for the ball, he is very aggressive, he is confident, he studies the game," Diaco said. "He runs full speed, believes he is going to make the tackle and aggressively goes and tackles the guy. He has been a big help to the special teams."

When writing the history of UConn athletics it would not take very long to getting to John Toner's name.

The long-time director of athletics was responsible for hiring some of the program's most legendary coaches. Toner passed away earlier today at the age of 91. While details of how UConn will honor his passing are still in the planning stages, UConn is planning to have a moment of silence in his honor before Saturday's football game.

Trevardo Williams, the all-time sacks leader at UConn, has bounced around a bit this year trying to find a home in the NFL. He was cut by Houston, which took him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, signed and then quickly cut by the Arizona Cardinals and now comes word that he has been signed to the practice squad by the Indianapolis Colts.

Monday, September 22, 2014

UConn in the NFL: Week 3

There were no lack of splash plays for UConn products in week 3 of the NFL season as Tyvon Branch hit the double-digit number in tackles for the Oakland Raiders, Robert McClain and Dwayne Gratz had seven tackles each, Darius Butler recovered a fumble, Kendall Reyes had a sack and Danny Lansanah returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Donald Brown had career-high 36 offensive touches but there was some bad news to report as Branch suffered what Raiders coach Dennis Allen feared was a fractured foot and Marcus Easley left the San Diego game with a knee injury.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 30-17 win over Houston
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland: Had 10 tackles in 16-9 loss to New England
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Ran for 62 yards and caught five passes for 27 yards in 22-10 win over Buffalo
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had two tackles and recovered a fumble in 44-17 win over Jacksonville
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Did not have any stats in 22-10 loss to San Diego
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had a career-high seven tackles in 44-17 loss to Indianapolis
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have any stats in 30-17 loss to New York Giants
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had four tackles, a tackle for loss and returned an interception 27 yards for a TD in 56-14 loss to Atlanta
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had seven tackles in 56-14 win over Tampa Bay
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Did not play in 16-9 loss to New England
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play in 19-7 win over Green Bay
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had four tackles including a sack in 22-10 win over Buffalo
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had 4-yard run and 1-yard catch in 34-15 win over Miami
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Did not have any stats in 20-9 loss to New Orleans
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had 10-yard run in 44-17 loss to Indianapolis
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee:Had three tackles and a pass defensed in 33-7 loss to Cincinnati

Sunday, September 21, 2014

UConn's Diaco has no regrets over shutting down passing game

About a day and a half after the conclusion of the disappointing 17-14 loss to South Florida UConn coach Bob Diaco said he would follow the same offensive script.

"I shut down the passing (game)," Diaco said on a Sunday afternoon conference call. "Watch our first four passes, I was concerned the game would have been 35-0. I was more inclined to play ping pong and win games on special teams and defense, that is why the play pattern started to tilt, as abysmal as it was looking on offense, we still had a chance to win the game at the end of the game."

Diaco said he is still encouraged with the direction the program is going in as his staff continues to develop young players.

"Our whole organization understands how much work needs to be done, how far away this program was or is nobody is under false pretenses," Diaco said.

"I see coaching taking root. (Personnel) change, we are not going there. We are taking over a downtrodden, losing program, we're working on winning and it is going to take some time. There's a long way to go."

While Diaco liked some of what he saw, there were some costly errors. He seemed especially irritated with Marlon Mack going 17 yards on a draw on a 3rd and 16 play on the Bulls' final scoring drive. 

"The third down draw kept drive alive, game changing play right there," Diaco said. "We are going to make that play and it is a play that you let get away, turned out to be the difference in the game, We played well enough to win, held the opponent offense to under 18 points which is excellent, still had an opportunity on defense and let one get away. That is a play we need to make, to be a great defense we have to make that play."

Diaco said the defense was alerted to guard against the draw making the result of the play all the more frustrating to him, his coaches and players.

As for the strip sack and fumble recovery by USF on the first drive, Diaco said it was simply the case of an inexperienced player making the wrong read.

"It should have been blocked from tailback position," Diaco said. "He (Ron Johnson) wasn't looking over there and he didn't see it, He's an outstanding player and has growth to do, When you play freshmen and sophomore as much, those are things we have to deal with , To do something different, play 11 players for four quarters, I am not going it. We are building a foundation of strength sooner than later."

Diaco was perturbed about the large number of pre-snap penalties including three on the tight ends. He thought the running backs were too quick to improvise when the tape showed that there were running lanes available had they been run as they were drawn up.

"Very disappointing," Diaco said. "Three instances of third down and short turn into third down and long, We are 0 for 9 on third down and have the opportunity at the end of the game to win the game, Those are things the guys needs to see, A high level of detail and discipline at tight end position in particular needs to be hallmark in how we play."

As for the touchdown on fourth down, Diaco said South Florida executed a rub or pick route leaving safety Obi Melifonwu a couple steps behind Rodney Adams on a play resulting in a 30-yard touchdown and early 14-0 lead.

Diaco once again reiterated that backup quarterback Tim Boyle was cleared to play despite what may have been reported by ESPN.

He also praised the growth of Wilbert Lee who had five special-teams tackles.

"He is doing a great job," Diaco said. "He's a tough hard nosed (player) and is becoming a great teammate."

Diaco said that Lee is continuing to earn more reps at safety as he continues to develop.

He also said that Tommy Hopkins, who has been listed as a second-string offensive tackle on some depth charts could be more suited at playing guard and he saw some time there against the Bulls.

Big game for UConn QB recruit

While UConn's passing attack was nearly nonexistent until the final offensive drive in Friday's loss to South Florida, a player who could become the Huskies quarterback of the future had much more of an impact this week.

