2012 Connecticut Preview - A Second Chance
Connecticut RB Lyle McCombs
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Connecticut Huskies
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By Richard Cirminiello
Paul Pasqualoni is eager to get a second chance to make a good first impression in Storrs.
Head coach:Paul Pasqualoni
Second year: 5-7
Off. 16, Def. 13, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best UConn Players
1. DE Trevardo Williams, Sr.
2. LB Sio Moore, Sr.
3. RB Lyle McCombs, Soph.
4. CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Sr.
5. LB Jory Johnson, Sr.
6. CB Dwayne Gratz, Sr.
7. LB Yawin Smallwood, Soph.
8. DE Jesse Joseph, Sr.
9. WR Michael Smith, Sr.
10. TE Ryan Griffin, Sr.
Aug. 30 UMass
Sep. 8 NC State
Sep. 15 at Maryland
Sep. 22 at Western Michigan
Sep. 29 Buffalo
Oct. 6 at Rutgers
Oct. 13 Temple
Oct. 19 at Syracuse
Oct. 27 OPEN DATE
Nov. 3 at South Florida
Nov. 9 Pitt
Nov. 17 OPEN DATE
Nov. 24 at Louisville
Dec. 1 Cincinnati
As debuts go, the head coach's was a colossal flop, steering the defending Big East champs to a bowl-less, 5-7 mark. Everyone involved with this program is eager to get back to work in an attempt to recapture the swagger and confidence it had when Randy Edsall was still on the sidelines. At a well-known basketball school, the football team cannot afford a protracted decline, or else whatever following that's been amassed will quickly disappear.
As is always the case in Storrs, the Huskies will need to address their issues on the offensive side of the ball in order to approach their overall team goals. Nothing went right a year ago for a school that ranked 108th nationally in total offense and 117th in sacks allowed. Above all else, the staff has to locate some semblance of consistency at quarterback, a position that's frustrated Connecticut for nearly a decade.
The situation behind center appears to be as big of a mess as it was last season. While Johnny McEntee took the bulk of the snaps, three players were auditioned for an offense that ranked 100th nationally in passing efficiency. Connecticut, which still has five contenders for the job, is still pining for a successor to Dan Orlovsky seven years after he graduated from the school.
The D has no such worries. The unit boasts an impressive corps of returning players. Each level of Pasqualoni's defense harbors either an all-star or one who's about to become one. From DE Trevardo Williams up front, Sio Moore in the middle and cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the secondary, the Huskies are well-fortified with outstanding defenders.
Ironically, Pasqualoni and Edsall, now at Maryland, will be traversing similar paths when the 2012 season begins. Both head coaches are itching for rebound years following disappointing campaigns in 2011. For Pasqualoni, he needs to get back on track immediately. Failing to do so could have him on career life support by the time the regular season ends.
What to watch for on offense: Sorting out the mess behind center. Again. For the second straight offseason, the Connecticut quarterback competition looks like a primary race to determine who runs for president. Five Huskies threw their hats in the ring in April, and five remain in contention as fall camp approaches. While anything is possible, it looks as if junior-college transfer Chandler Whitmer has built some traction, while inconsistent incumbent Johnny McEntee desperately tries to cling to the job he held for all 12 games of last season.
What to watch for on defense: The return to form of DE Jesse Joseph and CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Both players were eyeing monster junior seasons in 2011. Both players missed their mark because of injuries. And now that they're in their final years of eligibility, the pair shares a ton of motivation to fulfill expectations this fall. Now that Joseph and Wreh-Wilson are healthy again, it'll be as if Connecticut is adding two free agents, with All-Big East ceilings and the potential to continue playing on Sundays.
The team will be far better if… the offense finally starts playing with more efficiency. Connecticut will remain in neutral if the attack continues to sputter at inopportune times. Last year's edition ranked last in the Big East in total offense, averaging only 313 yards a game. The line couldn't block, the passing game was feeble and the attack ranked 118th in the country in third-down conversions. No one expects the Huskies to crank out points like a Big 12 team, but some progress is essential for the overall goals of the program.
The Schedule: The Huskies have an interesting non-conference slate starting off against a UMass program in its first game as an FBS program before hosing NC State. Going to Maryland will show if UConn has the potential to come up with a big season, and going to Western Michigan isn't going to be a walk in the park. Unfortunately, after the opening two games there aren't two home dates in a row the rest of the way with six road games in nine dates before closing out against Cincinnati. On the plus side, there's plenty of time to prepare for the road date at Louisville and there's two weeks off before road games at Syracuse and South Florida.
Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Lyle McCombs. The Huskies dispatched a want ad last fall seeking a feature back. McCombs answered it, to the delight of the program. He wound up being one of the Big East's biggest surprises, rushing for 1,151 and seven touchdowns on 275 carries. A Second Team All-Big East pick in his debut on the field, he also caught 19 balls for 172 yards and another score. The 5-8, 166-pounder is not very big, but he runs with an attitude, hitting the hole with authority, and rarely getting stopped behind the line.
Best defensive player: Senior DE Trevardo Williams. The classic speed rusher, with the outstanding work ethic, exploded into one of the league's most dangerous defensive players in 2011. At 6-2 and 233 pounds, he's essentially an outside linebacker who lines up close enough to the pocket to have squatter's rights in the backfield. Sudden off the snap and lightning quick off the edge, Williams led the Big East with 12.5 sacks to go along with 43 tackles, 15 stops for loss and a couple of forced fumbles.
Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. Sure, the play of the eventual starting quarterback will be crucial to Connecticut's fortunes, but will it really matter if the line doesn't start doing its job? The group was a major disappointment in 2011, occasionally creating space for the running backs, but frequently getting abused by opposing pass rushers. The Huskies ranked 117th nationally in sacks allowed, one of many reasons why the passing game sputtered from start to finish.
The season will be a success if ... the Huskies make a swift return to the postseason. Prior to last year, the program had been invited to four straight bowl games. In the sea of mediocrity that is the Big East in 2012, failing to win six games will be wholly unacceptable, and a potential career-killer for Pasqualoni. Connecticut will have a chance to be in every game this fall, playing a schedule that isn't particularly thorny. Back-to-back idle Decembers will bring this school to a screeching halt.
Key game: Sept. 8 vs. North Carolina State. In Week 2, the Huskies will get one of their stiffest tests of the 2012 season, a visit from an underrated Wolfpack team. This is the kind of ACC-Big East challenge that could vault Connecticut to a higher level of confidence just as the new campaign begins to kick into high gear. With a win at Rentschler Field, the Huskies will have the wind at its back for its next ACC opponent, Maryland and former head coach Randy Edsall.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per rush: Connecticut 3.1 – Opponents 2.7
- Third-down conversions: Connecticut 28% – Opponents 33%
- Points scored: Connecticut 291 - Opponents 292
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