Wednesday, September 30, 2015

UConn's offense making strides

At first glance things look so much better on the offensive side of the ball than they did in the early stages of the 2014 season.

So I decided to do a little number crunching to see if the statistics back up what I have been witnessing.

The points per game through four games are almost identical (16 PPG through four games in 2014 and 16.5 PPG this season although if you factor in Deshon Foxx's pint return for touchdown against Stony Brook and Byron Jones' interception return for a TD against USF last year's PPG drops to 12.5).

The first number to jump out at me is that through four games last year the opposing team had 40 points off UConn turnovers and this year the number is 3 (personally, I would make the total 40-7 as I would count the two safeties as turnovers since UConn lost possession but that is not how they are tabulated). Also, through four games last season the Huskies allowed three non-offensive touchdowns in the first four games and there have been no such events this season (although there have been two safeties). Also, the opponents' average offensive touchdown scoring drive after four games in 2014 was 57.3 yards and this year it is 71.9.

There's still plenty of work to be done because many of the numbers below, while they are improved, are still not overly impressive but you do have to walk before you can run.

Here are some numbers to digest of the numbers through four games
                                                          2014 2015
Opponents' points off turnovers:   40       3
Rushing touchdowns:                       1        4
First downs by rushing:                 16      31
Sack yardage lost:                         103     58
Rushing yardage:                          257   433
Turnovers:                                        8       5
Yards per carry:                            2.0    2.9
Sacks allowed:                               17       12
Yards per pass:                              6.1     8.1
Total offense:                               253.2  320.0
Yards per play:                              4.0.     5.0
Tackle for loss allowed:                40        32
First downs:                                  64        75
Completion percentage:              52.8    63.8
Passing yardage:                          756     847

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Schedule announced for UConn's First Night festivities

The annual First Night festivities will take place on Oct. 16 at Gampel Pavilion

Doors open at 6 p.m. although those wishing to arrive early can take in the 2 p.m. women's volleyball match against East Carolina and the Fan  Fest on Fairfield Way begins at 3 p.m.

There will be an autograph session with players and head coaches from both the men's and women's basketball teams.

The festivities, including a return of a scrimmage featuring men's and women's players on each team, will begin at 7:30 p.m. Beginning tomorrow fans will be able to vote for the teams they want to see via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Monday, September 28, 2015

Vann back at practice for UConn

There is nothing quiet about Marquise Vann when he is on or off the field so it was impossible not to notice the difference now that the two-time team captain was back to practice after missing the last two games with a leg injury.

"I just want to play football," Vann said. "Anytime you love the game, you are going to be a little emotional (returning to the field). At the end of the day, you just want to be around the team, you want to see then happy, you want to see them enjoy the opportunity God has given us."
His teammates were thrilled to see him back on the field although his leadership never waned even when he was sidelined.

"Just because he was not playing doesn't mean he wasn't involved," said UConn safety and fellow team captain Andrew Adams said. "He was on the sidelines, coaching guys and as you come to the sidelines, he is drawing up plays with what they are doing because he is watching their offense as well. He is basically like another coach on the sideline which is great.

"He is not down that he was hurt so that is what I like about him, he does whatever he needs to do for the team. He is always upbeat because that is just the way he is. Some days you come out and you aren't really feeling it so you have Marquise, he is there and he is going to bring you along. As soon as he says something to you, you feel a little more upbeat."


Wrapping up UConn's Monday press conference

It was a relatively uneventful game week press conference.

Here's what I took from today's festivities which were held on Monday instead of Tuesday because the BYU game will be played on Friday night.

Diaco expects a much different BYU team than what he saw on tape during Saturday's game when the Cougars were humbled 31-0 at Michigan.

Diaco said the Huskies get to "play a team that beat the snot out of us a year ago, exciting challenge and an exciting opportunity.

"They are getting back to who they are. It is another team that I have had a chance to be around for a very long time, you can go back to footage - you could recall footage from Rich Rodriguez who this offense is a Rich Rod tree and running the ball is a necessary component and running the ball with authority. It is a spread but it is not a pass spread offense, it is a run spread offense. I am not in their staff room and I don't know exactly what they are talking about right now but I'd be shocked if it wasn't 'hey, we have to get back to who we are.'

"To me the Michigan game is not even watchable honestly for the players because even if that was the plan, after roughly 20 minutes of football they are down by four scores. All things go out the window and then I don't know how useful that tape is."

BYU is certainly game tested playing at Nebraska, at No. 10 UCLA and at Michigan before an average crowd of 88,837.

"They are a great team," Diaco said. "Nobody's done what BYU's done, nobody in the country. If you could challenge that let me know. They are on the road at Nebraska, UCLA and Michigan and then play their rival (Boise State), who has done that in the first four weeks? So to think they let the rope slip out of their hand a little bit at a 10 a.m. kick as far as their body clock is concerned in Michigan to me, it is not shocking to me. They have been awesome.

"The offensive line is giant, the defensive front is giant, the wide receivers are gigantic, they wear you out. They have a model for how they want to play, run the football so the backs are big, the O-line is big and the wide receivers are big, when they are blocking, it is hard to get off blocks."

As for the Huskies, Diaco said UConn playing from behind was one of the factors while Arkeel Newsome saw the bulk of time at tailback and Ron Johnson, who came into the Navy game as UConn's leading rusher, only touched the ball once and that was to pitch it back to Bryant Shirreffs on a flea flicker.

"We will continue to give the ball to the appropriate player that we believe matches up best to the opponent and run style," Diaco said. "Arkeel is a heck of a back, he also has some tools in the passing game. Unfortunately when you are down and you need to play catch up, you need to go with a back in the game that can do some of those other jobs maybe better than the other guy so he has good hands, runs good routes and he is a pretty good pass protector. He is starting to turn himself into a complete back.

"The game, we are going to throw the ball to get caught back up here, that was the biggest tilt and outside of that Arkeel was a starter, up to that point and he had done a nice job. There were a few other factors that were a catalyst but I am not sure any one were bigger than the conduct of the game, Ron needs to clean that part of his game up he needs to become more of value in the passing game and there is no way why he shouldn't be. He is a big, physical player, should be great in protection and he has good hands but it hasn't clicked yet for him."

There seemed to be times against Navy and other times this season when starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs was a little too impatient when it came to tucking the ball and scrambling. It wasn't part of the game plan for Shirreffs to run 16 times but since he is athletic enough to make plays with his feet, there are going to be times when he does use his legs to make plays.

"If he runs and gets a first down, I am happy," Diaco said. "If he runs and there is an open guy downfield, then I am not. He has to go with the natural tendency that he feels is appropriate at the time. I think he would be the first to tell you that he probably dropped his eyes a little too soon on a few of the plays, the protection was there, the pocket was there, just give it another heartbeat and the inside or outside breaker would have come open. I am not going to second guess, me personally, his natural tendency, then we are going to create a decelerator and I don't think that is fair."

Diaco said he doesn't feel like receivers dropping catchable passes is a major issue. Thomas Lucas had a drop on the only ball thrown to him and there were a couple of passes that Newsome would like to have back.

"Thomas (Lucas) is particular a good hands catcher, we work hard at it and we will continue to work hard it to tomorrow and the next day but he has great hands," Diaco said. "Noel (Thomas) has great hands, Hergy (Mayala) has great hands, (Tyraiq) Beals has great hands."

I asked Diaco about the emergence of Beals (a team-high six catches) as well as fellow true freshmen Aaron McLean (who caught his first career pass against Navy) and Mayala (who had a catch wiped out due to penalty) and it turned into a chance for Diaco to rave about left offensive tackle Matt Peart, a true freshman listed as the second-string LT although it is more likely that he will redshirt unless something happens to one of the starting tackles.

"I watch a player like Matt Peart each day and he has really got ... You don't see him but you will, he is a dude and there are more guys like that," Diaco said.

With this being a short week, it remains to be seen if Marquise Vann can get back into the lineup after missing the last two games with a lower-leg issue.

"Today we are going to practice, he needs to be full speed," Vann said. "Because it is a short week, it is like going to summer school. You have a three-week session and they are going to stick an entire semester into three weeks, if you miss one class you are way behind so it is like that this week.

"I think Matt (Walsh) is doing a great job so from a production standpoint, I am not sure we had any drop off and he (Vann) has been adding all the intangible pieces because he has gone to every game, he is at every practice and he is on the sideline. We are still getting the intangible leadership and I'm not sure there is any drop off in production from what I have been able to see."