Tyler Davis ran 19 times for 126 including scoring runs of 7, 6, 2 and 2 yards and was 10 of 15 passing for 175 yards including a 24-yard touchdown to lead his Mepham team to a 41-7 win over Calhoun.

Also, Marche Terry had a 5-yard touchdown reception and a key interception as Northern Burlington defeated Cherry Hill East 28-21 on Friday.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

UConn losing the field position battle

Perhaps had UConn been able to start a drive within the shadow of midfield things could have been different last night.

However, after starting their first three drives between their own 30-34 and failing to sustain any offensive continuity, the field position clearly swung in South Florida's favor as UConn's next five drives started on its own 9, 5, 12, 9 and 3. UConn has enough issues getting going when having the ball at the 30 or 40 but with as much as the offensive line is struggling, the odds of the Huskies getting a first down let alone sustaining a length of the field drive is simply impossible to tabulate.

It's a credit to the UConn defense that the Huskies beat Stony Brook and were within range against Boise State and Stony Brook late in the last two games considering how much pressure the Huskies D is facing.

Sure, Stony Brook had an 88-yard scoring drive and USF went 80 yards on a drive but the other seven scoring drives in the last three games have averaged only 31.7 yards.

If the defensive players are getting frustrated, they are doing a pretty good job of hiding it around us.

"I think we are all still in the box, nobody is veering out," UConn senior cornerback Byron Jones said. I think we need to keep moving forward and understand how important it is to start the game at the 'A' level. You can't come down and be down 14-0 in the first quarter. It is one of the things we are going to work on moving forward."

Near record offensive struggles dooms UConn

Before the game when I was on the air with WTIC's Bob Joyce I said that there may not be a series in the country that has as many bizarre happenings as the annual UConn/South Florida tilts.

Well, the game certainly lived up to that statement but not a heck of a lot else.

UConn went almost two entire quarters of play between pass attempts and the Huskies did not complete its first pass until its final drive of the third quarter. Yet, if the Huskies had come up with an onsides kick late in the fourth quarter the Huskies might have walked out of Raymond James Stadium with one of the most unlikely of victories in recent memory. Even after the game UConn coach Bob Diaco almost seemed amazed that the Huskies were in striking range late.

"We have a chance to win the game at the end after all that, we didn't convert a third down (in the game) and we had nine penalties, a turnover sets up a score right at the beginning and we have a chance at the very end to win the game at the very end so there are a lot of encouraging issues so right out of the chute it was 14-0."

I'll have more on this subject in my follow-up story that will be running in Sunday's paper but Diaco said he wanted to limit the negative plays and with UConn constantly backed up within the shadow of its goal line (UConn started five drives within its own 15), he was willing to run conservative dive plays rather than risk a sack or turnover. As a result UConn had eight passing yards in the first three quarters.

ESPN reported that backup quarterback Tim Boyle was unavailable to play but Diaco said that was not the case.

"He could have played," Diaco said. "He is cleared to play. He is hobbled with a lower-leg, I am not going to call it a lower-leg injury but a lower-leg pain but he was cleared for participation but it wouldn't have been prudent to (play him) under those circumstances."

There weren't too many positive but after recording 15 tackles for loss in the first three games, the Huskies had 10 against USF. Marquise Vann, who had a team-high 14 tackles, had 2 1/2 of them and Junior Joseph (who left the game for a bit after a violent collision before coming back) added two stops behind the line. Wilbert Lee had four tackles on punt returns and another on a kickoff return which was as impressive a special-teams effort I have seen in a while for a cover guy. Arkeel Newsome flashed some of his tremendous potential with 22 yards on three carries in the third quarter. He finished with 30 yards on four carries and his 7.5 yard per carry is the most for a Connecticut running back with more than one carry since Lyle McCombs ran 20 times for 164 yards in last year's USF game.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

UConn AD Manuel on expectations set for student-athletes

There is not a more pressing issue in the sports world right now than the seemingly daily reports of NFL players being charged with domestic abuse. So with UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel meeting with the five Connecticut newspaper reporters who made the trip for tonight's UConn/South Florida game I asked the always straight shooting Manuel if he has addressed UConn's student-athletes about this issue in recent days and weeks.

"I have spoken to the coaches about it," Manuel said. "It hasn't come directly from me to the student-athletes but I have talked to our coaches in the locker rooms and in the meetings they are having with our student-athletes, my address to them is about their behavior and being great citizens on campus and in the community. That is something I say to them but I haven't addressed specifically the issue of abuse. I think it is understood when I say to all of student-athletes male and female that I expect them to carry themselves with pride, passion and excellence on campus and in the community with everything that they do.

"We will address it and we will have programs specific to that - as we have in the past - this year and my expectation from all of our student-athletes is they carry themselves the way their parents, their coaches and the way I, (UConn) President (Susan) Herbst and the university community expects them to do."

Youth is being served on UConn's defense

The last couple of the year UConn's defense was spearheaded by the play of grizzled veterans.

However, one look at this year's numbers heading into tonight's American Athletic Conference opener tell a different story. The top five tacklers are players with eligibility remaining at season's end. Taking things one step further, there are seven freshmen who have recorded tackles for the Huskies.

In tonight's game, two freshmen in particular have a chance to shine. Redshirt freshman Cole Ormsby from Windsor has been seeing time at defensive end since Angelo Pruitt has been sidelined. With Pruitt retiring due to his injuries, Ormsby is not only expected to see significant time at defensive end but he is expected to split time with Kenton Adeyemi. The rapid development of true freshman Luke Carrezola is a major reason why Ormsby was able to move to defensive end.

