Sunday, November 30, 2014

UConn's Diaco sees growth in offensive line

On his day-after conference call, UConn coach Bob Diaco address two of the major numbers to emerge from yesterday's loss to Memphis.

Memphis came into the game leading the American Athletic Conference in sacks and didn't have one and UConn, which came into the game third in the AAC in fewest penalty yards per game, had 115 yards on 10 penalties.

Diaco said giving up no sacks to the Tigers' physical, aggressive front seven was one of the most positive aspects of the game. It was also the second in three games that the Huskies have not allowed a sack.

"Timmy (Boyle) kept some of the plays alive, that one I wish he didn't keep alive that was a downright game changer right there, the fumble," Diaco said. "He kept a nice play alive, slid to his left and slipped it to Max (DeLorenzo) at the end. It was really nice to see. The offensive line is improving, they are getting better and better. I think Andreas (Knappe, the starting right tackle) played his very best game and now that is two weeks in a row that he looks like a dude, he looks like a real guy out there so that is exciting."

Diaco obviously is not a fan of the 115 penalty yards, just three off the season high in the loss to East Carolina. But he can live with penalties of aggression rather than pre-snap mental lapses.

"Ten penalties for 115 yards in a tale of the tape in that game, the score is not indicative of how that game went," Diaco said.

"They were basically aggressive penalties so it is young players trying to finish. You think about the game-changing (penalites). Right out of that chute Ronnie rips off that run (on UConn's third drive) and we get a hold. You watch the play and you watch Tommy (Myers), Tommy is blocking that guy and really giving him the business, finishes him into the ground. It is that finish that they flagged the hold on. That was a game-changing play, independent of whether we scored or not, the fact of the matter is that the exposure for our defense has been so great, in particular the last few weeks that is the main issue there from a point-production standpoint. The inability to get the field flipped in a problem early in the game.

"That was a great opportunity. We got the field flipped, at a minimum say we punt back or go for a fourth down and don't make it, nothing happens - they are not set up at midfield.

"The Jazz Clax penalty, now here is another game-changing instance. we cram the ball, the plan, the system is sound, it is working. Just like everything we saw, it is coming to fruition. We are mashing them down, we get the ball down inside the 10 and we get a personal foul. The personal foul, Jazz mauling the outside linebacker, really attacking him and the attack was emphasized. The physicality and physical play and the play carried (on), he ended up on the kid's helmet, his hands are clinched on the helmet, he is still straining and he rips the guy's helmet off. Absolutely a foul, an effort foul, an intensity foul, a foul of immaturity in the game. That was a game-changer, it backs us up, missed field goal.

"Those are two penalties that really tell a part of where the game was and where the game should have been especially when we fast forward that the game is 13-3 with 7 1/2 minutes to play in the third quarter. We had basically played them with all that stuff for 40 minutes to a 13-3 game. The fact of the matter is we weren't lucky to have it be that way. If anything it was just the opposite because the score shouldn't have been that, it probably should have been 13-10 or (13-10) the other way. The PIs (pass interference) are inexperience, it was all in the finish.

"It is all first and second year players basically at the point of attack in every one of those instances. It is great learning lessons and we are going to treat them that way

"That run (wiped out on the hold) stands and now he (Johnson) is over 100, he is at 120 and that is not even factoring in what is going to continue to happen because it was definitely a moment there, longer than an individual moment, where they were having a major problem with that piece. If you producing points, let's say we go ahead 7-6, he rips off that long run and punch it in there, 14-6. That is how the game is won. It is like you can't get out of your own way almost."

Not only was Matt Walsh back on field for UConn playing special teams but his former Hand High teammate Nick Vitale saw what I believe is his first game action as a Husky as he was on the kick coverage units.

"He is a tough guy," Diaco said. "He is kind of a heartbeat kind of guy, the team loves him, he tries hard and we want to reward that great love, passion, energy and toughness and let those guys participate in the games."

Season continues for pair of UConn commits

The senior seasons for the majority of the players committed to UConn have come to an end but for Michael Tarbutt and Bryan Cespedes, there are still games to be played.

Tarbutt was 5 for 5 on extra points as Canisius High School defeated Bishop Timon-St. Jude 35-8 to win its third straight Monsignor Martin Association title on Saturday. The game was postponed on two occasions due to the incredible amount of snow to fall in Buffalo earlier this month and players on both teams helped clear snow from the field so the game could be played.

Cansius can wrap up a perfect season with a win over Stepinac in the inaugural New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association championship game on Dec. 7.

As for Cespedes' New London team, a win against Norwich Free Academy on Thanksgiving would have clinched a spot in the CIAC Class M-Large playoffs. However, the Whalers lost 63-40 meaning they needed some help to earn a postseason bid.

If Bethel had beaten Brookfield, New London would have been on the outside looking in but Brookfield won the game, then New London received bonus points with wins by Killingly and Griswold. Now New London plays at Brookfield on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

UConn's freshman class learning on the job

Trey Rutherford (77) and Ron Johnson (3) are among the true freshmen
who have made an impact during the 2014 season for a 2-8 UConn team
Few things are more revealing about the 2014 football team more than the fact that there will likely be more true freshmen than seniors to see action in the last two games of the season.

I would expect no more than eight seniors to take the field later today when the Huskies play at Memphis while nine true freshmen could see time.

When you break it down, seniors Alex Mateas (center), Deshon Foxx (receiver) and Reuben Frank (defensive end) have started every game, Geremy Davis has been in there for every game when he has been cleared to play, defensive tackle B.J. McBryde started the first six games but just one of the last four; Gus Cruz was the starting left guard for the first nine games before losing his job to freshman Ryan Crozier; Chandler Whitmer started eight games in a row before giving way to sophomore Tim Boyle while Brandon Steg has played the last eight games, mostly on special teams.

While many of the seniors have been losing playing time as the losses have been piling up, the role of the freshmen have continued to increase.

Jamar Summers moved into a starting role following the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by cornerback Byron Jones, either Ron Johnson or Arkeel Newsome have been the starting tailback in the last five games while Crozier is set to make his second straight start. Brice McAllister, Alec Bloom, Steve Hashemi, Luke Carrezola, Vontae Diggs and Trey Rutherford have seen time as true freshmen as well.

The seniors have spoken about how they have tried to lay the foundation for future success even though they will leave as one of the few classes not to post a winning season. The freshmen have conversations between each other as they continue to adjust to the college game.

"We talk about it every day," Crozier said. "We are learning new stuff, what we need to do better, what are the older guys doing that we aren't doing and we talk about that stuff. We are going to be those older guys next year and we have get the (incoming) freshmen (going). We were in their shoes a year ago when we were playing so we just have to get better."
Johnson echoed Crozier's sentiments.

"We always talk about our situations, how we are handling it," Johnson said. "We love competing and that is what brought us here, that is what we have been doing every week and we are going to get there.

"I feel confident we can get this turned around, we look up to the seniors on the team and they are role models. We learn from them and it is a fun experience."

Friday, November 28, 2014

UConn's first quarter woes prove costly

Time for the latest installment of the scary numbers of the week.

They don't come much more frightening than 13 as in the number of points UConn has scored in the first quarter this season or 0 which is the number of Football Bowl Subdivision teams other than UConn to be trailing entering the second quarter in every game this season. UConn also ranks dead last in points scored in the first quarter.

Five times this season the Huskies have given up multiple scores in the opening quarter and three times the Huskies failed to have at least 20 yards of total offense in the first quarter.

Wait, there is more. In four road games the Huskies have been outscored 49-7 in the first quarter and in all games the number is 101-13.That has led to troubles later in the game of the Huskies being forced to throw the ball and we all know what usually happens in those instances.

"What I'd really like to do is go on the road, play well and finish," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "We've gone on the road and been inconsistent at times. We are on the road, Army starts out a particular way and there is this incredible surge down the stretch and we run out of time. South Florida begins the way it began, this kind of mess and inclement weather and it is a little bit of an adversity that the guys aren't necessarily ready for. We are learning lessons, I'd like to go on the road in our final road game and play as well as we can play and finish."

Diaco made mention that the American Athletic Conference trophy could be on site tomorrow since Memphis can clinch at least a share of the title. I asked him if he would use the opportunity to deny Memphis the chance to clinch as extra motivation. Diaco laughed and said, "I am not sure how much other stuff we are ready for. I'd like to think we can get to the point in our program's maturity that we can add some layers but we are just getting started on that. I don't want to heap too many things on."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Samra quietly producing at UConn

Over the course of the season every UConn starting offensive lineman came into the weekly press conferences with one exception - Tyler Samra.

