NCF Nation: Jerome Junior

UConn suspends safety Jerome Junior

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
9:30
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UConn has suspended starting safety Jerome Junior for the 2012 season for a violation of team rules, the school announced Tuesday.

Junior is not currently enrolled in school and will not be for the fall, either.

Coach Paul Pasqualoni told The Hartford Courant: "The message is that we have program policies, we have a very, very high level of expectation of our players in many areas and one of those areas is behavior – whether it be on campus, off campus, in the meeting room, on the practice field, at the game we’re not going to accept anything but appropriate behavior. It was a violation, for me, it was a violation of what’s expected here in the football program and we can’t accept it.”

Junior started 11 games last season, finishing fourth on the team with 60 tackles. He had served a one-game suspension during the season for a violation of team rules. The UConn secondary is the biggest area on the defense that needs improvement, so losing a veteran starter certainly hurts, even though Junior was inconsistent at times.

Byron Jones, who saw action at safety and cornerback as a redshirt freshman last season, would seem to be the logical choice to step in with Junior out.

Week 4 review/Week 5 preview

September, 27, 2010
9/27/10
2:10
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The memory-wiping service featured in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is offering discounts to all Big East teams should they want to clear this September from their brains. Until then, let's review what happened in another tough week for the league:

Team of the week: Syracuse. Not much to choose from here, and all the Orange did was beat Colgate at home. But the Orange are 3-1 for the first time since 2003, and I don't see any other Big East teams celebrating milestone victories right about now.

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
AP Photo/Al BehrmanCincinnati and coach Butch Jones showed flashes of promise in an exciting game against Oklahoma.
Best game: Cincinnati's 31-29 loss to Oklahoma. It was a game full of big plays and a stirring Bearcats comeback, in a unique atmosphere against a big-time opponent. Plus, it offered signs of what Cincinnati could become under Butch Jones.

Biggest play: This is a four-way tie, and it's all about kicking-game plays not properly executed.

D.J. Woods' fumbled punt for Cincinnati proved costly and maybe the turning point, along with a missed PAT that kept the Bearcats from being able to tie the score late with a two-point conversion. West Virginia allowed a punt return for a touchdown and missed two field goals (one of which was blocked) in a 20-14 loss at LSU.

Rutgers, normally so good at special teams, had a punt blocked that set up North Carolina's final field goal in a 17-13 loss. And Pitt's Cam Saddler fumbled away a punt return just as Pitt cut Miami's lead to 17-3 and finally appeared to have some momentum. The Panthers completely deflated after that.

Never underestimate the kicking game.

Best call: Randy Edsall's decision to lift Zach Frazer for Cody Endres at quarterback in the Buffalo game. The Huskies seemed to gain almost immediate confidence on offense, and Endres led them down the field to several scores in a 31-point second half. Edsall couldn't really have made the call any sooner since Endres was suspended until last week. But it was the right time to make a change.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati. I totally blew it in my helmet stickers this week, giving a nod to Woods instead of Pead. I'd like to blame it on too many Abitas in Baton Rouge, but it was really a case of a bad internet connection in the LSU press box and no TV access. But no excuses. Throw the penalty flag on me. Pead was huge in the second-half comeback, running for 139 of his 169 yards after intermission. Cincinnati is a different team with a healthy Pead able to take pressure off the passing game.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Jerome Junior, S, Connecticut. Junior had a pair of interceptions, including one he returned 27 yards for the Huskies' first score against Buffalo.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Terrance Mitchell, South Florida. The true freshman had 94 yards on two punt returns, including a 64-yarder that set up a score against Western Kentucky.

Worst hangover: Pittsburgh. Sure, West Virginia, Rutgers and Cincinnati all lost their marquee matchups, too. But the total margin of defeat against LSU, Oklahoma and North Carolina was 12 points, at least giving some hope that each team can get things going. Pitt offered no reason for optimism in a 31-3 home collapse against Miami. The Panthers likely aren't as bad they showed last Thursday night, but they looked nothing like the preseason league favorite.

Strangest moment: With USF clinging to a 24-12 lead against Western Kentucky and the Hilltoppers about to go for an onside kick, Skip Holtz put quarterback B.J. Daniels in on his hands team. And wouldn't you know it: the ball went to Daniels, and he caught it. How many coaches would put their starting quarterback in that situation? Then again, given the kicking problems plaguing the league all during Week 4, it makes sense.

The good news for the Big East is that September is over. Here's how the hunt for a better October begins in a really lackluster week (games listed in descending order of interest/importance):

Vanderbilt at Connecticut (2-2): Hey, it's a chance for the Big East to beat an SEC team! (Crickets). But Vandy already has a better win than anybody in the Big East -- a 28-14 victory at Ole Miss. (ESPN3.com, Noon ET)

Florida International (0-3) at Pittsburgh (1-2): It's Panthers vs. Panthers. Don't sleep on FIU, which has opened its season playing Rutgers, Texas A&M and Maryland tough. If Pitt's head isn't right, an upset is possible. (3:30 ET)

Tulane (1-2) at Rutgers (2-1): Hey, remember when Tulane used to have that high-scoring offense with Shaun King? That was fun. Hey, remember when Rutgers' offense used to score points, too? (2 ET)

Florida Atlantic (1-2) at South Florida (2-1): The Big East tries to maintain its tenuous hold over the Sun Belt in the ESPN conference rankings. (ESPN3.com, 7:05 ET)

Louisville (1-2) at Arkansas State (1-3): You don't just walk into Jonesboro and expect to beat the Red Wolves. No, sir. (7 ET)

Bye: West Virginia, Cincinnati, Syracuse

Big East helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
2:37
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Cody Endres, QB, Connecticut: Coming on in relief of struggling starter Zach Frazer, Endres went 7-for-11 for 139 yards and two touchdowns to spark a 45-21 win over Buffalo.

