NCF Nation: Nick Williams

Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan are rivals in the AFC East, but they both had an eye for Big East talent Wednesday.

The Patriots coach was in Storrs, Conn., to check out Connecticut's pro day, while the Jets head man was in Dallas at SMU.

When Nick Williams was learning the slot position last season, UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni had compared his potential to that of former New England star Wes Welker, making the sight of Belichick all the more surreal for him.
"That was pretty interesting," Williams said, according to the Hartford Courant. "I was fired up when I found out he was coming. An opportunity to work out in front of him is not something you can do every day. I was very fired up, especially with — although I think they're a little lofty — the Welker comparisons."

Williams ran an unofficial 4.56 in the 40-yard-dash Wednesday, while cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, likely the first Husky to be taken in next month's NFL draft, improved his combine time from 4.53 to to unofficial times of 4.40 and 4.32.

The Mustangs, meanwhile, hosted reps from 21 NFL teams, including Ryan, who was there to work out potential first-round pick Margus Hunt.

Hunt chose to stand on his numbers from the combine, though others made an impression, including teammate Zach Line, who ran a 4.72-second 40 against the wind and a 4.62 with it.

Receiver Darius Johnson also stood out, running the 40 in 4.65 and 4.56, respectively, while notching 33 inches in the vertical jump. Defensive tackle Torlan Pittman led the team on the bench with 42 reps of 225 pounds.

UConn surprises Pitt 24-17

November, 9, 2012

Many of us thought a letdown could be in store for Pitt on Friday night after the Panthers dropped a triple-overtime heartbreaker to Notre Dame last week.

But nobody expected what actually happened against the Huskies.

Connecticut -- so hapless on offense for most of the season -- set the tone early on with dominant play up front and then held off a furious Pitt rally to end a four-game losing streak and win 24-17 and keep its bowl hopes alive. Pitt failed to show up in the first half, trailing 24-0 at halftime before deciding to make a game of it.

The Huskies (4-6, 1-4) helped them out, continuing their second-half scoring struggles. In five Big East games, UConn has a total of three second-half points. In this one, Jarred Holley intercepted Chandler Whitmer in the end zone with 4:57 to go and the Huskies up 24-10.

Pitt (4-6, 1-4) turned the mistake into a score when Tino Sunseri threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Mike Shanahan with 2 minutes, 46 seconds remaining. But Whitmer made up for his earlier miscue with a huge third-down conversion on a pass to Shakim Phillips to ice the game.

Pitt now has to win out over Rutgers and South Florida to get back to a bowl game. Panthers fans have come to expect these types of games from the most enigmatic team in college football. One week, they lose to Youngstown State. Another week, they nearly upset the No. 3 team in the country.

On Friday night, it was just another bad loss to a team that was winless in Big East play going into the game. Consider:
  • UConn was one of the worst teams in the nation in total offense, scoring offense and rushing offense going into the game. The Huskies had gone four consecutive games without rushing for 100 TOTAL yards. But against the Panthers, they went over the century mark and Lyle McCombs had his first 100-yard game since Sept. 22 against Western Michigan.
  • The Huskies scored over 20 points for the first time since notching 24 on Sept. 29 against Buffalo.
  • UConn, maligned all season for the play of its offensive line, had perhaps its best game of the season in successfully controlling the line of scrimmage.

The Huskies also got an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown from Nick Williams in the first half to help build their 24-0 lead. Two huge players on the night for UConn: tight end Ryan Griffin, who tied a career-high with six receptions for 84 yards and a score; and linebacker Sio Moore, who was a one-man wrecking crew.

Pitt simply could not move the ball with any consistency, getting 48 total yards rushing. Sunseri ended up with over 300 yards passing, but it was too little, too late.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- I had a chance to catch up with UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni during the Big East spring meetings. We talked about where the quarterback race stands and some of his remaining questions heading into fall practice.

Do you have a front-runner in the race to be your starting quarterback?

