CFN Preview 2013 - Connecticut Huskies
Connecticut LB Yawin Smallwood
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By Richard Cirminiello
If Paul Pasqualoni can't turn things around in 2013, his career as a head coach will likely be over.
Head coach: Paul Pasqualoni
Third year: 10-14
Off. 14, Def. 16, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 12
Ten Best UConn Players
1. LB Yawin Smallwood, Jr.
2. RB Lyle McCombs, Jr.
3. DE Jesse Joseph, Sr.
4. CB Byron Jones, Jr.
5. DT Shamar Stephen, Sr.
6. WR Geremy Davis, Jr.
7. LT Jimmy Bennett, Sr.
8. WR Shakim Phillips, Jr.
9. S Ty-Meer Brown, Jr.
10. QB Chandler Whitmer, Jr.
9/7 OPEN DATE
9/28 at Buffalo
10/5 OPEN DATE
10/19 at Cincinnati
10/26 at UCF
11/2 OPEN DATE
11/16 at SMU
11/23 at Temple
When UConn signed Pasqualoni two year ago, he appeared to be an odd choice to succeed wildly successful Randy Edsall. Still does. Pasqualoni inherited a program that capped a four-year run of eight-win seasons by appearing in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl as the Big East champs. And he's piloted that program into a ditch of mediocrity with back-to-back 5-7 campaigns.
The Huskies have squandered the goodwill and the budding reputation as an up-and-comer that they'd methodically corralled under Edsall. Two subpar years at a basketball school will have that effect on a football program. Pasqualoni will enter his do-or-die season with new coordinators on both sides of the ball, T.J. Weist on offense and Hank Hughes on defense. Each of the new coaches faces very tough challenges in 2013.
Weist must deal with a perennial problem in Storrs, a stale and necrotic offense that lacks the presence at quarterback to challenge defenses downfield. The 2012 version of the Huskies ranked 118th in FBS scoring at a mere 17 points per game. Erratic QB Chandler Whitmer is back for a second chance at bringing balance to an attack that will again be spearheaded by the running of Lyle McCombs.
Defense is rarely a problem at UConn, but losing four all-stars to the NFL could change that constant this year. New coordinator Hank Hughes is searching for a few more playmakers to go along with star LB Yawin Smallwood. More than anything, this team needs someone it can count on to chase down the quarterback now that DE Trevardo Williams has graduated. The return to health of veteran end Jesse Joseph will be a much-needed infusion of proven talent this year.
UConn is ordinary again. The program has been out of the bowl picture for the last two years, and it was left without a prom date during the most recent shifts in conference realignment. If Pasqualoni can't change the course of the Huskies in 2013, the administration will almost certainly move in a different direction at the end of the regular season.
What to watch for on offense: Outfoxxing defenses. The methodical and vanilla UConn offense is pining for a spark at the skill positions. Junior WR Deshon Foxx might be ready to answer the call. Little-used in his first two seasons, he made an instant impression on new coordinator T.J. Weist during the spring. Foxx possesses the speed and the quickness to be ideally suited as a slot receiver in the offense. Plus, he was dangerous on sweeps, end-arounds and pitches, an indication that he'll be a multi-faceted weapon this season.
What to watch for on defense: Pressure cookers. Now that last year's top two sackers have graduated, who is going to mess with the quarterback's rhythm? DE Tim Willman showed flashes off the bench last season, and the coaches like converted FB Reuben Frank. But none of the ends has a higher capacity for sacks than senior Jesse Joseph. While injuries have hampered the progress of the Montreal Alouettes draft pick the last two seasons, this is the same hard-working end who delivered 17 stops for loss and 11 sacks over the first-half of his career.
The team will be far better if… the offense exhibits a pulse. A surly defense can take a program only so far, especially in this day and age of potent spread offenses. The Huskies pulled up the rear in both total offense and scoring offense in 2012, failing to produce more than 24 points in any of their final 11 games. UConn was feeble at extending drives on third down, and big plays were frustratingly scarce. In fact, of the 124 FBS teams last season, only Kentucky, Massachusetts and Illinois had fewer plays of 30 or more yards than the Huskies.
The Schedule: With a big home stretch to start the season, the pressure will be on to beat Maryland after the Opening Day layup against Towson. With Michigan to follow and South Florida to start the AAC campaign, four of the first five games are in Storrs – being 4-1 would be great, but 3-2 might have to do. However, with the road game at Buffalo, there's a nasty stretch of three road games in four and five in seven with the two home games coming against USF and Louisville. Fortunately, UConn gets Rutgers at home, but it might come down to the regular season finale against Memphis to have a shot at a bowl game.
Best offensive player: Junior RB Lyle McCombs. Do not pin last year's decline in production entirely on McCombs. It was not all his fault. The back's numbers dipped to 860 yards and six touchdowns on 243 hard-fought carries, a pedestrian overall output. However, it needs to be noted that McCombs received only tacit support from his O-line and the passing game. Given a little more help from the surroundings, the industrious junior is capable of recapturing the 1,000-yard output that he put forth as a rookie in 2011.
Best defensive player: Junior LB Yawin Smallwood. Smallwood was outstanding for the Huskies last year, but his effort was somewhat overshadowed by the program's seniors. However, now that DE Trevardo Williams, LB Sio Moore and CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson are in the NFL, Smallwood is ready to become a more recognizable name. He was everywhere for the Huskies in 2012, leading the team with 120 stops, including 15 tackles for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups and two sacks. Smallwood is capable of using 2013 as a springboard to his own NFL career.
Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. The skill position talent, such as RB Lyle McCombs, QB Chandler Whitmer and his receivers won't suddenly become more explosive overnight. They can, however, get a lot more effective in 2013 with better protection from an offensive line that underachieved a year ago. Something as fundamental as holding blocks a little longer could have a huge impact on UConn's ability to extend drives and put up more points this season. And the Huskies really need to score more in 2013.
The season will be a success if ... the Huskies return to the postseason. Under Randy Edsall, bowl invitations were commonplace, but the same cannot be said for current head coach Paul Pasqualoni. UConn has been on the outside looking in the last two years, a disturbing trend that needs to be reversed immediately. Two years of irrelevance for this program might feel like two decades, and the coaching staff is aware of the reality. It's already too hard for the Huskies to generate interest among recruits and local fans, a challenge that grows with each losing season.
Key game: Sept. 14 vs. Maryland. Welcome back, Randy Edsall. The program's most successful head coach returns to Rentschler Field in a pivotal matchup for both of the school's head men. UConn has four or five toss-up games in 2013 that'll dictate whether or not the postseason becomes a reality. This Week 3 hosting of the Terrapins is one of them. A win over the former boss could provide the Huskies with a tailwind. A loss might start a downward spiral, especially with Michigan visiting a week later.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per rush: Connecticut 2.5 – Opponents 2.7
- Sacks: Connecticut 33 – Opponents 33
- Points per game: Connecticut 17.8 - Opponents 19.8
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