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2009 Connecticut Preview - Offense
Connecticut RB Andre Dixon
Connecticut RB Andre Dixon
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Connecticut Husky Offense

Connecticut Huskies

Preview 2009
- Offense

- 2009 CFN Connecticut Preview | 2009 UConn Offense
- 2009 UConn Defense | 2009 UConn Depth Chart
- 2008 UConn Preview | 2007 UConn Preview | 2006 UConn Preview

What you need to know: Connecticut is about to enter the 21st century with an up-tempo, no-huddle offense being installed by rookie coordinator Joe Moorhead. While the departure from the vanilla sounds good in theory, there’s considerable doubt that the Huskies have the right personnel to run the system properly. At least not today. For starters, they’ll need much more from a miserable passing game that produced just five touchdowns and 17 interceptions a year ago. All indications are that the keys to the new offense will be given to Zach Frazer, who left Notre Dame a few years ago for this very opportunity. He’ll modest support from the receiving corps, and will be breaking in a new left tackle, center, and feature back. Although it won’t be a breeze replacing 2,000-yard rusher Donald Brown, the program likes what it has in young Jordan Todman and veteran Andre Dixon.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Zach Frazer
46-83, 536 yds, 2 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Jordan Todman
47 carries, 296 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Kashif Moore
27 catches, 273 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RT Mike Hicks
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Zach Frazer
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Jordan Todman
Best pro prospect: Hicks
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hicks,  2) Todman,  3) Sophomore C Moe Petrus
Strength of the offense: The running game, run blocking
Weakness of the offense: The passing game, receivers, left tackle, third-down and red zone conversions

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Just because Tyler Lorenzen was a below average passer doesn’t mean he won’t be missed. It takes more than just a strong arm to win football games, and the departed starter had a knack for winning plenty of games. His likely successor is 6-4, 225-pound junior Zach Frazer, who took a lead in a close quarterback competition in the spring. Pegged as the future at the position, the Notre Dame transfer was unimpressive in his first five appearances, going 46-of-83 for 536 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions. However, in high school, he ran a similar up-tempo system that’s being installed, and has as much natural ability as any Husky hurler since Dan Orlovsky exhausted his eligibility.

Projected Top Reserves: Keeping Frazer from being content will be 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Cody Endres, a close second in the quarterback race. While still raw, like Frazer, he has the size, toughness, and velocity on his balls to excel in this offense at some point in his career. Also like Frazer, unfortunately, he failed to impress in limited opportunities, going 39-of-84 for 411 yards and three picks.

The new No. 3 on the depth chart is 6-2, 212-pound redshirt freshman Johnny McEntee. While no threat for the top spot this early in his career, he’s made a positive first impression, capped by a 9-of-9 effort in the spring game. A former walk-on from California, he’ll earn a scholarship—and much more—if he keeps making connections all over the field.

Watch Out For… the battle between Frazer and Endres to have a long shelf life. Frazer may have gotten the nod, but he hardly padlocked the job with the way he played in March and April. He better keep progressing, or else Randy Edsall won’t hesitate to juggle the depth chart before the opening day trip to Ohio.
Strength: Strong arms. At an average of just 6-4 and 225 pounds, Connecticut’s top two quarterbacks have excellent pocket presence and the arm strength to project the ball into tight spaces. Built like linebackers, neither will go down easily, and will even dish out some punishment when they break containment.
Weakness: Consistency and accuracy. Yeah, Frazer and Endres can throw the ball through a stiff wind, but who will be catching it? Both quarterbacks have been wildly inconsistent since becoming Huskies, a trend that casts a pall over the upcoming season. If these guys continue misfiring, you can forget about the new system clicking.
Outlook: There’s talent in Storrs, but it’s unfinished and raw, making the months leading up to the opener so pivotal. If the staff can get Frazer and Endres to the other side, the offense will benefit accordingly. If not, it’ll be another long year for a passing game that’s routinely among the nation’s least prolific. The development of the quarterbacks will be dictate how much of the playbook new coordinator Joe Moorhead can install.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Sure, the Huskies would love to have Donald Brown, the nation’s rushing leader, back for one more year, but they ran the ball before him and will run it now that he’s an Indianapolis Colt. Taking the baton will be 5-9, 190-pound sophomore Jordan Todman, who has acted like the heir apparent from the moment he arrived on campus. One of just two true freshmen to letter a year ago, he finished third on the team with 296 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries. One of those quick-twitch athletes, he has great feet and an explosive burst, and will make the first tackler miss if he gets out in space.

