2011 Connecticut Preview
Connecticut WR Kashif Moore
Connecticut WR Kashif Moore
Posted Jul 9, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Connecticut Huskies

Connecticut Huskies

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Paul Pasqualoni
First year: 0-0
Returning Lettermen
Off. 13, Def. 17, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Connecticut Players
1. DT Kendall Reyes, Sr.
2. OT Mike Ryan, Sr.
3. DE Jesse Joseph, Jr.
4. C Moe Petrus, Sr.
5. CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jr.
6. LB Sio Moore, Jr.
7. DT Twyon Martin, Sr.
8. PK Dave Teggart, Sr.
9. CB Dwayne Gratz, Jr.
10. RB D.J. Shoemate, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 1 Fordham
Sep. 10 at Vanderbilt
Sep. 16 Iowa State
Sep. 24 at Buffalo
Oct. 1 Western Michigan
Oct. 8 at West Virginia
Oct. 15 USF
Oct. 26 at Pitt
Nov. 5 Syracuse
Nov. 19 Louisville
Nov. 26 Rutgers
Dec. 3 at Cincinnati

Now that head coach Randy Edsall has left for Maryland, has he taken the secret sauce with him?

Edsall did a remarkable job for over a decade at Connecticut, shepherding the program out of I-AA and into a favorable position in the Big East. The defending conference champs had a knack for developing players and overachieving, a direct correlation to the coach and his staff. That Edsall departed is no surprise. He'd been pursued by ADs for years. The fact that he's in College Park, seemingly a lateral move, is a head-scratcher. The program, though, trumped that decision by hiring Paul Pasqualoni as his successor.

No stranger to the Big East, Pasqualoni was the head man at Syracuse from 1991-2004. However, he failed to produce a winning season in his final three years. And since getting fired, he's held assistant coaching positions with the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins. Seven years after leaving the college game, does he still have the fire at the age of 61 to pick up where the architect left off? It's a question that has Husky fans wringing their hands this offseason.

If Pasqualoni is going to build on the program's best season in school history, he'll likely do so on the back of another deep and talented defense. The Huskies are outstanding on the first and final lines of defense, boasting a half-dozen all-star candidates. While the linebackers are getting a makeover, Sio Moore represents a stable foundation. The D will have to carry the load because the offense is going to be the weak link … again. Connecticut has backfield issues, needing to find replacements at quarterback and running back. The quarterback position is a jump ball entering the summer, and likely feature back D.J. Shoemate is succeeding Jordan Todman, the reigning Big East Offensive Player of the Year.

These are interesting times in the Nutmeg State. Connecticut is the defending Big East champ, yet is without Edsall on the sidelines for the first time since 1998. Pasqualoni is preparing to stare down his critics, the throngs who've questioned this hire since January. He inherits a program that's won at least eight games in each of the past four seasons, so elevated expectations will afford him a short honeymoon period in his return back home.

What to watch for on offense: Sorting out the mess at quarterback. While it's not uncommon to have two passers going neck-and-neck in the summer, a four-man heat is a major concern. The Huskies have struggled to find a replacement for Dan Orlovsky, who hasn't been eligible since 2004. The new staff will continue auditions in August, splitting reps between sophomore Michael Box, junior Johnny McEntee, redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, and rookie Michael Nebrich. Box has the edge in experience, but the presumed frontrunner was unable to pull away from the competition in the spring.

What to watch for on defense: Holding the line. Connecticut isn't home to the nation's best defensive line. It might, however, boast the most underrated one. The Huskies welcome back eight letterwinners and all four starters to a unit that's going to be deep and gifted. Leading the way is next-level DT Kendall Reyes, who'll get plenty of support from Twyon Martin on the inside and Trevardo Williams and Jesse Joseph on the flanks. The defense is going to generate backfield pressure on a perpetual, which combined with veteran corners Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz will make it very difficult beating this team through the air.

The team will be far better if… it starts playing more efficiently on offense. A perennial problem in Storrs, the offense has to produce more timely plays on third down and in the red zone. Stalling too often destroys momentum and piles too much pressure on the back of the D. When the attack had veteran quarterbacks and Jordan Todman running the ball, it still finished 114th nationally on third down conversions, and 106th at producing red zone touchdowns. Those are disturbing harbingers of things to come for a 2011 edition that'll have no continuity in the backfield.

The Schedule: The Huskies have a relatively easy non-conference schedule, and while it might seem nice to play two BCS teams, but going to Vanderbilt and facing Iowa State isn't that big a deal for a team coming off a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Western Michigan is a tougher game than it looks, but it's still Western Michigan and it needs to be a must win before kicking off the Big East schedule with a trip to West Virginia. Making matters worse is a date at Pitt and at Cincinnati, and while four Big East games are at home, and there are open dates before Louisville and Pitt, it'll be tough to repeat as champions without a win in Morgantown.

Best offensive player: Senior LT Mike Ryan. The returning All-Big East First Team pick is creating quite a following among NFL scouts, who love his potential as a road-grader. At 6-5 and 333 pounds, he possesses the power and upper body strength to toss aside opposing linemen. He showed versatility in 2010, playing the first half of the season to the right of center before moving over to left side in October. If he can remain in good shape and continue sharpening his fundamentals, a repeat appearance on the all-conference squad is likely.

Best defensive player: Senior DT Kendall Reyes. Reyes is to the defense what Mike Ryan is to the offense, an anchor along the interior. Coming off a breakthrough season in Storrs, he turned 39 tackles, 10 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks, and two picks into First Team All-Big East recognition. The 6-4, 298-pounder has the requisite size to stuff the run, yet is plenty quick enough to shoot the gaps. Playing on a veteran line that won't allow for double-teams, he could gain national recognition in his amateur finale.

Key player to a successful season: Junior RB D.J. Shoemate. Yeah, the eventual winner of the quarterback derby will be instrumental in Connecticut's success, but it's unlikely that guy will be an instant playmaker. Shoemate, however, can be. Ditto his running mate, redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs. If the Huskies have any chance of moving the chains effectively in 2011, the ground game must set up the pass. Struggling on the ground will make life impossible for the new quarterback, who'll at best have limited experience when the season begins. Shoemate, the former USC transfer, has an opportunity to be the focal point of the offense this fall.

The season will be a success if ... the Huskies make it five seasons in-a-row with at least eight wins. While the year ahead presents all kinds of new challenges, the schedule is designed for a smooth transition. Connecticut might not be an underdog until the Oct. 8 trip to West Virginia, opening with Fordham, Vanderbilt, Iowa State, Buffalo, and Western Michigan. Plus, the team will enjoy a momentum-building homestand in November, with Syracuse, Louisville, and Rutgers visiting Rentschler Field. Simply playing in a bowl game is no longer the goal for the Huskies. Challenging in the Big East after winning the league remains on the to-do list.

Key game: Oct. 15 vs. South Florida. The visit from the Bulls has the potential to be a swing game for the 2011 season. South Florida is a team on the rise in Skip Holtz's second season on the sidelines. The last time the two schools met, Connecticut sealed a BCS bowl bid a last-second 52-yard field goal from Dave Teggart. If it can hold serve in these types of toss-up games, Paul Pasqualoni is going to get off to a fast start in his debut with the program.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Connecticut 174.7 – Opponents 143.2
- Passing yards per game: Connecticut 151.1 – Opponents 223.5
- Interceptions: Connecticut 20 - Opponents 9

- 2011 Connecticut Preview | 2011 Connecticut Offense
- 2011 Connecticut Defense | 2011 Connecticut Depth Chart