"Last week (Adeyemi and Ormsby) participated at the same rate," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "The outside linebackers, a few of them have a higher threshold of plays and we have three real good ones standing in the line together (ahead of Ormsby). Not that Luke Carrezola has arrived, he is just a true freshman, but he is really going to be an impact player in the future. I have been so impressed with him as a youngster so we want to keep his participation up so when Angelo sustained his lower-leg (injury), it is really nothing sustained, it is something he has genetically but when it got irritated we needed another player there and Cole is the most obvious choice. He works to keep his body size down and now he doesn't need to do that. He is really a big guy, maybe not the tallest guy but he has a real big torso and lower body so he will have a great opportunity to get even bigger than he is right now."

Ormsby recorded a sack in last week's loss to Boise State, one of three the Huskies recorded in the first three games of the season.

"I am excited because I want to prove to everybody that I can do it," Ormsby said during media day. "I am way more prepared with the new coaching staff, Coach (Vincent) Brown, Coach Wolt (Kevin Wolthausen) teaching me everything they know just trying to be disciplined with what they are teaching me.

I am ready for anything. Whatever the team needs me to do. We keep each other in check. I would want somebody telling me if I am messing up or doing bad in practice.

Linebacker Junior Joseph (seven tackles) is the top tackler among the freshmen followed by cornerback Jamar Summers. Ormsby, Fatukasi, Carrezola, Cam Stapleton and Vontae Diggs.

Last year safety Obi Melifonwu finished as the team's second-leading tackler as a redshirt freshman but the next leading tackler among freshmen was wide receiver and special-teams dynamo Noel Thomas.

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What a difference a couple years makes for UConn

Geremy Davis makes one of his seven catches in 2012 loss to South Florida
There are so many numbers associated with the UConn/South Florida series that simply defy explanation including the fact that the team finishing with the most yards of total offense have LOST the last seven meetings between the teams.

There is another one which truly blows my mind and that is the fact just nine players on UConn's current roster played for the Huskies the last time UConn played at Raymond James Stadium.

Perhaps that wouldn't be so noteworthy if that most recent game at the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers occurred four or five years ago but it took place just 22 1/2 months ago.

Five players started for UConn in the 13-6 loss as quarterback Chandler Whitmer threw for 284 yards, receiver Geremy Davis led the Huskies with seven receptions and 98 yards, Gus Cruz started at right guard, Reuben Frank (now a starting linebacker/defensive end) got the start at fullback while cornerback Byron Jones led the Huskies with nine tackles.

Jefferson Ashiru, Brandon Steg (one of 10 Florida natives on this year's UConn team), Julian Campenni and B.J. McBryde also saw time in the game. Six players who saw action in the game could have been members of this year's team but aren't for one reason or another. Defensive end Angelo Pruitt made the difficult decision to give up football due to injury, Shakim Phillips and Ty-Meer Brown are playing their final season of eligibility at Boston College, Lyle McCombs is at Rhode Island, Tebucky Jones plays at Fordham while Scott McCummings isn't playing. Other than Jones' departure, the rest of the moves came after Bob Diaco was hired at UConn.

By comparison, there are 21 players who took part in the game for South Florida who are still on the Bulls' roster (although standout receiver Andre Davis is not expected to play). USF's entire starting offensive line in the 2012 game could all start tonight.

Among the other USF players who played notable roles in the game two years ago are receiver Deonte Welch (team-high five catches in '12 game), tight end Sean Price (three catches for 45 yards), linebackers Tashon Whitehust (eight tackles, sack and fumble recovery), Reshard Cliett (six tackles) and Elkino Watson (interception).

It should be pointed out that South Florida played 52 people in the 2012 game compared to 35 by the Huskies. I don't expect that to be the case tonight. In UConn's most recent game the participation report listed 56 players and that did not include Steve Hashemi, who has been seeing time on the field goal unit while USF also played 56 players per the Bulls' participation report.

Diaco alluded to the fact that he was using the first three games as a developmental period resulting in a large number of players getting into the game. When I asked Diaco whether the playing rotation would be streamlined now that UConn has hit the conference portion of the schedule, he didn't exactly provide too much clarity on his plans.

"This whole year is built like that," Diaco said. "We can't do anything to compromise our development, we can't do anything to compromise our ability to get better. We need to get better as a team, we get better as a team every week, we get better as a team at the end of the season and that has to happen, that will happen but I also don't just want to hit you with coach speak, this is a very important game. This is a conference game and the energy needs to be different today than it has been and that is my expectation that the team is going to grow into that mode to understand they better turn the screw another half crank because four you, for your seniors this is an important moment, your personal goals are out in front of us and what you want to achieve out of the season is still all present so let's see that extra heartbeat."

A pair of future Huskies will be going head to head while UConn is playing South Florida.

 John Robinson's Dwight Morrow will travel to meet Ben Hartwick's Mahwah squad.

Dwight Morrow opened the season with a 32-6 win over Cliffside Park while Mahwah's season began with a 48-0 win over Fort Lee.

The schools have enjoyed some barn burners in recent years as Mahwah won 34-28 two years ago and  Mahwah won 21-14 in overtime last season.

It wasn't too long ago when there was speculation that former UConn defensive back Robert McClain's role as the Atlanta Falcons' nickel corner was in peril. Well, that seems like ancient history now especially after he had a team-high seven tackles in Atlanta's 56-14 win over Tampa Bay.

There weren't many highlights for the Buccaneers but Danny Lansanah not only recorded four solo tackles including one tackle for loss but also returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

First down woes costing UConn

It is so easy to take a look at last week's loss to Boise State and focus on the three turnovers resulting in 21 points for the Broncos or the eight sacks surrendered including four coming on third down.

However, many of the Huskies' offensive woes can be traced to horrendous execution on first downs.