Jerome Junior, S, Connecticut: Junior had two interceptions, including one he returned 27 yards for a score, against Buffalo.

Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati: Collaros completed 23 of 38 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the Bearcats' 31-29 loss to Oklahoma.

D.J. Woods, WR, Cincinnati: Woods had seven catches for 171 yards and a score against the Sooners.

Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse: Without a lot of other candidates, I break my rule of not picking players who succeeded against FBS candidates. Carter rushed 14 times for 172 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-7 win over Colgate.

UConn scuffling against Buffalo

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
1:55
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Whatever is ailing Connecticut apparently hasn't been cured yet.

The Huskies got off to a good start at home against Buffalo, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Jerome Junior returned an interception for a touchdown and D.J. Shoemate ran in for a score.

But the second quarter was all Bulls, and they tied the score at 14 just before the end of the half. Buffalo has almost twice as many yards as UConn, which is still struggling to get its offense going. Zach Frazer has been sacked a couple of times and threw his first interception of the season (probably crowning Zach Collaros our champion in the last interception pool). And Cody Endres came in for the final drive of the half, though it was just to take a knee on the last play. Very interesting.

Shoemate got the start for the injured Jordan Todman but hasn't been nearly as effective as the Big East's leading rusher. The USC transfer has the touchdown, but has just 28 yards on seven carries. There's been no sign of Robbie Frey. Linebacker Greg Lloyd also didn't start or play until well into the half.

It will be interesting to see if Randy Edsall makes any more changes at halftime, and what he does at quarterback. Something has to get UConn going.
It's time to get back to our post-spring rankings of each Big East position group. A lot of teams have question marks in their secondaries heading into this summer; let's look at how they stand in comparison to one another:

[+] EnlargeSands
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerRobert Sands snagged five interceptions last season.
1. West Virginia: The Mountaineers play five defensive backs in their 3-3-5 alignment and should be well stocked for 2010. Safety Robert Sands should compete for league defensive player of the year honors if he continues his rapid development, while senior Sidney Glover is an experienced playmaker at one of the other safety spots. West Virginia needs Brandon Hogan to rediscover his form and for Keith Tandy to keep improving, and this could be one of the team's strongest units.

2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost the best cornerback in the Big East when Devin McCourty took his skills to the NFL, but I still like the group that's returning. Joe Lefeged should step up and assume McCourty's leadership role as a senior safety, while Khaseem Greene looks ready to become a front-line safety. David Rowe is a solid corner, and either Brandon Bing or Logan Ryan should fill the other spot. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of talented young players here to provide quality depth, as well.

3. Syracuse: The Orange officially have five returning starters in the secondary because of injuries last year, and several players gained valuable experience during 2009. There's a good mixture of veteran leadership with guys like seniors Mike Holmes, Da'Mon Merkerson and Max Suter as well as rising stars like Shamarko Thomas and Phillip Thomas.

4. Pittsburgh: Antwuan Reed helped answer a big question with a strong spring at cornerback. The other corner spot will likely be filled by either junior college transfer Saheed Imoru or Buddy Jackson, with Ricky Gary around to add depth. The safety position should be in good shape when Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti return from their injuries, while Jarred Holley established himself as a dependable safety last year.

5. South Florida: The Bulls lost a pair of draft picks in Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy and have some young players moving into key roles this season. The good news is those youngsters have talent. The key will be whether Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster can hold down the cornerback spots.

6. Cincinnati: There's healthy competition in the secondary for the Bearcats, who increasingly gave up big plays in the passing game as the 2009 season wore on. Dominique Battle, Camerron Cheatham, Chris Williams and Reuben Johnson all vied for playing time at corner this spring. Drew Frey is a steady safety. The group needs to make more plays than it did a year ago but should embrace a more aggressive scheme this year.

7. Connecticut: The Huskies ranked last in pass defense last season and lost two senior stalwarts from the secondary. The defensive backfield was in disarray at times this spring. The return of Blidi Wreh-Wilson from his shoulder injury this summer should help out the cornerback spot with Dwayne Gratz. Jerome Junior should be solid at one safety spot, while Kijuan Dabney is trying to win the other job after moving from linebacker. The Huskies are counting on a lot of young players to improve quickly before the season begins.

8. Louisville: The Cardinals had so much trouble finding playmakers in the secondary this spring that running back Darius Ashley moved to corner to help out. Johnny Patrick is one of the league's better cornerbacks but needs help in the defensive backfield. The healthy return of safety Terence Simien would provide a boost, but this remains a trouble spot heading into the fall.

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