Monday, November 30, 2015

All hands on deck for UConn after injuries to Myers and Shirreffs

I've covered my share of football games over the last couple of decades but I can't recall a situation like the one on UConn's first offensive series in Saturday's loss at Temple.

It's not unusual for personnel to be shuffled in and out but UConn used 16 different players on its first three offensive plays. Think about that for a second. The Huskies used the same five offensive linemen while Arkeel Newsome and Noel Thomas were also in there for each of the first three plays meaning that nine different players saw time at the other four positions on the first three offensive snaps.

It started with a normal look with Newsome in at tailback, Trey Rutherford at fullback, Alec Bloom at tight end and receivers Thomas and Tyraiq Beals along with Tim Boyle. Then Rutherford, Boyle and Beals checked out and in came tight end Chris Lee, jack of all trades Garrett Anderson and running back Max DeLorenzo. Anderson, who came to UConn as a quarterback and would see some snaps there during the game, was flanked out at receiver as Thomas was at QB in the wildcat formation. Then Boyle and Beals were back, receiver Hergy Mayala checked in as did linebacker Luke Carrezola, who was used as a fullback and even caught a pass in the game.

"We had two of our best players out, outside of Noel and Arkeel, the starting quarterback and not having him and a great, great player in Tommy Myers, he is a big loss," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "We needed to use a lot of different things to try to create some production and it didn't work."

No it didn't but it did keep us in the press box engaged as we had to keep tabs on who was in and who was out.

The biggest surprise to me was the use of Thomas at quarterback. I didn't see that when I was at Tuesday's practice. I did recall offensive coordinator Frank Verducci summoning Carrezola over to the field that the first-team offense was practicing on so while seeing him in on offense wasn't shocking but was a bit surprising especially on the second offensive play.

UConn picked up nine first downs in the game. Four came on receptions from Thomas, one off a Newsome run, another time Boyle ran for a first down. As the game wore on, Newsome's play count was limited since he was taking a real pounding so Josh Marriner came in and had two catches resulting in first down. So who was responsible for the other first down? Carrezola, of course.

"Since Tommy went down they asked me to do it," Carrezola said. "In practice, I just try to give it my best shot. I just go over there whenever they need me, whenever they call my name. I just wanted to practice as hard as possible and when they call my name, I just come running."

Carrezola drew praise from Diaco and his teammates for how he adjusted to seeing some offensive snaps on offense while playing a key role on defense.

"We were just thinking about a guy who could do the job and not have his defensive role diminished, be able to absorb both and he was the top name to try to do some of that blocking, kick-out stuff," Diaco said. "He had a beautiful catch on third down for a first down. I don't know how much more of that we will utilize moving forward but I was pleased with Luke all week, he is a great teammate."

The highest praise might have come from Boyle.

"Luke is a special kid," Boyle said. "He is going to be a hell of a player down the road, he is right now. I'll be watching him on Sunday one day. He reminds me of J.J. Watt a little bit just his physical attributes and the way he can play fullback, learn the offense in three days and perform as well as he did."

The Temple game was not the first time I saw Thomas play quarterback. I covered the St. Luke's/Hopkins game when Thomas was a senior in 2012. He went 8 of 15 for 110 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception. Thomas added 133 yards on nine carries in a 32-13 St. Luke's win.

On Saturday, Thomas carried the ball for seven yards on the second offensive play.

"I wish it lasted longer," Thomas said of his time at quarterback. "I think I did all right, I was comfortable back there. I definitely had enough reps in practice."

While Myers won't be back for UConn's bowl game, the feeling is that Shirreffs should be able to play by then so that might cut back on Thomas' use at quarterback. Then again, in a bowl game, there is plenty of preparation time and with nothing really riding on the game, teams can be a bit creative in their play calling so stay tuned.

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Pitiful" offensive performance dooms UConn

Of all the words Bob Diaco uttered during the press conference following a 27-3 loss at Temple, the one that resonated the strongest was "pitiful."

"It was pathetic" was how Diaco referred to the offensive performance as the Huskies didn't surpass the 100-yard mark in total offense until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with just 138 yards of offense.

Diaco, to his credit, was basically asked the same question on three different occasions as some people joined the press conference a little late as I assume they went to Temple's question and answer session first. The first time he was asked about what the Owls' defense did to shut the Huskies down provided the best response.

"Guys in the backfield, pouring through the backfield. We couldn't get plays started, bad reads, poor off-target passing. It was pitiful.

"You prepare hard, everybody worked hard, the players showed up and were ready emotionally and we did a poor job of coaching them."

If anything positive could be said about what UConn tried to accomplish on offense, at least they did not stand pat.

Bryant Shirreffs, who started the first 11 games of the season, was in uniform and did some throwing in drills before the game but it was Tim Boyle who got the start. Boyle and Garrett Anderson each saw time at quarterback as did star receiver Noel Thomas as he served as the QB when UConn used the wildcat formation.

"We were not going to do a QB run with Tim so what are you going to do?" Diaco said. "It could have been something that could have created production, we were just trying to create some production.

"We had two of our best players out, outside of Noel and Arkeel (Newsome), the starting quarterback and not having him and a great, great player in (injured tight end) Tommy Myers, he is a big loss. We needed to use a lot of different things to try to create some production and it didn't work."

Myers suffered a season-ending ankle injury in last week's win over Houston. When he was injured the Huskies used Anderson at fullback as well as running backs Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner. There was a new wrinkle when sophomore linebacker Luke Carrezola saw time at fullback and even caught a pass. But for all the wrinkles, it still came down to the fact that Temple dominated the Huskies up front.

"They didn't do anything special other than overpower us," Thomas said. "We need to make sure we are coming if we are fortunate to have a bowl game, make sure we are confident up front and execute the way we should."

On the injury front Diaco said that Shirreffs is "still day to day. he looks way better. He is cleared for activity. I fully anticipating him practicing this week."

Junior linebacker Matt Walsh was knocked out of the game with a lower body injury. Diaco did not have specific details

"His spirits are high," Diaco said. "They (UConn's medical staff) were encouraged. I don't want to speculate but they all seem encouraged/"

A few notes, coming into the game UConn was twice held to 129 yards of total offense since making the jump to the FBS level and it looked as if that mark would fall as the Huskies had 65 yards of offense heading into the fourth quarter before finishing with 138. UConn's nine rushing yards is the lowest total at the FBS level for the Huskies.

Andrew Adams tied for the team lead with eight tackles with fellow safety. That gives Adams exactly 250 tackles as he is the 23rd UConn player to reach that mark. Also, Thomas' five catches gives him 54. Since the 2005 season Thomas and Geremy Davis are the only Huskies with 50 catches in a season. Bobby Puyol's 45-yard field goal was his 15th this season which is tied for sixth in program history.

UConn now has to wait to see which bowl it will play in. The announcement is expected to come on Dec. 7 although between now and then reports will start to surface of teams accepting bids into specific bowl games.

For those wondering, here is the list of the players with at least 250 career tackles

Player                          Seasons   Tackles
John Dorsey                   80-83          495
Lawrence Wilson           07-10         449
Troy Ashley                   86-89         428
Maurice Lloyd               01-04         412
Mike Jansen                   84-87         394
Vernon Hargreaves        80-83         393
Alfred Fincher               01-04          357
Paul Duckworth            90-93          354
Dennis O'Connell          76-78          341
Yawin Smallwood         11-13          332
Paul Zenkert                  91-94          312
Brad Keatley                 94-97          311
Uyi Osunde                  99-03           292
Mark Michaels             82-85           290
Abbott Burrell              86-89           288
Terrance Smith             00-03           280
Sio Moore                     09-12           274
Rob Belucore                89-92           274
James Hargrave            02-05           271
Jamar Wilkins               97-00          270
Rich Fenton                  73-75          266
Lou Donato                   81-84          257
Andrew Adams             12-15          250

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sophomores coming on strong for UConn's defense

Foley Fatukasi is part of a talented group of sophomore defenders
I don't recall whether I wrote this or said it to the people silly enough to put me on their radio show but I can recall making the declaration that UConn's defense would only go as far as the talented sophomore class would take it.