In the last 10 quarters of football UConn has run 64 first-down plays and 36 of them have gone for no gain, resulted in negative yardage or ended with a costly turnovers. That's 58 percent for those scoring at home. Taking things one step further, during UConn's scoring drives in the first three games the Huskies have averaged 8.1 yards on first down and 2.9 on non-scoring drives. No offense can thrive while putting up those kinds of numbers and if it doesn't get rectified, the sack numbers (no FBS team has given up more than UConn's 15)  will continue to pile up.

"There are only a couple of guys who played some, guys that we are really counting on like a Richard Levy, Andreas (Knappe), Dalton (Gifford), they never really played let alone (Tyler) Samra, (Trey) Rutherford, (Ryan) Crozier," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "They need a lot of work. They are working, they are trying. We need to be more sensitive as a whole team to their needs than we have been. We have been working hard but I think it even needs another layer of care. That might be with the daily structure, that might be daily assistance. Maybe we really inspect the installation so we aren't a jack of all trades and master of none. We ave a chance to maybe master a few jobs, maybe we decrease some of the run menu and give them a few things that they can really sink their teeth into. It is not a play selection issue, it is play execution issue. Every play looks bad when every play looks like they are storming the castle."

UConn/Missouri to play home and home series

UConn announced that it has agreed to a home and home series with Missouri beginning with a game on Sept. 19, 2015 at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri with the return game set for Sept. 23, 2017 at Rentschler Field.

“We are very excited about playing a football series against Missouri as we continue to build a competitive non-conference schedule for our team and an exciting one for our loyal fans,” said UConn Director of Athletics Warde Manuel in a statement. “Our future football schedules have a number of games from various leagues around the country and I am happy to add Missouri and the Southeastern Conference  to those contests.”

UConn has a 2-2 record against current teams in the Southeastern Conference with a win over South Carolina in the 2010 Papajohns.com  Bowl and a 1-2 all-time series mark vs. Vanderbilt, including a win in 2010.

The Missouri series completes UConn’s non-conference scheduling for both 2015 and 2017. UConn will also play at series with Massachusetts on Sept. 10, 2016 as the Huskies make their Gillette Stadium debut  and on September 2, 2017 at Rentschler Field.

UConn will also play FCS opponent Maine on September 3, 2016.

Here is a summary of all future UConn non-conference football games under contract:

2015: September 5, Villanova; September 12, Army; September 19, at Missouri; October 2, at BYU.
2016: September 3, Maine; September 10, at UMass (Foxborough, Mass.); September 17, Virginia.
2017: September 2, UMass; September 9, Holy Cross; September 16, at Virginia; September 23, Missouri.
2018: September 8, at Boise State.
2019: September 7, Illinois; September 21, at Indiana.
2020: September 12, at Illinois; September 26, Indiana.
UConn and Tennessee have a two-game home-and-home series under contract with dates to be determined

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

UConn's Florida contingent looking forward to homecoming

While the majority of the Florida natives on the 2014 UConn football team hail more from the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area it is still going to be a chance to play in front of friends and family when the Huskies play at South Florida on Friday night.

Starting cornerback Jhavon Williams is one of the 10 Floridians on the roster and he didn't hide his enthusiasm at having a chance to return to play in the Sunshine State.

"I am looking forward to going back home, going to play in front of my family and friends going into conference play, it is going to be big," Williams said. "I am really excited. I have at least 35 family members coming to the game so it is going to be big. I am excited."

Williams is one of five players on Florida on UConn's two-deep chart joining reserve defensive backs John Green and Ellis Marder, second-string guard Ryan Crozier and starting kicker Bobby Puyol. Linebacker Brandon Steg, running back Ron Johnson and offensive linemen Kyle Schafenacker have also gotten into games this season while cornerback Javon Hadley and offensive lineman Daniel Oak also hail from Florida.

I'm sure there's been plenty of behind the scenes work getting the necessary tickets for the players coming home.

Players like Tim Boyle get to play in front of friends and family at every home game but he has enjoyed seeing those players from Florida and even Georgia get excited about playing close to home.

"It is very fun," Boyle said. "It is obviously a huge blessing for me to play in front of my hometown people, my family and friends but when we go down to Florida and all those Florida kids, they try to gather all the tickets they can get so they can get people there."

There will be more from Williams and in particular the extra pressure he places on himself being the first defensive back to wear the No. 6 jersey since the tragic death of Jasper Howard in 2009 in tomorrow's paper.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

UConn's Boyle looks to build on strong final drive

It's easy to look at final passing statistics in the Boise State game and find a eureka moment where there is none.

At first glance reserve quarterback's Tim Boyle 6 of 9 numbers with no interceptions far outdistance the 16 of 29 and two interception numbers that Chandler Whitmer had.

However, most of Boyle's best work came on the Huskies' final offensive possession when Boise State was willing to concede yards as long as the clock continued to run.

Still, for a player making his first appearance of the season, being able to move the team on that drive could prove to be invaluable for Boyle.

Boyle hooked up with Thomas Lucas and Sean McQuillan for completions of four and five yards. Boyle and Lucas connected again for a 17-yard gain. Ironically, two of his most impressive throws resulted in incompletions. Despite having a tight window to throw into, Boyle dropped a pass into the hands of Noel Thomas within the shadow of the goal line. Thomas was unable to hold onto the ball and one the next play Dhameer Bradley dropped a potential touchdown reception as UConn's final
possession in the 38-21 loss came to an end.

"It gave me a lot of confidence," Boyle said. "I know it wasn't their starting defense but any time you play a Boise State team their backups aren't going to be a bad backup group so it definitely gave me confidence in my leadership ability because I definitely was in control of that series. It was slower this year than it was last year for me, it came to be a lot easier. Seeing defenses, getting the play call in, the substitutions and all that kind of stuff. It was definitely s confidence booster for the next couple of games and I want to keep building on it."

