Wednesday, September 09, 2015

UConn hoping last year's Army game will be valuable lesson

If I were to document the low points of last season's 2-10 season, other than the season-ending loss to previously winless Southern Methodist might be the only game ahead of the 35-21 loss to Army at Yankee Stadium.

Perhaps if that Army team hadn't lost to Yale, I would have a different take on that game but it is just hard to defend UConn losing to a team which lost to Yale.

As you would imagine, Bob Diaco was asked about that game early and often at yesterday's press conference. I was encouraged that he tone when discussing Army wasn't quite as reverential as it was a season ago when it often sounded like he was cutting a public service announcement for the triple-option offense and the Army offensive unit.

"I would be disappointed if our team doesn't play better than it did a year ago and I am sure (Army) Coach (Jeff) Monken feels the same way about his team," Diaco said. "We have worked since January to be better and invested so much of everything we had so we would expect a higher performance in all three phases."

There are plenty of numbers to be crunched from last year's game but the ones that stand out to me are 25/58 and 46/57. That is a breakdown of the Army players who were listed on the participation chart in a season-opening loss to Fordham compared to how many played against UConn last season and then the same ratio for UConn. Yes, by my math only more than twice as many Army players are gone from the group that beat UConn from a season ago between graduation and injury.

"It is part of college football, everybody experiences that  at some point," Monken said. "There are guys that you lose to graduation, certainly we lost a lot of experience to graduation last year and it is the same on defense. We have a bunch of guys make on defense too, our linebackers, (cornerback) Chris Carnegie on defense really are the only guys who were starters at the beginning of the year. We have some guys that became starters because of injury but we are kind of young across the bound. I think the guys will improve and that is the good thing about having guys who are young and playing for the first time that you can see some promise in those guys. You know they are going to improve and get better and when we do, hopefully we will be a better football team."

Monken already knew that there would be plenty of holes to fill. The entire starting offensive backfield in last year's UConn game (quarterback Angel Santiago, fullback Larry Dixon and halfbacks Terry Baggett and Raymond Maples) are gone as are all three interior defensive linemen (Joe Drummond, Richard Glover, Mike Ugeymi). However, an ankle injury is expected to sideline starting right offensive tackle Drew Hennessy and a preseason head injury is expected to keep Josh Jenkins out of the game.

With starting receiver Xavier Moss moving to safety, the only offensive starters from last year's game expected to start on Saturday are center Matt Hugenberg, left tackle Ryan Alexander and receiver Edgar Poe. On defense, Carnegie (who had two interceptions including the game-clinching 99-yard return for a TD) and Rhyan England are back in the secondary while linebackers Jeremy Timpf, Scott Washle and Stephen Riccardi are back for the Black Knights.

On UConn's side of the ball, 12 players made at least two tackles against Army last season and 11 of them are back.

"We are a lot better," said senior safety Andrew Adams, who tied for the team lead with 10 tackles in the '14 game. "We are a whole year more experienced and we have a great opening game under our belt which gave us confidence going into this game so we are looking forward to the challenge on Saturday."


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