The Connecticut Huskies are going bowling for the first time since 2010 - when they faced off against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. This time around they’ll see a 9-3 Marshall team in a matchup in the St. Petersburg Bowl in Florida.
The Huskies were projected to finish in the basement of the AAC in multiple preseason polls and after a promising 2-0 start, they dropped to 3-5, and with ECU, Houston, and Temple still on the schedule, a bowl game didn’t look like it was in the picture. But if there’s one thing that stands out about UConn athletics, it’s that you can never count the Huskies out.
I have to give it to Bob Diaco. After finishing 2-10 in his first season with the team last year, and losing what looked to be the “QB of the future” in Casey Cochran (concussions), I thought that it could be another couple of years until UConn football would be competitive again.
From 2007-2010, UConn football went 33-19 finishing with at least 8 wins each season and reaching 4 straight bowl games. What stands out on those teams was UConn’s reliable defense. Those were teams led by dominant defensive players like Danny Lansanah, Scott Lutrus, Tyvon Branch, Darius Butler, Robert McClain, Lindsey Witten, Sio Moore, Dwayne Gratz, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, etc. Their defense always seemed to keep them in games, getting to the quarterback and making big plays, which was especially important considering they themselves never really had a great quarterback. During that same 4-year span, UConn quarterbacks threw just as many interceptions as touchdowns (45).
There are a lot of parallels that one can draw between this year's UConn team and those of the Randy Edsall era. And the best part is, UConn is returning a lot of firepower next season. I’ll start out with the defense. On the front 7, they’ll return Cole Ormsby, Folorunso Fatukasi, Junior Joseph, Cameron Stapleton, and Luke Carrezola. Carrezola and Fatukasi (both sophomore’s) lead the team with 12.5 combined sacks. This is an incredibly athletic group with a bunch of guys who can move around and play in different formations. Linebacker, Graham Stewart, will be a huge loss for this defense. The transfer from Florida is a ballhawk with a high motor who will most likely get a shot to play on Sunday’s. However, EJ Levenberry, is a transfer from Florida State who sat out this season but will be eligible to play next year and will be looked big upon to fill the shoes of Stewart.
|Lindsey Witten (#9) led the Huskies with 11.5 sacks in 2009|
In the secondary, the Huskies will lose safety Andrew Adams, who has 9 career interceptions. That loss will hurt just as much as Stewart, but cornerback, Jamar Summers, who’s currently tied for 5th in the nation with 5 interceptions, will be looked upon to become the staple of this secondary.
Bottom line: UConn’s defense is back
Offensively, sophomore quarterback, Bryant Shirreffs, was the big surprise. The NC State transfer fended off Timmy Boyle for the starting job. He tossed for 9 touchdowns but it was his ability to move around in the pocket (420 rush yards, 3 rush TD) that made him such a threat. Combine his running ability with the likes of Arkeel Newsome (1,500+ total yards, 8 total TD) and Ron Johnson (220 rush yards, 4 rush TD) and the Huskies had a formidable rushing attack. The real question coming into the year: who would the quarterback be throwing to? They graduated their top 2 receivers (Geremy Davis & Deshon Foxx) and prior to the season it was announced that starting TE, Sean McQuillan, had been arrested and removed from the football team. Enter Noel Thomas. The 6’1 junior emerged as The Shirreffs top target and reminds me of a young Marcus Easley...Sophomore’s Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom filled in for McQuillan and their NFL size (6’5, 250 & 6’6, 260, respectively) provided additional beef in the blocking game. Shirreffs, Newsome, Johnson, Thomas, Myers, and Bloom are all set to return next season.
Bottom line: UConn has an offense
|UConn will return their trio of backs in 2016|