Boyle made his first appearance of the season in the Huskies' third offensive possession. He connected with Lucas on completions on his first two passes although the plays resulted in just four yards. On third down he was sacked and that was the end of Boyle's day until it was garbage time.

A confident Boyle could be huge for the Huskies moving forward because the former Xavier High star has all the tools to be a top-flight Division I quarterback.

Calling his four-game stint as UConn's starting quarterback during the 2013 season a baptism of fire doesn't quite do the situation justice. Boyle completed just 43.9 percent of his passes for 619 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown pass, had eight interceptions and was sacked 18 times in the four games.

"Being a true freshman coming in and four weeks in college of still trying to know where my classes are, figuring out what book is for what class and trying to learn an offense and manage an offensive line where the oldest guy was 23/24 years old so I think the big picture scared me last year," Boyle said. "I just had to let the game come to me, take a deep breath and everything is going to work out."

The schedule Boyle faced was downright brutal. After debuting against the South Florida team the Huskies will play on Friday, the next three games were against eventual American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida as well as Louisville and Cincinnati, which finished second and third in the AAC.

"It is no excuse," Boyle said. "The team trusted me to get the job done when I played last year and I thought I could do a better job. It was a learning experience, you have to find a silver lining in things so I have been able to do that."

Boyle believes he is more prepared this year when he a season ago.

"I think it was more confidence in myself, I knew I could do it but it is unfortunate it wasn't being done on the field," Boyle said. "The ball is definitely coming out a lot easier this year, I am not forcing anything and that has worked well for me."

While Whitmer is still the starter, UConn coach Bob Diaco has said on multiple occasions that he considers Boyle to be the program's quarterback of the future.

"Tim has all top-notch traits," Diaco said. "He is fast, he is big, he has great vision over the linemen. He has very strong arm, he can throw all the passes, he has good touch on shallow passes, he has nice touch on the deep passes. He can zip it from the hash to the (sideline); he has that kind of strength in his arm. He has enough escapability to be a problem so those are the things I like about him. He has top-flight tangible traits."

The relationship between Boyle and Diaco started well before Diaco was hired at UConn.

"He recruited me and when I was a junior (at Xavier) he came down to my high school and when he was (Notre Dame) defensive coordinator," Boyle said. "I was kind of shell shocked when I found out Notre Dame was here to talk to me so that took me off guard a little bit but then I went to the Junior Day there and me and him have had a good relationship even when we was at Notre Dame, he did a great job of showing me around Notre Dame when he was the defensive coordinator there. It was nice knowing he was becoming the coach here because we had a nice relationship prior."

Since he is as well dressed as any coach I have ever covered I had to ask Boyle about Diaco's wardrobe when he came to visit Boyle at Xavier.

"Same guy, always a suit and tie, always with the nice hair, knows what to say at the right times," Boyle said. "That I what I admire about Coach Diaco. he is never fake to anybody which is a great trait to have as a coach."

Boyle said knowing what his participation pattern is going to be heading into the games helps him deal with what could otherwise be an uncertain situation.

"I think Coach Diaco does a good job of letting me know when I am playing," Boyle said, "I think he does that for everyone so if Chandler goes down - knock on wood, I hope he doesn't  Chandler is doing a nice job this year - and I need to be ready to go." 


UConn in NFL: Week 2

In a week when 9 of the 10 former UConn players recording statistics played on the losing teams, the highlight of the week 2 UConn alumni report s Tyvon Branch's 12 tackles in Oakland's 30-14 loss to Houston.

Branch was one of four former UConn defensive backs with at least five tackles in a game including Blidi Wreh-Wilson having a career-high six tackles in Tennessee's loss to Dallas.

The biggest news of the week could be that Oakland linebacker Sio Moore suffered an ankle injury and he had an MRI done yesterday.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 25-14 loss to Arizona
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland: Had 12 tackles in 30-14 loss to Houston
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Ran for 21 yards and caught three passes for 10 yards in 30-21 win over Seattle
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had five tackles and two passes defensed in 30-27 loss to Philadelphia
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Didn't have any stats in 29-10 win over Miami
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had five tackles and two passes defensed in 41-10 loss to Washington
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have any stats in 30-27 win over Oakland
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had three tackles in 19-17 loss to St. Louis
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had two tackles in 24-10 loss to Cincinnati
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had six tackles in 30-14 loss to Houston
Dan Orlovsky, QB Detroit: Did not play in 24-7 loss to Carolina
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Did not have any stats in 30-21 win over Seattle
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Did not have any stats in 24-17 loss to Denver
Shamar Stephen DT Minnesota: Had three tackles in 30-7 loss to New England
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Averaged 27.4 yards on five kickoff returns in 41-10 loss to Washington
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had six tackles in 26-10 loss to Dallas

Monday, September 15, 2014

Former UConn QB Cochran ready for next stage of life

Today was a chance for Casey Cochran to meet with the media for the first time since he made the decision to stop playing football as a result of suffering multiple concussions.

Ever the thoughtful person, Cochran wanted to give an opening statement before taking questions fro the assembled media members.

"Talking to my parents, talking to the medical staff and everyone there was a consensus this is the decision that needs to be made.

"It is tough and it will be tough for a while but it makes it a lot easier that I played the way I did and I left everything on the field and I played for my teammates so I wouldn't have any regrets.

"There were times in came or times in the spring when I would sit back and think 'this is awesome, I am a D-I football player. I am having fun, playing a sport and going to college for free.' Having those thoughts, taking a step back and appreciating what I had made this decision easier because I didn't have to sit there and think 'well maybe if I had done this it would have been easier.' I play a certain way, went about thinks a certain way. All my support staff has been unbelievable. My parents, my family and friends, people I haven't even talked to for years have reached out to me. The staff has been unbelievable with me. I appreciate the job they do for me and will continue to do with me, the opportunities they have given to me."