PP: Chandler Whitmer had the best production in the spring game, so I think there are members of the media, and I’ve been through this before, that like to choose the quarterback. If the members of the media, based on the spring game, were choosing the starting quarterback, Chandler Whitmer would be the front-runner. But I’ve been in this long enough to know that it’s not based on one performance. It’s the body of work over an extended period of time. They all did some pretty good things in the spring. Having said that, we’re going to come back into preseason camp and we’re going to continue the competition but I would like very, very much to make a decision as soon as I can.

[+] EnlargePaul Pasqualoni
AP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaPaul Pasqualoni still has a decision to make regarding his starting quarterback.
It did drag on into the season opener last year.

PP: I preferred for that not to happen. Years back when we had Donovan McNabb, Kevin Johnson and Keith Downing all competing, it was the same thing; we were trying to figure it out. We weren’t able to do it early in preseason, so we did it in the end to get all the scrimmages in and get all the opportunities to watch and see them play and produce. If we have to, we’re going to do that, but if we don’t have to, we’re not going to do that. I’d like to be able to say tomorrow, 'Here it is, let’s go,' but I just can’t do that. So we’re going to grind it out. It’s a big decision, obviously, and we’re going to try to make the best, informed decision that we can.

How will you manage the reps with all five still competing?

PP: We did a great job of managing the reps in the spring, so we’ll go back in and we’ll manage the reps the same way. They’ll each get a significant number of reps. Scotty McCummings will still have the majority of the Wildcat reps, although he works on the entire game plan and we’re trying to develop him as a drop-back passer as well. We’ll divide them up and we’ll do the best we can with it.

If Casey Cochran doesn’t emerge as your starter, have you given thought to redshirting him?

PP: We haven’t discussed any of that yet. We really don’t talk about redshirting anyone at this point. My policy is I want them coming in with a non-redshirt mentality when they get on campus. My fear has always been if you start to talk that redshirt mentality and they come into camp and they’re not ready enough, it affects their conditioning and the way they go through practice. I want them coming in and all competing.

How about the development of your offensive line this spring. Where does that group stand?

PP: We’re anxious to get Jimmy Bennett back. He’ll be back. He’s been cleared, he’ll work out full go here in early June. He was really one of our better tackles last year. The biggest issue with Jimmy is to get him ready to go but keep him healthy. Adam Masters got nicked up in the spring, we have to get Adam back, and over at right tackle, Kevin Friend has been working hard. So if Jimmy’s back and Jimmy’s playing tackle, it gives us flexibility to put Adam back at guard. Alex Mateas and Tyler Bullock are competing at center. There are a few freshmen I want to see practice, Tyler Samra, Rennick Bryan. I want to see where they can fit in the top 10. So those are going to be all really big things for us with the offensive line in camp.

How about the defensive line? It seemed Ryan Wirth had a good spring game.

PP: Ryan Wirth got nicked up but then he came back for the spring game and had a very productive spring game. He’s a senior, and we expect to get senior leadership out of him. Shamar Stephen, Angel Pruitt, I thought Julian Campenni had a productive spring until he got hurt. He cut his ear and was unable to play in spring game but he had a productive spring. We’re not there yet on the defensive line, and we’re not there yet on the offensive line, but we’re going in the right direction. We’ve got the right guys on the bus. It’s a matter of getting them in the right seats now.

What are your biggest questions then, aside from quarterback?

PP: Offensive line, defensive line, and what the depth is going to be at both the tailback position and the wide receiver position.

Losing D.J. Shoemate was obviously tough.

PP: It was. We know what Lyle McCombs can do. But we’ve got to find out who the next two guys are.

At receiver, Shakim Phillips seemed to have a good spring as well.

PP: Shakim had a good spring, Mike Smith is back and he’s played a lot of football for us. Nick Williams is back. We’ve got the two young guys in Tebucky Jones and Geremy Davis who have done pretty good, and then we moved Deshon Foxx out to wide receiver and he showed some promise. I think we know who the older guys are there. Now we have to figure out the younger rookie guys and see what kind of depth we have. I want each of them to have a role. To say that I’ve got all that figured out right now -- I don’t.
We have come to the final group in the 2011 postseason position rankings: special teams. This one is all encompassing -- kickers, punters, returners, and team coverage -- which has made it quite the task to evaluate as one group. Some teams had returns that excelled and kickers that were so-so. Some had great kickers but a so-so return game.