Well, all the sophomores did in last week's victory over previously undefeated Houston was to combine for three sacks, an interception, fumble recovery and 14 total tackles in the 20-17 win over the Cougars.

Luke Carrezola had a pair of sacks, Foley Fatukasi had a sack and forced a fumble, Cameron Stapleton recovered a fumble and Jamar Summers came up with the game-clinching interception.

When I asked UConn coach Bob Diaco about it, he merely said it was a case of the seniors on the defense led by captains Julian Campenni, Andrew Adams and Marquise Vann putting them in the right spots and making the proper calls for them to make the key plays. Perhaps that is the case but some credit should be given to these playmakers.

Thankfully I got better responses from Carrezola, who has a team-leading six sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for loss this season and Campenni when I asked them about it after Tuesday's practice.

"That is what we have been doing all season," Carrezola said. "I think we have been growing. All of those guys have been playing fantastic. We all know it doesn't matter where you are on the depth chat, you only have one mission to beat and shut down whoever we play."

There are four sophomore starters on defense and two more listed as backups in the most recent two-deep chart. The number would be even bigger if not for Cole Ormsby suffering a season-ending injury forcing him to miss the last three games.
It is hard to overlook the fact that the sophomores are averaging about four more tackles in the last four games than in the first seven contests. Leading the way is Carrezola and Summers who have four sacks and four interceptions during the current three-game winning streak.

"They have been working real hard and it is nice seeing guys like that really perform because you know you are going to leave the program off in good hands," Campenni said. "I am glad they are exceeding expectations and we knew that was what they could do, we know that was their potential."

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UConn commit leads his team to historic state title

With UConn commit Quayvon Skanes running for four touchdowns and throwing for another as Phillips Academy High School became the first team from the Chicago Public League to win a football state title.

Phillips rolled to a 51-7 win over Althoff in the Illinois 4A title game to finish with a 14-0 record while outscoring its opponents 587-90.

Skanes had scoring runs of 41, 31, 3 and 36 yards as he finished with 149 yards on 13 carries.

Closer to home, the Connecticut playoffs begin on Tuesday with the quarterfinals. Jasen Rose's Southington team is the No. 3 seed in Class LL and will host No. 6 Conard while Keyion Dixon's Glastonbury squad is seeded fifth and will play at No. 4 Newtown. Both games are set for 6:30 p.m.

Seven teams took the field on Thursday or Friday with a chance to either become bowl eligible or put themselves in position to play next week to pick up the sixth win needed to reach bowl eligibility. If not for some costly turnovers by Tulane resulting in a Tulsa win those teams would have gone 1-6 as Buffalo, Missouri, Nebraska and San Jose State fell to 5-7 and Texas' record dropped to 4-7 with losses.

Tulsa posted a 47-34 win to improve to 6-6 and Washington did the same with a 45-10 win over Washington State.

If my math is correct that means 73 teams are bowl eligible. Seven more 5-6 teams (East Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Old Dominion and Virginia Tech) and two squads with 4-6 records and two games left (Kansas State and Louisiana Lafayette) are in action today.

There are 81 bowl slots available so unless every team mentioned above wins out which would be beyond improbable, it looks like teams with losing records will be get bowl invitations.

Another result of note to the AAC is Toledo's loss to Western Michigan which could result in the winner of the AAC championship game getting a bid to a New Year's Day bowl. Ironically, UConn could blow up those plans because if the Huskies upset Temple it would put unranked South Florida in the AAC championship game. If USF were to beat Houston it would be rather interesting to see which of the Group of Five teams gets that bid. If Temple wins tonight I would think the winner of the Houston/Temple game gets that prime bowl spot.


Friday, November 27, 2015

UConn's Carrezola fired up to be returning home

Something tells me that UConn linebacker Luke Carrezola would be rather exuberant at the prospects of playing a game in the middle of the Sahara desert miles from the nearly water supply or in the middle of a snow-covered patch of land in Alaska. However, the prospects of playing the final regular season game of his sophomore season on the home field of the team he grew up rooting for has Carrezola counting his blessings.

Carrezola joins fellow linebacker Junior Joseph and defensive lineman Julian Campenni as the Pennsylvania natives set to start on defense for UConn in tomorrow's game against Temple. However, Joseph grew up more than an hour from Philadelphia, Campenni more than two hours and starting tight end Alec Bloom about 4 1//2 hours away. That is not the case for Carrezola, whose hometown of Langhorne is less than 30 miles from Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles and site of tomorrow's UConn/Temple game.

"I grew up an Eagles fan and I always wanted to play at the Linc," Carrezola said. "It is an awesome feeling to be around my whole family. My high school teammates, they are all going to be there. I have been excited for this one all year and it is going to be awesome. I have cousins coming in, other family, teammates so probably around 50-60 (friends and family members coming to the game)."

Temple was actually the first team to offer Carrezola but once he headed up to a camp at UConn he was sold.

"I fell in love with everything up here, the facilities are awesome, the coaching staff is awesome and I definitely made the right choice for myself,' Carrezola said

Last year at this time the Huskies were limping their way to a 2-10 season and an injured Carrezola had to watch the second half of his freshman season from the sidelines.

"I am so blessed to be healthy," Carrezola said. "It is something that people take for granted, it just happens so fast. I am just so happy to be able to play with my teammates. I feel like I am in a lot better shape than I was back then."


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Solid ratings for UConn/Houston game

Just received some ratings info on the Houston game and not surprisingly, the top market for the game was Hartford/New Haven with a 3.3.

According to ESPN, the game averaged 373,000 viewers which is right on target with what 3:30 p.m. Saturday games draw on ESPNU as usually the number is somewhere between 300,000-600,000 with some give or take either way.

In case you didn't happen to check this out yesterday, I did some checking and the last time Connecticut natives had a 100-yard rushing and 100-yard receiving performance in the same game for UConn came in 1990 against Yale and Maine as Victor Taylor ran for 121 yards in each game and Alex Davis had 105 receiving yards against Yale and 121 in the Maine game. Why is this relevant? Well, Norwalk native Noel Thomas caught seven passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns while Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome ran for 114 yards in the win over Houston.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Loss of Myers a big blow for UConn; Coney impresses

It has been a relatively quiet year in the injury department for the Huskies. Obviously, offensive lineman Ryan Crozier being lost for season before camp even started was a major loss so was losing defensive end Cole Ormsby for the season. Now comes another big blow as sophomore tight end Tommy Myers suffered a season-ending ankle injury in last week's win over Houston.

UConn coach Bob Diaco confirmed during his weekly press conference that Myers would miss this week's game at Temple as well as the bowl game.

"It will require that amount of time that he won't be able to play this weekend or be ready for a bowl game but shortly after that he will be full speed. I'd be shocked if he is not fully participating in winter conditioning."

Myers importance to the offense is deeper than his 16 receptions or 232 receiving yards would indicate. Myers delivered key blocks on many of Arkeel Newsome's most explosive runs and he could be missed more as a blocker than as a receiver.

"It is going to be committee kind of how it looked (when Myers was injured in the first quarter throwing a block on a Newsome run)," Diaco said. "There is not any other way to do it right now. The F position has been a conversation all year. Tommy, bless his heart, was fantastic. In terms of jobs, that is a huge loss because of what he did. It was a shock to everybody that he would continue to be able to do this more, more and more. He did the jobs of so many people and now we are going to have all hands on deck. Select a tool when you need a tool."

On the depth chart true freshman Chris Lee was listed as a starter followed by classmate Zordan Holman. Diaco made it clear it was not simply going to be a case of plugging Lee in at Myers' position.

"He is a big skill athlete but he does a lot of power jobs, that in-line tight end looks a whole lot like a power player and it is very hard for a true freshman to be in that role as a power player," Diaco said. "We can get him involved at some moments but not all of the moments and he is still going to need a little bit of protection."

Myers' teammates will miss having him out on the field.

"He is very good at both blocking and catching passes," UConn junior receiver Noel Thomas said. "His strength is the biggest thing we are going to miss. Chris Lee is going to do a good job."

Diaco said quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, knocked out of the Houston game after a helmet to helmet hit, is day to day.