Cochran's last pass was an incompletion on fourth down in the fourth quarter of the season-opening loss to BYU in which he took a hit. After getting a couple days off he knew something wasn't right when the team reported to practice on the Tuesday before the Stony Brook game.

"I came to them. I've had (concussions) before," Cochran said. "We didn't have any practices over the weekend and when it came to practice over the weekend and I could tell things were off, things weren't getting any better and I thought I should step up and say something.

"It's my life, my livelihood and it has to be my decision to healthy and happy for the rest of my life.

"There is a lot to miss. A few things that stand out to me and just the sweat, tears and everything that goes into it, not even on the field but in the offseason, the memories that you make with the teammates. I am still here with them and I will always have the memories from the past and I am going to make more memories now. I have made bonds with players on the team that are stronger than any I have ever made in life and I am going to be in touch with those guys for the rest of my life. I made great friends, I made great connections and I made unbelievable coaches.

I started New Britain PAL for my first season of football, been up to East Hartford, New London and Masuk. I have had an unbelievable support from not only coaches, teachers, parents and friends. This whole state has shown so much love and support for me, it is unbelievable. That is why I wanted to stay in state, that is why I wanted to come to UConn is to have that love and support."

Cochran is set to graduate in just three years and is looking to head to grad school after graduating in the spring. A communications major, Cochran is still deciding whether he wants to follow in the footsteps of her father Jack (a legendary former high school coach) and become a coach or perhaps become a broadcast.

Some changes on UConn's defensive depth chart

Windsor's Cole Ormsby moved up on this week's 2-deep chart
UConn released its depth chart for the South Florida game.

There are no changes on offense but on defense there are some noteworthy movement.

Angelo Pruitt, who missed the last two games with a lower-leg injury, is not on the depth chart after being listed as the starter at defensive end in the first three games.

Also, Cole Ormsby is listed as a co-starter with B.J. McBryde at defensive tackle and true freshman Luke Carrezola is the No. 2 guy at defensive end.

During his weekly four games before the game press conference UConn coach Bob Diaco revealed that Pruitt would be retiring from football to a preexisting lower-body issue that he chose not to discuss further. Also, reserve offensive lineman Bryan Paull's career is over due to an upper-ody injury. Paull originally taken off the roster when Tom Rodrick, Michael Boland and David Stevenson were removed from the roster but I was told that was an oversight and he was put back on the roster.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pair of UConn commits find end zone over the weekend

It was a relatively quiet weekend for UConn commits but here are the top performances I was able to track down.

Receiver Frank Battle had a receiving touchdown for the second time in as many games. He had two catches for 17 yards and a touchdown (his team's starting QB only completed three passes) in Belen Jesuit's 41-0 win over Pembroke Pines Charter.

Marche Terry had a 9-yard TD reception in Northern Burlington's 33-12 win over Willingboro while Nazir Williams caught three passes for 27 yards in Bridgeton's 7-0 loss to Buena Regional.

Quarterback Tyler Davis threw a 47-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter but his Mepham team lost to 33-7 to a powerful Carey High squad on Saturday.

I didn't see any stats for him but Ian Campbell's Pequannock squad improved to 2-0 with 35-13 win over Dover

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mistakes continue to haunt UConn

During the only day with access to UConn's assistant coaches during preseason camp I ruined the mood of quarterbacks coach Don Patterson when I informed him that one out of every three touchdown scoring drive by UConn opponents a season ago started in Husky territory. Then I amended the trip down memory lane to say that it didn't include the five defensive touchdowns and one TD on special teams surrendered by the Huskies.

"You have to make them play on a long field," Patterson said. "Statistically it has been proven that the closer you are to the goal line when you take the field the better your chances are to score. Opponents scored five defensive touchdowns last year? That is something I didn't want to know about. They shot themselves in the foot too many times. The first thing you have to do is prevent losing and that all starts with not beating yourselves, having a high football IQ, not having unforced errors."

Well, UConn has already surrendered three defensive touchdowns in three games (a pair coming in today's loss to Boise State). UConn's defense has given up nine touchdowns this season and and four of those drives start in UConn territory.

"Giving up 14 points without the defense or special teams against any opponent we were going to play it becomes impossible to win the games let alone a national branded powerhouse," UConn coach Bob Diaco said after today's loss. "When you factor in another plus-field turnover you are talking about another 21 points, 14 completely uncontested and the other with a plus-field setup,that has to get solved. We are working hard to solve it. It is hard to win football games when you do that. Those are the things that cause losing."

The miscues have occurred in a variety of different ways. Three different tailbacks (Max DeLorenzo vs. BYU, Josh Marriner against Stony Brook and Arkeel Newsome in the Boise State game) coughed the ball up early. In the case of DeLorenzo and Newsome it looked more like just an outstanding defensive play. Chandler Whitmer had two costly interceptions as UConn was in position to potentially upset Boise.

"They are not fun," Whitmer said of losses caused by missed opportunities and costly mistakes, "We play to win the game. We knew Boise is a great opponent and we had them, we have to be able to finish and there is not much else to it."

Perhaps lost in the what might have been mode is how well UConn's front seven played. This was going to be a barometer because Boise runs some of the same stuff that BYU did en route to putting up 513 yards of total offense (a number that may have approached 600 if not for a flood of BYU penalties).

When I watched Boise's game against Colorado State last week I really wondered if UConn would going to be able to hold the Broncos in check./ Well, they did much more than that.