I tried to give equal weight to all parts. In the end, I took the rankings in several special-teams categories and used an average ranking to help determine these. Special weight was given to game-changing plays as well.

1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats ranked in the top two in four of the five statistical categories I used to evaluate special teams as a whole. The only area lacking was field goals, but I thought overall Tony Miliano had a decent year for a true freshman, even considering his missed kick against West Virginia. Ralph David Abernathy IV emerged as a dynamite kickoff man, and Pat O'Donnell was the best punter in the Big East again. Kickoff coverage was solid as well. Preseason ranking: 5.

2. UConn. Nick Williams averaged just 5.6 yards a return on punts. He was not particularly dynamic on kickoff returns, either, ranking No. 4 in the Big East after going into the season as one of the top returners in the league. UConn was one of two Big East teams without a kickoff return for a touchdown. But still, the Huskies were solid in every other category. Dave Teggart once again was the Big East first-team kicker, and Cole Wagner averaged 41.1 yards a punt. Preseason ranking: 1.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireTavon Austin had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season.
3. West Virginia. Tavon Austin was hands down the best returner in the Big East this season, and one of the best in the nation. But since this is an evaluation of special teams as a whole, everything is taken into account. West Virginia had the worst punting situation in the Big East, and ranked last in kickoff coverage. There were several critical blocked field goals as well. Special teams absolutely improved as the year went on, and some players made big plays -- Eain Smith comes to mind. But Austin alone wasn't enough to elevate the group higher. Preseason ranking: 7.

4. Rutgers. Once again, the Scarlet Knights were highly effective at blocking kicks -- a staple under coach Greg Schiano. Jeremy Deering was solid in the kickoff return game as well. But San San Te had the worst field goal percentage in the Big East (64.5 percent), and kickoff coverage ranked No. 7 in the conference. Rutgers only had an opportunity to return 16 punts last season, averaging about 6 yards a return. Preseason ranking: 6.

5. Pitt. The Panthers lost their punter and field goal kicker from a year ago and did perhaps better than expected in special teams overall. Punter Matt Yoklic was second in the league in punts, though Kevin Harper did struggle at times with his field goals. Losing Cameron Saddler really hurt the punt return game as well. Preseason ranking: 8.

6. Syracuse. Ross Krautman led the Big East in field goal percentage (78.9) but he only had 19 attempts on the season, second fewest in the Big East. Punt returns were essentially nonexistent -- with only 12 attempts for an average of 3.1 yards a return. Jeremiah Kobena was a nice addition at kickoff returner, but the Orange still ranked No. 6 in the Big East in that category and kickoff return coverage as well. Preseason ranking: 4.

7. Louisville. Chris Philpott had a disappointing season, ranking No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage (66.7). He and Josh Bleser averaged 37.3 yards a punt. Punt returning ranked No. 7 in the Big East as well, and aside from Adrian Bushell's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, that category was just average for the Cardinals. Preseason ranking: 3.

8. USF. I think the Bulls were the biggest disappointment in this category. Lindsey Lamar, who was the first-team Big East selection at returner last year, had zero this year and ranked No. 9 in the league in kickoff return average. His average was down some six yards from last season. When Terrence Mitchell got hurt and missed the second half of the season, no one was dynamic at punt returner, either. Maikon Bonani ranked No. 3 in field goal percentage but fairly or not is going to be remembered for missing a field goal that would have beaten Rutgers, and eventually gotten the Bulls bowl eligible. Preseason ranking: 2.

Final: UConn 40, Rutgers 22

November, 26, 2011
What a letdown for Rutgers.

Playing for a shot at a Big East title and BCS game, the Scarlet Knights imploded in every way imaginable. UConn took advantage and won 40-22, keeping its bowl hopes alive. The Huskies (5-6, 3-3) need a win next week at Cincinnati to become bowl eligible.

The loss eliminates Rutgers (8-4, 4-3) from contention for a Big East title and BCS berth.

So much was on the line in this game for the Scarlet Knights, but they failed to show up. The three areas they have prided themselves on the most this season -- special teams, protecting the football and solid defense -- all failed them.