UConn is in much better shape injury wise than BYU. The Cougars already lost dynamic quarterback Taysom Hill for the season with a foot injury. Five players including tailback Adam Hine left the Michigan game with injuries but there are reports that Hine, who suffered an ankle injury, could play on Friday.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told the local media that (other than Hill) linebacker Phillip Amone is the only player definitely ruled out for the UConn game. Amone, who has two tackles in two games, suffered a torn ACL.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

WR Beals making an immediate contribution at UConn

At the first practice the media was allowed to watch during preseason camp one of the first things I noticed was true freshman Tyraiq Beals already seeing some first-team reps in only the sixth practice. While the UConn coaches are wisely protecting the redshirt seasons for some of the other true freshmen who quickly worked their way into the two-deep rotation (offensive tackle Matt Peart, defensive lineman David Ryslik are at the top of the list), there has been no such strategy with Beals.

After catching three passes in each of the last two games, Beals saved his best effort - to date - for Saturday's game against Navy. Beals was targeted eight times (counting the 15-yard screen pass on the opening drive that was credited as a running play although it certainly looked like a forward pass when I watched a replay of the game).

Beals finished with a team-high six catches for 63 yards including a 39-yard touchdown reception, the first of his career. When the 15-yard "run" is added, he grabbed seven of the eight passes thrown his way and the lone exception was a pass a few yards away from him which he had no chance of even getting a finger on.

Just out of curiosity I did some checking and he is the first true freshman to lead UConn in catches in a game since Terence Jeffers and Brad Kanuch were among four players with a team-high two catches in 21-7 win over Army on Oct. 14, 2006. I have to do some more research to see where he fits nationally since Beals just misses being listed among the NCAA's leaders but it looks like he is 11th is catches per game for true freshmen at the FBS level and tied for eighth in overall catches. Taking it one step further, since 2002 no UConn true freshman has more catches or receiving yards through the first four games than Beals.

Here is the list
Player            POS Year      Season     1st 4 games
Terry Caulley RB 2002       25-205-1     9-59-0
Jason Williams WR 2002    23-354-3     9-104-1
Brandon Young WR 2002   22-269-3     6-53-1
Terence Jeffers WR 2006    17-200-2     1-2-0
Brian Lemelle WR 2013      16-177-2     0-0-0
Brandon McLean WR 2004 14-132-2     2-16-0
Brad Kanuch WR 2006       13-288-1      2-68-0
Tyraiq Beals WR 2015        13-132-1  13-132-1Dhameer Bradley WR 2013 13-119-1     2-6-0
Michael Smith WR 2008      12-137-0    5-49-0
Arkeel Newsome RB 2014   11-155-2    2-14-0
Beals was among the players requested to come in for interviews after the Navy game. However, since Bob Diaco's arrival, getting to talk to true freshmen is a hit or miss proposition with more misses than hits. It is kind of like Christmas morning but instead of seeing presents under the tree, you see a true freshman coming in to meet with the media. It happened last season a couple of times with Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson and figure at some point we will get to talk to Beals but I'm not sure exactly when that is going to be.

The good news is the others had no problems talking about Beals. There was plenty to talk about especially when he caught a touchdown on the same drive that he was absolutely lit up by Navy LB Daniel Gonzalez.

"He is a talented player and a tough guy," Diaco said. "He is everything you would want him to be as a youngster. He has to get bigger, stronger and faster."

Here's what Newsome, who was targeted a team-high 11 times, said about Beals.

"I was so happy for him. He has a really bright future, he is a really talented kid," Newsome said. "It is not all talent because he is working (hard)."

For those wondering, here is what I came up with for targeted passes (including the Beals "run" and two plays wiped out due to penalty

Arkeel Newsome     11 targets (5 catches for 51 yards)
Noel Thomas             9 targets (5 catches for 78 yards and almost came down with the pass on a flea flicker on first series)
Tyraiq Beals              8 targets (6 catches for 63 yards, TD; 1 run for 15 yards with screen)
Tommy Myers          2 targets  (1 catch for 6 yards, TD)
Alec Bloom              1 target    (1 catch for 11 yards)
Hergy Mayala           1 target    (catch wiped out due to a holding penalty)
Aaron McLean          1 target  (1 catch for 10 yards)
Thomas Lucas           1 target  (no catches)
Max DeLorenzo        1 target (no catches)

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Reynolds, Navy too much for UConn

Something tells me that Bob Diaco is glad that he will never have to try to devise a game plan to slow down prolific Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

Diaco, who faced Reynolds twice during his days as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, knew what Navy would be running and the hope was that Reynolds would not put together a game comparable to what BYU's Taysom Hill did to the Huskies in Diaco's first game as UConn's coach.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, Reynolds lived up to the advanced billing and then some.

"They don't miss a read, they don't miss a fit, they don't miss a window at least for the first half until the guys settled in," Diaco said. Credit to Navy, they are a great team. I anticipate them winning a bunch of games this season.

"You've got to try to get them behind the chains, 3rd and 7, 3rd and 8, 3rd and 9. "You focus on the fullback (Chris Swain), he has been a victimizing, menacing player in the beginning of the season. We did a nice job there and the quarterback did just a fantastic job making all the right reads in the first half and they got too many plays to keep drives alive."

You can't help but wonder how the game might have played out differently had Brice McAllister been given the fumble recovery on the kickoff right after Tyraiq Beals' touchdown cut the Navy lead to 14-10.

McAllister, who also forced the fumble, did emerge from the bottom of the pile with the ball but referee Todd LaPenta was rather adamant that Navy maintained possession.

"He tried, sometimes you bite the bear and sometimes the bear bites you," Diaco said. "We will come up with some of those and we will miss some of those but if you have the ball on the 20, it is exciting."

Diaco doesn't regret his two early decisions - one to kick a field goal on 4th and 1 and then to go for it on 4th and 5 on the next possession.

"You had to have an opportunity to see how the defense would play," Diaco said. "In the second half, we were getting stops. You go into the game thinking we are going to play well and get some stops.

"When you don't get the feeling that you can stop them at that particular point, you have to try to get touchdowns. Those drives stalling there in the red zone, we just can't have that, we have to produce points, we have to get the ball in the end zone. Field goals were not going to get it done today, we needed to score touchdowns."

The good news is that after playing triple-option teams in two of the last two weeks, there is just one such team on UConn's schedule in the next three seasons as the Huskies play at Navy next season but Army is not on the schedule again and there are no UConn/Navy games during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Even next year's game will feature a much younger Navy squad and without Reynolds at the controls.

"He has taken thousands of snaps," Diaco said. "If you can get to the point where of the 11 players, nine are seniors, another is a junior and the other is a sophomore, it is hard already to defend, they are a buzzsaw. He is a talented player but he is an experienced player in that offense."

I couldn't resist asking Diaco if he is disappointed at not having to play any other triple-option teams this season.

"It is really something, it is taxing, it is a central nervous system shock it really is," Diaco said. "It is what it is. It is really hard to think every minute we spend watching the Navy game is a wasted minute now. The game, we need to watch it next fall. To think the recall of the assignment correction is going to make it to the next August, so it is almost like it has to go on the shelf until August."

As for individual standouts, safeties Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu had 17 and 12 tackles respectively. The 17 tackles are the most for a UConn player since Sio Moore's 17 in a 2010 game against West Virginia.

After getting just three offensive touches in the loss to Missouri, Arkeel Newsome had 14 carries and five receptions while the only time Ron Johnson got his hands on the ball was on a flea flicker on the second play of the game.

Marquise Vann missed his second game in a row but he took part in the positional drills before the game. Diaco thinks there is a chance he could be back for Friday's game at BYU.

"I'd like to think he'd be cleared for takeoff this week but it is up to him," Diaco said. "He is trying hard, he is giving it up for his team."

Diaco had chances to second guess some of the officiating calls but choose not to go that route.

"I feel good about them," Diaco said. "They are fantastic, they are as good as any group as there is in the country. I have the utmost confidence in the decisions they make."

Live blog for UConn/Navy game is up and running

If you want to follow along, the live blog for the UConn/Navy game has been activated so you can follow along to the various twitter feeds including mine.

Also, according to the seating chart, the Seattle Seahawks are only NFL team expected to have a scout here today

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sophomore class making an impact for nationally-ranked UConn defense

Cole Ormsby and his fellow sophomores have combined for 71 tackles,
10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in the first three games of the season
If there is one trend that I have been noticing in UConn's first three games of the season is how much an impact the Huskies are getting from their sophomore class.

I expected tailbacks Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome, tight ends Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom and quarterback Bryant Shirreffs to be productive on the offensive side of the ball. But I'm not sure that I was anticipating that of the 13 Huskies to have tackles for loss this season, six of them would be sophomores.

Luke Carrezola and Folorunso Fatukasi lead the way with 4 and 3 TFLs respectively. Cam Stapleton had two stops behind the line, both coming in last week's spirited defensive effort against Missouri. Junior Joseph (UConn's leading tackler), Jamar Summers and Cole Ormsby each had 1/2 of a tackle for a loss.

