Friday, October 31, 2014

UConn looks for better showing against UCF

J.J. Worton and Central Florida rolled to 62-17 win over UConn last year
Picking the low point during the first nine games of the 2013 is sort of like trying to figure out if you'd rather be bitten by a cobra, rattlesnake or water moccasin but you would be hard pressed to sink any lower than the Huskies did in the trip down to Orlando on Oct. 26 of last year.

Central Florida scored on nine of its first 10 possessions and six of the Knights' 10 scoring drives in the game went less than 50 yards. UCF started eight, yes you read that right, drives in UConn territory. Looking back it almost seems fortunate that the final score was only 62-17. On the other side of things, UConn had 16 offensive possessions and 15 of them started between UConn's 10-25 yard lines. It is no coincidence that one of the two touchdowns came in the lone drive starting in UCF territory.

The new regime with the Huskies have made a big deal of leaving the past in the rear-view mirror and focusing on the present and future. However, I'm not sure a player could ever completely erase that kind of butt whipping from the memory banks. Certainly UConn junior safety Andrew Adams, who had four solo tackles and UConn's only pass breakup in the game, hasn't forgotten about the last game against UCF.

"I try not to remember that game because it wasn't too delightful for us," Adams said. "I used it as a memory to never let that happen again. I am really excited for the challenge this week and I hope we pay them back."

So many players have departed from both teams that using the 2013 results is probably not the best way to try to gauge what Saturday's game between the teams will look like.

Fortunately, UCF and UConn have three common opponents (Brigham Young, Tulane and Temple) so I went back and compared some numbers. It should be noted that Taysom Hill, who accounted for five touchdowns and more than 400 yards of total offense in BYU's season-opening win over UConn, was injured and did not play against UCF. There's no way of telling what the numbers would have looked like if Hill didn't suit up against the Huskies but I will proceed anyways.

The rushing numbers as well as the tackles for loss are so close it is eerie.

UCF's defense allowed 352 rushing yards in the three games, UConn's 353. On offense the Knights have 287 rushing yards, UConn 274. The teams had as many tackles for loss as they gave up (21 for UCF and 19 for UConn) although Central Florida had two more sacks and UConn allowed three more sacks in the three games.

Both teams also completed more than 66 percent of their passes in the games and 10.4 yards per completion. The biggest difference is that UCF attempted nearly 10 more passes a game than the Huskies. The pass defense numbers are night and day as UCF how allowed the quarterbacks to complete just 51 percent of the passes, 7.4 yards per completion and had six interceptions. UConn's defense allowed 61 percent of the passes to be completed for an average of 10.3 yards and one interception.

Not sure how any of this is going to translate to tomorrow's game but just some numbers to chew on, I guess.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hadley could make an impact at UConn

With an almost entirely new coaching staff it was hard to predict what the player rotation was going to look like.

However, if I were to come up with a list of players who I thought would have larger roles I would start with receiver Brian Lemelle, cornerback Javon Hadley and offensive guard Kyle Schafenacker.

Lemelle had a 10-yard catch, his longest of the season in last week's loss to East Carolina. Now it could be Hadley's time to shine.

Hadley played in five games as a true freshman and finished with seven tackles (three coming against Cincinnati). But even after the summer departures of Tyree Clark and David Stevenson, he did not get onto field in the first seven games as true freshman Jamar Summers and converted receiver John Green moved ahead of him.

However, following the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by Byron Jones, Summers is expected to go from being a nickel corner or spelling one of the two starters to earning a starting spot as well while Hadley is pushing Green to be the third cornerback.

"He is a trained corner so he works his game and he has done it for a long time," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "He hasn't done it here in college football so as a young guy at least there is a volume of practice reps and time that he has been at that position. He is a tough guy, he is a gritty tough guy, he is competitive. What he might lack at this point in his career in size, overall speed he makes up for toughness. He has some fundamental base in playing the position. We are excited about him. He is in competition with John Green so we will see who ends up claiming that first and second down corner spot for the game."

Diaco also had good things to say about true freshman Brice McAllister, who moved from tailback to corner during preseason camp. He is expected to get onto the field now that Jones is no longer in the mix.

"Brice McAllister has never played the position and it is probably at times going to look like that in games but there is only one way to solve it and that is for him to play in games," Diaco said. "We don't have any other options and we don't want any other options and we are excited about Brice, we think Brice is going to be a great corner, we believe it is his best position and his most natural position. He was a very productive tailback throughout his life but he possesses a few traits that separate him at he next level of athleticism on the perimeter. Almost all the great corners could play tailback but not all the great tailbacks could play corner. It is that much harder, you have to be that much of a higher level athlete to play corner because it is all reaction. Brice possesses those traits and he is going to be a work in progress. I am excited to see all five of those guys play."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Solid ratings for UConn/East Carolina game

Looks like the Thursday night UConn/East Carolina game was somewhat of a draw in Connecticut.

According to ESPN, it was the third most viewed college football game in the Hartford/New Haven market this year with a 2.2 rating trailing on the season-opening game against BYU, which had a rating of 3.1 and the Sept. 19 game at South Florida drew a rating of 2.9.

It should be noted that both the BYU and USF games were televised on ESPN while the East Carolina contest was shown on ESPNU so likely the numbers would have been higher had it been on ESPN.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

UConn's Byron Jones still a leader even after his college career is over

Jhavon Williams and the rest of UConn's young cornerbacks will be tested
for rest of season after loss of senior Byron Jones due to shoulder injury
Anybody who has ever crossed paths with UConn senior cornerback and team captain Byron Jones probably wouldn't be stunned to hear of his selfless actions on Thursday night.

Jones had received the horrible news that a shoulder injury, that has been reported as a torn labrum by NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline, he suffered on Thursday night ended his UConn career. It would have been easy for the four-year starter whose 38 career starts is the most of any active Huskies to stand in the corner and fell sorry for himself. However. that is not how Jones is wired so he got up, spoke to his teammates and reassured them that he was going to be fine and that they should move forward.

"I knew after the game and I was pretty devastated because he was a leader in the (locker) room but he is also a leader on the field," said redshirt sophomore cornerback John Green, one of the players expected to see a larger role with Jones out for the remainder of the season. "I was pretty devastated, the whole room was devastated, the coaches were devastated. It was a blessing in disguise for Byron, he is going to have a good future.

"He addressed the team, the coaches addressed the team and he is still leading in the meeting room, he hasn't left us."

His teammates were appreciative that Jones stepped up to speak with the team during what had to be an incredibly difficult time for him.

"Byron has done a great job of leading those guys and help bring them along, help them grow and he will continue to do that from the sideline,' UConn senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer said. "He can't necessarily be out there physically with them but I think those kids have learned, have stepped up and will continue to get better each game.

"He is one of our captains and there is a reason. He is a great kid, he is positive and he works hard. It is tough to see but I know he has a bright future and he is excited about that."

Jones' message to the team was to continue to play with the same intensity as he tried to bring to the field.

"Byron definitely is a leader," junior safety Andrew Adams said. "I definitely feel for Byron and we know his UConn career is over. We try to play each game just thinking about him and thinking about what Byron wants us to do. I know Byron wants us to play hard, play 100 percent. We want to give all of our effort because we know if Byron was out there, he'd be giving all the effort. "

As for the other injuries, UConn coach Bob Diaco was expecting senior receiver Geremy Davis to practice today and despite being knocked out of the East Carolina game with an ankle injury, he seems likely to play against Central Florida on Saturday. Diaco also said that tailback Arkeel Newsome is 100 percent and said he suffered a lower-leg ailment while walking around on campus. He said that he did not expect offensive tackle Dalton Gifford to be able to play again this season but was hopeful that reserve safety Ellis Marder could return to the field at some point this season.