"He was feeling much better on Sunday than he was Saturday night and better on Monday than he was on Sunday," Diaco said. "He'll be out with the offense today but the amount of exertion is to be determined but I would expect him to be very minimal (in practice) today."

While Diaco wouldn't say it, my opinion is that it will be the Tim Boyle show on Saturday but time will tell.

Finally, Diaco wasn't optimistic about having receiver/punt returner Brian Lemelle on Saturday.

"I always hope to have him back because he is doing such a good job for us," Diaco said. "I think that is going to be a stretch. We are still working day to day. We would never even come close to putting somebody in harm's way for any reason at all. Although he might be cleared to do more, if he really can't function and perform at a high level to give himself great success, we would never ask him to do the jobs."

Some walk-ons can play four years without putting themselves in position to see snaps during the games. Well, former Naugatuck High receiver Bryan Coney is clearly not your average walk-on.

I've noticed that he's been getting second-team reps in practice and when Diaco mentioned the young receivers stepping up and maturing, Coney's name came up right after scholarship receivers Tyraiq Beals, Hergy Mayala, Aaron McLean and Frank Battle.

"He is a walk-on player here, he was one of the most prolific players in the state," Diaco said. "He has had a tremendous year, made an impact on the team, he is on the "look" team because he is a redshirted player. He will be a player next year who if continues to develop the way he has been developing, he will have some role for sure whether it is on the four running teams, he will play a role on the team next year. A big, tough, smart guy who loves playing football."

Thomas is also very impressed by what he has seen from Coney.

"He is always eager to learn. from when camp started until now, he has definitely gotten better and he helps the defense out a lot on the "look" team so I could definitely see him having a role," Thomas said

"No matter what he always has a smile on his face, he stays positive and encouraging and he will make plays."


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Former UConn captain goes for Grey Cup title

Alex Mateas has been on a pretty nice run since playing his final game for UConn in 2014.

The former team captain was the first overall pick in the CFL Draft by Ottawa and now the RedBlacks will be playing for the Canadian Football League title after a 35-28 win over Hamilton in the East Conference final earlier today.

The game was tied at 28 before Greg Ellingson's 93-yard touchdown reception on a 2nd and 25 play with less than two minutes remaining provided the winning points.

It's been a remarkable turnaround season for Ottawa which was 2-16 during the 2014 season but posted a 12-6 regular-season record.

Ottawa will play Edmonton in the Grey Cup final on Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

Mateas is also drawing plenty of kudos on social media as he gave away tickets to today's playoff game to veteran Craig Searle.

Thx @AlexMateas @REDBLACKS @OSEG_Media @REDBLACKSCheer @LumberJoes awesome tix for a vet, thnx so much for kindness

UConn commit Quayvon Skanes ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns and his only pass went for a 6-yard touchdown to lead Phillips Academy High School to a 47-13 win over previously undefeated Marengo in the Illinois 4A semifinals on Saturday.

Skanes, who did not play in the second half with Phillips leading 47-7, had scoring runs of 64, 49, 24 and 22 yards as Phillips improved to 13-0. Next up is the state title game on Friday against Belleville Althoff.
Ottawa will play the Edmonton/Calgary winner in the Grey Cup final on Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.


Looking back at a magical day in UConn football history

This is just my fourth season handling the primary coverage of the UConn football team so I don't have the same historical perspective as others who cover the Huskies but I think you would be hard pressed to find a scene anywhere close to what happened as the final seconds ticked off the Rentschler Field scoreboard yesterday since the Huskies began playing their home games in East Hartford.

The players gathered at the center of field, letting all the emotions pour out. Speaking of pouring out, fans kept coming onto the field in waves joining the celebration after the 20-17 victory over No. 13 Houston. Wins have been hard to come by for the Huskies in recent years and this one had to taste extra sweet especially to the seniors.

"Just to see the UConn fans storm the field, it was a great feeling overall to beat a ranked opponent, to see the love that the fans provided for us," UConn senior safety Andrew Adams said. "They were loud throughout the whole game, in the end when we took it and they stormed the field it was an unbelievable sight, that is a sight that I will never forget.

"It kind of sunk in but once I go home, lay down  and it will really sink in. Once I wake up tomorrow, it will really hit me."

After leaving the field and addressing the team, a beaming Bob Diaco made his way into the press conference. The first thing he did was mention that this had to be a special moment with his wife among those in the room and then he was quick to note to appearance of UConn president Susan Herbst as well.

Diaco believes that the win could be "a catalyst" to what he is trying to build but he was also quick to stay in the moment and who could blame him because what a moment it was after the Huskies posted their third win over a ranked opponent since making the transition to the FBS level and became bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

"It was so great," Diaco said. "I was a little claustrophobic. I am not a big crowd type of guy but it was good. They were trying to mess my hair up."

The natural follow-up question was whether the fans were successful in that endeavor.

"It refuses to go any other way, I just whistle and it goes right back."

If Diaco was ecstatic, imagine what AD Warde Manuel was feeling. He was the one who pulled the plug on the Paul Pasqualoni era after an embarrassing loss at Buffalo (where Manuel used to work) dropped the Huskies to 0-4 at the start of the 2013 season. A national search resulted in Manuel bringing in the highly-touted former Notre Dame defensive coordinator to turn things around.

After a 2-10 season, it was clear Diaco had plenty of work to be done. Even this year when the Huskies dropped back to back games to USF and Cincinnati to fall to 3-5, the prospects of playing in  a bowl game seemed bleak. That is what made what took place yesterday all the more special to the players, coaches and administrators.
"I am happy for this team and happy for our coaches and all of our fans," Manuel said. "Part of it is to go through the process, work through it and believing as Bob said in the process and having belief in it."

Before the game the seniors were honored as they played their final game at Rentschler Field. Team leaders like Adams, Julian Campenni, Marquise Vann, Graham Stewart, Max DeLorenzo, Kenton Adeyemi and Tyler Samra walked away with a home finale none of them will ever forget.

"They have been through so much, I don't know how many head coaches, even a stadium name change I can't explain how much they have been through," said UConn sophomore linebacker Luke Carrezola, who had two sacks. "They had done such a good job and I am happy to be a part of it."

Manuel made sure to seek out the seniors before and after the game.
"I spoke to them before the game that I was proud of them and that they have one, two or three more games depending on how they played tonight to finish this off and after the game I reiterated that, they have been through a lot of changes, to transition and lead the way the seniors have done, I can't be more happy for them."

He was also happy for Diaco.

"You believe in what people are presenting and what they are telling you and the one thing about Bob is he hasn't changed in his plan and his thoughts about how to get there," Manuel said. "He has adjusted but we all need to adjust in life. He had a plan, he had a vision of what this team could accomplish and working with him has been a pleasure and a pleasure to watch he and is coaches and the student-athletes work the way they have."

Now for some notes off the game.

This is the third time since the start of the 2009 season that UConn didn't allow a sack or commit a turnover. The other two came in a 45-10 win over Memphis in the 2013 finale and in a 29-27 win over South Florida in the 2009 regular-season finale.

With seven tackles Adams moved by three players including current Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and into 23rd place on UConn's career tackles list. He needs eight more to become the 23rd UConn player with 250 career tackles and the eighth to do it since UConn's move to the FBS level.

Arkeel Newsome surpassed the 1,500-yard mark in all-purpose yards. The only other players to do it since UConn moved to FBS are Jordan Todman in 2009 and 2010 and Donald Brown in 2008.

Player                       Year   Rush Rec PR KO Total
Donald Brown          2008    2083 125     0    0   2208
Jordan Todman         2009  1188 185      0  506  1879
Jordan Todman         2010  1695 94        0   55  1844
Arkeel Newsome      2015   759  426      0  376  1561
Terry Caulley            2002  1247 205     0     0   1452
Cornell Brockington 2004  1218 231      0     0   1449

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Emotional sendoff for UConn's seniors

A year ago when the seniors on the UConn football walked off the field they did so after one of the more disappointing losses in program history following a defeat to a previously winless SMU squad,

It's safe to say that things have changed just a little bit in the last 12 months.