Junior Anthony Sherman will again be at fullback, providing unheralded support for the running game. A 5-10, 237-pound masher as a lead blocker, he can also mimic an H-back out of the backfield, catching 26 passes for 270 yards a year ago.   

Projected Top Reserves: As Brown blossomed into a star, 6-1, 210-pound senior Andre Dixon drifted further into the background and rarely got on the field. It was a stark contrast to the prior year, when he carried the ball 167 times for 828 yards and three touchdowns and caught 24 passes in an All-Big East season. If his head is on right, he has the power and slashing running style to vault right back into the feature role. He was too good in 2007 to be forgotten by an offense looking to replace its leading man.

For pure power and north-south running, the Huskies might turn to 5-10, 214-pound sophomore Meme Wylie. A confident, determined runner, he has the skill set and mindset to form a tandem with Todman once Dixon graduates. Mostly a special teams player in his first year, his only six carries came in the opener.

Behind Sherman is 5-10, 235-pound junior Anthony Davis, a far more one-dimensional fullback who’ll only touch the ball if someone else puts it on the ground. Solely a lead blocker and short-yardage pile-mover, he’s unlikely to elevate out of the No. 2 position.  

Watch Out For… Todman to begin flashing star qualities. Last fall and this spring provided ample evidence that this kid can play, and even as the offense shifts, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to shine. If size and durability don’t become obstacles, he’s liable to be the next big thing in a Husky running back.
Strength: Two quality backs. Okay, so it’s not the same level of quality as a year ago, but in Todman and Dixon, Connecticut has a luxury of more than feature guy and complimentary backs, who’ll hurt defenses in distinctly different ways. 
Weakness: A true workhorse. Brown just gobbled up carries a year ago, never wearing down and actually getting stronger at the end of games. That type of grinder will be missed, especially since the probable starter is only 5-9 and 190 pounds.
Outlook: While it’s never easy replacing a first-round talent, like Brown, the Huskies appear well-positioned to keep things humming on the ground. The combination of Todman and Dixon has the potential to be as productive as any in the Big East, and Sherman is an unselfish tank as the lead blocker.
Rating: 7.5
 
Receivers

Projected Starters: If the new no-huddle offensive system is going to work right away, Connecticut needs more consistency from the receivers. A lot more consistency. A year after catching a team-high 27 passes for 273 yards and a score, 5-8, 178-pound sophomore Kashif Moore is making a permanent shift to slot receiver. The shift means he’ll be matched more often with safeties and outside linebackers, neither of whom will be able to contain his speed, agility, or sudden change of direction.

The steady veteran of the group will be 6-0, 193-pound senior Brad Kanuch, who’s had trouble staying healthy and is on the mend from a recent broken collarbone. While not overly big or fast, he does have deceptive speed and will use his experience to get behind the secondary and find soft spots in the defense. While limited to only seven grabs a year ago, he caught 27 passes for 433 yards and a touchdown in 2007. 

In three-wide sets, 6-0, 191-pound sophomore Isiah Moore has positioned himself to be the first man off the bench. After failing to see the field the last two seasons, he started getting serious about the fundamentals, like using his hands more and looking the ball in, which hasn’t been lost on the coaching staff.

The graduations of Steve Brouse and Martin Bedard have Connecticut starting over at tight end, where a youth movement is in full swing. The spring battle between a pair of redshirt freshmen, 6-3, 255-pound John Delahunt and 6-6, 247-pound Ryan Griffin, is going to spill into the summer. In the mold of an H-back, Delahunt is another Canadian import for the school and a quality all-around athlete.

Griffin is a bigger target, with the large wingspan to make plays above opposing linebackers and safeties. While still raw, especially after facing limited high school competition in New Hampshire, the staff likes his long-term potential to become a complete tight end.

Projected Top Reserves: After catching a dozen passes for 137 yards and being just one of two true freshmen to letter, 6-0, 190-pound sophomore Michael Smith is aiming for greater production in his second season. Way ahead of the curve for such a young receiver, he’ll block, runs tight routes, and has some of the best hands on the team. He’ll be backing up Kashif Moore in the slot.

Although he’s slipped behind Isiah Moore in the pecking order, 6-2, 210-pound senior Marcus Easley remains an important part of the rotation. A former walk-on and more of a possession receiver than a burner, he has five career receptions, mostly earning his letters on special teams.