Following Jones' injury there obviously had to be some adjustments on the depth chart. Jamar Summers is listed as a starter across from Jhavon Williams while Green and sophomore Javon Hadley (who hasn't played this season after appearing in five games as a true freshman) are fighting it for the nickel corner slot True freshman Brice McAllister makes his first appearance on the depth chart as the primary backup to Williams. The only other change to the depth chart was at tailback. Recently all four players (Arkeel Newsome, Ron Johnson, Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner) were listed as the starters but this week is the first time Johnson and Newsome are listed as the co-starters.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

UConn in the NFL: Week 8 report

When they teamed together at UConn both Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson showed the ability to be around the ball. That hasn't changed as they moved to the NFL.

Over the last three games Moore and Wreh-Wilson have combined for 49 tackles.

Moore finished with 50 tackles in 15 games during a solid rookie season but he already had 43 tackles in five games this season including 24 over the last three games

Wreh-Wilson didn't have more than six tackles in his first 17 regular-season NFL games but he has topped that number in each of the last three games. He has 41 tackles in seven games after making 13 stops in 13 games as a rookie.

It also caught by eye that eight former UConn defenders saw time in NFL games this week and Shamar Stephen of the Minnesota Vikings was the only one to be on the winning team.

Here is the breakdown:
Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Bye week
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Was inactive (concussion)
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had seven tackles in 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Was inactive (knee)
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had one tackle in 27-13 loss to Miami
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have catch in 30-16 win over Tennessee
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had two tackles including tackle for loss in 19-13 loss to Minnesota
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had four tackles in 22-21 loss to Detroit
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had nine tackles including two tackles for loss in 23-13 loss to Cleveland
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did nit play in 22-21 win over Atlanta
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had one tackle in 35-21 loss to Denver
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had one catch for 24 yards and threw key block on Knile Davis' kickoff return for TD in 34-7 win over St. Louis
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had two tackles in 19-13 win over Tampa Bay
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Returned two kickoffs for 52 yards, ran twice for 10 yards and had two catches for no yards in 27-13 loss to Miami
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had seven tackles in 30-16 loss to Houston

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Young receivers coming of age at UConn

Dhameer Bradley and Deshon Foxx were targeted 17 times against ECU.
Not that UConn fans want to ponder life without Geremy Davis but with the prolific senior receiver being knocked out of Thursday's loss to East Carolina in the first half with an ankle injury opportunity knocked for some of the Huskies' young receivers.

Fellow senior Deshon Foxx did finished with four catches for 120 yards including an 88-yard touchdown (the seventh longest offensive play in UConn history) to become the first Husky with multiple 100-yard receiving games in consecutive seasons since John Fitzsimmons accomplished the feat in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Still, UConn's freshmen and sophomore skill position players were targeted 12 times in the second half. While these numbers are very unofficial as a handful of pass plays in the official box scores do not list an intended receiver but the East Carolina game marks the first time this season that underclassmen were target more and caught more passes than the junior and senior classes.

Foxx led the team with nine targets against the Pirates but sophomore Dhameer Bradley was targeted eight times (one more target than he saw in the first four games combined), sophomore Noel Thomas matched his season high with four targets. Freshman Thomas Lucas was targeted a season high three times (as was freshman tailback Josh Marriner) while sophomore Brian Lemelle was targeting for just the third time this season.

Thomas, Lemelle, Lucas, Marriner and freshman tailback Arkeel Newsome combined for 10 catches on 12 targets. Lucas' two catches went for 43 and 37 yards as he became the first UConn player with two catches of at least 35 yards in the same game since Nick Williams had catches of 49 and 64 yards against Buffalo on Sept. 24, 2011.

"They are going to continue to play more and more," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "They now collectively need to grow up and mature, mature with how they prepare, prepare all week, prepare on the practice field, prepare in the meetings, prepare in their volunteer time and what (time) they spend studying, we just need to take that next step. They are passionate about (football). Here's what you've got, you have four guys, all four of them, they love to compete, they are passionate about football. They like to play football, love to play football. You would like to say that is inherent for everyone, it is not. Those four guys definitely are that way and they are talented. Now what we have to do is hone in on the professionalism as far as what it takes to become a productive player and how to become a good to great player."

Here is my unofficial tally of targets and catches this season broken down by class
                Seniors    Juniors   Soph.   FreshmenBYU          22 9-104  10 5-51  9 4-36  8 6-72
SBROOK  16 7-119    9 3-22  1 1-5    1 1--4
BOISE       16 9-154    4 3-27  8 3-7    8 7-54
USF             5 3-62      1 0-0    2 2-18  1  0-0
TEMPLE   12 8-80      3 1-5    8 3-12  5 2-77
TULANE  14 10-88     1 0-0    6 4-26  3 3-27
ECU           11 5-125    1 1-4  13 7-87  7 6-96
Here is the breakdown by position (not including the passes thrown away due to quarterback hurries since the box scores don't list official receivers and this week's interception which was tipped at the line of scrimmage)

Player                Targets  Catches Yards
Geremy Davis     58          34       436
Deshon Foxx       38         17       296
Dhameer Bradley 25         11        70
Sean McQuillan   16          8         69
Noel Thomas       14          8          97
Kamal Abrams    12          5          43
Thomas Lucas     12          7        115
Arkeel Newsome  9           8        117
Josh Marriner        6           5         35
Jazzmar Clax        4           3         12
Alec Bloom          3           3         40
Brian Lemelle       3           3        13
Ron Johnson         3           1        11
Max DeLorenzo    1           1        17
Tommy Myers      1           1          3
Matt Walsh           1           0          0
A couple of thoughts on the breakdown of targets. First, tight ends and fullbacks were targeted 19 times in the first three games and just six times since. Those numbers are a direct result of the pass protection issues as UConn has needed to keep in additional players to block just to throw the ball. Dhameer Bradley seemed almost like a forgotten piece of  passing offense earlier this season but his 18 targets over the last three games is second only to Davis during that span.

Staying on the subject of receivers, some future Huskies displayed the gift of grab as well over the weekend.

Tyraiq Beals had eight catches for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns in East Orange's 29-21 win over Bloomfield. It was his fourth game with at least two touchdown catches this season and in six games he has 62 catches for 1060 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Also, John Robinson IV caught three passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in Dwight Morrow's 23-20 win over Dumont. It was his fourth TD reception in the last five games while Nazir Williams (4 catches for 78 yards) and Chris Lee (3 catches for 27 yards) also had multiple-catch games.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

No lack of reps for UConn defense this week

Fifteen hours had elapsed from the time that Thursday night's 31-21 loss  at the hands of East Carolina had come to an end and Bob Diaco was still in a state of disbelief.

Before his day-after teleconference with the media he had seen every single play run against his defense. Officially the number was 100 but there were eight other ECU offensive plays that did not count due to either holding calls on the Pirates or pass interference penalties against UConn. Diaco said that 110 plays were on tape so he must have included the two pre-snap procedure penalties against East Carolina.

"It's close to two games, you are talking about 55 plays a game and you might be saying 'that is a low total' but you wouldn't be making as big of a deal of it on that end."

UConn has run fewer than 55 plays in two games this season including a staggering 36 against South Florida when you consider that East Carolina ran 31 offensive plays IN THE FIRST QUARTER.

No plays caught my eye more than the ones on third down. In the first quarter East Carolina was 5 of 7 on third down conversions with the seven plays run on third down going for 77 yards. The two times that the Huskies held weren't exactly victories considering that East Carolina went for it and converted on fourth down.

The good news is that after that nightmarish first quarter that UConn's defense rebounded in a major way. In the second and third quarters and the first three drives of the fourth quarter East Carolina ran 11 third-down plays and gained a total of 24 yards although the Pirates did convert on third down on three occasions.