A spirited performance resulted in a 20-17 win over No. 13 and previously undefeated Houston team as the Huskies became bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

The victory wasn't secured until sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers cradled a pass from Houston quarterback Greg Ward in the final minute, their dreams came true with a 20-17 victory over No. 13 Houston before a crowd of 26,879 at Rentschler Field on Saturday. The win enabled UConn to become bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season and allow the seniors to leave victorious in their home finale.

"Once I saw Jamar catch the pick, I said 'game over,'" UConn senior safety Andrew Adams said. "I saw the No. 2 receiver running down the field kind of open so I kind of leaned towards him, they threw it the other way. I look over and I see Jamar catch the ball I said 'thank you, thank you.'
"We wanted to win the game on defense, that is what we strive for, that is what we practice for. It is a challenge but we stepped to the plate."
Whether it was a game against Michigan in 2013, losses to Boise State and East Carolina a season ago or a near upset on the road against Missouri earlier this season, the Huskies simply couldn't seal the deal.
Perhaps some of those in the stands or watching at home cringed expecting the worst when Brandon Wilson's 94-yard kickoff return pulled the Cougars within three points with 9:36 to play.

Physical runs by Arkeel Newsome (114 rushing yards) and Ron Johnson allowed the Huskies to pick up a couple of first downs and take some time off the clock. But Houston, which came into the game average 511 yards and 43.5 points per game, would still get two more chance to steal away a victory to keep their dreams of an undefeated season alive.
An 18-yard pass from Ward, who came in for an injured Kyle Postma, to Demarcus Ayers had the Cougars about 30-35 yards away from being able to attempt a game-tying field goal. On the next play Ward, who is in the midst of a spectacular season but is hobbled by an ankle injury which knocked him out of last week's win over Memphis, underthrew a pass that Summer was able to pick off.
What followed was one of biggest outpouring of emotion at the end of a UConn football game.
"You immediately go to what makes a special moment, Senior Day is a special day but it is very forgettable if you don't win so to have Senior Day with their families and with that win, I know that is going to be a catalyst to so much success in the future," UConn coach Bob Diaco said.
"On just a DNA level, you get the feeling of accomplishment in that you made a great investment and with that great investment you get a a great return. You want to put more in to get more to get that feeling of return."
Diaco joked that he drew his players a sketch of the bowl game he would like to be a part in and let's just say that sun-drenched South Florida is his preferred destination.
"We can smell the salt in the air at bowl eligibility so 'Warde (Manuel, UConn's director of athletics), here we go, let's call all of your bodies and to the beach. We will pack our bathing suits and here we go."

There were so many stars in the game.

Newsome had 158 all-purpose yards as he joins Jordan Todman and Donald Brown as the only Huskies with 1,500 all-purpose yards in a season during UConn's time at the FBS level. Noel Thomas caught seven passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Tim Boyle came on in relief of an injured Bryant Shirreffs and did not turn the ball over while fellow quarterback turned fullback Garrett Anderson threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Thomas. Defensively, sophomores Luke Carrezola and Foley Fatukasi combined for three sacks. Classmates Junior Joseph and Cam Stapleton recovered fumbles while Adams had an interception. Also, punter Justin Wain had six of his nine punts inside the 20 while Bobby Puyol had a strong day on kickoffs and had a pair of field goals.

After the final whistle fans began pouring onto the field and the players welcomed the company as they jumped up and down celebrating the first win over a ranked team at home in eight years.
"We are in the history books now. Since I stepped foot on campus we haven't been to a bowl game, now we have," Adams said. "It is great to make history, see our team be happy, have fun and have success. As a leader of this team and it is a great feeling all around."
It was a costly win as Diaco believes the foot or ankle injury suffered by starting tight end Tommy Myers will end his season. Shirreffs was also knocked out of the game after taking a helmet to helmet shot from Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts, the leading tackler in the American Athletic Conference. Roberts was ejected for the hit which was ruled as targeting. Diaco believes Shirreffs will be OK.

UConn ready to rise to the occasion?

UConn's poor track record against ranked teams has been well documented. However, recent history has also shown that the Huskies do have an ability to play up to the level of competition.

Andrew Adams, Junior Lee, Max DeLorenzo, Marquise Vann, Tyler Samra and Julian Campenni all saw time when UConn went on the road to face No. 21 Rutgers and only trailed 6-3 at halftime. Despite holding the Scarlet Knights to 280 yards of offense, the Huskies lost 19-3 as their offense turned the ball over five times.

About a month and a half later the Huskies traveled to play No. 19 Louisville and came away with an improbable 23-20 overtime victory. Campenni had a sack in the game, Lee had a couple of tackles and DeLorenzo carried the ball twice.

The following year mighty Michigan came to Rentschler Field and considering that the Huskies opened the season with a 15-point home loss to FCS Towson, not much was expected. The Huskies led 21-7 in the second half and held a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter before suffering a 24-21 defeat.

In UConn's lone game against a ranked opponent last season came on the road against No. 18 East Carolina. The game was tied midway through the fourth quarter but the Pirates scored on its final two possessions to record a 31-21 victory. Earlier in the season the Huskies also threw a scare in a very good Boise State squad as the Huskies only trailed 24-21 entering the fourth quarter. However, as was the case in the Rutgers, Michigan and East Carolina games, ineffective offense finally caught up to the Huskies in the fourth quarter as a defensive touchdown and another TD set up by an interception enabled Boise to win the contest 38-21.

Now comes the biggest test of all when undefeated and No. 13 Houston comes to town.

"This group loves to play football, we love challenges and everybody competes so I think we play up to our competition and we are going to prove we can play against anybody in the country," UConn senior safety Andrew Adams said.

The game will be the final home contest for UConn's seniors. There are 13 seniors on the UConn roster but fullback Jazzmar Clax and receiver Tony Tully (listed as juniors on the roster) are included on the cover of the game program as the seniors on the team.

The live blog for the UConn/Houston game is now up and running. Feel free to check it out

Friday, November 20, 2015

Plenty on the line in UConn's home finale

Julian Campenni set to make his 36th career start and final one at home
The last couple of seasons the final home game gave the underclassmen a chance to try to send the seniors out the right way but there wasn't much else on the line.

Both in 2013 and 2014 the Huskies entered the home finale (which doubled as a season finale) with a 2-9 record. In 2013 the Huskies destroyed Memphis before falling to previously winless SMU in the final game of 2014. Other than those wishing to pile on after last year's loss, neither game created much of a stir nationally. That will not be the case tomorrow with an undefeated Houston team which is ranked 13th and has a chance to play in a New Year's Day bowl game coming to town.

For the 13 seniors, there has to be plenty of emotions circling around them this week but they are doing their best to focusing on toppling the Cougars and making them bowl eligible.

"There is a lot of hype to this game but we are not going to let the game be bigger than it really is," Adams said. "I just keep my eye on the ball, just stay focused, stay grounded and basically just stay focused on doing my job, all this stuff is great but I am just focused on playing well."

Julian Campenni, set to make his team-best 36th career start, is taking a similar approach to his final game at Rentschler Field.

"All the other stuff is great but it comes down to we have four quarters to go out there and play the 13th-ranked team in the country so that is what I am excited about and that is what I am really looking forward to," Campenni said.

"It is really exciting. It is an accumulation of five years of work so to have an opportunity to play a great team this week on senior day, I guess you could say that it is a storybook ending.

"It is what you come to a school like this to do, you want to play great teams and you want to play them at home so any chance we get to play at The Rent against a great team it just adds extra excitement."

It won't just be the seniors who are excited, not with a chance to attain bowl eligibility and send out the seniors with a program-defining victory.

"They are doing a great job leading the team, it is not only the captains but everybody who is in that position to be a leader," UConn junior receiver Noel Thomas said. "I think they are great guys and it is important to send them off in the right way.

"We take pride in them and we play hard for these guys and we expect the same from them."

While the focus naturally is on what the Huskies are trying to accomplish tomorrow, I figured I would pass on links to a couple of stories of interest on UConn commits Ryan Gilmartin and one on Quayvon Skanes as well.

Also, UConn commit Jay Rose's Southington team faces Cheshire on Thanksgiving. It is one of the games CPTV Sports is considering televising although currently that game is in second place behind Shelton/Derby with today the last day to vote.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lee hoping for special home finale at UConn

Other than two-time captain Marquise Vann there might not be a more vocal member of UConn's senior class than reserve safety and special-teams dynamo Junior Lee.