"It is great to know that we have everybody in our class (is contributing) and we are going to keep building," Stapleton said. "We remember when we came in as freshmen, we weren't playing to now  we are on the field and making plays, it just feels great to know that the people in your class are going to be there in your senior year. Going to class, eating together and we build that brotherhood, she has been so strong and it has definitely kept it together."

My curiosity got the better of me so I did some checking. I simply did not have enough time to go through every FBS team but did look at the teams ranked in the top 25 in total defense and here are the results.

(Percentage excludes offensive players and kickers/punters)
North Carolina State     69/123 56.1
Ohio State                     98/209 46.9
Washington                   90/195 46.2
Vanderbilt                     91/199 45.7
Northwestern                79/194 40.7
UConn                          71/177 40.1

(Percentage excludes offensive players and kickers/punters)
 North Carolina State     9.5/17 55.9
Ohio State                     10/20   50.0
Northwestern                 9.5/18 52.8
UConn                         10.5/22 47.7

Missouri                      10.5
UConn                         10.5
Boston College            10.0
Ohio State                    10.0

Ohio State                    6.5
UConn                          4.0
Vanderbilt                     4.0

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Navy offensive coordinator impressed with UConn defense

Looking through Navy's notes, the one item that jumped out at me was that Navy has rushed for at least 300 yards in 17 of the last 22 games including 415 yards against a very good East Carolina team a week ago. There was one stretch late in the 2013 season stretching into the 2014 campaign where the Midshipmen had nine straight games with more than 300 rushing yards.

It got me thinking about comparing and contrasting the rushing numbers of UConn and navy during that span. The first thing that struck me is that Navy ran for more yards (2,426) in the last seven games of the 2013 season than UConn has in the last 22 games combined.

Here are the totals
UConn: 739 carries, 2232 yards, 21 touchdowns. That comes out to 3 yards per carry, 101.5 yards per game
Navy: 1,264 carries, 7,597 yards, 85 touchdowns. That comes out to 6 yards per carry, 345.3 yards per game

Navy has a wonderful habit of posting video interviews on its site so I was able to catch the thoughts of offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, who is no stranger to facing Bob Diaco coached defenses dating back to Diaco's successful run as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator.

"They are big inside, very athletic, it is going to be a tough test, up to this point it is the toughest test for us," Jasper said. "They don't give you anything cheap, make you work for it so it is a game where you have to go in there and pound it, scratch and claw for yards."

Jasper was asked if UConn's defense is similar to what Diaco ran at Note Dame.

"Yes it is," Jasper said. "Two big guys inside (Julian Campenni, Foley Fatukasi) who can plug it up inside, the Mike linebacker (Junior Joseph) is a very physical kid. a Manti Te'o type so he knows what he is doing."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Special teams miscues prove costly to UConn

The most remarkable part of the well-discussed fake field goal called by UConn coach Bob Diaco in the final minute of Saturday's loss at Missouri is that the Huskies were still in position to win the game considering all the mistakes the Huskies committed.

The majority of these blunders occurred on special teams. There was the blocked punt for a safety when Missouri rushed just two players and appeared to be setting up a return, the blocked extra point, missed field goal, two failed fake field goals and two penalties for running into Missouri punt returner Aarion Penton. That list doesn't even include UConn averaging 27 yards per punt or failing to return either a punt or kickoff since a 2013 loss to Buffalo.

Nobody was more surprised at all the issues on special teams than Diaco who spend a decent amount of his time on a weekly basis working with special teams and in particular punter Justin Wain.

At yesterday's press conference I asked Diaco if more time than normal was going to be spent on special team considering last week's nightmarish performance.

?I have already as it relates to Sunday and Monday in terms of the coaching staff," Diaco said. "You play a game like that in SEC country on the road and you have special teams blunders and you can't do that. Not that you would have won the football game but you don't get the punt blocked and it is 7-6 and all things being equal, the ball is on the 25 and you are kicking for win - whether the ball goes in or not, it is not even a choice. If you don't get the PAT blocked, it is 9-7 and all things being equal, again the ball is on the 25 and you are kicking for the win.

"The penalties, just silly stuff ..."

I asked Diaco if he was surprised at the large number of breakdowns on special teams.

"I was surprised by it," Diaco said. "I didn't think that would be an issue and clearly it was. We have never had an elevation issue (on extra points), maybe we were a little tight, we will see. Bobby (Puyol) has never had an elevation issue. Bobby normally has great elevation and ball trajectory but for some reason the last two times, it hasn't looked like that because it really wasn't a protection issue, it has been but on Saturday it wasn't. We will get it right. I have confidence in him, he is a diligent guy and cares so much so he will be just fine."

Diaco and his staff alerted his punt coverage unit that Penton is not a big fan of fair catching punts. Perhaps that played a role in the 30 yards of penalties issued when UConn twice run into Penton as he fielded a punt.

"He will not fair catch it so when he catches it, he is going to try to return it," Diaco said. "We made them aware. They were penalties too, they were legitimate penalties"

However, the most costly miscue came when UConn failed to block 335-pound Missouri defensive lineman Josh Augusta on the final fake field goal enabling him to put immediate pressure up the middle on Tim Boyle forcing a desperation heave that was intercepted.

"They are supposed to zone to the right and he just got beat on the play and couldn't reach fast enough and put Timmy under immediate duress," Diaco said. "He still has a chance with a top shelf ball to our guy, 6-5, 6-6 (Alec Bloom) and he has great hands. The one that was disappointing was the execution on the first one (fake field goal), he (Bloom) had a real chance and he was behind their defense and that would have been great."

I never got around to asking Diaco about the lack of a return game but the numbers are staggering. In three games UConn has 24 yards on two kickoff returns and has yet to return a punt this season.

I did some research and UConn ranks last among 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in yardage gained from kickoff and punt returns this season.

                       KO  PR TOTALUConn            2-24  0-0   2-24
West Virginia 1-25  3-36 4-61
California       3-50  4-11 7-61
Wake Forest   2-41  9-30 11-71
LSU               4-49  3-25  7-74
BYU              4-59  4-19  8-78
N. Mexico St. 3-51  4-34 7-85
Baylor            4-79  2-10 6-89
Michigan St.  4-95  1-1   5-96
Arizona          3-72  1-26 4-98

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

If given a second chance, UConn's Diaco would have passed on fake FG

Given a couple of days to reflect on the most debated play call of his brief tenure at the helm of the UConn football program, Bob Diaco admitted that he would have gone down a different road.

"I am getting a do-over and the question is would I do the same thing again," Diaco said with a laugh during Tuesday's press conference. "Absolutely not. What do you think I should do? Do you have an idea, I am all ears. Honestly looking back and inspecting myself, too much time elapsed between the third down and the kick for whatever reason. We were huddled up there and I am thinking 'boy
there is a lot of time elapsing, we are waiting to go on the field and kick and too much time elapsed.

"If I had to do it again, I would have ran (the offense on the field). I still wouldn't have kicked based on past performance, the situation, the SEC ... We went there to win the game. We didn't go there to play into a tie against the SEC on the road, we went there to win the game. Hindsight being 20-20, you are giving me a do-over, I run the offense back out there and call the play."

Diaco took plenty of heat for not kicking the field goal but based on how quickly 335-pound Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta burst through the line, it is highly unlikely that Bobby Puyol's field goal would have made it to the line of scrimmage.

 "They are supposed to zone to the right and he just got beat on the play and couldn't reach fast enough and put Timmy (Boyle) under immediate duress because he still has a chance with a top shelf ball to our guy, 6-5, 6-6 (Alec Bloom) and he has great hands. The one that was disappointing was the execution on the first one, he (Bloom) had a real chance and he was behind their defense and that would have been great."

Shortly before the press conference started there were reports that the Big Ten has agreed to count games against UConn as part of the mandatory number of games teams have to play against Power-5 Conference teams.

Diaco didn't know about this turn of events but did not hide his enthusiasm at the news.

"I'd love to although I'd be slightly torn playing the University of Iowa (his alma mater) but I'd love to play Nebraska and the rest of them to be sure," Diaco said. "It would be awesome to play Penn State, Maryland, these local Big Ten teams, it would be awesome along with Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State so I think it is great news and overdue."

UConn is set to play Illinois and Indiana during the 2019 and 2020 seasons but at the current time there are no other games scheduled against Big Ten teams.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ratings update from UConn/Missouri game

Hartford/New Haven was the fourth-highest market for Saturday's UConn/Missouri game.

Birmingham led the way with an 8.1 rating, followed predictably by St. Louis (5.2) and Kansas City (4.7) while Hartford/New Haven came in at 4.1.

Overall, the game did a 1.2 rating which is on the lower half of what noon games tend to draw on Saturday on ESPN.