Rutgers turned the ball over a season-high six times, allowed one long kickoff return after another to Nick Williams, and saw the Huskies notch a season-high for points scored. The Scarlet Knights came into the game with the No. 1 defense in the Big East, but they gave up 40 or more points twice in league play.

The result was one of the most disappointing losses under coach Greg Schiano. Chas Dodd was pulled in the fourth quarter, with Rutgers down 40-10. Gary Nova threw two touchdown passes to Brandon Coleman, but he also had two interceptions.

For UConn, it was the most dominating performance of the season. The Huskies turned the first three Rutgers turnovers into 21 points and essentially put the game out of reach. Lyle McCombs had 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Scott McCummings added two touchdowns. Williams ended up with 158 yards on three kickoff returns and one punt return.

The Huskies had six sacks and held Rutgers to minus-9 yards rushing -- a week after the Scarlet Knights rolled up 203 yards on Cincinnati. UConn only attempted 17 passes in the game.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 25, 2011
How about some helmet stickers for a job well done.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers. Sanu has been on a tear this season. After catching a career-high 13 passes against North Carolina, he did better against Ohio. Sanu caught a school and Big East record 16 passes against the Bobcats, getting 176 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-26 victory. Sanu already has 36 receptions this season.

JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati. Schaffer keyed yet another terrific effort from the Bearcats' defense in a dominating 44-14 win over NC State on Thursday night. Schaffer led the team with nine tackles, and also had an interception as Cincinnati forced three turnovers to add to their NCAA lead. He has three interceptions this season.

Nick Williams, WR, Connecticut. Williams has been a return specialist but finally got his chance on offense and came through in a big way. Williams had a career-high 113 yards on just two catches in a 17-3 win over Buffalo. One catch went for 64 yards and set up the first touchdown of the game. The second was a 49-yard touchdown reception.

B.J. Daniels, QB, USF. Maybe I should spread the helmet sticker love around at USF, but it is hard to do when Daniels is playing so well. Daniels finished with 332 total yards --130 rushing and 202 passing -- in a 52-24 win over UTEP. He had a career-long 71-yard touchdown run and two touchdown passes and now has 10 total touchdowns this season.

Final: UConn 17, Buffalo 3

September, 24, 2011
If you were not convinced that the season would be a slog for UConn, allow me to present a 17-3 win over Buffalo.

But what might be most disturbing about this game was the continued pedestrian play of the offensive line and running game. Those are generally strengths for the Huskies. But guard play has been a problem, and neither Lyle McCombs or D.J. Shoemate have done much against FBS opponents.

UConn averaged 1.9 yards a carry in the game, gaining 80 yards on 42 carries. Shoemate was essentially nonexistent. The best bet UConn has moving forward may be to get Nick Williams more involved in the offense. He had the biggest plays of the game for the offense -- a 64-yard catch that set up the first touchdown, and a 49-yard touchdown pass from Johnny McEntee late in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.

One bit of concern for the defense -- top cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson left the game with an injury.

Halftime: UConn 10, Buffalo 3

September, 24, 2011
The Huskies lead Buffalo 10-3, but it has not been pretty. Then again, when has a Huskies game been pretty of late.

Coach Paul Pasqualoni has used all three quarterbacks again. Johnny McEntee has the only touchdown pass of the day, a 4-yarder to fullback Mark Hinkley. That was set up on a nice 64-yard reception from Nick Williams. But once again the Huskies have struggled to run the ball.

They have 43 yards rushing and are averaging 2.4 yards a rush. Lyle McCombs has 36 yards on 12 carries. D.J. Shoemate does not have a carry.
We wrap up our look at team position rankings with special teams. There are plenty of strong kickers and returners in the league. I did not separate them, though, because those would be more like individual rankings. Those are coming soon.

[+] EnlargeNick Williams
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireNick Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season.
1. Connecticut. The Huskies have one of the best kickers in the league in Dave Teggart and one of the best kickoff returners in the league in Nick Williams putting them in the top spot here. Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season with 35.3 yards per kick. Teggart was the Big East first-team selection, making 25 of 31 field goals. They should be better this year, even with the loss of Robbie Frey.