So with the Huskies preparing for Saturday's huge showdown with undefeated Houston in a game that doubles as the final home game for the seniors, I felt it was a perfect time to catch up with Lee at practice a couple days ago and I don't regret that decision one bit as he set the scene better than I ever could have.

"You can't ask for anything better, since we have been here for five years we want to end it off great with a win against a top 15 team and also go to a bowl game so that is what we have been thinking of," Lee said.

"We are going to take it all in, Husky Walk, walking into the locker room, touching that Husky head, remembering what it is like as freshmen coming in, We will be remembering this moment that we are going to have leaving. It is going to be most memorable ever coming in against a top 15 team in the nation, that is something you want to end your senior season with, something you want to come up with a win and go to a bowl game. It is definitely something we are looking at."

Lee opened some eyes as a special teams performer in his first two seasons but the arrival of head coach Bob Diaco and defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter has paved the way for Lee to make an impact on defense as well. Poindexter's defense utilizes the backups on a regular basis so while Lee hasn't seen as many snaps as starting safeties Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu, he is certainly out there quite a bit on a week to week basis. Lee had a career-high 22 tackles last season and is at 17 stops this year.

"I feel great about the role, they ask us to do a while bunch of things, they put me in a position where I can succeed at whatever they ask me to do," Lee said. "I feel a lot more (comfortable) within the defense, some of the things I do I feel like I am very much capable of doing them. I have become a lot smarter watching film, reading concepts and things like that so they put me in a position where I learned more and got a better experience out of it.

"Special teams is something people always overlook, I went out there made plays left and right and coaches starting noticing that we need to put him in more so that really raised my participation up."

Lee is a leader on the kickoff and punt coverage teams

Houston ranks in the top 30 in both kickoff and punt returns with a touchdown on both a kickoff and punt return so UConn's coverage units that rank 30th on kickoff returns and ninth on punt returns will be tested.

"We are very aggressive on the coverage teams,  we have been able to run down there, hit people back and make a lot of tackles on the 20 yard line, 10 year line on kickoffs," Lee said. "On punt coverage nobody has been able to get punt returns on us and that is something we have been grateful for as well. Houston, they have been getting a lot of returns and they have great returners back there so we are going to have to continue to do that to stop that (against) Houston."

Lee and Brice McAllister are among the most consistent playmakers on special teams and Lee said there is nothing quite like the feeling that comes with a huge hit while covering a kickoff or punt return.

"You have a home game on opening kickoff, you go out there lay this dude out, helmet going off, that rolls everything into play even the offense, the quarterback feels, everybody gets the electricity out on the first hit," Lee said. "You go out on the opening kickoff and you want to make a statement, that is how you make a statement."

Lee was one of 16 players to sign with the Huskies back in February of 2011, seven have moved on while Deshon Foxx played as a true freshman and his four-year run ended a season ago leaving just eight of the 2011 signees with the program.

"This is where you distribute the boys from men," Lee said, "You get a whole bunch of guys here especially my freshman year when I was recruited by Edsall and it came to a point where we were going through a period where we were running through coaches You find out the boys from men, who quit on us and who is staying there fight through the storm, staying with the team. I was one of those guys as well as the seniors who are here with me now, they are very proud of being UConn Huskies and staying UConn Huskies through the mud and through everything we have been through.

"We have always been close. Me and Julian (Campenni, UConn's senior defensive lineman and team captain) have been roommates since freshman year, we have stayed roommates, always hung out with each other wherever we have went and that is how all of our senior class has been. We have always been close together, we always looked at each other as brothers, when we first came in we saw each other as teammates now we see each others as brothers and family that we will always remember and keep in contact with each other."

When adding in Graham Stewart, who played at Florida as a freshman, Tyler Samra (who played as a true freshman in 2012) and three either walk-ons or former walk-ons, there will be 13 seniors suiting up for the final time on Saturday.

UConn is being creative in an attempt to pack Rentschler Field for Saturday's game (3:30 p.m., ESPNU) including offering $15 tickets to people with ticket stubs from Saturday's men's basketball game against Furman. When I asked on Tuesday, the ticket sale number was in the 23,000-24,000 range.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Plenty of UConn commits in playoff action this weekend

Just in the case the prospects of what I would consider one of the most anticipate UConn games in recent memory coming up on Saturday isn't enough to get people fired up, future Huskies will be on the display in their championship quests.

Let's start with the two playing in NEPSAC bowl games.

Tahj Herring's Suffield Academy squad plays at Lawrence Academy in the Wayne Sanborn Super Bowl for the NEPSAC title on Saturday at 1 p.m. It will be the eighth straight year Suffield Academy is playing in the NEPSAC championship game as the Tigers are going for their seventh times over the past eight seasons. Herring has 28 tackles, two interceptions while adding 108 yards on eight carries and 75 yards on five receptions. In last week's win over Loomis Chaffee Herring ran three times for 67 yards.

Nino Leone's Pingree School team, which has averaged 45.8 points in a recent six-game winning streak, will play St. George's School in the Kevin Fleming Bowl in Middletown, R.I.  on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Three other commits will be playing in state playoff games.

Eddie Hahn's Red Bank Catholic team will be meeting No. 1 seed St. John-Vianney in the semifinals of the New Jersey Non-Public Group 3 playoffs on Friday at 7 p.m.

Quayvon Skanes' undefeated Phillips Academy High School will meet undefeated Marengo in the Illinois 4A semifinals on Saturday at 4 p.m. (5 p.m. here in Connecticut).

Donovan Williams' Hylton High team will play Dale in the second round of the Virginia Group 6 playoffs on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Week off served UConn players well

UConn coach Bob Diaco addressed the impact of the team's first bye week after playing 10 straight weeks as well as being one win away from becoming bowl eligible on the weekly American Athletic Conference coaches' call.

"(The players took) advantage of some much-needed rest after 10 weeks, excluding camp, 10 weeks of real battles," Diaco said. "The guys were beat up and taxed pretty good so it was a great week for them to spend a little time on football but mostly just relax and be students for a week. I am sure they all enjoyed that and it was good getting back together, we reconvened for the final push. A lot of energy and excitement for guys who like being together, we like practicing and preparing so full steam ahead.

"The players at all positions, especially the ones who participate in the games, there is no moment where you get to catch up. As one thing starts to hurt, you can then start to compensate for that and something else starts to hurt. Your neck hurts so you are not moving a particular way and then your back starts to hurt, no different than a carpenter, electrician or somebody who is working each day and has an ailment. Your elbow or wrist hurts so you start to hit a different way and your shoulder starts to hurt. That all starts to compound on you especially if you are at a highly physical position but we got a rest and we are feeling better.

"It is very exciting for the team and they see it as a way that is positive and we take those opportunities to prepare us for the final push."

UConn announced that anybody who shows a ticket stub from Saturday's men's basketball game against Furman can buy a ticket for the football game for $15.

The Pratt & Whitney Box Office opens at 12:30 p.m. and is located at Gate B while tickets for the football game can also be purchased at the Gampel Pavilion ticket office which opens at 10:30 a.m..

UConn's regular-season finale at Temple on Nov. 28 will be a 7 p.m. kickoff and will air on ESPNU.

The last time UConn played at Temple the Huskies entered the game with an 0-9 record and came away with a 28-21 victory.

Will Houston QB Greg Ward play against UConn? Too early to tell

Houston coach Tom Herman was asked about the comeback win over Memphis and incredible home-field atmosphere on the weekly American Athletic Conference call. Then came the questions about dynamic quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and his availability for Saturday's game at UConn.

Ward has completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,176 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for 810 yards and 16 TDs. However, Ward was knocked out of the Memphis game with an ankle injury and he is questionable for this week's contest.

"I think we will know more after a full day of treatment, we give our kids a day off on Monday with any physical activities," Herman said. "Today, other than going to class, his job is to go and get treatment on his ankle. We'll know a lot more going into practice tomorrow. I doubt he'll 100 percent but how effective can he be with his feet, it will probably be a game-time decision because you want him to be effective with it because that is such a big part of his game and what allows him to be
successful. We have to make sure is 90 percent good enough? Is 80 percent good enough? We have a whole week, we have a great training staff so hopefully we will know a lot more by the end of the week.