Coming off an inspired effort against Missouri, UConn now ranks first in the American Athletic Conference in scoring defense (13.5 points per game), total defense (279.3), red-zone defense (60.0 percent) and passing-efficiency defense (111.3).

In the NCAA ratings, UConn is sixth in red-zone defense, 15th in scoring defense, 18th in total defense and 41st in passing-efficiency defense.

UConn's Diaco: "Best Navy team I have seen"

Bob Diaco did not pull any punches when asked for his opinion on facing triple-option teams with Navy coming to Rentschler Field on Saturday afternoon.

"I don't like defending it," Diaco said on Monday's American Athletic Conference weekly coaches call. "It is a shock to the central nervous system of the program, it is a total disruption of the eye progression for the defensive players from this offense as opposed to the other offenses we are going to see. It has a major impact on the lower-leg extremities for the defensive players. It is a very violent blocking style so it is very disruptive. No, I do not enjoy playing them."

Diaco is no stranger to face Navy's triple-option offense. He was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame from 2010-13 and each season the Fighting Irish faced Navy. Navy won the first meeting in 2010 but the Fighting Irish won the games in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In the 2012 season opener Diaco's defense held Navy to one touchdown (through the air) but the following season Keenan Reynolds (the reigning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the week) ran for three scores and threw for another while fullback Chris Swain had a TD run in Notre Dame's 38-34 victory.

"The best Navy team I have seen," Diaco said. "I have been playing Navy for a while now and it is the best Navy team in all three phases that I have seen.

"He (Reynolds) is an awesome player."

However, leading up to the Army game a couple weeks ago Diaco said stopping or slowing down the fullbacks is the key to dealing with the triple-option offense so it is no surprise that he quickly named fullbacks Swain and Quinton Ezell players the Huskies need to contain.

"Right now it is the Swain train and Ezell and the work he does," Diaco said. "You have to start there. They are awesome, the are two of the best fullbacks that I have seen in a while. The combination of those two fullbacks and Keenan, it is a pretty profound beginning of their first two options of their triple option."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thoughts from UConn/Missouri game

Yesterday's game at Missouri was being touted as a game when we would learn so much about the 2015 UConn team.

UConn had the ball down three points with less than five minutes to play. I'd have to think any UConn fan would have taken that scenario in a heartbeat. The ironic part is that the Huskies should have had the lead at that point.

Missouri's lone offensive scoring drive was aided by a blown call as Missouri tight end Sean Culkin lost control of the ball as he landed on the sidelines on a third-down play. Had the pass been ruled incomplete as it should have been, the Tigers would have been faced with a 4th and 4 at the UConn 23. Perhaps Missouri would have settled for the field goal or gone for it on fourth down.  Instead, the Tigers were given a first down.

However, most of the mistakes were of the self-inflicted variety especially on special teams. Whether it was Missouri, rushing just two players, blocking a Justin Wain punt for a safety, having an extra point blocked for the third game in a row and twice running over the punt returner giving the Tigers 30 free yards on two silly penalties, there were some horrible execution on special teams. When you factor in the safety, missed field goal, blocked PAT and two incomplete passes on fake field goals, UConn left a minimum of 12 points on the field due to special teams miscues. Then there is the absolute lack of any production on either kickoff or punt returns. There are 127 teams playing at the FBS level and UConn ranks 127th in yards gained from kickoff and punt returns this season (24 in three games). UMass is the only other team yet to return a punt this season and in the last 14 games, UConn has returned seven punts for minus 3 yards. Oh, on Saturday UConn plays a Navy team which is one of five FBS teams yet to allow a punt to be returned this season.

I'll be honest, I wasn't a fan of either fake field goal although Alec Bloom certainly could have caught the first one. With a fake punt (resulting in a first down) and fake field goal earlier in the game, there was no element of surprise and Bloom had three defenders on him on Tim Boyle's throw. UConn coach Bob Diaco has taken his share of criticism on the fake field goal in the final minute. However, since UConn barely got a hand on 335-pound defensive lineman Josh Augusta on the fake field goal, it is reasonable to assume that he would have easily blocked Bobby Puyol's field-goal attempt. The pressure up the middle ended any chance Boyle had of making a throw that Bloom could have snared. There was also a bad snap on one punt and just a 13-yard effort on another punt.

While the loss has to sting for the Huskies, the fact is that there are some positives especially on the defensive side of the ball.

A couple of guys who really jumped at me for their impressive play were sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers and sophomore linebacker Cam Stapleton. I understand that Missouri's receivers are a very young, untested group but the fact is that Summers and fellow cornerback Jhavon Williams (who had an impressive interception) more than help up their end of the bargain. Stapleton hasn't received a heck of a lot of attention but in limited snaps he continues to make plays and he might have come as far as any other player since the start of preseason camp. It was also encouraging that UConn didn't seem to miss a beat without senior captain and linebacker Marquise Vann as Matt Walsh proved he is more than capable of handling a starting role. Add in the large number of snaps junior defensive lineman Mikal Myers and sophomore defensive end Cole Ormsby received, the Huskies appear to be in good shape even after defensive linemen Julian Campenni and Kenton Adeyemi graduate. It should be noted that UConn had more tackles for loss than Missouri, a team that came into the game leading the nation in that category and doing so with many of the key plays coming from underclassmen.

On offense I remember expressing concern after one of the scrimmages in the preseason camp that Bryant Shirreffs was displaying a tendency of looking Noel Thomas' way too often. I'll admit when I was wrong and I was way off base on that one as I think a pass in the direction of Thomas is a good play as long as he isn't triple covered. Not that anybody asked me, but if you are going for the win in the last minute, I would rather have Shirreffs throwing a pass to Thomas and take my chances that Thomas would come down with the ball. I am also a little baffled why Arkeel Newsome would get three offensive touches. I keep hearing that the plan is to get him involved more but it doesn't seem to happen. I thought he might have been knocked out of the game after he took a hard hit on an attempted screen pass but he was used as a slot receiver at times during the final drive of the game.

I would think that UConn might not see a team with as imposing of a front seven as Missouri for the rest of the season so the lessons learned on Saturday could do a long way.

Finally, I vote on the women's Associated Press poll so I know how thankless of a task it is but I see no possible way that Missouri should be ranked in the top 25.

UConn commit Nino Leone impresses in season debut

If Nino Leone needed any extra motivation for the first game of his senior season at the Pingree School, his trusty phone took care of that.

No, there were no inspiration tunes that he used to get his competitive juices flowing. Instead, it was the images from yesterday's UConn/Missouri game courtesy of the Watch ESPN app on his phone that got Leone all fired up.

"I was watching on the bus ride here, they are always exciting to watch," Leone said. "A lot of people said it was going to be a blowout and they kept it (close) all the way through the game and fought to the end, I loved it."

The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Leone is the only lineman among the eight current commitments in the Class of 2016. He is still focused on his senior season at Pingree but the opportunity to continue his football career at UConn is something special for Leone.

"Oh my God, I have no words," Leone said. "That is something I have always looked forward to. It was always a question of mine when I going into high school but now that it is actually happening, I just know it is the next step higher so I have to work harder and harder.

"They came recruiting hard for me and every player loves to see that. I see what they are doing, they are rebuilding the program, the new coach and the way they set up their offense and that is something I really want to be a part of."

Starting offensive tackles Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy will be seniors when Leone gets to UConn and starting offensive guard Tyler Samra will be gone. Leone could join a group of promising offensive line prospects including Matt Peart, Trey Rutherford and Steve Hashemi when he gets to UConn.

"Any kid going in as a freshman is excited, you just want to make sure you have the right step to take," Leone said. "You don't want to go in too early, I want to be prepared going into that position."

Leone's Pingree team opened the season with a tough 34-20 loss at Hamden Hall last night. He started at defensive tackle and on the first play of the game he displayed his speed and tenacity by chasing down a Hamden Hall runner down the line. He also started at left offensive tackle helping quarterback Griffin Beal run for 199 yards and pass for another 176. I had Leone with six tackles including three tackles for loss.

The Hamden Hall/Pingree series has developed into one of the most action-packed ones in New England. In 2013 and 2014 the outcome was not decided until the final play of the game. Pingree won 53-48 at Hamden Hall in 2013 and Hamden Hall won 24-19 last season in South Hamilton, Mass.

"This is the kind of game that I look forward to," Leone said. "Our first game coming here was actually that home game and I would say that was the most memorable game I've ever played. It came down to the last three seconds around the goal line and these guys always come out to play. I know personally some players on the team so it is always great competition, I love talking to the guys."

Pingree raced out to a 13-0 lead as senior receiver Justin Assad caught a 28-yard touchdown pass and recovered a fumble in the end zone. Hamden Hall junior receiver Corey Millhouse (who is starting to hear from some powerhouse college programs) returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, had a 63-yard touchdown reception and returned an interception 67 yards for a score to lead Hamden Hall to the win.

