Thursday, August 21, 2008

season preview: Connecticut

Today was supposed to be Richmond, because that's the order in which we play them. But I lied. Actually, Richmond is a mega-tough team to research, because nobody writes anything about I-AA teams (still not onboard with this FBS/FCS thing by the way) and even the official website is low on info. Fear not: the CAA website is doing their own preview of their own teams in alphabetical order, only today, they're on Rhode Island. Guess where Richmond falls? So Richmond is slightly delayed, and I'm going to poach that site for info. Never fear, we have Connecticut, and you get a preview as promised. Of all the teams I've looked at so far, only UConn has been kind enough to not only post a depth chart, but one that declares "this is the actual for real one we're taking into the first game." So these projections can be considered closer to gospel truth than any of the others so far. Anyway, I give you the Huskies.


8/28: Hofstra (Th.)
9/6: @Temple
9/13: Virginia
9/19: Baylor (Fr.)
9/26: @Louisville (Fr.)
10/4: @North Carolina
10/18: @Rutgers
10/25: Cincinnati
11/1: West Virginia
11/15: @Syracuse
11/23: @South Florida
12/6: Pittsburgh

Projected starters:

QB: Tyler Lorenzen (Sr.)
RB: Donald Brown (rJr.)
FB: Anthony Sherman (So.)
WR: Ellis Gaulden (5Sr.)
WR: Kashif Moore (rFr.)
TE: Steve Brouse (5Sr.)
LT: William Beatty (5Sr.)
LG: Moe Petrus (rFr.)
C: Keith Gray (5Sr.)
RG: Zach Hurd (rSo.)
RT: Mike Hicks (rJr.)

DE: Julius Williams (5Sr.)
DT: Rob Lunn (5Sr.)
DT: Alex Polito (rSo.)
DE: Cody Brown (Sr.)
SLB: Scott Lutrus (rSo.)
MLB: Greg Lloyd (So.)
WLB: Lawrence Wilson (rSo.)
CB: Darius Butler (5Sr.)
FS: Robert Vaughn (Jr.)
SS: Dahna Deleston (5Sr.)
CB: Jasper Howard (So.)

K: Tony Ciaravino (5Sr.)
P: Desi Cullen (Jr.)

Coach: Randy Edsall (10th year)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Connecticut is a basketball school, so they’re not supposed to be any good at football. Kind of like Kansas. (Wait.) Kind of like Kentucky. (Better.) They didn’t pay any attention to that little truism and decided to go out and win themselves a Big East championship, which they did. A share of one, at least. Now they’re back, and they’re bringing 15 of 22 starters with them, 17 counting the specialists. Exactly zero of them are recognizable names, and the team so surprised even Husky fans that the Daily Campus (UConn’s school newspaper) was prompted to observe that, “West Virginia’s football team made our football team look like our actual football team,” following the blowout loss to the Mountaineers. Still, good things are ahead for the Huskies.


I lied when I said there are no recognizable names on UConn. QB Tyler Lorenzen's name is well known, though he shares no actual genes with the guy who made the name Lorenzen popular (former Kentucky QB Jared.) Lorenzen is a respectable passer; he will not light up the scoreboard with spectacular throws, but he keeps the ball out of the defense’s hands. The real threat he brings is the ability to run the option, which UConn will do roughly between 14-18 times a game. He’ll be aided in the running game by a stable of quality running backs: Andre Dixon and Donald Brown split the carries last year almost evenly and split the yards the same way, each gaining about 820 yards. This split was less a case of an actual tandem and more that Brown spent a few games in the doghouse, but that even split will probably continue this year.

Where UConn needs help, badly, is at wide receiver. The leading receiver last year was Terence Jeffers, who split for Vanderbilt because he wasn’t happy about “how he was being utilized”, because being the star receiver means you get ignored by the play-callers, all the time. A passel of receivers missed spring practice with injury, meaning that the fall competition was almost started from scratch. Emerging from the dust to get the nod to start were fifth-year senior Ellis Gaulden and Kashif Moore. Gaulden has more knee injuries than knees, and Moore is a redshirt freshman, so there will likely be much rotation here.

The line will be solid, though. Both tackle spots and center feature returning starters; left tackle is held down by William Beatty, who has been a starter for three years. Left guard Moe Petrus, a redshirt freshman, beat out former starter Alex LaMagdelaine for the starting spot. There is plenty of flexibility; LaMagdelaine can step in at center as well as guard, and starting right tackle Mike Hicks has experience at guard as well. It is a deep, versatile, and experienced line; the only question may be their ability to pass-block, having given up 30 sacks in 2007.


Connecticut’s scoring defense last season was excellent, allowing just 19 points per game, and eight out of eleven starters are returning. Leading tackler Danny Lansanah is gone, but there are plenty of names to fill the void. The star on the line is fifth-year senior Julius Williams, who registered 8.5 sacks to lead the team, but with a margin of just one over his other bookend Cody Brown, who got 7.5 sacks of his own. The defense’s other notable player on the statsheet is safety Robert Vaughn, who intercepted 7 passes. Darius Butler, at corner, would have had more than two, but he’s another three-year starter and quarterbacks don’t throw his way. Jasper Howard beat out two more-experienced players to get the job on the opposite corner, and he’ll need to be on his game at all times because offenses will want to try and exploit his inexperience; Howard is a true sophomore. The last member of the secondary is safety Dahna Deleston, back in the backfield after a stint at linebacker in 2007.

Deleston can return to his natural spot because the Huskies have talent to spare at linebacker. On the outside are sophomores Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson, both of whom earned freshman all-American honors last year; Lutrus on the first team and Wilson on the second.


Both kicker and punter return. K Tony Ciaravino was 22-of-27 with a long of 50 yards. P Desi Cullen averaged over 40 yards a punt. UConn will not need to worry about these guys. The cornerbacks, Butler and Howard, will handle the return duties.


UConn was 9-4 last year and has a better team this year. But they’re going to go into games with a larger target on their back than last year, and they face a Big East on the upswing, with many of the teams as improved from last year as they are. Still, their defense should keep them right in the hunt in any game they play. Take away the West Virginia blowout, and the defense gave up just 15 points a game, which would have been good for second in the entire country. These guys will definitely go bowling, but the Big East has a lot of parity and a lot of teams just like UConn that are looking to establish themselves, and their season could come down to one or two plays in each of about five different games.

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