I decided to end that trend by requesting the junior guard and was glad I did.

With senior and three-year starter Gus Cruz losing his job to freshman Ryan Crozier, Samra is suddenly the second oldest starting offensive lineman only behind center and team captain Alex Mateas.

Samra has taken it upon himself to emerge as a leader on the offensive line and on the offense in general.

"Last year my playing time was minimal and this year I am a starter, it is giving me a whole new experience as far as my role as a leader which I will try to be next year," Samra said. "I am trying to take the role and do the best I can at practice. It is not just me but the entire line has progressed a lot. I think experience is a big part of it. In the beginning we had our issues but we have gotten a lot better in the last couple of weeks.

"I am here for everyone. I love the guys I play with. I take pride in being their teammate and if they ever have anything to ask, I will always do my best trying to help."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

UConn's Whitmer, Cruz dealing with reserve roles

The season began with such promise for seniors Chandler Whitmer and Gus Cruz.

Whitmer, although he had already graduated, opted to return for one last season with the hopes to quarterbacking the Huskies to a bowl game. Meanwhile Cruz overcame a potentially career-ending cardiac issue to return to the starting lineup.

Now there is not only no bowl game for the two seniors to prepare for, but their respective roles on the team have been diminished.

It was a closely guarded secret until the first-team offense took the field against Cincinnati last week but both Whitmer and Cruz remained on the sidelines as sophomore Tim Boyle made his first start of the season at quarterback and freshman Ryan Crozier earned his first career start at left guard.

Whitmer, who started 16 straight games before losing his job to Boyle after UConn got off to an 0-4 start during the 2013 season, seems to be handling the demotion in stride.
"I have been through this a few times," Whitmer said. "I am just trying to be the best teammate I can be. I am not worried about being a starter, I know what the situation is. Tim has to get ready for next year, that is kind of the boat we are in. I have said it all along, that is my role here. My career is coming to a close but it doesn't mean I can't help out the younger guys and especially Tim to get ready for the future."
While there were signs that Boyle's role may increase in the final few games, the move of Crozier from reserve right guard to starting left guard was a bit of a shocker.
Things could have been awkward if Cruz, who started the first nine games of the season and 19 games over the last three seasons, chose to make it so. However, Crozier said nothing could be further from the truth.
"He handled it great, he understood everything," Crozier said. "Me and Gus have a good relationship and we still do,"

Crozier figures to be one of two true freshmen in the starting lineup when UConn plays at American Athletic Conference leading Memphis on Saturday as Ron Johnson has emerged as the featured back in recent weeks.

It hasn't been an easy transition for Johnson or fellow true freshman Arkeel Newsome, who have received larger work loads as the season has wore on. So what has been the biggest adjustment to the college game?

"I would say my pass protection," Johnson said. "It takes a lot of preparation, you are going against 240 pound (defensive players). In high school you get the ball on a consistent basis, I didn't block as much but in college it is a lot different."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UConn's Diaco: "I am going to get it done"

Let's make no mistake, first-year UConn coach Bob Diaco's glass is half full approach to things even as the humbling losses have rubbed fans and media the wrong way.

The weekly dissertations about how the Huskies continue to get better seems little like nothing but mindless chatter in the wake of the program's worst home shutout loss in 75 years and the fact that the Huskies have lost three games by at least 25 points this season.

Diaco has often used the Tuesday press conferences to spout rhetoric about how the Huskies are all about the process and that they continue to get better.

His message was a little different and more based in reality than in recent weeks.

"One of the greatest disappointment for me and the team, we really feel bad that the record is the way it is for UConn country," Diaco said. "That hurts. That hurts that our Husky fans are not enjoying these Saturdays like they should be, need to and will be. Then we have this whole collection of former players and former athletes at the school that have created this incredible force of success and tradition. They deserve better, they should not be worrying if they will be putting their letterman coat on or not. They should feel like 'yes, I am going to the water cooler today like a peacock.'

"I am looking for more, I am looking for more with the team and we are going to get it solved. The problem has been identified. I am not a problem identifier, I would like to think I am a problem solver so we have enacted an action plan to solve it. That is why I was brought here by Warde (Manuel) to get it done. I am going to get it done and I am excited about getting it done."

In the wake of two more players leaving the team (former starting linebacker Jefferson Ashiru and receiver Kamal Abrams), it was interesting to hear Diaco talk about one of his main goals is seeing that kids that come in as freshmen stick around to take part in Senior Day festivities which is ironic since only six seniors are on the most recent two-deep chart for offense or defense.

"My pressure is about the young men on the team," Diaco said. "That to me is the pressure that I feel, the men on our team, they need to be there with the flower trotting out to midfield with their papers in their back pocket handing their flower to their guardian, that is a pressure and that is a culture that was present and will be present again. I feel that pressure. Not that we are going to be 100 percent successful at it but we will be close. These Husky fans, they deserve better than the record shows at this point. It is an awesome fan base, one that I am proud to be a part of. I am looking forward to growing it."

Diaco has spoken often times about players needing to improve day by day, week by week so I asked Diaco is he has seen the same growth from himself, a first-time head coach.

"I have," Diaco said.  "The guy who showed up in the middle of December is not the guy who is standing here now. Hopefully in May I can say the same thing for the guy standing here. Every day you learn something new in that chair, every day a new thing is presented to you. It is exciting. I don't mean it in a disparaging way. It is a job I am really loving and enjoying. I am growing, just like Andreas (Knappe) at right tackle, I am growing in the same way."

As for news coming out of today's press conference, he said that Ashiru was not dismissed from the team but he left the team. He also wasn't ready to proclaim that sophomore Tim Boyle was going to see the same number of snaps he did against Cincinnati when he got his first start of the season but that he'd like that to be the case. Much of that will be determined by how Boyle looks in practice. Although Gus Cruz is still listed as the starter at left guard, he referred to freshman Ryan Crozier as the starter. Also, he spoke publicly for the first time about quarterback commit Tyler Davis since all the paperwork has been filed and he is set to enroll at UConn for the spring semester. After the press conference I asked Diaco for some clarification on the status of sophomore fullback Matt Walsh after he did not dress for the Cincinnati game so he could address some "corrective" issues. Diaco said he is back to competing without restriction and that Walsh will practice and is expected to play on Saturday.

UConn in the NFL Week 12 report

In a normal week the fact that Shamar Stephen was making his first career start with the Minnesota Vikings or Danny Lansanah continued his impressive season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would headline the UConn alumni report. However, Sio Moore's rather well publicized celebration after a sack was clearly the most noteworthy moment.

Moore and Kahlil Mack, who figure to be bookend outside linebackers for the Raiders in the coming years, danced to their heart's content after Moore's third-down sack left the Kansas City Chiefs facing a 4th and 13 at their own 48. Veteran defensive end Justin Tuck had to call a timeout to prevent the Chiefs from running a play when two of the Raiders' 11 defensive players were seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. If not for the timeout the Chiefs would have had a free play to try to keep their final drive alive since the Raiders would have been called for an offsides penalty.

Tuck threatened to fight Moore had the Chiefs won the game because of Moore's lapse in judgment and other veteran Oakland players were critical of the second-year linebacker for not being more aware of the situation.

Lost in the hoopla from all of this is that Moore had a monster game with 12 tackles, two tackles for loss and the sack as the Raiders won their first game of the season.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 31-28 loss to Dallas
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Had one carry for seven yards and two catches for 20 yards in 27-24 win over St. Louis
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had two tackles in 23-3 win over Jacksonville
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Had two tackles in 38-3 win over New York Jets
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had three tackles in 23-3 loss to Indianapolis
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have a catch in 22-13 loss to Cincinnati
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had seven tackles in 21-13 loss to Chicago
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had six tackles in 26-24 loss to Cleveland
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had 12 tackles including a sack in 24-20 win over Kansas City
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play in 34-9 loss to New England
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had two tackles in 27-24 win over St. Louis
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had one catch in 24-20 loss to Oakland
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had one tackle in 24-21 loss to Green Bay
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had two catches for 14 yards in 23-3 loss to Indianapolis.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Was inactive (back) in 43-27 loss to Philadelphia

Monday, November 24, 2014

Closer look at UConn's attrition

The subject of attrition with the UConn football program has been a popular subject this week. After the loss to Cincinnati UConn coach Bob Diaco said that 35 players are no longer with the team from the classes of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

If you add in Shakim Phillips, who transferred in from Boston College only to go back to BC this season and Tom Rodick, who was medically disqualified and is the only member of the current freshman class no longer on the program, Diaco's math seems about right. By my math, there are 50 active players from those classes and 35 no longer around.