"It was well done for the lion's share of the game," Diaco said. "They were having a hard time blocking the front and the quarterback was under duress and on the move. He was spectacular, by the way, what an awesome player."

Had the game ended with 5 1/2 minutes to play Diaco would have a different opinion about the performance of his defense. However. Diaco was rather irate at what transpired on the Pirates' final drive of the game.

No play on ECU's 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive was more frustrating for Diaco than Shane Carden's 14 run on 3rd and 10 when he shook off Reuben Frank's tackle attempt to keep the drive alive.

"The last drive, just ridiculous, obviously," Diaco said. "We got several instances of players at the point of attack that if they had finished the play, the drive would have ended. There are two minutes to play and it is third down,, the quarterback is on the move and we have him wrapped up and we figure they are going to line up to kick a long field goal, they would have had to. If you make a tackle there it is third down and four or five and he is tackled on the 31 and he is lined up to kick a long field goal - best case scenario, we have the ball back and I have all of my timeouts. There were several instances like that in the game where we have to finish those plays on defense. It is just too many points, too many unnecessary big plays."

There was another play earlier in the game that also infuriated Diaco.

Carden was stuffed for no gain on 3rd-and-goal at the 1 and East Carolina went for it on fourth down. Breon Allen walked into the end zone and saying he was untouched doesn't seem to do the play justice as it looked more like there wasn't a UConn defender in the same area code as Allen..

"We've got an opportunity for a four-down goal-line stand, you have an ME (mental error) on that play," Diaco said. "Had it not been an ME on that play, we stick that kid in the backfield. He has to make the tackle and we are unblocked in the backfield, it can't happen. That is a game changer, goal-line stand on the 1, are you kidding me?"

For those wondering, this was the 16th game between FBS teams where one team ran at least 100 plays and the 31 points surrendered by the Huskies is tied for the second lowest in the 16 games as the team running at least 100 plays averaged 46 points per game (see chart below). Amazingly Bowling Green has been involved in three of those games while California is the only team to allow 100 plays to be run against them.

Plays Game                            (Date) Final Score
113 Bowling Green vs. Indiana (Sept. 13)  45-42
110 Colorado at California (Sept. 27)   56-59
110 Ohio vs. Bowling Green (Oct. 11)   13-31
109 Baylor vs. TCU (Oct. 11)    61-58
108 Bowling Green at UMass (Sept. 27)   47-42
108 West Virginia at Maryland (Sept. 13)  40-37
106 Arizona vs. California (Sept. 20)   49-45
105 Arizona State vs. UCLA (Sept. 25)   27-62
105 Idaho at Texas State (Oct. 4)   30-35
105 USC vs. Fresno State (Aug. 30)   52-13
102 Virginia at BYU (Sept. 20)    33-41
102 BYU vs. Nevada (Oct. 18)   35-42
102 W. Kentucky at Middle Tenn. St. (Sept. 13) 47-50
101 Arizona vs. USC (Oct. 11)    26-28
101 Ohio State vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 27) 50-28
100 East Carolina vs. UConn (Oct. 23)  31-21

UConn commit Michael Tarbutt booted a 42-yard field goal as Canisius defeated Bishop-Timon St. Jude 37-8 to improve to 8-0.

It was the third first goal of more than 40 yards this season for Tarbutt including a 52-yard kick against Aquinas Institute last month.

Also, Nazir Williams had four catches for 78 yards (all in the first half) and a pair of sacks as Bridgeton defeated Millville 36-9.

Friday, October 24, 2014

UConn career is over for CB Byron Jones

UConn coach Bob Diaco said on a Friday afternoon teleconference that senior cornerback Byron Jones will miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury he suffered in last night's 31-21 loss to East Carolina.

Surgery will be scheduled at a later date and Diaco said Jones will come back "better than new."

"It wasn't some kind of catastrophic thing there but it does need to be addressed," Diaco said. "Once it is addressed he will be better than new."

"He is very highly thought off (by NFL teams). There are (NFL) executives in our building and they think very highly of him. This will actually help from a time frame standpoint. That is not why the decision is being made. The decision is being made because it needs to be made but this will help him."

Jones made his 38th career start against East Carolina, the most of any active UConn player and his 43 games played is tied with Geremy Davis and Reuben Frank for the most of the team. His 223 tackles and eight interceptions are also tops among the current UConn players.

With Jones out of the picture, UConn is extremely young at the cornerback position. Jhavon Williams got some time last year and has started at the other cornerback position all season but at this point last year John Green was a reserve receiver with the Huskies and Jamar Summers was at Milford Academy.

"They are totally not ready," Diaco said. "They are completely not ready and they are going to play like freshmen like they did last night. We are going to play more freshmen and they will play like freshmen."

Among those freshmen suddenly in the mix is former Suffield Academy star Brice McAllister, who hasn't played in a game all season.

"He is going to get ready to play," Diaco said. "That is a good thing. all these guys playing in games is going to be positive plusses in the ledge book for '15 (season)."

Senior receiver Geremy Davis was also knocked out of last night's game with an ankle injury. Diaco said Davis has a mild ankle sprain and is day to day. Freshman running back Arkeel Newsome missed practice due to a lower leg issue and only played in one second-half series but Diaco said he is 100 percent. While freshman linebacker Junior Joseph did not make the trip as Diaco said there was some academic work he had to take care of.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UConn's kids grew up tonight

The first two road games of the season not only ended with losses but also with performances that made it hard for the UConn fan base to get fired up.

The Huskies once again will return from a road game with a loss but a 31-21 defeat at the hands of No. 18 ranked East Carolina should at least give the Husky faithful some stuff to feel good about for the first time since the Boise State contest.

East Carolina, favored by four touchdowns, did not take the lead until 6:15 remained in the game and the Huskies did it without its star players (receiver Geremy Davis and cornerback Byron Jones) for much of the game. Davis suffered a foot injury while Davis had to leave the field twice for what appeared to be an arm or shoulder issue and did not return after the second trip to the sidelines. Also, freshman tailback Arkeel Newsome was limited to one series and I didn't notice freshman linebacker Junior Joseph out there either.

Although senior Deshon Foxx led the team with 120 receiving yards on four catches, much of the production came from the younger receivers. Foxx had an 88-yard touchdown catch, the longest reception for a UConn player since Dan Orlovsky hit Jason Williams for a 90-yard score against Temple and longest offensive play since a Terry Caulley 98-yard run in 2006. It was seventh longest offensive play in UConn history. However, much of the heavy lifting in the passing game was done by the younger players as 14 of the 20 receptions were made by players who were part of the last two recruiting classes. It was encouraging to see Thomas Lucas haul in passes of 37 and 43 yards, Noel Thomas finish with 57 yards on three catches including his first career touchdown and even Brian Lemelle, a bit of a forgotten man this season, had a 10-yard reception. Dhameer Bradley chipped in with four catches but easily could have had a couple more.

On the other side of the ball, it was clearly a baptism under fire for sophomore Jhavon Williams and freshman Jamar Summers. Both got whistled for multiple penalties but also rose up to make some key plays after East Carolina put up 14 points with relative ease. John Green also got plenty of time especially after Jones was knocked out of the game. When you think about it, of the three cornerbacks UConn finished the game with one of them (Green) was a receiver at this point last season and another one (Summers) was at Milford Academy.

Finally, the offensive and defensive lines impressed me. Sure, the running game struggled but East Carolina is one of the toughest teams in the country to run against. Chandler Whitmer had time to throw the ball and there didn't seem to be any noticeable breakdown in blocking assignments. UConn didn't get to ECU quarterback Shane Carden often but the defensive line held up well against a very good Pirates' offensive line.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UConn defense coming on strong

The Bob Diaco era did not start in a positive manner as the architect before some outstanding Notre Dame defenses watched the Huskies give up more than 500 yards in a season opening loss to Brigham Young.