Kyle Postma, who was recruited as a quarterback but moved to receiver shortly before the season opener, came in and helped the Cougars rally from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to remain undefeated with a 35-34 victory.

Postma was 21 of 33 passing for 236 yards and a touchdown and ran for 49 yards and the 7-yard TD to put the Cougars up 35-34 with 1:27 to play.

"Kyle had a couple months of preparation at the quarterback position," Herman said. "First month of the season he was playing wide receiver. He has done a great job. He played most of camp at quarterback and we were so thin at wideout at least from not necessarily a numbers but from a
productivity we were not improving at receiving at the rate we needed to. Literally the week before the Tennessee Tech game, I should have made the decision a lot sooner, but we said Kyle go play wideout. He went out and had (four catches for 82 yards and a TD)."

I've also been seeing reports out of Houston that star cornerback William Jackson, who Herman believes could be a first or second-round pick in the NFL draft, is expected to play on Saturday after missing the Memphis game with a knee issue.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Monster game for UConn commit

When Donovan Williams' Hylton High School team faced Forest Park in the regular-season finale it almost didn't seem to matter what the UConn commit was asked to do since Hylton was rolling to a 42-0 victory.

Things were much more competitive when the teams played in Virginia Class 6 A playoffs last night.

Forest Park was within seven points early in the fourth quarter before Williams threw a 20-yard touchdown pass as Hylton emerged with a 28-14 victory.

Williams was 5 of 16 passing for 97 yards and the one touchdown but he did most of his damage with his legs as he ran 27 times for 242 yards including TD runs of 19, 3 and 54 yards.

Hylton will play Dale, a 26-0 winner over Woodbridge, in the next playoff game on Friday

Friday, November 13, 2015

Three UConn commits in playoff action this week

While it is a bye week for the UConn football team, three future Huskies be taking part in state playoffs this weekend.

Eddie Hahn's Red Bank Catholic squad is the No. 5 seed in New Jersey's Non-Public Group 3 bracket and will play at No. 4 seed Pope John XXIII on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the opening round.
Hahn has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,531 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions while running for 409 yards and four TDs.

Quayvon Skanes' Phillips High team has already won two games in the Illinois Class 4 playoffs and will play Geneseo on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Finding statistics for Skanes even on a game by game basis has been a bit of a struggle but the Chicago Sun-Times did have Skanes on its player of the year watch list and heading into last week's playoff win over Johnsburg Skanes has run for 908 yards and 15 touchdowns, has thrown nine touchdowns and caught a pair of TD passes.

Donovan Williams' Hylton High team will host Forest Park tonight at 7 in the first round of Virginia's Group 6A playoffs. Hylton ended the regular season with a 52-0 win over Forest Park.
Williams has completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,247 yards with 17 touchdown passes and only one interception. He also had 545 rushing yards with six touchdowns.

You'll have to subscribe but both the Phillips and Hylton games are being live streamed on the NFHS site. This is the link to the Phillips/Geneseo game and for the Hylton/Forest Park contest.

Also, Nino Leone and Tahj Herring will play the final home regular-season games for Pingree and Suffield Academy respectively as Pingree hosts Dexter on Saturday at noon and Suffield Academy plays Loomis Chaffee on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. This weekend is also the final regular-season home games for Keyion Dixon of Glastonbury as Glastonbury hosts Simsbury tonight at 6:30.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bye week came at ideal time for UConn

What a difference a year can make.

Last year I can remember asking Bob Diaco and some of the players about the wacky October schedule when a couple of bye weeks resulted in the Huskies only playing two games in the month.

Fast forward to 2015 and UConn played five games in October and the first bye week of the season is this week.

It is clear that Diaco is planning to get some work done but more than anything, he wants to use this week to allow his players some extra time to heal up after playing 10 consecutive weeks.

"Bye weeks are important whatever time they come," senior defensive end Kenton Adeyemi said. "It is important how you handle them and manage yourself going forward. We have been going for 10/11 weeks straight. Basically, we are focusing on trying to get better as a team, working on the little things, correct whatever we can so we are ready fro Houston next week."

UConn doesn't have a ton of missing players due to injury although both running back Ron Johnson and receiver Brian Lemelle were in uniform at yesterday's practice which is not something I could say was the case a week earlier.
"We have been going since the first day of camp and 10 weeks straight in the season, we are a little sore and banged up so it really helps get our minds right, our bodies right and come Sunday we are going to full go getting ready for Houston," senior running back Max DeLorenzo said.

One of the things I noticed when watching last week's Tulane game is that the Huskies came out with tight ends Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers, DeLorenzo at fullback, Arkeel Newsome at tailback and Noel Thomas as the lone receiver. There wasn't much mystery concerning UConn's intentions on offense.

"He (UConn offensive coordinator Frank Verducci) said we were going to do that," DeLorenzo said. "He felt like we were bigger and more physical than them. We did that against ECU as well, if we can establish our will and keep moving the chains we are going to do that. That is in our DNA, we like to be a downhill run team and shot passes and that set the tempo for us.

"We knew our defense wasn't going to give up anything which they didn't, they were spectacular as always and in that environment, weather, points are very hard to come by especially with a field-goal block and nobody got in the end zone except our defense. We were protecting the ball, moving the chains, grinding the clock down and finding a way to win."

The numbers might not jump out at anybody but after not having a drive longer than 26 yards in the first half, the second drive of the third quarter the Huskies drove 64 yards on 10 plays with some hard runs by Newsome and quarterback Bryant Shirreffs with a few passes to Newsome or the tight ends mixed in. UConn set up a pass from Shirreffs to Bloom on 3rd and 1 at the Tulane 16 that likely would have resulted in a touchdown if Bloom could have made the catch. On the next play Bobby Puyol's field goal was blocked. There were some costly penalties or negative yardage plays which blew up the remaining drives but there was running room for the Huskies. While there is plenty of work to be done in this department, the fact that UConn was willing to put it out there that they planned on relying on some old fashioned smash mouth football could be a sign of things to come.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Youngsters steal the show at UConn practice

After 10 straight games weeks following a grueling preseason camp, the members of the UConn football have a week with no game to play and seven days to get their minds right while allowing their bodies to heal.

So on Tuesday afternoon when the Huskies hit the practice field, the members of the first and second team offensive and defensive units only went about a hour which is half as long as a normal Tuesday practice. Then they were instructed to take off their helmets and shoulder pads even though practice had no yet reached its conclusion.

Then lined up on the sidelines inside the Shenkman Training Center and prepared to watch their understudies take the field.

Whether it was former Shelton High running back Jason Thompson shaking off a wicked hit, Aaron Garland coming up with an interception and breaking a few tackles during the return, Nazir Williams and Marshe' Terry unleashing hellacious hits or Connor Freeborn returning a fumble for a touchdown on the final play of the scrimmage, there was plenty of action. Nobody was enjoying it more than some of the Huskies' veterans. Senior safety Andrew Adams was especially exuberant in expressing his glee at each and every play from one of the defensive players.

It was a stroke of brilliance by head coach Bob Diaco to give the players set to see the field when UConn hosts Houston on Nov. 21 a chance to rest their bodies with a shorter practice while allowing for the team to bond watching the players who have spent nearly every practice working with the scout or look team.

"It gives the young guys get a chance to get out there and scrimmage which they haven't really for a while," UConn senior running back Max DeLorenzo said. "It is good to see those guys making plays, getting a little aggressive with each other. It was really good to see especially JT - Jason Thompson - at running back, he is really talented and he might not get the opportunity up here with us and he shows that every time he scrimmages.

"We can catch our breath on a bye week, talk a little trash with the defensive players, they talk a little trash to us and it is great. We love, they definitely love it."

During a normal practice full contact is frowned upon. The games are taxing enough on the bodies of the starters without taking unnecessary punishment during practice. There were no such restrictions when the third and fourth team players literally went head to head with plenty of pads popping.