"I give them so much credit, they really fought back," Leone said. "We came out really strong, we were feeling confident and they didn't let down. That is the greatest thing about those guys, they keep it going and they don't slow down."


Friday, September 18, 2015

UConn has held up well against ranked teams before

With UConn heading down to face nationally-ranked Missouri, I thought it would be a good time to revisit how the Huskies have fared in other games against ranked foes.

What I found is there isn't much of a middle ground as either the Huskies threw a major scare into the favored team or got completely blown out.

UConn's early history against ranked teams was not pretty as the Huskies lost their first six games by an average of 41.8-12.7 giving up at least 45 points four times.

The tide started to turn back in 2005 when UConn hosted No. 16 and only trailed by seven at halftime and if D.J. Hernandez had converted on a two-point conversion run, the Huskies would have been in a one-score game with 4:21 left. UConn lost 30-20 and since that time the Huskies have posted both of their wins over ranked opponents and had five other games decided by 10 points or less.

Six players on the current UConn squad (Andrew Adams, Kenton Adeyemi, Julian Campenni, Max DeLorenzo, Junior Lee and Marquise Vann) got into the historical game back in 2012 when UConn beat Louisville in triple overtime marking the only time the Huskies won on the road against a ranked team while playing at the FBS level.

"Having the opportunity to win on the road is huge, it sets the tone," said Campenni, who had one of the four sacks of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, now the starter for the Minnesota Vikings, in the UConn win. "Going into hostile environments and being able to play well is a huge factor. It is going to be a great crowd, (noon) on ESPN so it is going to be a great test for us, we are excited about it."

Here's the breakdown of the game with home team in all capital letters
Dec. 3, 2005 - No. 19 Louisville 30, UCONN 20: D.J. Hernandez threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns and Danny Lansanah had 15 tackles
Oct. 27, 2007 - UCONN 22, No. 11 South Florida 15: Andre Dixon ran for 167 yards and Scott Lutrus returned interception for a score in Huskies first win over a ranked opponent.
Sept. 12, 2009 - No. 19 North Carolina 12, UCONN 10: A holding penalty in the end zone by UConn with 1:32 remaining broke a 10-10 tie. Jordan Todman had a 4-run TD run to put UConn up 10-0 late in the third quarter and the Tar Heels had minus 2 yards rushing through three quarters.
Oct. 24, 2009 - NO. 23 WEST VIRGINIA 28, UConn 24: West Virginia's Noel Devine's 56-yard scoring run with 2:10 remaining enabled the Mountaineers to avoid the upset. Greg Lloyd and Lawrence Wilson combined for 24 tackles while Marcus Easley had five catches for 157 yards including an 88-yard touchdown to give the Huskies the lead with 3:50 left to play.
Nov. 7, 2009 - NO. 5 CINCINNATI 47, UConn 45: Jordan Todman ran for 162 yards and four touchdowns but Cincinnati recovered the onsides kick after Zach Frazer's 9-yard touchdown pass and Dave Teggart's PAT pulled UConn within two points with 13 seconds left.
Nov. 24, 2012 - UConn 23, NO. 19 LOUISVILLE 20 (3 OT): Blidi Wreh-Wilson intercepted Teddy Bridgewater's third-down pass in triple overtime and Chad Christen 30-yard field goal gave the Huskies their one and only road win over a ranked opponent. Trevardo Williams had three sacks while Lyle McCombs ran for 133 yards and had 32 more on two receptions.
Sept. 21, 2013 - No. 14 Michigan 24, UCONN 21: Ty-Meer Brown returned a fumble 34 yards for a score early in the third quarter to give the Huskies a 21-7 lead but Fitzgerald Toussaint had the game-tying 12-yard run one play after a Chandler Whitmer interception with 9:49 remaining and Brendan Gibbons' 21-yard field goal with 4:36 left provided the winning points.
Oct. 23, 2014 - NO. 18 EAST CAROLINA 31, UConn 21: Even though Shane Carden and Justin Hardy teamed up 14 times for 186 yards for the Pirates, UConn had the ball on the ECU 41 yard line in a tie game early in the fourth quarter. East Carolina scored on consecutive possessions, aided by a pair of defensive pass interference penalties during the only touchdown-scoring drive in the fourth quarter. The game was the final one for cornerback Byron Jones, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Southington's Rose commits to UConn

UConn received a commitment from highly-touted in-state prospect Jasen Rose.

Rose is the quarterback for Southington, the state's top-ranked team. He kicked off his senior season completing 15 of 20 passes for 303 yards and six touchdowns in a 54-9 win over Manchester. Last year, his first as the starting quarterback, Rose completed 218 of 309 yards for 3,190 yards with 47 touchdowns and nine touchdowns.

Derek Turner covers the CCC for the Register and its high school site GameTimeCT so it was only fair that he got to cover today's big news. Here is a link to his story. I especially enjoyed what he said about the reactions of the UConn and Syracuse head coaches at the news.

I've spoke to some of Connecticut high school football heavy hitters this week, people who are no stranger to the recruiting process and know a top prospect when they see it and they rave about Rose's ability as a quarterback. Time will tell how things shake out but if what they are telling me is accurate, I don't see how Rose would be anything but a quarterback for the Huskies.

I'm hoping to make it to a Southington game to see him in action for myself but would likely have to do it before the women's basketball season kicks into high gear. There are three UConn football road trips in the month of October so unless I get the Southington/Cheshire assignment on Thanksgiving, it might have to wait until the playoffs (assuming Southington makes it and it would be stunning news if they don't).

Here's a story the Register's David Borges wrote on Rose during the preseason and here's a link to a video of Rose making his announcement

Speaking of UConn commits who quarterback their teams, there's a chance Eddie Hahn could make his season debut tomorrow night for Red Bank Catholic

Here are some updates on some other UConn commits who play quarterback for their high school teams

Quayvon Skanes continues his impressive play as he has led Chicago's Phillips to a 3-0 start

Donovan Williams has run for more than 100 yards in each of his first two games of the season for Hylton High and accounted for five TDs in his first game

As for Keyion Dixon of Glastonbury, with a couple of breaks he could easily have run for 300 yards in a season-opening win at Hall

While many of those listed above will likely play other positions in college, UConn has come a long way in replenishing the quarterback position. Just last season the retirement of Casey Cochran left the Huskies with two scholarship quarterbacks. Eventually receiver Deshon Foxx began lining up at QB.

With all four scholarship quarterbacks (Bryant Shirreffs, Tim Boyle, Garrett Anderson and Tyler Davis) being underclassmen, there are suddenly some depth at the quarterback position.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Boehm/Campenni showdown worth price of admission in UConn/Missouri game

Nearly every contest features some intriguing game within a game matchups but it would be hard the top of potential showdown between Missouri center Evan Boehm and UConn nose guard Julian Campenni.

Boehm is being projected as the next Missouri lineman to be taken in the NFL draft. Heading into his third season as the starting center and fourth year as a starter, Boehm has started a team-high 42 games.

Campenni, who has been making an impact with the Huskies since his freshman season, has started 27 games which is the most of any current UConn player. Campenni and Boehm figure to line up directly across from each other making for an intriguing matchup.

"I think it would be exciting for both participants," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "I don't think it is related to the UConn nose guard, it is also the Missouri center. I am sure he sees himself as the best, as one of the best centers in America so to match up against a formidable player I think would be exciting too in the event that he does well and produces, then he can really feel good about his performance and be heralded appropriately. In the event that the UConn nose guard has production and performance against one of the best or the best center then the reverse is true."

Campenni isn't drawing the same amount of hype from the pro scouts as Boehm is but he has some pretty impressive tape for scouts to devour during his time at UConn. A strong showing on Saturday against a pro prospect like Boehm could certainly help his stock.

"It is going to be great competition, he is a great player so I am just excited to go out there and play on Saturday, go out with my teammates and play,' Campenni said.

Campenni is no stranger to playing in big games, especially on the road. In UConn's history, the Huskies have won one road game against a ranked opponent. Campenni is one of six current Huskies to play in UConn's 23-20 triple overtime win at Louisville in 2012. Campenni didn't just play in the game, he had one of UConn's five sacks. For those trivia buffs out there, the other players to appear in that Louisville game are Andrew Adams, Junior Lee (who had two tackles), Max DeLorenzo (who ran twice for four yards), Kenton Adeyemi and Marquise Vann.

"Having the opportunity to win on the road is huge, it sets the tone," Campenni said. "Going into hostile environments and being able to play well is a huge factor. It is going to be a great crowd, 11 o'clock (local time) on ESPN so it is going to be a great test for us, we are excited about it."
While Campenni's Huskies have played in a select number of games against ranked teams, Boehm and the Tigers see ranked opponents on a regular basis. He's also squared off against pro prospects in practice as five defensive linemen from Missouri have been taken in the last three drafts including first rounders Sheldon Richardson and Shane Ray.