The Cougars ripped through the UConn defense for 20 plays of at least 10 yards including five of more than 20 yards. However, since that game UConn's defensive numbers rank up there with just about any other team heading into tomorrow's showdown with a powerful East Carolina offense.

Over the last five games UConn ranks sixth among FBS programs have surrendered an average of 287.4 yards per game. If you look at the last four games, the numbers are even better as the Huskies are one of four teams to allow less than 285 yards of offense per game and one of three to do it exclusively against fellow FBS opponents.

Diaco has sold his players on the bend but don't break philosophy that has worked for him so well at previous stops. It may mean fewer sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers but that is a trade off Diaco can live with.

"We are not a feast or famine outfit," Diaco said. "If you watch college football yesterday, you can watch a lot of outfits that operate that way and what you see is you might see some entertaining sacks and TFLs, maybe a pick or ball destruction here or there but you also see a lot of points. Our objective, we want to keep the points down so nothing is going to compromise that so that is what we are trying to do. That is what our defense's objective is to do. As we take the next step, there were 15 plays that who unit needed to watch just from practice the day before that need to get corrected. We have a long way to go so whatever think we are, we are going to be way better."

It should be noted that during that same span East Carolina has gained the second most yards, ranking 62 yards behind Marshall through the last five games and 103 behind Ohio State over the last four games.

Here's the list

OFFENSEMarshall         2868
East Carolina 2806
Ohio State      2783
Washington St. 2778
West Virginia  2770
Baylor             2759
TCU               2671

DEFENSELouisville          1145
Alabama            1297
Michigan State  1314
Wisconsin         1351
Stanford            1378
UConn             1437
UCF                 1446
Penn State        1454
Mississippi       1468
Clemson          1476

Ohio State      2456
East Carolina  2353
TCU               2244
West. Kentucky  2174
Marshall        2163
Mississippi St. 2114
Arizona           2101
Baylor            2090
West Virginia 2076

DEFENSELouisville         940
Alabama        1034
UCF               1124
UConn           1137
Mississippi    1146
Clemson        1159
Stanford        1171
Penn State     1177
Michigan State 1179
Boston College 1184
Wisconsin     1189

Former UConn LB Dorsey on '15 College Hall of Fame ballot

Former UConn linebacker John Dorsey, currently the general manager of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, is on the ballot for the 2015 College Football Hall of Fame.

Dorsey, who played at UConn from 1980-83, is UConn's all-time leader with 495 tackles.

Dorsey's 184 tackles as a senior is not only a UConn single-season record but he has three of the top five marks for tackles in a season and he had four of the 12 20-tackle game in program history.

Former Stratford High star Curtis Eller, who like Dorsey is a former two-time Yankee Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is also on the ballot thanks to his four-year run at Villanova. Yale's Dick Jauron and John Zanieski as well as former Southern Connecticut State director of athletics Darryl Rogers are also on the ballot.

Dorsey, Eller, Zanieski, Jauron and Rogers have been on the ballot before and time will tell if they get the chance to add College Football Hall of Famers to their already impressive resumes.

UConn's numbers away from home downright frightening

I know it is a small sample since UConn has only played on the road in two of the first six games of the season but there have been some absolutely dreadful offensive numbers put up by the Huskies in road games.

There are 128 teams playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level this season and UConn is tied for 127th with Wake Forest with an average of 9.5 first downs per game, is 127th (only ahead of Eastern Michigan) in scoring offense with an average of 8.5 points per game which includes a defensive touchdown. The Huskies are also 122nd in tackles for loss allowed and passing offense.

Wait, there is more.

UConn is the only FBS team yet to have a red-zone conversion in road or neutral site games. What's worse is that the Huskies have made it into the red zone on one of 21 offensive drives in the losses to South Florida and Tulane. UConn is dead last, counting all games, in red zone offense scoring points seven times in 14 trips to the red zone. The Huskies are also at the bottom with the 21 percent ratio of scoring touchdowns during trips to the red zone. The site I use for my research only goes back to 2008 and no FBS team during that time failed to hit the 30 percent mark in touchdown/red zone trips ratio. The scary part is that other than Temple, East Carolina is ranked higher in total defense than any of the teams the Huskies have faced this season.

Thankfully the NCAA doesn't chart the number of drives under 10 yards but on the road 14 of the 21 offensive possessions would fall into that category.

"Most of the mistakes we have made are mental mistakes," UConn senior offensive guard Gus Cruz said. "We have a lot of young guys in there and everybody has made mistakes. We have let a couple of 'backers free and allowed them to make tackles for TFLs (tackles for loss). We have to eliminate those. We have to buckle down with the technique and be physical with them and we are going to be able to accomplish the things we sent forth."

Not wanting to be only the bearer of bad news, I can report that in road/neutral site games UConn is ranked second in pass defense, fifth in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. There's some other impressive defensive numbers that I was able to research and I will be sharing those later on today.

The site for the Newark Star-Ledger has an online poll to see who is the best receiver/tight end in New Jersey.

UConn commits Tyraiq Beals and Ian Campbell are among the choices. Beals is currently No. 2 on the list receiving 300 of the 2,519 votes while Campbell has received nine votes. The poll is open until Monday.

For people into such things, the betting line for tomorrow's game continues to grow. It is up the Pirates being favored by 28 points.

The site lists lines for 48 FBS games and the UConn/ECU contest matches Marshall being favored by 28 against Florida Atlantic as the most lopsided line this week.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UConn teammates excited about Arkeel Newsome's future

Arkeel Newsome's first game as UConn's starting tailback did not go the way the record-breaking former Ansonia High star would have liked.

Newsome lost two fumbles, both in Tulane territory as the Huskies failed to score a touchdown in a 12-3 loss.

While Newsome has yet to made available to the media this season, senior offensive linemen Alex Mateas and Gus Cruz had plenty to say about the talented freshman.

"He's a great guy to block for along with all the other running backs," Mateas said, "Arkeel has been doing really well. I completely forgot about those little parts in the game against Tulane. I love him and he has a bright future. He kind of keeps to himself but he doesn't have to say very much because he talks with his performance but I love him, he is a great kid."

Here's the take from Cruz on Newsome.

"He is a young guy and he running hard," Cruz said. "All of that is encouraging. I don't really care too much about the fumbles. I appreciate the guys running hard. One of them he was really running hard, put a hand down and next time he will probably keep both hands on (the ball). The other time it wasn't really his fault, he was down (emotionally) because he was young but I think that was a good learning experience for him early. Moving forward I don't think he is going to have those problems as far as turning the ball over. He is going to be more game savvy as far as how to run with the ball and that all comes with experience. I am encouraged to watch him run and it is exciting at the same time."

I spoke to Cruz about how his season has been progressing and whether the offseason conditioning work he had to miss because of his cardiac and blood clot issues has left him struggling to regain the form he showed as a sophomore and junior. That was a focus of a story on the Register's site.  

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UConn continues to hit pay dirt with Canadian prospects

The coaches and coaching staffs have changed over the years but whether it was Randy Edsall, Paul Pasqualoni or Bob Diaco calling the shots, UConn has continued to secure commitments from north of the border.

The commitment of Trinity Pawling receiver Hergy Mayala, a Montreal native, gives UConn three Canadian natives among its 18 current Class of 2015 commitments. He joins Canisius (N.Y.) High kicker Michael Tarbutt from Grimsby, Ontario and St. Paul's (N.H.) defensive end Philippe Okounam, who is also from Montreal.

UConn coaches can't comment on committed recruits until they sign national letters of intent but I did ask UConn senior center and Ottawa native Alex Mateas if there was something special that the Huskies do to entice Canadian prospects to come to school in Storrs.