2. USF. The Bulls also have an excellent kicker-returner duo in Maikon Bonani and Lindsey Lamar. Bonani made 17 of 21 kicks last year, while Lamar was the first-team All-Big East selection, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaging 26 yards per return. Add in punt returner Terrence Mitchell and this is one of the best units in the league.

3. Louisville. The Cardinals have one of the best in the league in Chris Philpott, who punts and kicks. Josh Bleser is solid in splitting the punting duties with Philpott. Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright are back as kickoff returners -- both averaged 30-plus yards per return last season. Wright's kick return helped the Cardinals win the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl last year. Doug Beaumont is gone as punt returner, but he is the only loss. This unit has a chance to be No. 1 at year's end.

4. Syracuse. The Orange have one of the best kickers in the league in Ross Krautman, who missed just one of his 19 field goal attempts last season. They do lose their top punt returner in Mike Holmes, along with punter Rob Long so there are questions at some of the most important spots on special teams. But Krautman, and the return of Dorian Graham and Prince-Tyson Gulley returning kicks puts this unit just ahead of the Bearcats.

5. Cincinnati. This is a mixed bag for the Bearcats. They have the best punter in the league in Pat O'Donnell, who also happens to be a physical freak in the weight room. They should be decent in the return game with the return of D.J. Woods, who will compete with Anthony McClung, Shaq Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins to return kicks and punts. Darrin Williams is in the mix for kickoff returner, too. But kicker is a huge question mark. Jacob Rogers was solid last season. Now there is uncertainty in the competition between Tony Miliano and Danny Milligan. Coach Butch Jones says he won't name a starter until game week.

6. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights also have question marks here. Kicker San San Te returns, but he needs to be better from longer distances (2-of-7 from 40-plus yards). Punter Teddy Dellaganna is gone and so is kickoff returner Joe Lefeged. True freshman Anthony DiPaula enrolled early and takes over at punter. Mason Robinson is back at punt returner, and Jeremy Deering and Mark Harrison make a good combo returning kicks.

7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers need more consistency from kicker Tyler Bitancurt, who missed his final four kicks of last season. He made just 10 of 17 attempts and looked shaky in the spring. West Virginia has a new holder and a new punter in Corey Smith, and hopes for improvement in the return game.

8. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have to replace both kicking specialists, including Big East first-team punter Dan Hutchins. At punter, you have walk-ons Matt Yoklic and Drake Greer, neither of whom has punted in a collegiate game. Kevin Harper takes over as kicker and had a good spring game. The Panthers also replace their long-snapper, so there will be a period of adjustment for this unit when the season starts. Cameron Saddler is a bright spot at returner.

Previous rankings

What to watch in the Big East: Week 14

December, 2, 2010
1. Championship week: The Big East doesn't have a title game, but this week works the same. Connecticut will claim the league's BCS bid with a win at South Florida. If the Huskies lose, West Virginia takes the crown by beating Rutgers. If both teams fall, Pittsburgh can still sneak in the BCS back door with a victory at Cincinnati.

2. Battle in the trenches in Tampa: The UConn-South Florida game will pit the Huskies' powerful offensive line versus one of the Bulls' main strengths: their defensive line. Nose guard Terrell McClain has quietly had a great season and will try to wreak havoc inside against Moe Petrus and Zach Hurd. Teams can run on the Bulls, though; their last three opponents have all rushed for at least 150 yards, which could mean big things for ...

[+] EnlargeJordan Todman
David Butler II/US PresswireJordan Todman has rushed for 100 yards in all but one game this season.
3. Todman time: Jordan Todman has been the league's MVP and has carried the Huskies during their recent four-game winning streak, averaging 161 rushing yards in that span. You would think the Bulls would stack the box and force one of the nation's least productive passing attacks to beat them, but other teams have had the same idea and still can't stop Todman. If UConn is going to the BCS, Todman shall lead them there.