Watch Out For… incoming freshman Dwayne Difton. What happens when talent meets opportunity? You get a first-year player, who’s poised to make immediate contributions. The most heralded receiver to ever sign with Connecticut, he has the speed and confidence to soar up the depth chart.
Strength: The future. Yeah, the present is sort of sketchy right now, but better days lay ahead. The Huskies have been recruiting a different type of receiver, like Smith, Kashif Moore, and Difton, and the faster-paced offense is going to make it easier down the road to lure quality athletes from around the country to Storrs.
Weakness: Go-to guys. The Huskies will remain green and inconsistent until the underclassmen mature and the former walk-ons are displaced on the two-deep. Last year’s leading receiver only had 27 grabs, a statistical indication of the mediocrity that still follows this unit.
Outlook: While this corps is clearly headed in the right direction, it still has a long way to go, and could be a major stumbling to aerial success this fall. They’ll almost certainly get better as the season progresses, however, especially as the new system gets digested and Difton gets comfortable in his surroundings. 
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The Huskies are hoping to maintain a high level of line play, despite losing its two most important players, LT William Beatty and C Keith Gray, to graduation. Senior Dan Ryan is the front-runner to succeed Beatty, who’s now cashing checks in the NFL. Although the 6-8, 305-pounder looks the part and has 30 games of experience, he’s struggled to remain in the lineup, and will be facing more pressure than at any point in his career. If he’s not up to it, his seniority will go only so far.

Over at right tackle, Connecticut will turn to its most consistent blocker, 6-6, 325-pound senior Mike Hicks. A veteran of 35 starts, he’s played some guard in the past and is effective as a run blocker and a pass protector. He was permanently shifted outside a year ago in order to take full advantage of his long arms and ability to wall off edge rushers. With a strong final year, he could sniff some postseason all-star teams.

At the all-important center spot, the Huskies are turning to 6-2, 295-pound sophomore Moe Petrus. He enjoyed a breakout year in 2008, starting all 13 games at left guard and picking up some Freshman All-America hardware along the way. His intelligence, maturity, and athletic ability made this a natural move during the offseason.

Leading the way at right guard is 6-7, 300-pound junior Zach Hurd, a two-time letterwinner and 13-game starter a year ago. Built more like a tackle, he was shifted inside a year ago, catering to the staff’s desire to get the best athletes at guard. He does a nice job of getting out to the second level, but needs to become more of a knee-bender in order to improve his leverage.

After missing all but a single game in 2008 with a shoulder injury, 6-2, 303-pound senior Alex LaMagdelaine is working to earn the starting nod at left guard. He has plenty of competition, but also has the versatility and 22 games of experience to put up a fight. He can also play center, a position that’s searching for more depth.

Projected Top Reserves: The lineman in LaMagdelaine’s hip pocket is 6-4, 287-pound junior Mathieu Olivier, who earned four starts and some valuable experience a year ago. A nimble athlete for his size, he gets out of his stance quickly and does a nice job of pulling on running plays.

For 6-7, 300-pound redshirt freshman Jimmy Bennett, the future may be now. At worst, he’s the heir apparent at left tackle once Ryan exhausts his remaining year of eligibility. One of the top prospects from the 2008 signing class, he bends well and plays with outstanding functional strength. It’s a long way off, but if he keeps working and learning, he’ll have a chance to play beyond Storrs in a few years.

Watch Out For… lots and lots of competition in August. Randy Edsall refused to name starters following the final spring session, an indication of his displeasure with the line’s work. Technically, every job remains open, which will create am intense environment when the Huskies reconvene this summer.
Strength: Run blocking. Year after year, this program has had a habit of taking marginal players and coaching them into effective blockers, especially on running plays. Brown earned all of his 2,083 yards last fall, but he got plenty of help from the five fellas in front of him.
Weakness: Continuity. Not only do two new starters need to be identified, but Edsall was like a croupier, shuffling his players around in the spring. Chemistry is a huge component of a successful line, but that won’t come until the Huskies can settle on its starting five.
Outlook: Someone needs to start giving more attention to the job being done by offensive line coach Mike Foley, who consistently whips players others ignored into outstanding blockers. He’ll earn his pay again this year, trying to retool a unit that helped the Huskies lead the Big East in rushing and sacks allowed. The key will be at left tackle, where either Ryan or Bennett needs to lessen the pain of losing Beatty to the NFL.
Rating: 7.5