"You always spend so much time practicing especially at this time of the year, they are trying to give a defensive look to the defense and you don't get to show what you can do as a player as much," UConn senior defensive end Kenton Adeyemi said. "Now they go out there and they have a lot of fun playing football which is what we all love to do.

"It is always fun watching the young kids. Obviously I try to get the defensive boys going so it is always fun watching them get better. We kind of talk them up before the game, let's see what you can do so they come out all fired up ready to go and we enjoy watching them."

Former UConn defensive back Darius Butler is up for the NFL's Clutch Performer of Week 9 thanks to his interception of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning after the Indianapolis Colts took a 27-24 lead to allow the Colts to hand the Denver Broncos their first loss of the season.

It was Butler's first interception since he picked off two passes in a 25-3 win over Houston on Dec. 15, 2013 and the 12th interception of his career.

Butler is up against two quarterbacks who threw game-winning touchdowns in overtime, standout receiver Antonio Brown and Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis for the weekly award.

Monday, November 09, 2015

UConn's Summers named AAC Defensive Player of the Week

Sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers, coming off a game when he returned an interception 67 yards for the only touchdown in UConn's win over Tulane, has been named the American Athletic Conference's Defensive Player of the Week.

Summers has six interceptions in the last seven game as the Huskies are tied for third among FBS teams with 15 interceptions, the most since picking off 18 passes during the 2011 season.

Since I was up at UConn yesterday, I borrowed the 2001 media guide that has all of UConn's box scores dating back to the 1978 season and I could not find another game where the Huskies won without scoring an offensive touchdown. UConn sports information director Mike Enright did some checking and said that on Nov. 2, 1935 UConn beat Coast Guard 7-0 with the lone touchdown coming on a punt return (sure there were some great tweets on that day when a player with the last name of Owens broke free for a touchdown).

On the weekly AAC conference call head coach Bob Diaco said that the bye week (the first of the season) came at the perfect time and the main priority will be using the week to allow the players to get healthy.

The 140 yards UConn gave up to Tulane was the fewest amount of total offense surrendered in an FBS game last week and fewest allowed by the Huskies since the 2012 season opener against UMass.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Defense saves the day for UConn

Coming into the season I felt (and perhaps I even wrote it but can't remember back that far) that if UConn headed into the regular season finale against Temple with a chance to become bowl eligible that I'm not sure too many UConn fans could complain about how the season transpired.

Well, UConn will either already be bowl eligible if the Huskies beat undefeated Houston on Nov. 21 or need to beat Temple to get there. There are certainly easier opponents to face back to back with a potential bowl spot on the line but considering where this program has been, this certainly is progress.

I did not cover yesterday's game but did some number crunching after Jamar Summers' interception return for a touchdown followed by Bobby Puyol's extra point provided all the Huskies' points.

According to my research, it is the fifth time this season that an FBS team won a game without scoring an offensive touchdown but the only time that the only points for the winning team came on a defensive score.

SEPTEMBER 4Utah State 12, S. Utah 9 (PR TD, defensive PAT, FG)
Duke 9, Boston College 7 (3 FGs)
Wake Forest 3, Boston College 0 (1 FG)
Georgia 9, Missouri 6 (no TDs in game)

I won't make any promises but I may try to research the last time an FBS team won a game without getting any points from the offense. Normally I would have done that today but I have a women's basketball preseason game to cover so that research will have to wait.

A couple of statistical notes from yesterday's game

With two catches against Tulane, Arkeel Newsome has the most catches in a season for a UConn running back since the Huskies made the jump to the FBS level. Cornell Brockington caught 34 passes during the 2004 season and Newsome came into the Tulane game with 34 catches. Newsome already set the mark for receiving yards as he is at 417 and counting. Andre Dixon's 280 receiving yards were the most for a UConn back (again during the FBS era) and that took place in 2007.

Only six players (Lenny King, Mark Chapman, Matt Latham, Darrell Wilson, Robert Vaughn and Rich Fenton) have more interceptions in a season than the six by Summers.

Bryant Shirreffs now has the third most rushing yards in a season by a UConn quarterback. Shirreffs has 422 yards. I don't think he'll move up on that list as Pete Petrillo ran for 676 in 1967 and 620 yards in 1968. He did pass Irv Panciera (420 yards in 1951) and Ken Sweitzer (419 yards in 1980 and 381 yards in 1981).

UConn didn't exactly hide its offensive intentions coming out of the locker room at halftime using one receiver (Noel Thomas), tight ends Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers and Max DeLorenzo at fullback in front of Newsome as the Huskies were able to get something going in the run game with some old fashioned power football.

Look for the kickoff time for the Houston game to be announced on Monday morning, likely on the American Athletic Conference call.

I thought this could have been Graham Stewart's best game at UConn and it was not just the 3 1/2 tackles for loss. Stewart's thirst to make the big play would result in him taking poor angles and not only setting the edge as he is supposed to. It looked to me like positionally, he was outstanding and then he just let it rip and made some key plays.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Impressive games for UConn commits Hahn, Williams

Eddie Hahn and Donovan Williams might have been playing games about 250 miles apart on Friday night but the results were eerily similar for the UConn commits.

Hahn threw for 164 yards and a touchdown while he ran for 120 more and another score to lead his Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic squad to a 21-10 win over Jackson Memorial. Hahn had a 37-yard scoring run and 14-yard TD pass as Red Bank rallied from a 10-0 deficit. In the last three games Hahn has thrown for 820 yards and eight touchdowns while running for 237 yards and two more touchdowns.

Williams' Hylton High team had an easier time in the 52-0 win at Forest Park.

Williams threw for 208 yards including a 38-yard touchdown and ran for 39 yards including scoring runs of 5 and 2 yards.

The news wasn't as good for another UConn commit as Ryan Gilmartin's Charlotte Christian team's bid for a fourth straight NCISAA title ended with a 14-7 loss to Charlotte Latin.

Quayvon Skanes' Phillips team will meet Johnsburg at 1 p.m. today in a playoff game with the winner advancing to next week's Illinois 4A quarterfinals.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Versatile running backs power UConn, Tulane offenses

Arkeel Newsome's impressive receiving numbers have been well documented in this blog but it bears repeating that only Florida International's Alex Gardner and Virginia's Taquan Mizzell have more catches and receiving yards among FBS running backs than Newsome's 34 catches and 386 receiving yards.

With Newsome leading the way UConn tops all American Athletic Conference teams in catches and receiving yards by running backs  (the 46 catches and 468 yards rank 11th among all FBS teams). So which AAC team is next when it comes to utilizing backs in the passing game? Tulane, of course.

The Green Wave have 43 catches for 371 yards ranking in the top 20 nationally in both categories.

YARDS                  RECEPTIONS
Ohio State 736       Virginia  77
Virginia 683           Washington State 74
S. Mississippi 649  Ohio State  68
Stanford 593           S. Mississippi  61
Georgia Tech  537  C. Michigan  55
San Diego St. 534  Northwestern  53
Syracuse 514          FIU   52
Northwestern 502   E. Michigan  51
Washington St. 482 UMass   47
San Jose St. 477     Syracuse  47
UConn  468           UConn   46Texas Tech 448     San Jose St.  44
Ohio  425              Wisconsin  43
FIU  412                Tulane   43
There have been plenty of stories written over the last two or two about Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli saying that he can't remember a defensive back playing as well as a rookie as former UConn star Byron Jones has been playing for the Cowboys this season.

It is not uncommon for coaches to pump up their own players but still it should be noted that Marinelli was on the defensive coaching staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Ronde Barber came into the league (John Lynch was going into his fourth season by the time Marinelli arrived) so he knows a thing or two about impressive rookie defensive backs.


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Marriner looking to make best of his opportunities at UConn

It had to go down as one of the most important under the radar plays of the 31-13 win over East Carolina if not the season.

UConn was leading 17-6 when Nick Vitale fumbled a punt near the Huskies' 10. If East Carolina recovered the Pirates had a glorious chance to make it a one-score game. However, even though there were plenty of bodies on the ground in pursuit of the loose football by the time Josh Marriner arrived on the scene, he was the one to come up with the ball.