4. USF's quarterback situation: B.J. Daniels is gimpy on an injured quadriceps muscle. True freshman walk-on Bobby Eveld led the team to victory in the second half and overtime last week at Miami and may start Saturday. Eveld was impressive at times, but he's still wildly inexperienced, and young quarterbacks can have major ups and downs. Daniels may be able to play at least some snaps. UConn's defense has been a ball hawking bunch of late, and this is a dangerous situation for South Florida.

5. Return delivery: The USF-UConn game will feature two of the top kick returners in the country. Nick Williams is leading all returners with a 42-yard average and two touchdowns for the Huskies, while South Florida's Lindsey Lamar also has scored twice and is averaging 29 yards per attempt. If either of them gets loose, that could be a game-changer.

6. West Virginia's defense vs. the indefensible Rutgers O-line: The Mountaineers' defense is just plain scary and is among the nation's leaders in all important categories. It ranks sixth in the FBS in sacks, and this is a match made in hell for the Scarlet Knights' offensive line. Rutgers has given up a nation's worst 55 sacks already, and with guys like Bruce Irvin and J.T. Thomas charging through that line, things could get ugly fast. I fear for quarterback Chas Dodd's well being.

7. A 180 at Nippert: A year ago at this time, Pitt and Cincinnati staged a classic shootout for the Big East title. The Panthers still are mathematically alive for the BCS bid and can earn a share of the Big East title with a win Saturday, but no one will remember that tie after a 7-5 season. They have to beat Cincinnati just to avoid going 6-6, and a crummy bowl destination could await either way. Cincinnati has already been eliminated from the postseason and has nothing to play for but pride. All eyes were on this game last year; not many will be watching 12 months later.

8. Bowl bids: Since the Big East plays its regular-season schedule during other league's title-game week, nothing has been decided yet on bowls. We're reasonably certain Syracuse is going to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, but that's it. This weekend's results will determine not just the BCS bid but which teams get the other six Big East slots.

Big East Week 6 review/Week 7 preview

October, 11, 2010
The ever-living ghost of what once was ...

Team of the week: (Tie) Syracuse and Rutgers. The Orange beat South Florida for the first time ever and did it on the road, no less, to move into a tie for first place ridiculously early into Big East play. And the Scarlet Knights, after receiving much criticism (including from this corner) for their performances against Tulane and North Carolina, rebounded to win their conference opener against Connecticut.

Best game: The UConn-Rutgers game was close, as it almost always is, and it came down to a San San Te field goal with 13 seconds left as the Scarlet Knights escaped 27-24.

Biggest play and best call: Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd's 52-yard touchdown pass to Mark Harrison with a little over four minutes left tied the score at 24. Dodd faked a swing pass to Jordan Thomas and found Harrison all alone down the sideline.

Best drive: Syracuse went 98 yards in the fourth quarter to score the game's lone offensive touchdown in its 13-9 win over South Florida. The drive included only two plays of longer than 8 yards as the Orange methodically matriculated the ball downfield.

[+] EnlargeChas Dodd
Duncan Williams/Icon SMIRutgers' Chas Dodd has performed well since earning additional playing time.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): Dodd. Several players posted huge statistics this week in blowouts, but no one energized an entire fan base that so needed something positive like the true freshman quarterback. He had 322 yards passing and two touchdowns in his first start and may have Wally Pipp-ed Tom Savage.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Craig Marshall, DE, South Florida. It came in a losing cause, but Marshall was huge for the Bulls. He had eight tackles and tied a school record with three sacks.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Nick Williams, KR, Connecticut. His also came in a losing effort, but Williams delivered a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for the Huskies.

Strangest moment: Pitt's late-game strategy against Notre Dame. The Panthers took over at their own 10 with 4:45 left, trailing by six. They proceeded to call two straight running plays to Dion Lewis, followed by a short pass to Jon Baldwin that was batted down at the line of scrimmage. Then, facing a fourth-and-5, Pitt called one of its three timeouts -- in order to set up a punt. It is sequences like that which cause people to question Dave Wannstedt's coaching acumen and conservative philosophy.

Biggest hangover: Connecticut. South Florida lost at home, which is bad. But no one really expected the Bulls to win the Big East this season. The Huskies were considered a contender, and they came into the Rutgers game with all the momentum on their side. Instead, they turned in a lackluster second half and failed yet again to beat the Scarlet Knights. Now at 3-3, the hopes for a breakthrough season have all but evaporated.