Here's the list with the current UConn players in bold

Josh Alexander DB Waldorf, Md.  WEST VIRGINIA WESLEYAN 1 tackle, 18.5 yards on 13 kickoff returns
Ty-Meer Brown  DB McKeesport, Pa.  BOSTON COLLEGE Has 35 tackles and interception
Gus Cruz OG Manchester, N.H.  Started 19 games over last three seasons, lost starting job to Ryan Crozier
Geremy Davis WR Lawrenceville, Ga. Has most catches of any UConn player during FBS era
Reuben Frank DE Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Has started at fullback and defensive end for UConn

Mark Hansson OT Clearwater, Fla.
Byron Jones DB New Britain  Team captain and NFL prospect suffered season-ending shoulder injury as senior
Tebucky Jones WR Farmington  FORDHAM 67 catches for 999 yards and 10 touchdowns as senior for FCS playoff team
Leon Kinnard WR Reistertown, Md. TOWSON Had 54 catches during 2012 and 2013 seasons for Tigers
Jonathan Louis DE Brockton, Mass. MAINE 12 tackles and 1/2 a sack this season
Taylor Mack DB Powder Springs, Ga. Graduated after becoming starting cornerback for UConn
B.J. McBryde DL Beaver Falls, Pa.   Has 22 tackles this season for the Huskies
Lyle McCombs RB Staten Island, N.Y. RHODE ISLAND Fourth all-time leading rusher at UConn who had 665 rushing yards in six games at URI
Scott McCummings Natick, Mass.  Former wildcat quarterback had career shortened due to injuries
Greg McKee OT Chicago   Never played a game at UConn and was sentenced to year in prison last year for possession of child pornography
Andrew Opoku DB North Brunswick, N.J. DELAWARE 10 tackles and two fumble recoveries in 2014 season
Mike Osiecki FB Seymour   Career ended prematurely due to injuries
Bryan Paull OL Parkland, Fla.  Career at UConn shortened due to injuries
Angelo Pruitt DE Cincinnati  Former starter who suffered season-ending leg injury
Yawin Smallwood LB Worcester, Mass. Led UConn in tackles in 2012 and 2013. Declared for NFL draft, was taken by Atlanta in seventh round and now on Tennessee Titans' practice squad
Gilbert St.Louis DB Davie, Fla.  BALL STATE Has 33 tackles as senior at Ball State
Brandon Steg LB Coral Springs, Fla. Reserve linebacker has six tackles as a senior

Kamal Abrams WR Dover, Del.   Had five catches this season before leaving team
Andrew Adams DB College Park, Ga.  Leads Huskies with four interceptions
Kenton Adeyemi DL Wethersfield   Has 27 tackles and four tackles for loss in '14

Jefferson Ashiru LB Powder Springs, Ga.  Former starter left program earlier this month
Julian Campenni DL Exeter, Pa.   Leads all defensive linemen with 33 tackles and five tackles for loss this season
Tyree Clark DB Tampa, Fla.   Former reserve DB had 12 solo tackles in '13
Max DeLorenzo RB Berlin    Second on team with 240 rushing yards
Deshon Foxx WR Lynchburg, Va.   Has UConn's longest run, reception and special-teams return this season

Dalton Gifford OL Fairhaven, Mass. Started five games at right tackle
Xavier Hemingway OL Powder Springs, Ga.  Started '13 season opener but no longer with team
Wilbert Lee DB Brooklyn, N.Y.   Top special teams player for UConn
Sean McQuillan, TE Glastonbury   Fourth on UConn with 16 catches

Michael Nebrich QB Burke, Va.   FORDHAM Completed 67 percent of passes for 3015 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. Has 60 TD passes in last two seasons
Paul Nwokeji OL Randolph, MA   Reserve offensive lineman at UConn
David Stevenson CB Stone Mountain, Ga.  Former reserve defensive back no longer with team
Marquise Vann LB Cincinnati   Team captain and leading tackler on '14 squad

Brendan Battles-Santos DE Eastham, Mass. Left program between 2013 and 2014 seasons
Kyle Bockeloh OL Houston   Reserve offensive lineman with Huskies
Rennick Bryan OL Hillhouse   Left program and enrolled at Dean College
Jazzmar Clax FB Freehold, N.J.   Has one carry and four catches for Huskies this season
Casey Cochran QB Monroe    Led UConn to season-ending three-game winning streak in '13 but forced to retire due to multiple concussions
Jordan Floyd DB Bel Air, Md.   Has one tackle this season and three tackles in 20 career games
Drew Ghio OL Bristol 
John Green WR Miami    Former receiver moved to cornerback and has 11 tackles in '14
Ricky Gutierrez WR Hialeah, Fla.  Enrolled at Dodge City Community College after leaving UConn
Jon Hicks LB Palmyra, Pa.   Has 13 tackles this season for Huskies
Andreas Knappe OT Silkeborg, Denmark Started last five games at right tackle
Richard Levy OT Trenton, N.J.   UConn's starting left tackle
Ellis Marder DB Windermere, Fla.  Has seven tackles in 11 career games at UConn

Obi Melifonwu, DB South Grafton, Mass. Has 67 tackles in second season as a starter
Mikal Myers DL Newburgh, N.Y.   Reserve defensive lineman has 24 tackles including a sack in '14

E.J. Norris DE Upper Marlboro, Md.  Saw time at defensive end and tight end before leaving program
Bobby Puyol K North Palm Beach, Fla.  8 of 10 on field goals with a long of 44
Zach Rugg OL Windber, Pa.   Reserve offensive guard at UConn
Tyler Samra OG Wycoff, N.J.   Starting right guard and one of five offensive players to start every game this season

Neil Shortell TE Mission Hills, Kan.  EMPORIA STATE Had 40 tackles and three sacks in '13
Omaine Stephens LB East orange, N.J.  Has three tackles in seven games in '14
Jason Sylva LB 6-3 235 Marion, Mass.  WESTERN MICHIGAN
Wyatt Vinci LB Ridgewood, N.J.   DIABLO VALLEY CC Now a defensive lineman, he has 53 tackles and 10 tackles for loss at Diablo Valley
Chandler Whitmer QB Newnan, Ga.   One of four quarterbacks in UConn history with more than 5,000 passing yards
Jhavon Williams DB Wellington, Fla.  Starting cornerback has 27 tackles and six pass breakups this season

Joe Williams, RB Allentown, Pa.   ASA COLLEGE Ran for 1,093 yards and had 1,394 all-purpose yards

Tim Boyle QB Middlefield   Has started five games at UConn
Dhameer Bradley WR New Castle, Del.  Has 28 career catches at UConn
Chris Britton, LB Harrisburg, Pa.  Redshirting this season
Folorunso Fatukasi, DL Rockaway Park, N.Y. 24 tackles and 2 1/2 tackles for loss

Jordan Fuchs TE New York      INDIANA Enrolled at Milford Academy and then signed with Indiana. Has three catches for 31 yards and a TD.
Javon Hadley DB Miami    Has three tackles this season
Sha-ki Holines, DE    UMASS Has 33 tackles and two sacks this season
Tommy Hopkins, OL Hawthorne, N.Y.  Reserve offensive lineman
Cory Jasudowich LB North Branford  NEW HAVEN Had five tackles in 11 games for Chargers
Junior Joseph, LB Sinking Springs, Pa.  30 tackles and four tackles for loss in nine games this season
Richard Lagow QB Plano, Tex.   CISCO COLLEGE Threw for 412 yards in win over Arkansas Baptist in September
Brian Lemelle WR Harrisburg, Pa.  Has five catches during 2014 season
Thomas Lucas WR Silver Springs, Md.  Has nine catches for 122 yards
Josh Marriner, RB Chesapeake, Va.  Has 91 rushing yards
Tommy Myers, TE Coventry   Has two catches
Cole Ormsby DL Windsor    Leads UConn with 2 1/2 sacks
Kyle Schafenacker OL Cooper City, Fla.  Reserve offensive lineman with Huskies
Cameron Stapleton DE Brooklyn, N.Y.  Has seven tackles this season
Jalen Stevens LB Goose Creek, S.C.  Has seen special-teams work this season
Jamar Summers, DB Orange, N.J.   Moved into starting spot after injury to Byron Jones and has 21 tackles

Kivon Taylor, QB Atlanta   FOOTHILL COLLEGE Threw for six TDs and ran for four more
Noel Thomas WR Norwalk    Third on team with 22 catches and has team-best four TD receptions
Quinn Thompson TE Edinboro, Pa.   BALDWIN WALLACE
Matt Walsh, FB Madison    Has seen time at fullback and on special teams
Chasz Wright OL Hylton, Va.   PENN STATE Enrolled at Milford Academy and then signed with Penn State

Davis happy to be back on field for UConn

Neither the final numbers on the scoreboard (41-0 in favor of Cincinnati) or in the receiving department (2 catches for 1 yard) was what Geremy Davis was hoping for but after missing the last 2 1/2 games due to an ankle injury, the record-breaking senior receiver wasn't about to complain.

