Friday, December 05, 2014

Mateas saving his best for last at UConn

It hasn't been the easiest of seasons for the three seniors who served as captains for the UConn football this season.

Cornerback Byron Jones suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a game at East Carolina while Geremy Davis missed 2 1/2 games with an ankle injury and just now is he back at 100 percent according to UConn coach Bob Diaco. That leaves Alex Mateas, the center on an offensive line that has received plenty of criticism over the last few years.

From 2011-13 only Pittsburgh, Miami (Ohio), Washington State, Hawaii and UCLA gave up more sacks than the 115 given up by the Huskies. In the first eight games, it was more of the same as the Huskies gave up 28 sacks and countless other times UConn's quarterbacks were running for their lives.

It wasn't until UConn held Memphis, which came into last week's game leading the American Athletic Conference in sacks, without a quarterback sack. Going a step further, UConn has given up two sacks in its last 100 passing attempts. As a point of reference, UConn gave up 14 sacks during the first 100 pass attempts of the season.

As the veteran of the line, nobody is happier about the improvement of the line that Mateas (except perhaps quarterbacks Tim Boyle and Chandler Whitmer).

"I am very proud to see the improvement," Mateas said. "You can feel the improvement in every game and every week in practice but it is always nice to see it on the board a little bit. I am really happy with the guys and trying to soak in the experience.

"Every part of the equation is helpful. Coaches start off everything by teaching us the schemes, the way they plan out the game plans and we just try to do what they tell us to. We are really enjoying it. They are going to be in great shape, they are a great group of guys and work really hard and are really hungry. The ceiling is tremendous for them. I would like to think that Gus (Cruz) and I have tried to do all that we can, help the guys out as much as we can. I have really enjoyed working with the young guys and finishing off my senior year with Gus Cruz has been a pleasure."

With the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by safety Obi Melifonwu, Mateas will be the only UConn player to start every game during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Meanwhile, fellow senior offensive lineman and three-year starter Cruz lost his starting left guard spot to true freshman Ryan Crozier a few weeks ago.

"He has dealt with it really well, he is a great guy a great teammate," Mateas said of Cruz. "I don't much of the situation but whoever they put beside us, we just have to be prepared to play the best we can."

Mateas, much quieter than fellow captains Jones and Marquise Vann, has grown into his role as a leader.

"It has been an experience of a lifetime," Mateas said. "I wouldn't have been able to do any of it without the team, we have a really good group of guys and everybody is really hungry. It is going to be something I will never forget."

Not only has UConn's sack numbers dropped, the rushing statistics have improved at the same time. In the first seven games of the season the Huskies averaged 77.4 yards per game with a 2.6 yard per carry mark. In the last four games UConn is up to 117.3 yards while the YPC numbers are up to 3.7.

With Crozier now starting, Mateas is the only starting lineman not coming back next season. The stating tackles are sophomores Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe, junior Tyler Samra has started every game at right guard. Crozier has the makings of a star and he is far from the only true freshman with seemingly bright futures. Trey Rutherford has seen time as a reserve lineman in 10 of 11 games this season and Daniel Oak, expected to replace Mateas as the starting center, has been getting talked up quite a bit by UConn coach Bob Diaco even as he is being redshirted. Former St. Joseph High Steve Hashemi is athletic enough to be moved to tight end. Hashemi has seen time blocking for field goals and was in the area of holder Blake Feagles' fake field goal earlier in the season. Considering the number of tight ends UConn is bringing in next season, Hashemi figures to move back to the offensive line.

"They are really good, they work really hard and have great attitudes," Mateas said. "They listen well, take a lot of information and apply it to games. Those young guys along with the other guys on the offensive line, we look like we are in good shape and there is definitely going to be competition."

Mateas is one of 14 players who will be honored during Senior Day festivities before Saturday's game against SMU. His two sisters, mother and father will all be making the eight or nine hour drive from Ottawa to be there for his final collegiate game.

"I couldn't have done anything without them especially my mom, she is a saint," Mateas said. "All the credit goes to her. They come when they can, my mom probably comes a little too much because it is a drive. I owe all of this to her and I love her to the end. We have been through a lot."

There's a chance that Mateas will be playing much closer to home at the next level. Every Canadian native who has been on scholarship has either played or been drafted into the CFL. In the prospect ranking posted on Sept. 11, Mateas was rated as the No. 6 available player.

"That would unbelievable, it would be just a dream come true," Mateas said. "I am going to take everything I learned here, apply it to whatever happens to the future."

With the CFL season ending with Sunday's Grey Cup (won by Calgary) you would assume that Mateas was transfixed to the game, right. Well, not exactly.

"I unfortunately didn't get to see much of the game," Mateas said with a laugh. "I was watching a little bit of it and then I had to watch the Walking Dead with Casey (Cochran), Andreas (Knappe) and Zach Rugg. Probably should have stayed and watched a little bit more but it was the finale
for this part of the season."

Getting back to the way UConn's line is ending the season, here is the list of teams having allowed two or fewer sacks in the last 100 passing attempts

Team             Sacks (Opponents)
Appalachian State 1 (Georgia State, Louisiana Monroe, Arkansas State, Louisiana Lafayette, Idaho)
Ball State 1 (Northern Illinois, UMass, Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green)
Oklahoma 1  (Iowa State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas)
Alabama  2 (Mississippi State, Western Carolina, Auburn)
Cincinnati 2 (East Carolina, UConn, Temple)
Florida State 2  (Virginia, Miami, Boston College, Florida)
Louisiana Tech 2 (UAB, Old Dominion, Rice)
Rutgers 2 (Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland)
UConn 2 (Central Florida, Army, Cincinnati, Memphis)



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