Now let's look at Week 7, which offers a short, but mostly meaningful slate (Games listed in descending order of interest/importance):

Pittsburgh (2-3) at Syracuse (4-1, 1-0 Big East): Are the Orange for real? Can they really get to 2-0 in league play? And how will Pitt respond entering conference action? Lots of intriguing angles here. (, Saturday, Noon ET)

South Florida (3-2, 0-1) at West Virginia (4-1): The Mountaineers begin Big East play against a team that has been their nemesis in recent years. It could be payback time. (ESPN, Thursday, 7:30 ET)

Cincinnati (2-3) at Louisville (3-2): The Cardinals are looking pretty feisty right about now, and this could be a real tug-of-war for the Keg of Nails. (ESPN, Friday, 8 ET)

Army (4-2) at Rutgers (3-2, 1-0): Army looks much improved and just waxed the same Tulane team that won in Piscataway two weeks ago. (Saturday, 2 ET)

Bye: Connecticut

UConn takes lead into halftime

October, 8, 2010
A long, nearly two-hour first half has ended with Connecticut leading Rutgers 24-17.

There has been more offense than we could have expected so far. Well, that and special teams. UConn scored on a 100-yard kickoff return by Nick Williams, and Rutgers' two scores were set up by a long punt return by Mason Robinson and a 75-yard kick return by Joe Lefeged.

The Scarlet Knights led 17-7 thanks to a strong start by true freshman Chas Dodd. He completed eight of his first nine passes for 130 yards and showed a lot more poise in the pocket than injured Tom Savage has this year. There may be a real quarterback controversy here, which is amazing. Rutgers hasn't scored 17 points in its last two games and yet still trails despite the outburst.

That's because Jordan Todman erupted on a 66-yard touchdown run with some classic pulling work by UConn's offensive line, and Cody Endres's one great pass of the half went for a 22-yard touchdown to Kashif Moore. Clearly, UConn has more offensive weapons than Rutgers, to no one's surprise. The Huskies have also been better in the second half this year, so the seven-point lead bodes well.

But Rutgers isn't out of this, and if Dodd continues to play well this could actually turn into a shootout. It's been way more entertaining so far than expected.
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall held a summer update teleconference today before he and his coaching staff go on vacation. Edsall said it's been an uneventful summer in Storrs, but he also announced that two receivers won't be with the team this fall.

Redshirt freshmen Marcus Aiken and Malik Generett will both have to try to work their way back next year. Aiken was dismissed from the university, while Generett is ineligible. Edsall would only say the two ran afoul of university policies without elaborating, but he indicated there were no legal issues involved and that the departures were related to academics.

"It's unfortunate that some guys just don't take care of things they should take care of," he said. "If guys took care of their business, they wouldn't put themselves in that situation."

Aiken worked out at safety this spring but was moved to receiver at the end of spring ball. Generett showed some promise during spring, and at 6-foot-4 he was the team's lone true big target at wideout.

The injury news is more positive for the Huskies. Offensive lineman Jimmy Bennett, who missed the spring with a knee injury, should be ready to go for fall camp. UConn's coaches loved Bennett's potential to be a big-time player at tackle before he got hurt.

"He has worked extremely hard," Edsall said. "I think can he be every bit as good as we thought he could be."

Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and linebacker Jesse Joseph, who both had shoulder injuries this spring, are full go, as is receiver Nick Williams (hip). The status of defensive lineman Greg Lloyd, who suffered a serious knee injury near the end of last season, is still up in the air.

"A lot depends on how hard Greg wants to work in the next month," Edsall said. "If he works really hard, he should be OK to get started."

Defensive tackle Alex Polito, who tore his labrum this spring, will be back toward the end of preseason camp, Edsall said. Backup linebacker Emmanuel Omokaro is out until about late September.

Edsall said all of the freshmen reported Sunday and are eligible. Wide receiver Geremy Davis has a knee injury that he suffered while working out this summer, and that may force him to sit out this season, the coach said.