"I praise God, he has given me faith throughout my injury," Davis said. "They gave me the go (ahead) and I was ready to go.

"It is frustrating, you wonder why but you say God has a plan for everything and I am happy to fill the role mentally to help my teammates out telling them what I see out there and what they see and be a leader out there."

Davis already has more catches than any UConn receiver since the Huskies moved up to the FBS level and he needs five more receptions to break into the top five on UConn's career charts.

The last time the Huskies played Memphis all Davis did was set a single-game UConn record with 15 receptions in the 2013 finale, He'd love to end the season by leading the Huskies to wins over Memphis and SMU before he turns his attention to opening the eyes of NFL scouts.

"We have two more games, we will keep fighting and fighting however we end it, we end it," Davis said. "It's been a struggle but there have been some ups too so we are going to keep fighting and go out with a boom."

It hasn't been the easiest of seasons for former UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes.

The Bearcats had games when they gave up 563, 710, 610 and 621 yards in the first five games of the season and Cincinnati fans were quick to voice their displeasure.

Cincinnati has shown tremendous growth on defense in recent weeks and the Bearcats allowed a season-low 129 yards in Hughes' return to Rentschler Field.

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville knows it was a big day for Hughes.

"It is awfully hard to go back and play against your former team, players he knew and it was probably an advantage for us a little bit knowing the personality of the players, speed and quickness," Tuberville said after Saturday's game. "He spent 13 years here and we are glad he won the game. He felt emotional in this game, I watched him during the week and talked to him about it. I have done it, I coached against kids I recruited but it is not easy."

I'm sure few reminders are needed about how ugly Saturday night's game was for the home team. The 129 yards of total offense matched the lowest output during UConn's time playing at the FBS level. It was also the second time this season that the Huskies failed to hit the 135-yard mark in a game. There have been 22 games between FBS teams this season when a squad had 135 or fewer yards. Wake Forest is on the list four times while Eastern Michigan, UConn and SMU are on the list twice.

Team    Opponent Date               Plays Pass Rush Total yards
Baylor vs. SMU 08/31                         97  91  -24  67 
UTEP vs. UTSA 10/25                        64  32  38  70 
LSU vs. La.-Monroe 09/13                 72  77  16  93 
Texas vs. North Texas 08/30               74  15  79  94 
La.-Monroe vs. W. Forest 08/28          85  97  -3  94 
C. Mich. vs. Eastern Mich. 11/01        78  76  21  97 
Louisville vs. Wake Forest 09/27         81  122  -22  100 
Oklahoma vs. Kansas 11/22/                68  84  19  103 
Ole Miss vs. Memphis 09/27               79  81  23  104 
UCF vs. SMU 11/22                            85  50  66  116 
Clemson vs. Wake Forest 11/06          79  112  7  119 
Florida vs. Missouri 10/18                   79  20  99  119  
Arkansas vs. LSU 11/15                      65  87  36  123 
Florida vs. Eastern Mich. 09/6            86  45  80  125 
Florida St. vs. Wake Forest 10/4         74  86  40  126 
Ohio St. vs. Kent St. 09/13                  87  79  47  126 
Cincinnati vs. UConn 11/22                84  81  48  129 
South Fla. vs. UConn 09/19                71  88  44  132 
Ohio vs. Buffalo 11/05                        74  106  28  134 
East Carolina vs. Temple 11/01           88  70  65  135 
Michigan St. vs. E. Mich. 09/20          79  115  20  135 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Boyle gets his chance for UConn

While it was hardly a surprise to the members of the team, there were a few raised eyebrows when sophomore Tim Boyle trotted out with the starting offense on the first drive of the game instead of senior Chandler Whitmer, UConn's starting quarterback for the last eight games.
"We hadn't seen him do if he could start in a game, we hadn't seen it yet," Diaco said of his decision to start Boyle. "Nothing against Chandler but we wanted to see what Timmy would give us. He is going to get better and better and he needs to get better and better. The only way to get better and better is to play."
The final numbers were not pretty as Boyle finished 13 of 21 yards for 70 yards and had minus 25 yards rushing despite being sacked only twice. Whitmer was 1 of 5 with an interception and finished with 11 passing yards. At a team the Huskies managed 129 yards of total offense, matching the lowest output since the Huskies began playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 2002.
"We had a good game plan I thought we were going to be able to execute," Boyle said. "Turnovers and execution were the culprit, I think once we start executing and handing onto the ball, we can do some good things."
Since Cochran's retirement Boyle has been limited to just one series while Whitmer received the bulk of the work. With an extra week to prepare the decision was made to insert Boyle as the starting quarterback as well as giving true freshman Ryan Crozier his first career start at left offensive guard.
"Once I saw my role increase in practice I thought I was going to play more and I was going to get the majority of the snaps, not necessarily the start," Boyle said. "Chandler and I have been rotating on and off and see what does from there but nothing predetermined. It is always good to get more snaps. I know this sounds bad but the more mistakes you can make, the game of football is about making mistakes and not trying to make them twice, trying to learn from them. I think the more snaps I get the more mistakes I am going to make. It is weird to say but down the road it is probably going to help me a little more.
"He (Whitmer) is right on my side, he has been positive. Like you guys say today, he is still battling through all the adversity he has had to go through. It is very tough and I respect him for it but he has been right there by my side the whole time."
Boyle made it clear that he is focusing on the remainder of this season and not about being the Huskies' quarterback of the future.
"It is more settling into the game," Boyle said. "You can ask any quarterback, it is tough in the beginning of the game to try to get into a rhythm especially when you are going 3 and out and have turnovers like that. More towards the end of the game I had more confidence in myself, I started seeing things a little easier. I am nowhere (near) where I need to be, where I want to be and that is going come down to film study and working hard in practice. I think the hardest thing for me is to just see the defense and make the right decision. I have a long way to go but I think it has increased my confidence level."
Diaco said that Crozier beat out Cruz for the starting left guard spot and another intriguing aspect in terms of playing time is that Arkeel Newsome, who had at least three carries in every game when he was healthy, did not get a carry.
"Things are starting to mount on these guys, they have finals, school every day, they are in football," Newsome said. "We are not having a great season and and and and it is just building on them. Arkeel, his class and company, they are doing a fantastic job but it is hard, you are young, you are homesick, some are working through it better than others. Arkeel is going to be a great player." 

Tough day all around for UConn

When the day began the biggest news was the departure of juniors Jefferson Ashiru and Kamal Abrams.

It wasn't long before that was replaced by 60 minutes of miscues and one of the worst losses in UConn football history.

Three of Cincinnati's scoring drives in a 41-0 win started in UConn territory meanwhile the Huskies were shut out at home for the first time since 1978 and the 129 yards of total offense matched the lowest total since UConn began playing at the FBS level.