"They just create a real good environment for any sort of incoming freshman Canadian or from down here," Mateas said. "Coaches really welcome them in and it is just a great place to learn."

Assuming all three recruits arrive on campus in August, UConn could have its largest contingent of Canadian players since 2003 even with Mateas' graduation since offensive lineman Trey Rutherford out of Markham, Ontario, and tight end/defensive end Sheriden Lawley of Abbotsford, British Columbia would join the three incoming freshmen.

For those wondering, there were five Canadians on the 2003 squad - receivers Dan Desriveaux and O'Neil Wilson as well as defensive ends Shawn Mayne, Jason Ward and Hakeem Kashama. As far as I can tell, the 1999 season is the last time UConn didn't have at least one player from Canada on its roster.

Going back to 2003, UConn has had 11 players from Canada on the team and each year had multiple Canadian players on the roster. Every one of the Canadian players have been taken in the CFL draft and I would imagine the streak will continue with Mateas being selected as well.

John Delahunt and Martin Bedard are still in the CFL while Jesse Joseph's rights are owned by Montreal but he opted to give the NFL a shot this year so we'll see if he makes it onto a CFL roster next year. The other player is former UConn center Moe Petrus, who also worked his way into an NFL training camp.

UConn in the NFL: Week 7

It was a pretty quiet week for UConn alums in the NFL especially with injuries keeping Darius Butler, Marcus Easley and Donald Brown on the sidelines again.

Anthony Sherman made the biggest splash with an 11-yard touchdown reception in the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-20 win over San Diego. It was his second career regular-season for Sherman who had a 12-yard TD catch in a win over Cleveland last season. Also, Jordan Todman had a 26-yard reception which is his third play of at least 25 yards in his three NFL seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Cleveland Brown 24-6 for their first win of the season.

Here's the breakdown

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 31-21 loss to Dallas
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Was not active (concussion)
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis:Was not active (ankle)
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Was not active (knee)
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had two tackles in 24-6 win over Cleveland
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have a catch in 30-23 loss to Pittsburgh
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Bye week
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Did not have a tackle in 29-7 loss to Baltimore
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had five tackles including tackle for a loss in 24-13 loss to Arizona
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had two tackles in 23-20 loss to Kansas City
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had two catches for 12 yards including an 11-yard touchdown and had a tackle in 23-20 win over San Diego
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had one tackle in 17-16 loss to Buffalo
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had a 26-yard catch in 24-6 win over Cleveland
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had seven tackles in 19-17 loss to Washington

Trinity-Pawling WR/CB commits to UConn

According to his Twitter account Trinity-Pawling receiver/cornerback Hergy Mayala has committed to UConn.

Uconn Commit #Huskies๐Ÿพ๐Ÿพ๐Ÿพ๐Ÿพ๐Ÿพ

Mayala is originally from Montreal and is the third Canadian recruit in this class.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 191 pounds on the team's Maxpreps page, Mayala caught his team's only touchdown in a season-opening 17-6 loss to Loomis Chaffee.

Mayala and Trinity Pawling hosts Avon Old Farms on Saturday and then comes to Connecticut on Oct. 31 for a 7 p.m. against Salisbury.

Monday, October 20, 2014

UConns young defensive line continues to mature

Due to some quirky scheduling UConn is in the midst of playing one game in 25 days. It has given the UConn coaching staff time to tighten up some things as well as allowing the Huskies dealing with minor injuries the opportunity to heal.

During yesterday's press conference I asked Bob Diaco if there happened to be a particular player or position group which has made the biggest strides in practice during the two weeks with no games to be played. The first unit he mentioned was the defensive line.

"The D line especially the young d-line players are getting better with the fundamental eye progression," Diaco said. "They have done a better job there, (playing) faster, violent, more heavy hands. I think they are moving along."

UConn's defense has allowed opponents between 271-302 yards in the last five games and a major reason is the rapid development of many players seeing their first sustained playing time.

Fifteen different players have tackles for loss for the Huskies and six of them (Junior Joseph, Folorunso Fatukasi, Mikal Myers, Cole Ormsby, Ellis Marder and Cam Stapleton) did not have a tackle for loss heading into the season. Myers and Marder were the only ones of the group to appear in a game before this season and they had a combined total of just 11 career tackles. Marder is the only defensive back among the group so the future of the defensive front seven looks to be in pretty good hands.

"I think we are progressing great," Myers said. "I think we are trying to get better every day and the one thing Coach (Diaco) stresses to us is to get better every day. It doesn't matter what class we are in, as long as we play hard and to the best of our abilities

"They do a great job in strength and conditioning and I feel like I am way stronger than I was when I first got here so that is something helps me on the field, it is showing."

Switching gears, it was rather predictable with Halloween quickly approaching that the announcers calling the UConn/Tulane game made mention of the upcoming holiday when Myers made one of his two tackles for loss since he has the same name (spelled differently) as the main character in the Halloween movies.

"I've been getting that since elementary school, it is something I have always gotten," Myers said. "It gets old after a while."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Story of UConn's Fatukasi is one of perseverance

If I were to rank the UConn football stories I have been dying to write this season I'm not sure I could come up with one to top that of redshirt freshman Folorunso "Foley" Fatukasi.

Back in June of 2013 I went to a practice for the Empire Challenge so I could catch up with Fatukasi, who at that time had yet to step foot back in his Far Rockaway, New York home which was deemed uninhabitable after Hurricane Sandy touched down back in 2012.

With Fatukasi seeing more and more playing time in recent weeks, I requested Fatukasi in each of the last few media access periods but he had a class conflict during the normal Tuesday press luncheons. With this week's media gathering on Sunday because the Huskies play at East Carolina on Thursday, I was finally able to catch up with Fatukasi and it was well worth the wait. The story should be up on the Register's site shortly and will be running in tomorrow's paper as well.

You can't help but be struck by Fatukasi's incredibly upbeat attitude despite the trials and tribulations his family has endured over the last two years.

"I've never had a sob story," Fatukasi said. "I've always been happy because I have a loving family but that seeing people you care about going through the same things you are going through, it was really bad. I can only imagine what people in New Orleans went through in Hurricane Katrina. When it is over you don't know what to expect the next day or the day after that, all you can do is to continue to play and have faith because you don't know what is going to come.

"There is a lot of stuff I can appreciate. A lot of high schools don't have many resources to (help players) become as good of players as they want to. I have all the coaches, all the players here so playing at the college level has made me appreciate football a lot. Hopefully some day I will be able to give back to my community, show those kids how to do it because I did it once."

"I am always willing to give a helping hand. I was always a generous person but you don't know what can happen the next day so I am ready to give a helping hand to people in need or just to people in general "

With his family dealing with the logistical side of life post-Sandy, Fatukasi has focused on his school work and his ever-expanding role on the UConn team.

He had two solo tackles in his collegiate debut, a 35-10 loss to Brigham Young and has three tackles in each of the last three games. He has been listed as the co-starter at defensive tackle with senior B.J. McBryde in the last two depth charts and seemingly has a bright future at UConn.

"Foley is a big strong kid," said sophomore defensive lineman Mikal Myers, who is tied for second on the team with four tackles for loss. "He is starting to get it every single day. He is getting better, he is taking coaching and adding it to his game."

There wasn't too much news coming out of today's press conference. As expected, neither offensive tackle Dalton Gifford or safety Ellis Marder will be available this week and Diaco said he hoped to have more info regarding when or if they may return later in the week.

He said he'd like to continue with a similar substitution pattern at tailback meaning true freshmen Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson could see the bulk of the carries. Diaco said he'd like to use Tim Boyle more at quarterback but Boyle will need to be more productive and not turn the ball over as much when he does get his opportunity to play in games.