"That is a pretty cool deal," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "He has been playing a lot. He played guard his first year as a true freshman, he was a national recruit and a kid out of Kansas City. Evan has started every game that year and certainly since. He didn't play as well last week because he tweaked his ankle but he is 100 percent but it is obviously nice to have a guy who is 100 percent this
week, having a guy in there who can really keep that whole group together, communicate and all the things that happen with centers now."


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Shirreffs looking to make a bit of UConn history

Since UConn began making the transition from I-AA to I-A, it has been a bit of a quarterback carousel especially in recent years. Case in point, counting this season five different players will have led the Huskies in passing yards over the last six campaigns.

While games against a FCS Villanova team and an Army squad coming off a 4-8 season is a small sample size, Bryant Shirreffs is off to a start rivaling any of the players to quarterback UConn during the FBS era.

Since 2000 the only quarterbacks to throw for at least 200 yards in their first two starts are Ryan Tracey in 2000, Chandler Whitmer in 2012 and Shirreffs this season.

It won't be easy as Missouri is third nationally allowing 90 passing yards per game, leads all FBS teams in tackles for loss per game and is 12th in passing efficiency defense.

Shirreffs currently has a passing efficiency rating of 167.2, which ranks 23rd among FBS quarterbacks. The rating is the best for a UConn quarterback after two games since Dan Orlovsky (remember him) had a 172.93 rating against Murray State and Duke in the first two games of the 2004 season.

Here is the chart
                                                             C  Att Yds TD Int Rating
2015 Shirreffs  Villanova & Army      31-45 472 2-1 167.22
2014 Cochran BYU                              17-31 171 0-1   94.72
2014 Whitmer BYU & Stony Brook   20-46 255 1-0  97.22
2013 Whitmer Towson  & Maryland   45-74 555 3-3 129.08
2012 Whitmer UMass & NC St           31-52 423 0-5 108.72
2011 McEntee Fordham & Vandy      18-40 212 0-3  74.52
2010 Frazer Michigan & Texas So.     24-46 309 2-0 122.95
2009 Frazer Ohio & North Carolina    22-43 221 2-4  91.08
2008 Lorenzen Hofstra & Temple       24-47 270 1-4  78.60
2007 Lorenzen Duke & Maine            39-56 484 4-2 158.67
2006 Hernandez URI  & Wake For.    27-45 346 3-2 139.25
2005 Bonislawski Buffalo & Liberty  29-43 338 4-1 159.52
2004 Orlovsky Murray St. & Duke     42-63 672 5-3 172.93
2003 Orlovsky Indiana &Army           52-78 624 8-3 160.02
2002 Orlovsky BC & Ga. Tech           37-63 348 2-2 109.26
Also, here is a look at how UConn QBs fared in their first career stats
Ryan Tracey            9/2/00 E. Michigan    23-49 340 3-1
Tyler Lorenzen        8/1/07 Duke               22-30 298 2-1
Casey Cochran       11/16/13 SMU            25-42 227 2-2
Chandler Whitmer   8/30/12 UMass          15-25 219 2-2  
Zach Frazer            10/4/08 N. Carolina    24-44 210 0-3
Bryant Shirreffs       9/3/15  Villanova      12-20 202 2-1
For those wondering Orlovsky's numbers were 14 of 32 for 180 yards with one TD and one interception in win over Eastern Michigan on Oct. 6, 2001.

I'm sure nobody can figure out what the subject matter will be for the UConn football story running in tomorrow's edition of the Register.

UConn's Walsh preparing the same regardless of Vann's availability against Missouri

Former Hand High star Matt Walsh drew praise from UConn coach Bob Diaco after making his first career start at linebacker in Saturday's win over Army.

Walsh remains listed as a backup to Marquise Vann on the two-deep chart but with Vann, last year's leading tackler, pulling up as he tried to chase down Army's Joe Walker on a 71-yard touchdown catch and run, could Walsh be starting again?

Diaco called Vann day to day and expected him to be at practice today. Walsh said his preparation this week will not change whether Vann is able to play or not.

"Everybody on our team prepares like they are going to be the starter on Saturday and nothing will change until we show up on Saturday and everybody will be able to play whatever," Walsh said.

Walsh said the Huskies are taking a similar approach when going on the road against nationally-ranked Missouri out of the SEC on Saturday.

"We treat every week the same because you go in and prepare, both teams it doesn't matter who they are, one is ranked and one is not ranked everybody always expects the win so everybody goes in and everybody has the same mindset, just treat it like another week, it doesn't matter who we are playing."

Walsh saw plenty of time at fullback in his first two seasons but he is loving life at linebacker.

"When I got over to the defensive side of the ball, it was almost as if I found my home again," Walsh said. "I was able to let loose and play football for the first time in a couple of years.

"I feel like I always tried to play with the linebacker's mentality because you always because you always grow up watching the great defensive players and a lot of the real tough guys on the field are usually the linebackers. Even when I played offense as a fullback, I tried to play with a linebacker's mentality there that nobody is going to stop me, try to be the most dominant most physical player on the field."

If there was a question about Walsh coming out of high school it was whether he had the speed to play linebacker at the FBS level. He has proven that he is plenty fast enough to get to the ball carriers.

"Coach (Matt) Balis and the whole strength staff has done an awesome job, the biggest difference from high school is training in season, we take that very seriously and the whole conditioning and running aspect. I feel like the biggest improvement I've made is probably my flexibility and my speed, not as much straight forward 40-time speed but more like quick change of direction, kind of running laterally to help me go sideline to sideline."

Seven receivers appeared in the game participation report but none of them are named Dhameer Bradley.

Among the returning players, only Noel Thomas caught more passes than Bradley a season ago. Not only has Bradley not played in either of the first two games, he wasn't even warming up with the receivers before the game. I saw him on the sideline congratulating Ron Johnson after a nice run in the season opener but I am not sure if he was on the sidelines in the Army game.

Once again Diaco was asked about Bradley and here is what he said.

"I'd say Dhameer right now indefinitely, a time to be determined by him and his ability to work on his health," Diaco said. "He had a little lower leg nagging thing based on the circumstances, right now he is focused on healing that and he also has some lofty academic goals, he is very bright young man and he has some very lofty academic goals and based on circumstances right now, he is going to focus on those two things basically transcript health and physical health until that changes on his side of the ledger. We are loving him and (doing) whatever we can do to support him as part of our football family."

Monday, September 14, 2015

Report: Missouri top RB may not play against UConn

Based on reports coming from the Missouri media, the Tigers' standout running back Russell Hansbrough is out for this week's game against UConn.

Hansbrough ran for 1,084 yards as a junior but he is dealing with a sprained right ankle and is not listed on the depth chart in this week's game notes.

Sophomore Ish Witter is listed as the starting tailback. He will get a chance to run behind a senior-laden offensive line as right tackle Nate Crawford, a sophomore, is the only non-senior listed as a starter on the depth chart. The line is led by center Evan Boehm and left tackle Connor McGovern. Boehm has started 42 career games, matching the number of starts for the UConn offensive line (15 for OG Tyler Samra, 14 for OT Richard Levy, 9 for OT Andreas Knappe, 2 each for OG Tommy Hopkins and C Brendan Vechery). The individual matchup between Boehm and UConn nose guard Julian Campenni (who has started 27 career games) should be worth the price of admission.

Missouri's offensive numbers are nothing to write home about but it's a different story on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers lead all FBS teams with an average of 12 1/2 tackles for loss per game while UConn is tied for 115th among 127 FBS teams in tackles for loss allowed. There have been some communication issues in each of the first two games. Army's Andrew King and two of them came when he came late on a blitz after each of the offensive linemen were engaged with a defender and the backs went out for a pass pattern rather than staying in for blocking purposes.

Missouri has an interesting (some UConn fans might call it frightening) note which said that the Tigers rank fifth among FBS teams in sacks during the start of the 2013 season.

1. Utah - 96 (39 in 2013, 55 in 2014, 2 in 2015)
2. Washington - 95 (41 in 2013, 51 in 2014, 3 in 2015)
Ohio State - 95 (42 in 2013, 45 in 2014, 8 in 2015)
4. Stanford - 92 (44 in 2013, 46 in 2014, 2 in 2015)
4. Virginia Tech - 90 (39 in 2013, 48 in 2014, 3 in 2015)
5. Mizzou - 89.5 (41.5 in 2013, 44 in 2014, 4 in 2015)
Also, Missouri senior linebacker is first nationally with an average of 16 total tackles per game while sophomore defensive lineman Charles Harris is tied for second with an average of 6 tackles for loss per game.