"You can't do that," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "They are going to move the ball, you have to make them move the length of the field. Short fields and turnovers, that is the hallmark of how you get beat."
UConn coach Bob Diaco shook things up by giving sophomore Tim Boyle the start at quarterback while true freshman Ryan Crozier got the call at left guard for his first career start. The only seniors to start on either offense or defense were receivers Davis, making his return after missing the last 2 1/2 games, and Deshon Foxx and defensive end/outside linebacker Reuben Frank.
The Huskies, coming off their two best rushing games of the season, were held to minus 10 yards on the ground in the first half and finished the first half with nine yards of total offense. Cincinnati had nine double-digit yardage plays in the first half and finished with 248 yards of offense in the first two quarters.
Before the game it was confirmed that junior receiver Kamal Abrams and junior linebacker Jefferson Ashiru have left the team continuing the attrition within the program.
Eight different players who started games and with remaining eligibility are no longer with the program. Going one step further, 12 other scholarship players with remaining eligibility who were on the roster at the end of the 2013 season are no longer with the program.
Quarterbacks Kivon Taylor and Scott McCummings, running backs Lyle McCombs and Joe Williams, defensive backs Ty-Meer Brown, Tyree Clark and David Stevenson, tight ends E.J. Norris and Quinn Thompson, offensive lineman Xavier Hemingway, defensive lineman Michael Boland and receiver Shakim Phillips join Abrams and Ashiru as the players on the roster for the 2013 season finale against Memphis who are no longer with the team. That doesn't include injured former starters Byron Jones, Casey Cochran, Dalton Gifford and Angelo Pruitt with Gifford the only one expected back for the 2015 season. Diaco said that 35 players from the last four recruiting classes are no longer a part of the program. Some of that is his doing but much of it happened before he arrived.
"Everybody's got their own reason why, we are just trying to grow and build our culture," Diaco said.
"We want to teach and develop. Do you have a picture of it? I am honored to coach this team. I am honored to be here. If I had to make this choice again 200 times, I would make it again 200 times. I love the guys that are in that locker room, I want to serve them. I also analyze the signing classes of 2010, '11, '12 and '13 and there are 35 players that showed up for active ready duty for UConn Husky football, be student-athletes at the university that are no longer here, that is a fact or no longer able to participate. I don't know the stories."
Sophomore fullback Matt Walsh did not play but he is not among the departed Huskies according to Diaco.
"We had some very slight corrective conversations here and tomorrow he is with the team," Diaco said. "He is a great kid, a great teammate and he is going to do a good job and fulfill his potential."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tough night for UConn commits

UConn commits Frank Battle and Nazir Williams were hoping to extend their senior seasons and move a step closer to helping their teams to state titles.

However, it wasn't to be.

Battle failed to catch a pass for the third consecutive game as Belen Jesuit fell to Killian 31-0 in the Florida 8A regional semifinals. In the last three games Belen completed just three passes including just one in the loss to Killian.

Meanwhile Williams had two catches for 14 yards and a 41-yard pass completion as Bridgeton fell 20-6 to Delsan in the South Jersey Group III semifinals. Williams did have a role in Bridgeton's lone score as he caught a pass and pitched it to Cappadonna Miller. Miller raced the final 35 yards for a touchdown late in the first half.

Also, Ian Campbell's Pequannock team lost to Waldwick/Midland Park 21-7 in the North Jersey Group 2 semifinals.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tuberville: UConn much better team this year

When listening to coaches discuss the team they are getting ready to play, the comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. Lou Holtz was notorious for making the opposing team sound like the 1985 Chicago Bears even if they were 1-10. Still, with all of that being said, Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville was very complimentary when talking about the job Bob Diaco has done in his first season with the Huskies.

"They have a new coach, young coach who is very enthusiastic," Tuberville said. "You can tell he has made changes during the year to make the team better. They are a much better team this year then they were last year at this time. We beat them pretty good here and knowing that they played one of their best games (against Central Florida), they've got momentum going and I am sure they want to finish the year out on the right foot. I don't want to expect. I am sure he is going to make some changes going into the last few weeks knowing that he has some young guys he might want to start playing to try to win some more games and start working for spring practice and next year.
"Their guys on their team, last year when they came here they were in disarray after losing their coach but this group Bob has done a good job of putting his fingerprint on it. He knows the best years are down the road but he has done it his way. They are playing really hard  and that is what you want them to do."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

UConn in the NFL: Week 11

There haven't been many positives for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season but the play of former UConn linebacker Danny Lansanah has been a revelation. Lansanah had an interception in Sunday's 27-7 win over Washington. It was his third interception this season, the most for any linebacker in the league.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson had his best game of the season according to the Pro Football Focus site. He was targeted nine times and gave up just three catches for 22 yards. It was the second time this season Wreh-Wilson allowed less than 50 percent of the targets against him to be completed.

Robert McClain, who had just six tackles in the previous four games, moved back into a prominent role on the Atlanta Falcons' defense after Robert Alford was knocked out of Sunday's game against Carolina with a wrist injury. McClain had four tackles in the game and with Alford expected to miss 2-4 weeks, McClain is expected to start for the Falcons.

However, the former Husky making the most news this week is Dwayne Gratz. With the Jacksonville Jaguars have a bye Gratz was in Miami and his arrest for allegedly causing a disturbance after his attempt to pay for items with bubble gum was rebuffed made national headlines. According to multiple media reports, he was arrested after refusing to leave the store.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 16-10 loss to San Francisco
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Had one carry for no yards and a 4-yard catch in 13-6 win over Oakland
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had two tackles in 42-20 loss to New England
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Returned to action for first time in nearly two months but did not have catch or tackle in 22-9 loss to Miami
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Bye week
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have catch in 23-7 win over Cleveland
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had two tackles and interception in 27-7 win over Washington
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had four tackles including tackle for loss in 19-17 win over Carolina
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had nine tackles in 13-6 loss to San Diego
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play in 14-6 loss to Arizona
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had one tackle in 13-6 win over Oakland
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had a 13-yard catch and two tackles in 24-20 win over Seattle
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had one tackle in 21-13 loss to Chicago
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Bye week
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had three tackles and two pass breakups in 27-24 loss to Pittsburgh

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Monday, November 17, 2014

UConn's Diaco reflects on memorable season at Cincinnati

Bob Diaco's time in Cincinnati was rather brief but the memories figure to last a lifetime.

Diaco was the defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach for the Bearcats during the 2009 season. Diaco's defense allowed fewer than 21 points in each of the first eight games en route to a perfect 12-0 regular season and appearance in the Sugar Bowl against Florida.

On today's American Athletic Conference call Diaco was asked to look back on one of the best seasons in Cincinnati history. He was quick to point out "one of the" were unnecessary words in describing that magical season.

"Have you been 12-0 before or since," Diaco said.

"It was awesome. I loved it. I lived in this little town just northeast of the city. I loved living there, my family loved it. It was great food. I am a foodie so great food in Cincinnati, awesome restaurants, awesome culture. It was very convenient with proximity to that large airport. It was an easy city to live in, very friendly, big city but kind of a midwest feel and I really liked that. I liked the climate too, it was just south enough where we got a little bit of snow from time to time but not much. The guys were tough guys, great fan support, great following and the team was fun to work with. They were tough, loved to play football, mentally and physically tough, contact tough. It was a fun team to coach, a lot of fun."

Perhaps no one memory remains with Diaco more than the bus ride to the airport to head to the Sugar Bowl.

"I will never forget the Cincinnati crowd as we loaded the busses to go to play Florida in the Sugar Bowl that was in the street as far as the eye could see shaking, banging on the busses," Diaco said. "It was just a spectacular moment."

Diaco downplayed any extra emotions going against Cincinnati.

"Nothing extra," Diaco said. "I personally, I have affinity and affection for my time there. I am excited for the game because we get to play another game and we need to play another game, we need to practice and play."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Big night for UConn commit

It was a pretty successful day for future Huskies on Friday.

Four UConn commits played in state playoff games and three of their teams emerged victorious.

Leading the way was Nazir Williams who had a season-high 124 receiving yards including a 23-yard touchdown as Bridgeton rolled to a 42-0 win over Manasquan in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals as Bridgeton won a home playoff game for the first time since 1999. Bridgeton will meet Delsea in the second round.

Fellow receiver Frank Battle wasn't nearly as busy but his Belen Jesuit team kept its state title hopes alive. Belen Jesuit only attempted two passes and did not complete either one but ran 41 times for 269 yards in a 20-7 win over Southridge in a Florida Region 4-8A quarterfinal.

Ian Campbell's Pequannock team rallied to beat Elmwood Park 21-20 in the North Jersey Section 1 Group 2 playoffs to set up a meeting with Waldwick on Friday.

The news wasn't all good as Connor Freeborn's Salesianum squad lost to Sussex Tech in the Delaware Division I quarterfinals.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Busy day for UConn commits

Michael Tarbutt's Canisius High School team lived to play another day with a convincing 62-19 win over St. Francis in the Monsignor Martin Association semifinals on Thursday. Canisius can complete a perfect season with a win over Bishop Timon-St. Jude on Thursday.

There were be plenty of fellow UConn commits in action today.

Frank Battle's Belen Jesuit team plays Southridge in the Florida 8A playoffs, Ian Campbell and Pequannock faces Elmwood Park in the North Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals, Connor Freeborn's Salesianum squad meets Sussex Tech in Delaware's Division 1 quarterfinal, Nazir Williams' Bridgeton team plays Manasquan in the South Jersey Group III quarterfinals while Marshe Terry and Northern Burlington meet West Windsor-Plainsboro North in the NJSIAA consolation bracket.