"I saw the ball, the whistle hadn't blown and that is what we are taught to do - keep playing until the whistle is blown," Marriner said. "It felt great because the next play was a touchdown, it could have changed the game and it is did change the game. We recovered it and we scored. If we didn't recover it, we wouldn't have known what would have happened."

The next play was the electrifying 90-yard touchdown run by Arkeel Newsome. Rather than East Carolina being down perhaps only by four points, suddenly it was a 24-6 game.

Normally special teams the best way for Marriner to get his hands on the ball as he is a starting kickoff return man as well as playing on the punt-return unit. Marriner did get five carries in the game with three coming on UConn' first two touchdown-scoring drives of the game.

It's been an interesting season for Marriner. At the 2014 American Athletic Conference media day, the way UConn coach Bob Diaco raved about Marriner I went out and did a feature on him because I expected him to be a featured part of the running game. He had 24 carries in the first four games of the 2014 campaign but had 12 the rest of the way while this season three of his four carries coming into the East Carolina game came in garbage time against Central Florida. Despite a lack of touches, Marriner's enthusiasm for playing has not waned.

"I am able to play football," Marriner said. "A lot of my friends back home wish they were in the spot I am in. I just love it every day I am out there, this is a blessing to be here and a blessing to be a part of this team and play football."

Much of Marriner's playing time has come as an h-back providing blocking for quarterback Bryant Shirreffs or fellow running backs Arkeel Newsome or Ron Johnson.

"Anytime they call my name to do my job, I am ready to do it," Marriner said. "It is different for me but I love my brothers so I made sure I got better at it and when they call my name, I could do it."

UConn junior kicker Bobby Puyol is one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to the nation's top kicker.

Puyol is 12 of 13 on field goals this season with a long of 45 coming in last week's win over East Carolina.

Among players who have attempted at least 10 field goals, only Oregon's Aidan Schneider and UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbaim have made a higher percentage of field goals than Puyol this season at the FBS level as both are 13 for 14.

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UConn continues to make strides in classroom

It's been previously reported in this blog about how many football players get to take part in parade of student-athletes attaining at least a 3.0 grade-point average in the previous fall and spring semesters.

Further proof of the Huskies putting in the world in the classroom was posted today when the NCAA released its Graduation Success Rate numbers which tracked the percentage of student-athletes who graduate within six years after enrolling.

The football team's mark improved for the third straight year as it was at 65 percent on the 2012-13 database, jumped to 71 percent in the data released last season and the Huskies checked in at 72 percent on the most recent GSR numbers, the highest mark for the program since a 75 percent graduation rate in the 2011 database.

In comparison to the other American Athletic Conference football programs, the Huskies are tied with Memphis for eighth among the 11 teams. Central Florida leads the way at 90 percent followed by Tulane (84) and Temple (82). Cincinnati and Houston are at the bottom at 67 and 56 percent respectively.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Interceptions coming at fast and furious pace for UConn's Jamar Summers

It's been six years since a UConn player had five interceptions in a season. This year sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers did it in a month.

Summers, who did not have an interception in his first 11 games, got on the board in the 2014 season finale against SMU. Then after failing to pick off a pass in the first four games this season, he has at least one interception in four of the last five games. How impressive of a run is Summers on? Well, no FBS players had more interceptions in the month of October than Summers' five.

"Whatever it takes the team out to win," said Summers, who had two interceptions in last week's win over East Carolina and narrowly missed a third. "Once you get one, you definitely get the urge and the taste in your mouth for another one."

So what or who does Summers credit for his recent run of interceptions?

"I just have to throw it back and say the receivers on my team help me out," Summer said. "Thomas Lucas, Noel Thomas, Hergy Mayala all those guys help me in my preparation of my game."

Despite rushing for a career-high 179 yards and tallying 244 all-purpose yards, sophomore running back Arkeel Newsome did not win any individual honors from the American Athletic Conference. He did, however, get named the weekly winner of the New England Football Writers' Association's Golden Helmet award.

Newsome's 1,318 all-purpose yards are the most for a UConn player since Lyle McCombs' 1,323 in 2012. Newsome not only leads the Huskies with 591 rushing yards, he is second on the team with 34 receptions and 386 receiving yards.

Watching some of last week's Tulane/Memphis game, it was hard not to appreciate the story of quarterback Jordy Joseph, who filled in for an injured Tanner Lee.

Joseph was a walk-on who was intending to be a graduate assistant on the Tulane coaching staff when he was given the opportunity to return as a player. Joseph told Tulane coach Curtis Johnson that he couldn't afford another season as a non-scholarship player and that was when Johnson informed Joseph not to worry since he was coming back as a scholarship player.

It was never in the script for Joseph (with one rushing attempt for minus three yards and one completed pass for one yard to his credit) to be starting for the Green Wave.

Joseph got off to a solid start as Tulane threw a scare into Memphis before finishing 10 of 24 for 131 yards  and running four times for 24 yards, it is sounding like Lee will be back as the starting quarterback for Saturday's game.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

UConn's Rutherford learning on the job at fullback

It has kind of been an all hands on deck approach at the fullback or h-back positions this season.

Tailbacks Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner (more on him later this week) got the first chance to play those positions. More recently, tight ends Tommy Myers, Alec Bloom and Dallas Parker were called upon to add some physicality to the UConn backfield. Then came a real surprise this week when offensive lineman Trey Rutherford lined up as a fullback for a few plays in a 31-13 win over East Carolina.

I caught up with Rutherford after Tuesday's practice because I was curious if he had been a fullback at any point in his football career before Friday night.

“Never,” Rutherford said with a laugh.
Something tells me that his snap count at fullback will only increase during the final three games of the regular season.

So how did all of this come to be?

“Coach (Frank Verducci, the Huskies’ offensive coordinator) called me into his office and had me look at the board and asked me if I wanted to play fullback,’ Rutherford said. “I feel like I knew enough (of the offense). I am trying to be versatile and do what they want me to do.”
On the surface it would seem like an offensive lineman’s dream to get a running start to bury an opposing linebacker or defensive back.
“It is a lot of fun but you have to remember to stay under control,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford has been mostly a tackle during practice. With the other second-string tackle on the two-deep chart being true freshman Matt Peart, who is going to sit out the season as a redshirt barring any unforeseen circumstances there was plenty of pressure on Rutherford to be ready if anything happened to starting tackles Andreas Knappe or Richard Levy. Then, the week of the Cincinnati game Rutherford flip flopped from tackle to guard with Kyle Bockeloh and did see some snaps in place of senior Tyler Samra.
Samra and his veteran linemen have been impressed by the way the studious Rutherford approaches things in the film room, in team meetings and on the practice field.
“He is a hard worker, he is blue collar, hard-nosed (player),” Samra said. “Having him at fullback is a great advantage for us and it is something special having another lineman out there.”

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Month to remember for UConn's Newsome, Summers

Jamar Summers has had plenty of reasons to smile with his recent play
In recent years it has not been a regular occurrence to see UConn players ranked among the national leaders whether it was for a season, a month or even a week.

However, thanks to the site having a variety of breakdowns including a month by month one, I can let you know that UConn sophomores Arkeel Newsome and Jamar Summers ranked first among FBS players in receiving yards for a running back and interceptions respectively during the month of October.

UConn's Arkeel Newsome ranked in the top 10 in five different categories
in month of October and led all FBS running backs in receiving yards
It should be noted that UConn did play five games in the month so that helped give both Newsome and Summers an extra game or two to pile up stats but I thought it was still rather noteworthy.

Newsome led all FBS receivers with 282 receiving yards and his 23 catches were third among running backs during the month.

Newsome was second in all-purpose yards (996) and third in all-purpose yards per game (199.2) while ranking 22nd in yards from scrimmage per game and 10th in total yards from scrimmage. He also was tied for 21st with an average of 28 yards per kickoff return.

Summers had five interceptions which is the most by any FBS player in October and he joined Alabama's Eddie Jackson and Iowa's Desmond King as the only FBS players to average an interception a game during the month.

Summers, who came into the month with one career interception, has an interception total in the month of October that would have been good enough to lead the team every year since Robert Vaughn's seven picks in 2007 although Vaughn did have five interceptions during the 2009 season.

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