Boise State came into the game averaging 537.5 yards of total offense on 87 plays in the first two games of the season. Against the Huskies it managed 292 yards (120 coming on four pass plays). Perhaps most astonishing of all was that a week after running 60 plays IN THE FIRST HALF against Colorado State the Broncos managed a total of 56 plays in the game. UConn's run defense was something to behold. When I watched Jay Ajayi play against Colorado State he reminded me so much of former University of Miami and NFL running back Edgerrin James it was scary. Only one player at the FBS level had more combined rushing and receiving yards heading into the game than Ajayi. Well, he finished with 52 yards on 20 touches.

"We flew around and had fun today," UConn junor nose tackle Julian Campenni said.

Another understated part of the defensive effort was how the front seven kept quarterback Grant Hedrick from beating the Huskies with his legs and he finished with minus four yards on five carries

Linebacker Jefferson Ashiru led the Huskies with 1.5 tackles for loss. I thought defensive end/outside linebacker Reuben Frank played so much better than his final line of no assisted tackles and three assisted stops might indicate. One of the few issues I have with UConn's effort defensively was it seemed like on the most crucial plays that Boise's record-breaking receiver Matt Miller got lined up on safeties and linebackers.

Offensively I was happy to see Thomas Lucas and Brian Lemelle get worked into the game plan. Lucas was one of those players receiving the most buzz during preseason camp and he hauled in five catches. Lemelle only had three yards on his two catches but in the first two games Lemelle (one of the crown jewels of last year's recruiting class) was kind of a forgotten man.

Tight end Alec Bloom made his presence felt as the true freshman's second-quarter touchdown reception put UConn in front.

Diaco went out of his way to rave about what he saw from Tim Boyle. The sophomore quarterback finished 6 of 9 for 33 yards and had two costly drops late in the game. It's going to be interesting to see how the quarterback derby shakes out the rest of the way.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the eight quarterback sacks and 13 tackles for loss. It was a strange game for the line as there were stretches when the protection was outstanding but obviously too many other times when multiple plays came free. Teams are going to continue to dial up as much pressure of possible on 3rd and long until UConn handles those situations much better than they have to date.

The good news is that Andreas Knappe returned and played a large chunk of the game at right tackle and the only player I noticed being held out is senior defensive end Angelo Pruitt who missed his second straight game with a lower leg injury

Friday, September 12, 2014

Boise State's Ajayi a problem for UConn tomorrow

When I spoke to Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford earlier this week he mentioned that there has been some chatter about junior tailback Jay Ajayi being overworked in the first two games of the season.

After getting 53 carries and catching the ball 16 times in games against Mississippi and Colorado State I would have to think that the UConn defensive coaches would be absolutely thrilled if there was a plan to limit the touches of the powerful and elusive Ajayi. Perhaps UConn can get the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive game plan implemented, you know the one that gave all-everything tailback Jamaal Charles seven carries in a season-opening loss.

The Huskies have fared relatively well against convention run plays in the first two games of the season but they have not seen a back anywhere as good as the one they will line up against on Saturday.

"He's an excellent back, hard to tackle, fast, aggressive, he has short-pace quickness," UConn coach Bob Diaco said, "He has a nice spin; he has a complete game. He catches well, they use him to check the ball down to. He is a predominant performer and a very productive part of their offense."

The biggest difference in Ajayi from last season to this year is the way he is utilized in the passing game. He came into the season with 23 career receptions and he also has 16 in the first two games including 12 against Mississippi.

"As it relates to us we need to execute our defense," Diaco said. "Just do your job, know your job, read your key and execute on defense. How that fits into the style of offensive plays is how it fits into it. We need to work on block instruction, we need to work on tackling, effort to football, our jobs and key progression and keep the focus there."

Keeping tabs on Ajayi coming out of the backfield will be no easy task for UConn's linebackers and safeties.

"He is averaging 150 yards per game, second leading receiver," UConn linebacker Graham Stewart said. "He is about 80 percent of their offense so if we can eliminate him we have a better chance of winning."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

UConn's freshmen running backs drawing plenty of praise

Arkeel Newsome (22) and Ron Johnson (3) are already making their
presence felt two games into their freshman season at UConn
At first glance the numbers put up by true freshman tailbacks Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson in the first two games of the season won't jump out at you.

However, the duo has shown more explosion than their combined 53 rushing yards in 15 carries would seem to indicate.

Newsome, who shattered so many rushing and scoring marks in the Connecticut high school football record book during his spectacular run at Ansonia High, not only has the team's longest run (22 yards against Stony Brook) but his 18-yard reception against BYU (on his first career offensive touch) is the longest by a Husky running back this season. He also has the team's longest kickoff return (34 yards) this season.

On his weekly radio show UConn football coach Bob Diaco raved about Newsome's promising future and his veteran teammates have also been impressed with what they have seen from him.

"He is a great back, very explosive and he is quick on his feet and he is a very special player, UConn senior receiver Deshon Foxx said. "I like how he gets the ball and he goes vertical, he doesn't believe in dancing and when he gets the ball he is running."

While the 5-foot-8 Newsome is known for his incredible quickness, the 217-pound Johnson is a bruising runner.

"They are two great young backs," UConn junior offensive tackle Dalton Gifford said, "Arkeel is explosive, Ron is a huge dude who can run people over. It is like a perfect little duo of running backs, one coming down on you to take you out and the other is going to run right past you."

A couple of things I noticed about Johnson on Saturday had little to do with his running ability. The team comes out onto the field in a couple of waves with the offensive linemen usually the last to make their way down the stairs. As the second group headed towards the field Johnson walked to the stairs so he could welcome them by extending his hand. Then after a strong four-yard run during the game Johnson went to each offensive lineman and did exactly the same thing, exchanging a quick slapping of hands as a way of thanking them for the hole to run through. I've never spoken to him but just from seeing those two actions I am seeing a kid with plenty of maturity.