Bryan Cespedes' New London team, current seventh in the CIAC Class M ratings, has a regular-season game against Killingly while Kevin Murphy's West Chester East plays its regular-season finale against Hatsboro-Horsham.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Non-offensive TDs continue to haunt UConn

When I mentioned to UConn quarterbacks coach Don Patterson on media day that the Huskies gave up five non-offensive touchdowns, he cringed and stated that there's no way that can happen.

Well, with three games left to play the Huskies have actually topped that number with three fumbles and three interceptions being returned for touchdowns this season.

In an attempt to satisfy my own curiosity, I checked to see where UConn ranks in allowing defensive touchdowns and the results were not pretty.

UConn's six defensive touchdowns is tied for the lead among FBS teams with Wake Forest and dating back over the last five seasons the Huskies' 20 defensive touchdowns allowed is tied with Western Michigan for the lead among programs playing at the FBS level. What's frightening is that over the same period LSU and Wisconsin have given up two defensive scores. It should also come to the shock to just about nobody that the record of the four teams allowing the most defensive touchdowns is either 2-7 or 3-6.

Here's the list
2014 season
UConn                  1                            6
Wake Forest         2                            6
Tulane                  0                            5
No. Texas             4                           5

UConn                      12                            8                       20

W. Michigan             10                          10                       20
UAB                         15                            4                        19
Hawaii                      10                            8                        18
Idaho                        13                             5                       18
SMU                          4                           14                       18
Vanderbilt                10                            7                        17
Tulane                      14                            3                        17

Major honor for UConn product

Former UConn fullback Anthony Sherman was named the AFC's Special Teams Player of the Week after recording three special-teams tackles, forcing and recovering a fumble while covering a punt which was turned into the winning touchdown in the Kansas City Chiefs' win over Buffalo.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

UConn in NFL: Week 10

While Anthony Sherman did not have an offensive touch in Sunday's win over Buffalo, he certainly had a major impact on the game's outcome.

Sherman forced a fumble by Bills' punt returner Leodis McKelvin and also recovered the fumble with 9:44 left to play. Two plays later Alex Smith scored the game-winning touchdown in a 17-13 victory. It was one of three tackles for Sherman in the game and the highlight in a week when five UConn products had their bye weeks..

Here's the report:
Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 38-17 loss to Seattle
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Bye week
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Bye week
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Was inactive (knee)
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had three tackles, one tackle for loss and two pass breakups in 31-17 loss to Dallas
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Bye week
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had six tackles including tackle for loss in 27-17 loss to Atlanta
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Did not have a tackle in 27-17 win over Tampa Bay
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had seven tackles and a tackle for loss in 41-17 loss to Denver
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play in 20-16 win over Miami
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Bye week
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had three tackles and fumble recovery in 17-13 win over Buffalo
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Bye week
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had three catches for 27 yards, two rushes for six yards and 32 yards on two kickoff returns in 31-17 loss to Dallas
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had six tackles in 21-7 loss to Baltimore

Governor's Academy lineman commits to UConn

UConn continues to make a push to add size to its incoming freshman class.

Governor's Academy two-way starting lineman Matthew Peart, originally from the Bronx, committed to UConn according to his head coach Jim O'Leary.

O'Leary said that offensive line coach Mike Foley has been looking at Peart since his junior season and after speaking with Foley and head coach Bob Diaco yesterday, Peart committed. He becomes the third lineman to commit to UConn since Oct. 5 joining Cedar Creek (N.J.) defensive lineman Trey Blackwell and New London offensive tackle Bryan Cespedes.

O'Leary said Peart is 6-foot-8, 265 pounds and "without an ounce of fat on him." He is a two-way starter at offensive tackle and defensive end for one of the most successful prep school programs in New England. He is the starting left tackle for a 7-1 Governor's Academy team that will play Brunswick on Saturday in the Wayne Sanborn Bowl at Avon Old Farms.

"He has outstanding potential," O'Leary said. "He's a great athlete, the captain of the basketball team. He's a great kid and has an outstanding attitude. He has great length, long arms. He's going to do the work in the weight room and once his body fills out, he is going to be special."

Peart has seven sacks on defense as well as being one of the leaders of the Governor's Academy offense.

Monday, November 10, 2014

UConn played right into Army's hands

Bob Diaco made it clear what was at the priority list a few days before heading down to Yankee Stadium to play Army.

"When they are operating out in front of the chains, you have a hard time," Diaco said last week. "If you get it frustrated it makes it 10 times worse. You need to already prepare for that to happen."

In each of the games against East Carolina and Central Florida, the Huskies' two best efforts of the season, UConn's opponents ran six plays on either 3rd and 4 or shorter and seven of at least 10 yards to go on third down. However, against Army the Black Knights ran 10 plays between 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 4 (converting 10 times) and just one time did Army have to run a play on 3rd or 10 or longer.

Taking it a step further, UConn's performance versus the Black Knights on first down wasn't terrible with 115 yards on 24 plays (4.8 yards per play). However, Army ran 29 first-down plays for 211 yards including both of its completed passes. Army had seven double-digit yardage plays on first down.

The first down defensive woes are not a one-time issue. In the seven losses UConn had given by 775 yards on 69 first-down plays on 24 drives with seven of the 19 offensive touchdowns being scored on first down. In the two wins UConn has allowed 65 yards on 17 first-down plays with one TD on first down in six scoring drives.

The bye week could come at a perfect time as UConn has an extra week to recover from the poor performance and will get back to playing a more traditional offense when Cincinnati comes to town on Nov. 22. The kickoff time will be announced on Saturday.

Playoff season for plenty of UConn commits

While there will be no bowl game for the UConn football team, many of the high school seniors who have committed to play for the Huskies have postseason games coming up this week.

Frank Battle's Belen Jesuit team will host Southridge on Saturday in the Florida 8A regional quarterfinals on Saturday.

Battle did not have a catch as Belen attempted just four passes in a 20-14 win over Monsignor Pace in the regular-season finale but he does have team-high totals of 22 catches and 327 receiving yards.

Nazir Williams' Bridgeton squad will play Manasquan in the South Jersey Group 3 playoff opener. Williams, a receiver and defensive end, had 28 catches for 428 yards and two touchdowns but has made a bigger impact on the defensive side of the ball as he has three multiple-sack games including two sacks in Friday's win over Middle Township. In the last three games he has 19 tackles and five sacks giving him nine sacks this season.

In the North Jersey Section 1 Group 2 playoffs Ian Campbell's Pequannock's team hosts Elmwood Park while in the New Jersey consolation bracket, John Robinson IV and Dwight Morrow will meet Indian Hills on Friday and on Saturday Marshe Terry's Northern Burlington team faces West Windsor-Plainsboro North.

Michael Tarbutt's undefeated Canisius team squares off with St. Francis on Thursday. Tarbutt is 8 of 12 on field goals with a long of 52 and has 40 touchbacks on 57 kickoffs.

Aaron Garland, who had an 87-yard kickoff return as his Fenwick team defeated Carmel in the Illinois 7A playoffs to advance to the quarterfinals for just the fourth time in program history. Fenwick plays Libertyville on Saturday.

Connor Freeborn's Salesianum's team will play Sussex Tech on Friday in the Delaware Division I playoffs.

Tyler Davis' impressive senior season at Mepham (N.Y.) High came to an end last week with a 34-27 loss to Long Beach. Davis was 8 of 15 passing for a season-high 165 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 36 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season 73 of 129 for 1,092 yards with 13 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Davis had nine TD passes and one interception in the last six games of the season. He also for 1,553 yards (averaging 7.3 yards per carry) and 22 touchdowns.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

UConn;s bowl-less drought stretches to four years

Coming off an emotional win over defending American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida there were some whispers from those outside the program using the words "bowl eligible."
Despite getting off to a 1-6 start there was still the hope of securing a bowl berth. A win over Army on Saturday would put the Huskies at 3-6. A Cincinnati team which has had its share of defensive struggles would be coming into Rentschler Field later this month and there would be games against a Memphis team the Huskies beat by 35 points in the 2013 regular-season finale and then a contest against SMU, the only FBS team failing to average at least 10 points per game. UConn would have to win out to have a chance to be invited to a bowl game and having the invaluable extra month of practice time that comes with playing in a bowl game.
Instead, a humbling 35-21 loss to Army marks the second year in a row that UConn is eliminated from bowl eligibility before the basketball regular season gets underway. This senior class is the first at UConn with four consecutive losing seasons since 1982-85.
"It is most down I have been after a loss and every loss hurts but this one really stings," Foxx said.