Another monster game for UConn commit Beals

One of the newest UConn commits continues to put up staggering statistics.

Tyraiq Beals caught 13 passes for 239 yards and six touchdowns in East Orange (N.J.) High's 48-46 loss to West Essex on Saturday.

Beals had a 20-yard TD in the first quarter, a 15-yard score in the second quarter, touchdown receptions of 25. 22 and 7 in the third quarter and a 65-yard score in the fourth quarter. He has 54 catches for 881 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first five games of the season.

Tyler Davis, who could be the quarterback throwing him the ball at UConn, threw for 123 yards and two touchdown and ran for another 140 yards and two more scores to lead his Mepham (N.Y.) squad to a 52-18 win over Westbury Senior. Davis, who hasn't thrown an interception in his last three games, has completed 69.6 percent of his passes while throwing for 676 yards with nine touchdown passes versus three interceptions while running for 954 yards and 15 TDs in Mepham's current five-game winning streak.

Also, Trey Blackwell had two tackles for loss in Cedar Creek's 20-0 win over Oakcrest while Michael Tarbutt was 3 for 3 on extra points, had a 37-yard field goal and all four of his kickoffs went for touchbacks as Canisius defeated Cardinal Mooney 24-17 to improve to 7-0.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

HS coach: UConn getting "a monster" in Cespedes

When the UConn coaching staff first made contact with New London coach Duane Maranda, Bryan Cespedes wasn't even on the Huskies' recruiting radar.

UConn has looking at productive defensive end Hunter Roman who ultimately committed to Yale. It was during those meetings six months ago that he mentioned that he had a raw offensive tackle they might want to take a look at. Obviously, they were listening as Cespedes became the first in-state recruit to be a part of the current class of commitments.

"They offered Hunter and I told them that whoever got Bryan was going to get a steal," Maranda said.

The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Cespedes began his high school career at Grasso Tech and when he transferred to New London after his sophomore season he came out for the New London football team. Maranda could see the potential in the inexperienced Cespedes and believes that the three-sport high school athlete could be "a monster" once he gets to UConn, concentrates on football and the strength and conditioning coaches get to work with him.

"He reminds me of (former Waterford High lineman) Zach Hurd and he is bigger than Zach was at (as a high school senior)," Maranda said. "Zach had a great career there and even got to the NFL."

Hurd became a two-time All-Big East offensive lineman and started 39 games for the Huskies.

Cespedes considers UConn to be his dream school and his desire to be a part of what the new coaching staff is trying to build only intensified after he went up to a couple of home games.

UConn's offensive line struggles have been well documented and while UConn could transform one of the tight end players who have committed into offensive linemen, he is the first true offensive lineman to commit to UConn.

Maranda was extremely impressed with the "thoroughness" of the UConn coaches during the recruiting process. While they came to New London games and watched film, Maranda said they were just as concerned with what made Cespedes tick as Bob Diaco and his staff made it clear that they value high-character kids as they try to build a winning atmosphere in the locker room.

New London is 5-1 and current sixth in the CIAC Class M playoff points race.

Friday, October 17, 2014

UConn commit delivers in the clutch

Playing in a run-dominated offense doesn't allow UConn commit Frank Battle too many opportunity to make a splash but he certainly came through this week.

The 6-foot-5 Battle caught a touchdown pass with 40 seconds left to give Belen Jesuit the lead and after a defensive touchdown, Belen defeated Varela 34-24 to improve to 5-2.

Battle finished with five catches for 53 yards in the game. The five catches is a season high for Battle in Belen Jesuit's run-dominated offense.

He was one of four UConn commits to catch a TD pass last night.

Chris Lee had two catches for 42 yards including a 7-yard touchdown and added the two-point conversion catch in a 42-11 loss to Broadneck.

Also, Nazir Williams had a 16-yard touchdown catch in Bridgeton's 43-0 win over Lower Cape May while John Robinson IV had three catches for 44 yards in Dwight Morrow's 41-6 loss to River Dell while Ian Campbell had a 13-yard TD reception in Pequannock's wild 55-54 win over Kinnelon.

Last but certainly not least, UConn got a commitment from an offensive linemen as New London's Brian Cespedes, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound offensive tackle, committed yesterday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New UConn commit putting up some crazy stats

The receiving numbers of UConn's latest recruit looks like something out of the Arena Football League.

Tyraiq Beals out of East Orange, N.J. High School has played four games and he has 41 catches for 622 yards and eight touchdowns in four games.

Here are his single game totals

Sept. 12 vs. Bayonne 6-130-1 TD
Sept. 19 vs. Oakcrest 10-144-3 TDs
Oct. 2 Livingstone 16-218-3 TDs
Oct. 11 Seton Hall Prep 9-130-1 TD

He announced his commitment via his Twitter account
Im going to be a husky I'm so proud of myself hard work pays off #dbkiller #huskynation

Taking a closer look at UConn's incoming recruiting class

The present-day view of the UConn football team is not exactly a pretty picture especially after another meek offensive performance in last week's loss at Tulane. Rather than use this space documenting how much the Huskies are struggling for at least another day or two, I decided to take a different approach.

I emailed the coaches of the UConn commits who don't have their team's season stats up on the internet to get updated numbers on the future Huskies.

Led by Ian Campbell's Pequannock squad and Michael Tarbutt's Canisius team (both 6-0), the combined record of the UConn commits is 50-36 which includes two head to head matchups.

As you may notice, some players have significantly more information included and that is a result of the some coaches providing the info. A special thanks to the coaches of Trey Blackwell, Chris Lee, Kevin Murphy and Nazir Williams for responding to my request for more information.

Here you go

Frank Battle, Belen Jesuit (Fla.): Has 13 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns for a team running the ball about 75 percent of the time.

Tyraiq Beals, East Orange (N.J.): Has 41 catches for 822 yards and eight TDs in four games including a game with 16 receptions and 218 yards as well as back to back three-touchdown performances.
Trey Blackwell, Cedar Creek (N.J.): Has 34 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and 11 tackles loss in first four games of season.

Ian Campbell, Pequannock (N.J.): Rated as No. 5 tight end in New Jersey by Newark Star-Ledger, Campbell has helped Pequannock get off to 6-0 start.
Tyler Davis, Mepham (N.Y): Is 50 of 79 passing for 668 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions, also has run 110 times for 850 yards and 13 TDs.

Connor Freeborn, Salesianum (Del.): Had an interception in win over Caesar Rodney.
Aaron Garland, Fenwick (Ill.): Had returned interceptions for touchdowns against Carmel and DePaul Prep.
Chris Lee, Severna Park (Md.): Has 18 catches for 223 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Aaron McLean, St. Marks (Mass.): Had 60-yard touchdown catch and named defensive player of game in season-opening win over Middlesex.
Kevin Murphy, West Chester (Pa.) East: Moved to defensive tackle, has three sacks and seven tackles for losses. Played every position on offensive line, starting season at left tackle and currently at center and has eight pancake blocks.

Philippe Okounam, St. Paul's (N.H.): Two-way starter had three tackles in 35-28 loss to Buckingham Browne & Nichols.
Justice Pettus-Dixon, St. Frances Academy (Md.): Hard-hitting cornerback/safety has accepted invitation to play in Maryland Crab Bowl all-star game.

John Robinson IV, Dwight Morrow (N.J.): Has 18 catches for 250 yards and 4 TDs.
Michael Tarbutt, Canisius (N.Y.): Is 22 of 26 on extra points, 4 of 8 on field goals with long of 52 yards, has averaged. 34 yards on five punts and recorded touchbacks on 28 of 36 kickoffs.