The game will air on ESPN on Saturday at noon with Adam Amin, former NFL quarterback Kelly Stouffer and Olivia Harlan the announce team. Also, the Sept. 26 Navy game will start at either noon or 3:30 p.m.

UConn's Diaco said Missouri is "kind of a machine"

There was a heavy Columbia, Missouri presence on the weekly American Athletic Conference coaches call.

It was some of the stuff that usually come out during non-conference weeks with Diaco's thoughts of what he saw in the UConn job which made him leave his gig as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator and some inquiries on the process of building the program.

His answer to the final question of the call about Diaco's thoughts on Missouri I thought was worthy of sharing.

"Everything," Diaco said. "They are an awesome team, played in multiple championship games in one of the finest conferences in America. They are a very explosive, high-octane offense, very talented players and experienced front. I have watched them move people around that are very, very talented teams - Minnesota, Alabama for the better part of three quarters, Kentucky, Arkansas it really something to come back and win that game (with 15 points in the fourth quarter) with a lot of the same guys at least up front and the defense is outstanding so it is really everything. It is kind of a machine that way. Coach (Gary) Pinkel has built that program for a long time now into one of the finest programs in the country."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Haven area stars Newsome, Walsh shine in UConn's win over Army

During their high school careers Arkeel Newsome and Matt Walsh, playing for two of Connecticut’s most storied programs, won a combined five state titles. When it came time to head to college, they both landed at a UConn program where wins have been somewhat harder to come by.

When Walsh was piling up nearly 300 tackles in his final two seasons at Hand High in Madison, he was hoping to follow in the footsteps of players like Danny Lansanah, Alfred Fincher, Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood as a linebacker in the middle of the UConn defense. Newsome, who set pretty much every state record for rushing yards and touchdown scoring, wanted to be the player asked to add some punch to an offensive-challenged UConn program.

On Saturday afternoon, those dreams came true in the Huskies’ 22-17 win over Army.

Walsh, who played regularly as a fullback in his first two seasons, was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time since he was switched over to his natural linebacker position. Walsh had four tackles, including one tackle for loss and drew an illegal block in the back penalty as UConn opened the season with two straight wins for the first time since the 2008 season.

“I wasn’t anxious or nervous because I got a lot of playing time last week against Villanova so that kind of helped me settle in, get more comfortable playing linebacker at this level,” Walsh said. “We were very prepared, we knew everything. Coach (Bob) Diaco, Coach (Anthony) Poindexter, Coach (Vincent) Brown did a great job of preparing us.

“Every week you prepare like a starter, when you get your chance you don’t treat it any different. It is the same thing as people always say that practice makes perfect, obviously we were far from perfect, the more practice we got, the more looks we got from them then we were able to figure them out a little bit more.”

Diaco made it clear that Walsh starting ahead of two-time team captain and 2014 leading tackler Marquise Vann was simply a case of putting together a personnel grouping best suited to deal with Army’s triple-option offense and not a sign that Vann lost his job to Walsh.

“It is never like a competition of who is starting,” Walsh said. “It was just what was going to work best against that team and it was to pair Junior (Joseph) and Marquise on the inside and me on the outside.”

Speaking of inside/outside pairings, the feeling was that the bruising Ron Johnson would handle most of the running duties between the tackles while the electrifying Newsome would be used out in the open space.

However, after Army had pulled within five points with 4:51 to play, it was Newsome who was sent onto the field to help UConn try to run out the clock. Three physical runs accounted for 22 yards and a first down. He was a little slow getting up on the final carry so he was replaced by Johnson. While Johnson was stuffed on a 3rd and 1 play, the fact is that Newsome found himself trusted with the ball with the game on the line which is something that didn’t happen often as a freshman especially after he had some fumbling issues during his true freshman season.

“It means a lot, we came a long way because last year I don’t think they would have (given him carries in crunch time),” Newsome said after rushing for a team-high 73 yards. “It is a great feeling that they trusted me to hold onto it.

“It definitely boosted my confidence a lot.”

Newsome has three career receiving touchdowns at UConn including one in a season-opening victory over Villanova but his 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was his first as a Husky as he followed blocks by guard Tommy Hopkins and tight end Tommy Myers and wriggled away from Army’s Alex Aukerman, who grabbed Newsome’s jersey around the 5.

“It was great,” said Newsome, who ran for a state record 172 touchdowns in four seasons at Ansonia High. “I just kept striving and kept the mindset that I was going to get in the end zone.”

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

It was payback time for UConn defense

This was not the easiest of weeks for the members of the UConn defensive squad.

Perhaps the only thing worse than preparing for Army's triple-option offense was watching the footage of last season's game when UConn allowed the Black Knights run for 325 yards.

In that game the Huskies didn't seem to be able to stop any of the ball carriers as seven different players had at least one run 10 yards or longer. The Black Knights also ran 18 plays on or inside the Huskies' 20-yard line in a 35-21 win over UConn.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and Army did not have one play inside UConn's 20. It had to feel good for players like Julian Campenni, Graham Stewart, Andrew Adams and the other defensive veterans.

That aforementioned trio each had their moments. Campenni burst through the line and tackled elusive Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw for a 1-yard loss on 3rd and 1, Stewart had a huge hit on Bradshaw while Adams deflected one pass and had the game-clinching interception.

I caught up with each of them after the game to get their reaction to their plays and also UConn starting the season 2-0 for the first time since 2008.

"I read the quarterback and I made a play on the ball," said Adams, who led UConn with six tackles. "I knew it would pretty much seal the deal. I am happy I made the play and I am happy we got the win and being able to redeem ourselves from last year, we put a lot of work this week in practice to be ready for this game and it showed up on the scoreboard."

Campenni finished with three tackles but helped clog things up in the middle of the line as he normally does. His rock-solid play was all the more important since fellow starter Folorunso Fatukasi was suspended for the first half after being ejected for fighting in the fourth quarter of the season-opening win over Villanova.

"Coach (Diaco) just preaches 'fight for every inch, scramble and claw.' That is what happened, I was scrambling, dove and tried to make a play."

Stewart had three solo tackles and his ability to remain under control kept Army from being able to turn the corner on running plays as often as they did a season ago.

"I dropped into my zone and Army, they don't throw the ball so I knew he was going to come out of it, kind of read it and he was in the right place at the right time," Stewart said of his big hit.

"We are so far and beyond what last year was, so many people were 'oh, last year, last year.' Last year we knew what we were and we are not trying to be that, we are trying to grow and being better and better and it does feel good to make progress like that."

Like the Villanova game, it was far from a perfect performance. The offense once again failed to lower the boom and put the game away when given the chance and the defense gave up two big plays accounting for 127 of Army's 265 yards of total offense. There is also the concern about linebacker Marquise Vann who suffered a lower-leg injury on Army's final touchdown.

I will have more on this next issue tomorrow when I file a story on the impact that former New Haven area high school stars Matt Walsh and Arkeel Newsome had in the win but Diaco wanted to make it clear that Walsh's start was more of a case of fitting better with what the defense was trying to get done against Army rather than Vann being in danger of losing his starting job. However, Walsh certainly put himself in position to get more playing time whether Vann is healthy or not.

Cutting down on undisciplined penalties a priority for UConn

While I wasn't in the room when Bob Diaco addressed the members of the UConn football team for the first time this week in preparation for this week's game against Army but I'd have to think cutting down on the penalties after the whistle was pretty high on his to-do list.

If running back Ron Johnson's 15-yard penalties for taunting or unsportsmanlike conduct didn't draw his ire, seeing defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi thrown out for fighting in a play that also resulted in a first down and ultimately a touchdown by the Wildcats to pull within five points with 1:45 left to play had his blood boiling just a tad.

"The team plays in a way that represents our culture which is toughness but as a gentleman, it is a culture of composure and self control so that is an area that needs to be improved in terms of all the jaw jacking and loss of self control, that is not what we do, not what we are and not what we are going to be, it is not acceptable in any way," Diaco said. "It absolutely won't be tolerated."

Later in the press conference Diaco was asked about the events in the Texas high school game where two safeties made national news for their actions as one of them hit an unsuspecting official from behind and the other one dove into the fallen official. While he didn't address that specific incident, he did speak about the expectations he and his coaching staff have for the team.

"That is all we do, we kind of teach them and help them grow," Diaco said. "We are not going to bat 100 percent. People are going to do foolish things, I do foolish things, I am going to less foolish things in five years than I am doing right now. In 10 years, I would think I would be doing even less foolish things so young people who are 18-20, you teach them, you love them, you try to open that receptor up. They know you have their best interest at heart to help them listen more to the lessons you are trying to teach."

Last week's live blog apparently did pretty well in the number of page views so we will have another one this week. It is up and running.

Faith and football go hand in hand for UConn commit Keyion Dixon

As they finished with the customary post-game handshakes, Keyion Dixon's Glastonbury High School football teammates were gathering just outside one of the end zones at Chalmers Stadium.