"It sucks, there is not much I could say about that. I wish I could have changed but at least the young guys have more opportunities. We are getting the young guys on board and hopefully they can make it to a couple of bowl games. I know they are going to be a part of a championship team and I am glad to be a part of the beginning."

A year ago the Huskies showed signs of life by winning their final three games after an 0-9 start. Now the Huskies have three games left to play so where do they go from here?

"We have fighters on our team," UConn junior safety Andrew Adams said. "If we are not bowl eligible, that doesn’t mean anything. We are still going to take it one game at a time and try to win each game."

Saturday, November 08, 2014

What a difference a week makes at UConn

Last Saturday was the best of the times for the veteran members of the UConn football team who haven't always been able to celebrate as much as they would like. There was a sense of jubilation as the Huskies' stunned defending American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida.

Fast forward to day and it was a 180 degree turn following a disappointing loss to a 2-6 Army team.

"It is most down I have been after a loss and every loss hurts but this one really stings," senior receiver Deshon Foxx said.
"It is the complete opposite, you go home from homecoming with a win, it is a great feeling. You come here and you lose, honestly it doesn't matter the circumstances, a win or a loss is going to feel completely different. A loss hurts and this loss is going to hurt with a bye week coming up. I played football for a long time and it happens constantly, you never know which way the tide is going to go."

The UConn players have an extra week to deal with the emotions as a horrible loss and there is also the realization that the Huskies are guaranteed to have a fourth straight losing season for the final time since the 1982-85 seasons.

"Coming off a win, it is a great feeling and you never want to go back to that feeling of losing," junior safety Andrew Adams said. "Going back to the locker room everybody is down but we are going to wipe off our sleeves and we are going to Cincinnati."

Whitmer shouldering the blame for UConn loss

Regardless of the outcome and the level of his performance Chandler Whitmer has always been about as much of a stand-up guy as any media member will ever deal with.

He always was able to put on a brave face even after the most demoralizing of losses but not today.

He quietly made his way into the Yankee Stadium interview room with a bag of ice on his right hand, a baseball cap pulled down over his water-logged eyes after throwing two costly interceptions in a 35-21 loss to Army.

Whitmer's first interception would be turned into the second touchdown scored by Army enabling the struggling Black Knights to take command before many of the 27,453 in attendance at UConn's first game at Yankee Stadium could even get comfortable in their seats. His second interception, however, was the back breaker.

Only six yards stood between UConn and a game-tying touchdown in the final minute. Whitmer dropped back, surveyed the field and then fired a pass towards the end zone.
Chris Carnegie, who intercepted Whitmer's pass in the first quarter, snared the ball and raced 99 yards for the game-clinching score.

"I made a stupid decision, one I'd like back," said Whitmer, who became the fifth UConn player with 5,000 career passing yards during the game. "As a redshirt senior you can't do that. It really hurt my team. I will try not to let that happen again. I was trying to make a play, trying to be too heroic and you can't make those mistakes."

There was plenty of blame to go around. There was certainly some disarray coming from the UConn sideline on the final drive. Young players were lining up in the wrong spot and there was anything but a sense of calm. Then on the aforementioned play young receivers Noel Thomas and Thomas Lucas were about a yard apart allowing Carnegie to aggressively jump the route because Lucas and Thomas made it too easy for them to be covered.

While Whitmer's post-game demeanor made it clear that he was taking on a bulk of the blame, the reality is that UConn's inability to slow down Army's triple-option offense and five of its first seven drives accounting for fewer than 30 yards played just as big of roles in a loss that guaranteed that UConn would post its fourth straight losing season for the first time in 29 years.

"We win as a team, we lose as a team," said UConn receiver Deshon Foxx, who led the Huskies with six catches and 54 receiving yards. "It is not just his fault. There were a lot of plays that we left on the field and a lot of plays that we made that we should have been able to stop. You can't pin it on one person. I know Chandler, he is very competitive and I know he is going to place it on himself but it wasn't just his fault, it was everybody's fault. It was a team effort, we gave up too many big plays and we didn't make enough."


Live blog up and running for UConn/Army game

For those who want to follow along, there is a live blog up and running using various Twitter feeds for today's UConn/Army game.

As for what I noticed in pre-game warmups, Geremy Davis was doing a lot more than he did last week when he was forced to sit out and DT Mikal Myers and LB Jefferson Ashiru were working with the first team.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Seniors Foxx, Whitmer saving their best for last at UConn

There's been plenty made of the large number of freshmen and sophomores making an impact at UConn this season but seniors Deshon Foxx and Chandler Whitmer aren't allowing their younger teammates to have all the fun.

Foxx has moved around quite a bit during his four seasons as he tries to carve out his niche. He certainly has done that this year as he has become UConn's big-play producer.

Foxx is the only player at the Football Bowl Subdivision level to have his team's longest, run, reception and special-teams return thanks to his 68-yard scoring run against Central Florida, 88-yard TD catch against East Carolina and 72-yard punt return for a score against Stony Brook. He is also the only FBS player with a run, catch and return of at least 60 yards.

Foxx followed up his 120-yard receiving game against East Carolina by running for 102 yards against UCF. Going back to 1970 D.J. Hernandez is the only other Husky with a 100-yard rushing and receiving game. However, Hernandez accomplished the feat in a span of three seasons running for 130 yards in a Nov. 11, 2006 game against Pittsburgh and going for 103 receiving yards in an Oct. 4, 2008 game against North Carolina.

My curiosity got the better of me so I looked up how many players have both a 100-yard rushing and receiving game this season and Foxx is one of nine. Wyoming's Brian Hill actually did it in the same game with 281 rushing yards and 106 receiving yards in Saturday's game against Fresno State. USC's Javorius Allen, Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon, Paul James of Rutgers, California's Daniel Lasco, Elijah McGuire of Louisiana Lafayette, Josh Robinson of Mississippi State and Temple's Jahad Thomas also accomplished the feat.

While Foxx has shown the ability to break loose for huge plays, Whitmer's improvement needs to be measured over the long haul.

Whitmer needs 139 yards against Army tomorrow to become the fifth UConn quarterback with 5,000 career passing yards. However, there are UConn fans who will remember Whitmer more for his propensity for throwing interceptions. Whitmer came into the season having thrown multiple interceptions six times in 16 career games.

It hasn't gotten too much attention but after having nine TD passes and 16 interceptions as a sophomore and having one more pick that TD a season ago, Whitmer has nine touchdown strikes against just four interceptions this season.

He is currently on a streak of 48 passes without an interception, his fourth longest streak while at UConn. In fact he has thrown one interception in his last 95 passing attempts. The numbers show that he is playing at a higher level than even during his previous best interception-free streak even though he did not have his favorite target Geremy Davis on the field for much of that span. Based on what Bob Diaco said on his radio show last night, it doesn't sound like Davis has made much progress in terms of getting his injured ankle ready for game action as he will once again be a game-time decision.

During the 2012 season he threw 79 passes in games against Temple and Syracuse and had another run of 70 passes without an interception during the 2012 season. He opened the 2014 season by throwing 68 passes without an interception (a streak that extends to 72 in a row if you go back to the Buffalo game in 2013). Yet, his passing rating on his current streak is higher than the previous ones thanks in large part to four TD passes on 48 attempts and an average of 14 yards per completion.

79 STRAIGHT (OCT, 13, 2012-OCT. 19, 2012)
Temple   22-39 293 2-0
Syracuse 23-40 296 1-0
               45-79 589 3-0 307.50

72 STRAIGHT (SEPT. 28. 2013-SEPT. 13, 2014)
Buffalo            1-4 -4 0-0
BYU               8-17 113 0-0
Stony Brook 12-27 142 1-0
Boise State   14-24 198 2-0
                     35-72 449 3-0 341.76

70 STRAIGHT (SEPT, 22, 2012-OCT. 6, 2012) W. Michigan   26-41 283 3-0
Buffalo           15-22 227 1-0
Rutgers            4-7    39 0-0
                     45-70 549 4-0 287.37

E. Carolina       13-23 224 2-0
Central Florida 13-25 142 2-0
                         26-48 366 4-0 353.63

47 STRAIGHT (SEPT. 27, 2014-OCT. 23, 2014)
Temple             8-17 141 1-0
Tulane             17-24 141 0-0
E. Carolina       5-6   79 0-0
                      30-47 361 1-0 268.75

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

UConn welcomes tight ends back into passing game

It seems like a lifetime ago since the Bob Diaco era at UConn kicked off with a 35-10 loss to Brigham Young.