Marshe Terry, Northern Burlington (N.J.): Had interceptions against Cherry Hill East and Ewing.
Nazir Williams, Bridgeton (N.J.): Has 17 catches for 234 yards to go with 24 tackles, four sacks and two quarterback hurries.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

UConn in the NFL: Week 6

OK, UConn football trivia buffs, can you remember a time when two former Huskies had at least 10 tackles in an NFL game during the same week because I certainly can't recall that ever happening before.

It occurred on Sunday as Blidi Wreh-Wilson had a career-high 11 tackles and his first career interception in a 16-14 win over Jacksonville while Sio Moore had 10 tackles in a 31-28 loss to San Diego. What has impressive about the production of the former UConn teammates is that they both missed the previous week's game due to injury and were iffy to play coming into the week.

Here is the report
Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 27-0 loss to Philadelphia
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Was not active (concussion)
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Was not active (ankle)
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Was not active (knee)
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Did not have tackle in 16-14 loss to Tennessee
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Had one tackle in 33-28 loss to Indianapolis
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had five tackles in 48-17 loss to Baltimore
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had two tackles including a sack in 27-13 loss to Chicago
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had 10 tackles in 31-28 loss to San Diego
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play in 17-3 win over Minnesota
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had four tackles including tackle for loss in 31-28 win over Oakland
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Bye week
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had two tackles in 17-3 loss to Detroit
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had a 25-yard kickoff return and one yard on four offensive touches in 16-14 loss to Tennessee
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had 11 tackles and interception in 16-14 win over Jacksonville

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Former UConn CB draws rave reviews

It has not been the easiest of seasons for former UConn cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson who saw his role with the Tennessee Titans increase following Alterraun Verner's decision to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Wreh-Wilson had some rough games early in the season and then missed last week's game with a concussion.

Well, he certainly looked like he was healthy in a 16-14 win over Jacksonville as he had a career-high 11 tackles (he had a total of 13 tackles in 13 games as a rookie) and recorded his first career interception.

After the game Titans coach Ken Whisehunt spoke about Wreh-Wilson's big game

"No question it helps him," Whisehunt said, "I think confidence-wise for sure, from how he is viewed by other people. Blidi has worked hard, it was tough to have him sit out last week. He had some tough games earlier this year. You have to give the kid credit. He bounced off not playing last week, and played well."


UConn commit Tyler Davis continues to light it up

It was not a weekend to remember for the UConn offense but a future Husky continues to put up some major numbers.

Quarterback Tyler Davis ran 35 times for 253 yards including touchdown runs of 1, 9, 41 and 5 yards and was 9 of 12 passing for 69 yards to lead his Mepham (N.Y.) squad to a 35-14 win over Wantagh on Saturday.

Davis, who is planning to graduate in time to enroll at UConn for the spring semester, is completing 72.7 percent of his passes while averaging nearly 200 rushing yards per game as Mepham has won four games in a row after losing its opener.

UConn's "trying not to lose" philosophy not getting it done

Tulane forced 3 turnovers and had 10 tackles for losses against UConn
The last time UConn played a road game Bob Diaco proved he had no confidence in his offensive line by abandoning the pass game after a nightmarish start in the driving rain at South Florida. Last night it may have been even worse.

Host Tulane came into the game having allowed an average of 14.4 yards per completion but barring any missed tackles, UConn would not be taking advantage of the Green Wave's greatest flaw simply because they weren't going to even try to throw the ball down the field.

Clearly spooked by the flood of costly turnovers and incredible amount of negative-yardage plays, UConn took the art of conservative play calling to new heights.

The end result was three points despite running 28 offensive plays in Tulane territory.

If you take away back to back receptions by Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx for 21 and 19 yards on the final drive when Tulane was in prevent defense mode, the Huskies' receivers had 12 catches for 72 yards. Sorry, but six yards per catch is not going to get it done. The two early attempts to throw the ball down the field were not even close to being completed as if appeared that Davis and Chandler Whitmer were not on the same page as the throws landed several yards from where Davis was on the field.

I do understand where the UConn coaches are coming from. Short completions are better than sacks or turnovers and it is painfully evident that they simply don't think the line is up to the challenge right now. There can't be a more difficult way to play football than when an offense is more concerned about not giving up negative plays and losing possession of the ball rather than trying to attack the defense. I seriously doubt these issues are going to be rectified before the end of the season.

It all started against BYU as the Cougars loaded the box and dared UConn to handle the pressure they were bringing and make plays down the field. The Huskies never came up with the answers and teams have used similar strategies. I would expect more of the same moving forward until UConn can make an opponent pay for their over aggressive defensive philosophy.

I don't know if anybody obsessed more over the offensive line in the last two or three years as I have but even I have been a little stunned at just how little progress the unit has made. UConn struggles to run the ball inside where its most experienced linemen are and the pass-protection issues have been rather well documented.

While I did not make the trip to New Orleans for the 12-3 loss to Tulane, reading the transcript of quotes on the Tulane site and it sounds like a similar chorus being sung by Diaco.

"I'm not surprised with anything," Diaco said after the game. "We are playing so many young players, and they have a maturing process; a cooking process that needs to happen. They need to play in the games. There's no other way to simulate it. No other way to simulate the game, except to play in the games. So they have to play in the games. You know what? They're doing a fine job. They're just creating at the point of attack of some game-changing plays."

I understand there is no more difficult task than trying to run a team with players that somebody else has recruited and I think Diaco does deserve some leeway to bring in his own recruits as he attempts to turn things around.

By my count 67 players have seen time this season and 57 of them have remaining eligibility including 42 with at least two years left to play. There's no question that there are some talented players there. Former Ansonia High star Arkeel Newsome is a true freshman who experienced incredible highs and lows last night as he made his first career start as he had more than 100 all-purpose yards for the second game in a row. He also fumbled the ball twice. Fellow true freshman Ron Johnson ripped off a 23-yard run and based how things went last night, it seems likely that Newsome and Johnson will carry the rushing load for the remainder of the season.

With all due to respect to Newsome, Johnson, linebacker Luke Carrezola, tight end Alec Bloom and cornerback Jamar Summers, who each seem to have incredibly bright futures, the most important members among the 20-member true freshman class could be Ryan Crozier, Dan Oak and Trey Rutherford.

As of right now no true offensive linemen are among the incoming recruits so it appears as if the Huskies are proceeding with the group of offensive linemen they currently have. Sophomores Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy figure to be the starting tackles moving forward but UConn will need to replace center Alex Mateas and guard Gus Cruz and I would expect Crozier, Oak and Rutherford to be at the top of the list of candidates.

Crozier and Rutherford have gotten into every game this season and haven't looked out of place while Oak drew praise from Diaco at Tuesday's press conference for his development. While there are still six games to play, it is already time to look towards the future and if UConn wants to have any chance at success, it simply must fix the offensive line issues especially with games coming up against American Athletic Conference front runners East Carolina and Central Florida.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

UConn commit Garland delivers in the clutch

My recaps of how UConn commits have fared have tended to focus on the offensive side of the ball but there were some clutch defensive plays for future Huskies in last night's action.

UConn commit Aaron Garland had an interception with 1:20 remaining to allow his Fenwick team to a 17-9 win over St. Ignatius on Friday. Fenwick puts its games on up the High School Cube site and will be streaming Friday's big game against Montini

Nazir Williams had two sacks as Bridgeton rolled to a 55-6 win over Pleasantville while Chris Lee had a 5-yard touchdown catch in Severna Park's in 26-16 loss to Glen Burrie.

Friday, October 10, 2014

UConn gets commitment from K Michael Tarbutt

Michael Tarbutt, a kicker from Canisius High School in Buffalo, has committed to UConn.