Dixon, the mercurial quarterback and UConn commit, was among the last players to make his way through the handshake line and still feeling the brunt of the leg cramps that twice forced him out of Friday night's season-opening 27-7 win over host Hall, each step was a bit on the painful side. Still, he walked right by his gathering teammates, through the end zone, removed his helmet and took a knee right in front of the goal post. There might have been some curious onlookers wondering about this ritual but not his teammates. Dixon has done pretty much the same thing after each and every game he has played so regardless of the result or how he might have played, Dixon drops to one knee, gathers his thoughts and says a prayer.

"Every game I give glory to God because he makes everything possible, without Him I am nothing so I have to give Him the glory," Dixon said after rushing for 219 yards and scoring three touchdowns against Hall. "Every game since I was young, my mom has installed the faith in God. He has to be the leading force in your life so before the games I pray and after the games I have to pray. In a secluded area just so I could pray. I tell Him to use me as His vessel. He showcases my talent through me and as you can see, He actually did that tonight."

The prayers before and after the games began around the time Dixon's interest in football began to picked up. Perhaps he was 10 or maybe 11 at the time. His spirituality is something that his teammates and coaches know helps mold the person and player that he is today.

"He is a great kid, a spiritual kid and it keeps him grounded, keeps him reflective," Glastonbury coach Scott Daniels said.

Daniels chuckles the first time he had a chance to coach Dixon.

"As a freshman, Keyion was like a big, baby giraffe with this big long body," Daniels said. "You knew he had some athletic gifts and it just took him time to grow into that body. He is something else, it is very rare that you kind of a guy who is 6-3 and runs a 4.4 40 and just as athletic as heck. We knew he was going to be special, it was just a matter of figuring out the game."

Watching Dixon rips off scoring runs of 89 and 40 yards and headed to another long scoring run before barely stepping out of bounds at the Glastonbury 45, Dixon certainly knows what to do when he has the ball in his hands.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds (although the latter number is sure to increase when he gets into UConn's strength and conditioning program), Dixon fits the prototype tall, rangy receiver preferred by UConn coach Bob Diaco. He actually lined up as a slot receiver on Glastonbury's first offensive play but was at quarterback the rest of the time. He also played free safety, went back to field kickoffs and punts and punted.

"That is what he does," Daniels said. "Given him the ball, let him run in open space and he is going to make something happen."

Senior offensive guard Samuel Pirsig, who has thrown key blocks on many of Dixon's most scintillating runs, knows that Dixon doesn't need much room to break off a huge gain.

"He can do anything. Once he is open, he is gone."

Dixon, who said he will be in attendance at today's UConn/Army game, is able to keep tabs on how the Huskies are doing with much more ease than the other six Class of 2016 players committed to UConn since Glastonbury High School is only seven miles from Rentschler Field.

"I am really excited," Dixon said. "Those guys look good last week with the win and they have a lot of young guys making plays for them so I feel like the addition of me and the recruits in 2016 with those young guys they have now, all of that coming together is a great mix."

So what was it that sold Dixon on committing to UConn?

"I really felt at home," Dixon said. "The coaching staff was great, the players were outstanding. The energy they have right now going for them is really amazing."

It is also something that excites so many people in the Glastonbury community.

"It is going to be nice where we can get to a game and see him play, it is going to be special," Daniels said. "He is going up to the game (today) and I am going to head up there as well, get to see those guys. It is my alma mater and I am thrilled he is going there.

"Keyion really sold himself because his numbers, his measureables as far what he can run in the 40 and all that stuff. So when he goes there, he showcases very well and then it was just a matter of the coaches having a relationship with him, Keyion being comfortable. He went up there a few times, he knows some of the coaches very well, some of them live right in Glastonbury so there was a relationship there so it kind of escalated from that and is turning out to be a good thing."

Dixon bonded with many of the current UConn players he will be playing with but on his visit there was one player who he really connected with.

"(Sophomore cornerback) Jamar Summers, he was really good to me when I went there. He is a funny guy, always cracking jokes but then when it is time to get down to business and play football, it is time to play football. He is locked in on every play."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Impressive season debut for UConn commit Dixon

Just got back from Hall High School when I got my first glimpse at UConn commit Keyion Dixon.

After watching Dixon run for 219 yards and three touchdowns, I have to say I was impressed. The rushing total could have been so much more. He was credited for a 24-yard loss on a play beginning with an errant snap and stepped out of bounds at Glastonbury's 45 on another run. Had he stayed in bounds (and he was close enough that I asked the Channel 3 photographer whether he was out of bounds), he would had added another 55 yards to his total.

Dixon had touchdown runs of 8, 40 and 89 yards all in the first half as Glastonbury won 27-7. He left the game twice after cramping up and when he turns the corner on a defense, he definitely has an extra gear or two. I really enjoyed catching up with him after the game and will post a longer blog before tomorrow's game.

Also, UConn commit Donovan Williams ran for 116 yards including a 57-yard touchdown as Hylton defeated Patriot 32-10.

No forgetting last year's Army game for returning UConn players

Looking forward and not back is one of Bob Diaco's commandments since he was entrusted in breathing life into moribund UConn football program.

However, there has been plenty of time at practice and in meeting rooms this week for the UConn players to be reminded of every nauseating detail of last year's 35-21 loss to Army.

Leading into last year's game, Diaco and his staff broke down the intricacies of Army's triple-option offense. However, it wasn't until Terry Baggett ripped off a 35-yard run on the Black Knights' 16-play, 89-yard opening drive or three different players had runs of at least 12 yards on the 11-play, 85-yard drive the second time Army got the ball that the reality of it all sunk in.

Diaco said he has seen a different look in the eyes of his players as the Huskies' "look" team did their best to emulate Army's offense.

"They are operating at a level and at a speed that you haven't seen until the game starts, there is no way to simulate it. You try but it is still just a B or less effort and not of it is more like a C or a D effort in terms of trying to simulate it," Diaco said.

"A massive amount of players who played in the game a year ago is a benefit. Now, even some of the coaches that are on the staff had never been part of a game as a lead person against the triple option because it is a team thing, it is not one side. It starts with the defense trying to defend the offense but in a lot of instances you look up, the whole team looks up, there is a kickoff and the whole team looks up and there is 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half. That is a whole team understanding that if the team is squandering opportunities on offense, you are going to have a hard time winning."

As difficult as it can be to deal with the grinding rushing attack, one of the dangers of playing against a triple-option is to have defensive backs and in particular cornerbacks cheat off their coverage responsibilities to help in the run game only to give up huge pass plays.

Army only completed two passes in last year's game but one of them was a 22 yarder setting up Army's fourth touchdown.

Cornerbacks Jhavon Williams, Jamar Summers and Javon Hadley showed the willingness to be physical in the Villanova game but Diaco said if the corners are making tackles, the Huskies could be in trouble. So what are the other points of emphasis?

"You can not let them run the fullback," Diaco said. "If they are going to run the fullback and gain significant yardage, you are going to lose, there is no way we can win that game. You can't allow them to throw shot passes, if they explosive play shot passes down the field you are going to lose. That was a hallmark of the game in New York. We had a couple of shot passes, each of them set up scores (the first one put Army on the UConn 48 but the drive ended with a fumble) and a gash in the kicking game to keep a drive alive rather than it ending with a stop were huge, huge plays in the game. "

Sophomore defensive end/linebacker Luke Carrezola (who was injured) is the only player on UConn's defensive two-deep chart who didn't play in last year's Army game while 14 of the 23 players on Army's offensive two-deep chart (three players are listed at one of the running back positions) did not play for the Black Knights against UConn.

"We should be a lot better," UConn defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter said. "We know what the tempo and pace of the game is going to be. A year ago, we were kind of shocked. As coaches, we have all coached against it but until you play in this game as a player, we can coach and tell you, show you the tape but it is a different intensity. Army does a great job with their scheme. Last year I think we were kind of shocked with the tempo of it, kind of get settled in but it was almost too late by that point. This year, I think the guys will be ready for that part of it and hopefully we just execute better."

I was curious whether more tape was shown to the UConn defense of last year's Army game or of Army's season-opening loss to Fordham.

"You show them as much tape as you can without exposing them to (too much) stuff," Poindexter said. "I showed them last year's game, they can see themselves how they played and obviously you have to show the game from this year and whatever tape we have from last year, we try to get exposure to it."

Ctfastrak will be have busses running every 15 minutes between 10:15-11:15 a.m. leaving from the Travelers building on Main Street in Hartford and going to Rentschler Field.

Military members will ride for free for the Army and Navy games. The fee is $1.50 per person ($0.75 for seniors) with a full-day pass costing $3.

This service will be offered for all of UConn's home games.