2014 CFN Preview - Connecticut Huskies
Connecticut RB Lyle McCombs
CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - With the right new head coach, it's time to make UConn football matter. (Getty Images)
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Connecticut Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players
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The healing has slowly begun in Storrs.
Head coach: Bob Diaco
First year: 0-0
Off. 19, Def. 19, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
1. WR Geremy Davis, Sr.
2. CB Byron Jones, Sr.
3. RB Lyle McCombs, Sr.
4. FS Obi Melifonwu, Soph.
5. LB Jefferson Ashiru, Jr.
6. QB Casey Cochran, Soph.
7. C Alex Mateas, Sr.
8. WR Deshon Foxx, Sr.
9. DE Angelo Pruitt, Sr.
10. DT Julian Campenni, Jr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 29 BYU
Sep. 6 Stony Brook
Sep. 13 Boise State
Sep. 19 at USF
Sep. 27 Temple
Oct. 4 OPEN DATE
Oct. 11 at Tulane
Oct. 18 OPEN DATE
Oct. 23 at East Carolina
Nov. 1 UCF
Nov. 8 Army (in NYC)
Nov. 13 OPEN DATE
Nov. 22 Cincinnati
Nov. 29 at Memphis
Dec. 6 SMU
Connecticut feels as if it's already won, months before a down will be played. The disastrous, ill-conceived Paul Pasqualoni experiment is mercifully over, replaced by the fresh outlook and high energy of rookie head coach Bob Diaco. In Diaco, who spent the last four seasons on Brian Kelly's Notre Dame staff, the Huskies are hoping they've landed the second-coming of Randy Edsall.
Edsall was a 40-year-old defensive coordinator when he was hired by UConn in 1998. Diaco was a 40-year defensive coordinator when he became a Husky last December. Yeah, the program is looking to repeat history. Edsall was the architect for 12 seasons, guiding a basketball school from I-AA obscurity to the Fiesta Bowl before moving on to Maryland. He achieved things, such as four-straight eight-win seasons, that once seemed unimaginable. It's now up to Diaco and his staff to build a bridge to those Edsall teams, while erasing all memories of Pasqualoni.
Patience will need to be exercised, since UConn still has a long way to go before narrowing the talent gap on the better programs in the American. Although the D has shown a knack for overachieving and producing pro-caliber players, the offense perennially operates in least mode.
While the rest of the world seems to be supercharging their offenses, Connecticut can't get out of neutral. Over the past three years, the Huskies have averaged 21 points per game to rank among the feeblest in the country. The dire situation won't change until the team learns how to block better. UConn gave up 42 sacks and rushed for 2.6 yards per carry in 2013. And from that unit, four senior linemen must be replaced. New coordinator Mike Cummings and O-line coach Mike Foley would be well-advised to stock up on blood pressure medication this summer.
UConn is ordinary again. It hasn't had a winning season since 2010, and interest in the program has waned accordingly. Oh, and the national championships won by the men's and women's basketball teams only confirmed where the balance of power exists in Storrs. Diaco, though, brings a glimmer of hope that often comes with the hiring of a new staff. The Huskies finally have a young and energetic leader, one it believes it can grow with and rally around during the current phase of the ongoing rebuilding plan.
What to watch for on offense: Casey at the bat. Sophomore Casey Cochran unexpectedly infused hope into the quarterback position late last year. What does he do for an encore? The Huskies haven't had an accelerant under center since Dan Orlovsky graduated a decade ago. Cochran, though, ran the offense as if he plans to reverse recent history, throwing 10 touchdown passes and three picks in November. UConn also won three of the four games he started. All eyes this offseason are on Cochran to see if he can build on what he started last fall.
What to watch for on defense: Shifting to a 3-4 alignment. Everything is changing at UConn, from terminology and playbooks to nutritional expectations and the base D. Diaco is a disciple of the 3-4, which he employed in South Bend over the past four years. In the new system, the ends will be bigger, the outside linebackers must be versatile and the nose tackle will be central to controlling both "A" gaps. The Huskies have spent the offseason getting in the best shape of their lives. They'll spend the summer flexing their mental muscles, as they learn different assignments and expectations under Diaco.
The team will be far better if… it has more success on the ground. When the Huskies were thriving under Edsall, it was usually fueled by the defense and the running game. After ranking 119th on the ground in 2013, while averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, UConn must get back to basics on offense. While young QB Casey Cochran gave the passing attack a late lift, it's now up to a beleaguered offensive line to create more daylight for underrated backs Lyle McCombs and Max DeLorenzo to navigate.
The Schedule: The Diaco era starts out with a three straight home games, but they're going to be rough with BYU and Boise State wrapped around a winnable layup against Stony Brook. After a trip to USF to start the conference schedule, the Temple game makes if four home dates in the first five September games. And then come the problems with three of the next four and five of the next seven games on the road before closing out against SMU.
The big positive, though, is UCF and Cincinnati - the two best teams in the
American - at home.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Geremy Davis. Davis doesn't line up behind center, but he's been an integral part of UConn's improved passing attack. The 6-3, 216-pounder gives the Husky quarterbacks a big, sure-handed target in the middle of the field. By catching 115 passes over the past two seasons, Davis headlines a receiving corps that'll be the deepest unit for the Huskies in 2014. And with two seasons as a starter and improved play at quarterback, he's eyeing a monster season this fall.
Best defensive player: Senior CB Byron Jones. Jones harbors all of the qualities, both tangible and intangible, that the new staff wants in a cornerback. He's big, a 6-1, 196-pounder who's flourished in Bob Diaco's offseason conditioning program. He's been starting since his freshman year. And he's the smartest player on the UConn defense. Now that Jones has had a full season to adjust after shifting from free safety, he's on the brink of becoming one of the American's top pass defenders.
Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. The Huskies have enough potential at the skill positions to up their potency in 2014. But the backs and receivers aren't going anywhere unless a makeshift line can make a quantum leap from the past few seasons. UConn got whipped at the point of attack in 2013, neutralizing the talent in the backfield. The Huskies have a ton of room for improvement on offense. And that talent gap is no more obvious than along a tattered and apprehensive O-line.
The season will be a success if ... UConn reaches six wins to squeak out a bowl berth. This is not the old Big East. It's a watered-down version of the old league. A rich-man's Conference USA, if you will. Even as the Huskies rebuild around a new staff, reaching .500 during the regular season is not unreasonable. They've got seven games at Rentschler Field, and only one nasty road game, the Oct. 23 trip to East Carolina. If the players buy in to Diaco, UConn has a shot of playing a bonus game in December.
Key game: Aug. 29 vs. BYU. What better way to kick off a new era than with a stopover from a nationally-known opponent? A Friday night visit from the Cougars affords Diaco and his team a chance to show the country what they've accomplished during the offseason. An upset in the opener would be exactly what Connecticut needs to energize a disinterested fan base, while kick-starting the 2014 season.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per rush: Connecticut 2.6 – Opponents 3.7
- Sacks: Connecticut 16 – Opponents 42
- Points per game: Connecticut 20.6 - Opponents 30.2
Connecticut Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players