He made the announcement on his Twitter account

I'm glad to say that i have been offered a scholarship by UCONN and i have commited to play college football there! #HuskyUp #UCONNFootball

Tarbutt has a 52-yard field goal this season as well as a 42 yarder and has touchbacks on 28 of 32 kickoffs. Bobby Puyol will be a junior when Tarbutt arrives next year so he will have some time to get comfortable with the college game before he gets pressed into duty.

The Kohl's Kicking site lists Tarbutt as the No. 53 kicker in the Class of 2015

Here's what they said about him

Michael has a D1 KO leg, he won the Eastern Showcase Camp KO competition, very talented, had good showing in July of 2014 at the NSC, he has great tools to work with and his improvement will be key to his football future, still getting better 

Youth being served at UConn, Tulane

There are plenty of intriguing angles off tomorrow's UConn/Tulane game but none drew my attention more than the Huskies' and Green Wave's reliance on freshmen - especially at the running back position.

The headliners are Tulane's Sherman Badie, who has three runs of more than 70 yards in Tulane's first five games of the season and UConn's Arkeel Newsome, who had a 74-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the Huskies' last game which is the longest offensive scoring play since Shakim Phillips' 75-yard TD catch in a 2013 game against Maryland.

However, there are other newcomers making an impact for both teams as Dontrell Hilliard have added 101 rushing yards for Tulane while Ron Johnson and Josh Marriner are the UConn freshmen very much in the running back mix at UConn.

What I find interesting is that of the 125 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, Tulane and UConn rank ninth and 11th in the percentage of rushing yards coming from the freshman class and with UConn coach Bob Diaco stating that he intends to get Newsome and Johnson more offensive touches, the Huskies could be moving up the charts.

Here is the breakdown (not including this week's games).
Team                     PCT  FR. YARDS TOTAL YARDS
Washington State 110.0 95-373 122-339
USF                        95.0 128-643 169-677
Vanderbilt              84.2 136-558 182-663
FIU                        78.8 127-484 217-614
Northwestern         72.1 105-470 198-652
Western Michigan 72.1 118-676 188-937
Virginia Tech         67.9 155-706 252-1040
Arizona                  67.4 146-755 217-1120
Tulane                    63.9 110-546 184-855
Clemson                 61.9 116-480 228-775
UConn                    59.5 71-232 174-390

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

What a difference a year makes?

There's been a lot of talk about progress since Bob Diaco arrived on the scene. He has spoken about the team getting better on more than one occasion.

With the losses piling up and especially the way the mistake-prone Huskies are losing the games has led to frustration expressed by fans who aren't seeing that improvement when the Huskies take the field. I get it, I really do. Fans, players and coaches want to see immediate results and they have simply not come.

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to do a comparison/contrast deal through five games a season ago and heading into game No. 6 this year. For the sake of full disclosure, so much has changed to it is risky to reab too much into the comparison. The systems of offense and defense are different, by my count 23 players have made their collegiate debuts this season including eight starting for the first time. Also, other than matchups with South Florida, the opponents faced by the Huskies were completely different. However, even with all that being said, here is the result of my number crunching.

Let's start with the most stunning numbers based on how little they have changed. UConn has run for exactly the same number of yards (390) through five games in each of the last two seasons, gave up only one more point while starting 0-5 a season ago as it has during the 1-4 start in 2014. The Huskies had one more third-down conversion in 2013 than they have this year and gave up three more sacks at this point a season ago than they have surrendered this season. Also, considering all the turnover issues, it is interesting that the average scoring drive of UConn opponents hasn't really changed as it was 52 yards per drive in '13 and it is 51.5 this season.

Here is more of the breakdown

UConn's run defense has made remarkable strides cutting a full yard off the yard per carry of UConn opponents as rushing yards have dropped from 892 yards to 560.

The Huskies have made outstanding progress on special teams especially the kickoff return unit which has sliced the average yard per return by nearly 50 percent. The punt return numbers have also moved in the positive direction in a major way as the Huskies went from averaging 2.4 yards per return last season to 13 per attempt to date in 2014.

The Huskies are also possessing the ball for an additional 2:37 per game this season and a large chunk of that can be traced to the Huskies' third-down conversion defense dropping from 37 percent in 2013 to 32 percent this season.

For all the talk of UConn's turnover issues on offense, there have been problems on defense as well. After five games in 2013 UConn had six interceptions and caused 10 turnovers but this year there has been only one interception and five takeaways.

As much as UConn's offense struggled a season ago, the Huskies somehow have managed 25 fewer yards per game which I didn't think was possible. The Huskies have also given up five more tackles for loss than they did in '13. I'm not sure if this is positive or not, but last season UConn allowed 14 more tackles for loss than it recorded and this year the number is at minus 15 so I guess status quo is better than seeing a larger drop in the number.

The pass defense numbers are not pretty. Last year the quarterback ratio of opposing passers was 110.5 and this year it is a stunning 146.2. Opposing teams have seen their passing yard number increase by more than 20 percent even though the Huskies have lowered the average yard per reception by nearly three yards. It hasn't helped that after opposing quarterbacks completed less than half of its passes through the first five games in 2013, the number has jumped to 63 percent.

The penalty numbers are also concerning as UConn has 81 more penalty yardage through five games than it did a season ago. Not as much has been made of it because of the absurd number of penalties by UConn's opponents.

UConn has also doubled its number in the fumbles lost department with two of them being returned for touchdowns and the other four putting the defense in no-win situations.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Family bonds run deep for UConn's Foxx

When an 18-year-old Deshon Foxx returned home, it's safe to say that his mother wasn't thrilled to death with a couple of changes to his appearance.

He has a tattoo on the top of each wrist. His mom's name Carmela is prominently displayed on his right wrist and his dad's name Lewis appears in black letters on his left.

"My parents, they're my strength," Foxx said. "They, especially my mom, she wasn't the happiest at the tattoos."

Over time his parents began to appreciate the reason why Deshon felt obligated to have their names etched into his body.

They are not the only tattoos he has but "they mean to most to me because I see them every day. I do ti for my parents, I do it for my family so that is why I got those tattoos."

With three sons in college including two playing college football (younger brother Derrick is a redshirt freshman defensive end at Fairmont State) and his family living about 600 miles away in Lynchburg, Virginia, it is not always easy for Foxx's parents to make it to UConn's home games in East Hartford or to the campus in Storrs so there have been times when Foxx has needed to garner strength from seeing his parents' names on his wrists.

"My freshman year homesickness kicked in pretty bad, now whenever I am doing something I just look down and think I can do anything because they told me I can do anything I want," Foxx said.

Foxx is UConn's second-leading receiver with 11 catches, is fifth on the team with 30 rushing yards, leads the Huskies with 91 yards on six punt returns and added 48 more yards on three kickoff returns. Foxx is just the fourth UConn player to have a carry, complete a pass and make a catch in the same season since 2001 joining Leon Kinnard in 2010, D.J. Hernandez in 2006 and Keron Henry in 2002. During that span, Foxx and Kinnard are the only ones with a carry, pass completion, reception, punt return and kickoff return. This season at the FBS level, Foxx joins North Carolina's Ryan Switzer and Jameon Lewis of Mississippi State as the only players to accomplish that feat.

Listening to UConn coach Bob Diaco speak at Tuesday's press conference, it seems likely that Foxx will get other opportunities to throw the ball after he finished up the Temple game at quarterback.

"It is not a Foxx package, it is the offense," Diaco said. "I guess the opponent can look at it any way they want to look at it but if they want to look at the Foxx plan as a wildcat plan then they would be making a mistake because Foxx can thrown all of the passes, he has a strong arm, he can run our offense. He can run our offense from the gun, he can run our offense from under center so to say it is a Foxx package, they can do whatever they want. They want to see it as a wildcat but it is not, Foxx can run an offense, all the calls and all the plays."