I asked Gifford is that was an indication that Johnson was much more vocal than the very reserved Newsome and he said that wasn't necessarily the case.

"They are both running backs and both young, they haven't really opened up yet but I am sure their personalities will come out in coming years and in the coming games," Gifford said.

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UConn players happy to hear of tribute plan for Jasper Howard

Byron Jones still remembers that mid-October, 2009 weekend as if it happened yesterday.

Jones, now a captain and star cornerback at UConn, was taking in his first UConn football game and his eyes were transfixed on this undersized but mercurial cornerback wearing jersey No. 6.

"I remember looking at him and thinking 'that guy is small.'" Jones said. "At the time Marcus Aiken, I went to high school with him, and I said 'Marcus, who is that small guy over there?' He said 'that's our starting corner.' I said 'he's starting? He plays?' Then he had that game where I think he had a strip fumble in the red zone and so many tackles. I was blown away by his performance. He was a guy with a small body but a big heart. I remember going home and getting a call from one of my friends that he passed away and it took my heart right out."

That player with a small body but big heart was Jasper Howard, a Miami native who had 11 tackles with a forced fumble and fumble recovery in win over Louisville. Just after midnight Howard was stabbed during an altercation outside the Student Union and he succumbed to his injuries.

In the last year there has been an effort, spearheaded by UConn fan Lisa Lowry, to erect a statue of Howard at Rentschler Field and last week it was announced that a secure giving fund was set up by the UConn Foundation to raise the necessary amount of money to make the memorial to Howard become a reality.

"That is awesome," Jones said. "I know a lot of people out there are really fighting hard for it and it was a long battle. Unfortunately I wasn't there at the time and I am sure he was a great person and a great teammate."

While none of current UConn players took the field alongside Howard, his former teammates have been among the most vocal supporters of the project. Hearing current NFL players pushing so hard to remember their fallen teammate is something that has moved the members of the current UConn squad.

"I didn't have the privilege to meet Jasper Howard but everything I hear about him is he was a very stand-up guy, everybody loved him and I feel honored that we are able to celebrate his life,' UConn senior receiver Deshon Foxx said. "When you have so many people who cared about you like that, they will do anything to get a statue up for you, you must be something special."

Jones certainly echoes the same sentiments.

"Those are guys are great character and that is a huge part of who Jasper Howard was, he was a great person and the kind of person that his teammates didn't forget about," Jones said. "Just because of the person he was, the type of impact that he had, .people have moved on from UConn are in the NFL and are still fighting to have this memorial."

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Time at Yale beneficial for Boise State's Sanford

Mike Sanford had to pause for a second when the question was posed.

I spoke to the Boise State offensive coordinator who I crossed paths with when he was an assistant coach on Tom Williams' staff at Yale back in 2009. He left after the season to become the passing game coordinator at Western Kentucky. He then spent three seasons at Stanford, squaring off with the Notre Dame defenses coached by current UConn coach Bob Diaco during the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

He was talking about the birth of his first child coming just 17 days before he got into a car with his wife and daughter for a long drive to Kentucky.

With Sanford and the Boise State traveling party leaving for Connecticut tomorrow I was curious whether Sanford had stepped foot in Connecticut and after a quick chuckle, it hit home with him that was indeed the case.

There were plenty of topics I wanted to address with him. I got into the fact that his Boise offense ran a staggering 63 plays in the first half of Saturday's win over Colorado State and that will be posted at some point later in the week. When I got back from last week's UConn/Stony Brook game the Boise State/Colorado State contest was on ESPN2 and the details surrounding the birth of Mike and Anne-Marie Sanford's second child received a lot of air time especially the part when Anne-Marie set up a separate sleeping area for her husband 24 hours after giving birth so he could get some sleep the night before the Colorado State game.

Naturally I wanted to get a sense of how important that 2009 season was for Sanford.

"I think my experience at Yale was my first full-time position experience," Sanford said. "I had four good years of experience under my belt but I was more of a graduate assistant, quality control coach so it was the first time I had my own position group. The position I had was an outstanding group with John Sheffield, A.J. Haase, Chris Blohm, Shane Bannon, I coached the tight ends, the fullback and h-backs so the thing I really learned in coaching that group is that it is important to develop some position identity. It ended up carrying over for a couple of years. I thought it ended up being one of the toughest groups on the football team and we also had a lot of fun. It was a great environment even away from football. Even though I was leaving, they were still around when Peyton was born and I got really close to those guys. Coaching is more than strictly about wins and losses."

Sanford was also the recruiting coordinator for Yale during the 2009 season which helped him in so many ways as a coach.

"I had a chance as a recruiting coordinator at Yale and it was an outstanding experience for me," Sanford said. "You are limited in terms of the amount of help that you have. If you are at Stanford or Boise State you have massive staffs but I had a job I had to do for a national recruiting operation at Yale. You end up bringing in 28-30 different prospects in at Yale and we only bring in usually 18-20 or 25 so it is a lot of work but I had a chance in my career to organize something for a staff, organize staff meetings which really helped me as an offensive coordinator. The experience I have to have a meeting with Dean of Admissions Dean (Jeff) Brenzel talking about kids who were applying, vouch for them, talk about their character, their academics, understand the academic index in the Ivy League. There is a lot of stuff looking back that I am really grateful for that experience as a coach.

"I really did love living in New Haven, it is a very unique place. I am trying to find a way to get to Pepe's if I can. I enjoyed living there because it is so different culturally to what you are used to on the west coast. Yale was a powerful place. People ask me about Yale and it is a very powerful place. You walk around the halls and you are surrounded by a living legend, those who have come before and have been world leaders."