All in all, the news is more positive than negative for the veteran-laden Huskies. While Aiken and Generett would have added depth to the receiving corps, neither was being looked at as a starter. Getting Wreh-Wilson and Joseph back is key to the defense, and if Bennett regains his form it will add to an already imposing O-line.

Sounds like Edsall issued a challenge to Lloyd to work hard on his rehab; the former linebacker could give the defensive line some needed strength on the edge if he's sound.
This could be a big year for Connecticut.

The Huskies were playing as well as anybody in the Big East down the stretch and finished the 2009 season with a victory over South Carolina in the Bowl. They bring back a wealth of starters and plenty of depth. I caught up with UConn coach Randy Edsall last week to talk about the beginning of spring practice, which starts March 16. This is part I of my interview. Check back later for part II.

First of all, you have to be feeling pretty good about where the program is given all the players you bring back from last year, right?

[+] EnlargeEdsall
Andrew Weber/US PresswireRandy Edsall led the Huskies to an 8-5 record in 2009.
Randy Edsall: We do. We have a lot of guys back and we only have 12 seniors on the roster, so that bodes well for us. We're going to have more depth than we've ever had. The thing about this spring that's going to be a little different is, we're going to have a lot of guys who won't be doing things because of injuries. So we'll be able to get a lot of work in, but some of the kids won't be out there with us because of injury. But the thing I'm excited about is that we're going to give some of these young guys a lot of work to even develop more depth in the program.

Do the injuries cause a little less of a concern this spring just because you have so much experience coming back?

RE: Yeah, it really does. Just looking at our depth chart and our board ... even though Jesse Joseph is not going to go through the spring, Greg Lloyd is not going to go through the spring, Blidi Wreh-Wilson is not going to go through the spring on defense, with those guys out we still have so many guys and we know what those guys can do because they played for us. And now get some other kids more repetitions and kids we know are going to be available to play next year. For me, it's a plus for us. And we had six kids who came in at midyear, so it's another plus that those kids are going to get a lot of reps.

We're not going to be the finished product coming out of spring, because like with Jimmy Bennett and Mike Ryan on offense, they're not going to be practicing due to the injuries that they had in the fall and Robbie Frey will be limited and won't be full go. That's where in terms of the offensive line, it's going to give us a chance to work with some of our young guys and really get them a lot of reps to develop them so if they've got to get into a game, they're going to have some experience there.

Let's talk about the quarterbacks. Zach Frazer played well for you at the end of the year, but Cody Endres also played well before his injury. Is Frazer the No. 1 guy right now or is it more of a competition?

RE: As we came out of the season, we won four straight there with Zach and I thought he did some good things. Cody did, too, I think, so we're in a good situation. But as we go into the spring, Zach's the No. 1 guy and it would be his job to lose. He knows there's always competition, but he's the No. 1 guy as we start practice on the 16th.

What did you like about the way Frazer played at the end of the year?

RE: I thought he really just played within himself. I thought he was relaxed, he was poised and I thought he made a lot of good decisions He wasn't forcing the ball; he was taking what the defense was giving and throwing the ball where it should have been thrown. And when it wasn't there, he threw the ball away as opposed to trying to make a great play, squeeze a ball into somewhere you shouldn't. I really thought he did a good job of what we asked him to do in the game plans we had for those games.

People may forget that you put in a new offense last year, and there must have been some adjustments along the way.

RE: You could see the improvement as the season went on with what we did offensively, and I think one of the keys this spring is now the kids are going to be more comfortable in the offense. There are going to be some things that we're able to do to add or to tweak where we think it will make us better. But I was pleased with the development of the offense as the season went along. Our point production and passing yardage was up from a year ago, and we maintained what we wanted to do in the running game.

It took two guys to replace Donald Brown, but that's fine. And we want to keep building on the positives we had last year and keep moving forward, and the good thing is we only lost Andre [Dixon], and we still have Jordan Todman coming back. We lost Brad [Kanuch] and Marcus Easley, but we feel we have receivers to step in and do the job. And up front the only guy we lost was Mike Hicks. We really feel good about the guys we have coming back and what we can do to improve upon the production and the output we had a year ago.

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