One aspect of that game that caught my attention was how often the tight ends were involved in the passing game as Sean McQuillan, Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom were targeted a total of nine times resulting in six catches. Through the first three games of the season UConn quarterbacks threw passes in the direction of the tight ends 15 times resulting in 10 completions. However, UConn also gave up 15 sacks and 29 tackles for loss.

With little other choice, the UConn coaching staff used the tight ends primarily as blockers as they were targeted on pass plays just five times in the next four games. However, considering how well the offensive line played against East Carolina, the coaches decided to reintroduce the tight ends into the passing equation once again.

According to the play by play, tight ends were targeted five times and the results were a season-high four catches for McQuillan and the first catch for Myers since the season opener.

"The offensive line has been great, progressing each and every week and the tight ends can be a little more involved in the passing game and don't have to stay in quite as much," McQuillan said. "It is nice to be versatile, get back to those things and get back to running some more routes than we have in the past.

"It is all about getting the win and whether that means I have to block on 90 percent of the plays or run routes 90 percent of the time, it doesn't matter, it is all about the game plan and what is going to help us win."

UConn gave up 24 sacks in the first six games of the season and countless other times the quarterbacks were able to avoid the pass rush to either get back to the line of scrimmage or get a yard or two. In the last two games there were just three sacks surrendered and most of the runs by the quarterbacks were of the designed variety.

"I think things are starting to click," senior center Alex Mateas said. Nothing really big has changed, they are starting to work and the coaches are doing a great job."

Left tackle Richard Levy believes having one game in 25 days gave the line a chance to tighten up some things.

"During the bye weeks we had a lot of (coaching) of what we are going to do and we put those bye weeks into action,' Levy said. "It is a great feeling because it shows how much we have matured."

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Leaders beginning to emerge for UConn

Redshirt juniors Jefferson Ashiru (32) and Andrew Adams (22)
combined for all of UConn's season-high four interceptions vs. UCF
It was a scenario that could have resulted in utter disaster.

UConn was coming off a valiant effort in a loss on the road against nationally-ranked East Carolina and now the Huskies were playing a Central Florida team which absolutely dominated them a season ago. Adding to UConn's potential misery was that it would be without two of its four captains as cornerback Byron Jones suffered a season-ending shoulder injury while receiver Geremy Davis was held out with an ankle injury.

UConn coach Bob Diaco and his staff has been challenging his veterans, even those not elected captains, to show some leadership both on and off the field.

Apparently those pleas did not fall onto deaf ears as redshirt juniors Andrew Adams (three interceptions), Sean McQuillan (season highs with four catches and 36 yards), Graham Stewart (career-high 12 tackles), Jefferson Ashiru (first career interception) and Julian Campenni (sack, 1 1/2 tackles for loss) delivered key plays in UConn's upset victory.

"It is time for that group of fourth-year players who are getting ready in a few weeks to formally own the team to get moving," Diaco said. "Let's go, it is time for some leadership, it is time for some real leadership from Andrew Adams, from Graham Stewart, from (Marquise) Vann, from Julian (Campenni), from Sean (McQuillan), from (Tyler) Samra, it is time, let's go, it is time for some real leadership. They have done a really nice job of answering the bell. I want to see some more personalities from our younger guys, don't sit and wait for it to be your turn, let's see who you are, freshmen and sophomores, let's go. If you have something to say, say it. You can weigh in, you can get passionate and have some energy, you can show a little bit of personality. We have been working on that for a few weeks. It came at the right time to have some energy without some of our captains."\

It's a pretty young team as the most recent depth chart lists five seniors on the offensive side of the ball and just two on defense so the juniors understand that they can't wait until next season for make their presence felt.
"I would say that especially in the last two weeks the leadership from the fourth-year guys has stood out," McQuillan said. "It started at East Carolina, we tried to be more vocal in the locker room, tried to take it onto the field and coach the younger guys when they come off. As a fourth-year guy myself, I am trying to take more of a role myself in my position group and also on the offense. Coach always talks about our group being the backbone of the team and if we can bring leadership along with the seniors, I think it is going to be beneficial for the entire team."

Adams was already viewed as a leader of the defense but following Jones' injury, he has taken an even bigger role.

"Leadership is a big thing in our program, the juniors stepping up is really a great thing, they are really the backbone of the team because we will be returning next year," Adams said. "Guys are stepping up, Graham, myself, Junior Lee, we try to bring a spark to the team, energy to practice day in and day out and if we keep doing that, I am pretty sure we will be OK."

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Diaco excited about UConn's young talent

Sophomore receiver Noel Thomas is one of the host of young players
making an impact with UConn football team in 2014 season
I'll be the first to admit that I don't always know what to make of UConn's first-year head coach.

Bob Diaco's energy and passion is commendable but there are times when his attempt at spin control needs to come with its own filter. However, as spoke with the media for about 40 minutes earlier today it began to dawn on me that the UConn program is in significantly better shape heading into the ninth game this season than it was going into game No. 9 a season ago.

Last year Casey Cochran was taking over as UConn's starting quarterback and the Huskies were closing in becoming the first team in program history to open a season with nine consecutive losses. There were going to be holes to be filled as 11 of the 44 players on the offensive and defensive two-deep charts were seniors with eight others with remaining eligibility no longer suiting up for the Huskies for a variety of reasons. This season 30 of the 47 players on the depth chart (counting the additional names listed at tailback, receiver and cornerback) are either freshmen or sophomores.

Coming off a solid effort in a loss at East Carolina following by a win over defending American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida even though the Huskies were playing without two of its four captains. Suddenly there is reason for optimism which honestly did not exist a season ago.

Diaco addressed the impact of many of the youngsters today.

"I never stood up here and said there weren't enough players to have a good team, not one time have I ever made any (statement) or insinuated that," Diaco said. "We've got enough players to have a good team but we are just not a good team. We are getting better and better every day and that is all I ever said. We have to work on eliminating losing, work on the things that cause winning. There are enough players to have a good team."

Starting his checklist was his take on the young tailbacks, receivers and tight ends.

"They are going to be a problem - Arkeel (Newsome), Ron (Johnson), Noel (Thomas), Thomas Lucas, Dhameer Bradley, Brian Lemelle, Tommy Myers and Alec (Bloom), you are talking about first and second year players, they are impacting the games right now and imagine in two and a half years what it is going to look like."

I also asked what impact the blocked field goal by true freshman Jamar Summers had on how the game changed after Central Florida was in UConn territory seemingly on every play.
"That created an energy and excitement, a momentum swing that you could feel it kind of come over to the sideline," Diaco said. "It wasn't just tangible field position and lack of points, it was momentum and a great stop in plus field setup. Those were difference making it stops, you had a fourth down play that if you really could show the play if you are wondering what we
want to be, wondering what we are trying to become, this is the play to watch. It is mano a mano, they are running a downhill run on our defense and it is fourth down and 1 and we got a stop (by sophomore safety Obi Melifonwu and freshman linebacker Junior Joseph). We got another stop late in the game and Jamar blocks the field goal, three possession-changing stops."

Speaking of Joseph, he got the start ahead of junior Jefferson Ashiru against UCF and he's what Diaco had to say about whether that was a one-time thing or we could see more of Joseph playing ahead of Ashiru.

"It depends on the offensive system we are playing and how it fits and what we are trying to get done, Junior Joseph at this point has a little higher aptitude for some jobs and Jefferson has shown a higher aptitude for other jobs," Diaco said. "We look at them as kind of toolbox players and we will pull the tool out to do the job we need to get done."

Finally, with a lower-leg injury sidelining promising true freshman Luke Carrezola, redshirt freshman Cam Stapleton is now on the depth chart as the primary backup to senior defensive end Reuben Frank, I asked Diaco how Stapleton is different from Carrezola.
Luke and Cam are kind of similar in that they are both bigger guys, they have great hold at the point of attack, balance, strength," Diaco said. "Cam brings another level of athleticism which is really good. I wouldn't say he is necessarily as explosive as Luke is but he is a fine athlete."

The talk wasn't all about freshmen and sophomores. Regarding senior receiver Geremy Davis, who missed the UCF game with an ankle injury, Diaco said "he will practice today and we will know more after today and tomorrow."

Then I asked Diaco about how Frank is emerging as a pass rusher off the edge in the last few weeks.

"That is what he does, a proficient three-point stance, one dimension, one job kind of guy," Diaco said. "It is outside the box for him when he is in a two-point (stance) and he is doing some of our pass drop jobs. We are well pleased with him doing a good job. That really suits him."