NCF Nation: Zach Frazer

The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl went about like the "experts" expected. Connecticut scrapped like crazy, but it just didn't have the firepower to keep up with Oklahoma, losing 48-20.

How the game was won: Connecticut's inability to truly threaten the upset was based on a fairly basic problem: The offense couldn't score. The Huskies didn't score an offensive touchdown, which is a problem when you're playing an explosive team like Oklahoma.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma passed for 433 yards while UConn passed for 222. The Huskies are a nice power running team, but they will need to cultivate more balance to win games like this in the future.

Player of the game: Huskies running back Jordan Todman: You know he's coming, but he still gets his yards. Todman finished with 122 yards on 32 carries. It was tough going for Todman most of the night, but he fought for every yard.

Unsung hero of the game: The Huskies defense did a respectable job keeping the Sooners out of the endzone, particularly in the second half, allowing just 14 points.

Second guessing: Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, UConn faced a fourth and inches on the Oklahoma 19-yard line. The Huskies went for it, which was a good call. But the handoff to Robbie Frey, who was stuffed for no gain, wasn't a terribly inspired call. Heck, the center was uncovered and quarterback Zach Frazer weighs 230 pounds. A QB sneak might have been a better choice. Hey, hindsight.

What Connecticut learned: The Huskies learned that they could play a competitive game on a big stage with one of the nation's elite programs. It also learned that it needs to get better, particularly on offense, if it is going to win a game on a big stage over one of the nation's elite programs.

Lots of third-quarter fireworks

January, 1, 2011
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Just when it seemed like two big plays from Oklahoma ended Connecticut's hopes in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Huskies get their own big play.

First, Landry Jones connected with Cameron Kenney for a 59-yard touchdown pass. Then, on UConn's ensuing possession, Zach Frazer was intercepted by Jamell Fleming, who rambled 55 yards for a touchdown.

That made it 34-10, and everyone pulled a fork out. Game over, right?

Then Robbie Frey returned the Sooners kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

A 17-point deficit still looks considerable for the Huskies -- they have yet to score an offensive touchdown.

But you never know.

Halftime: Oklahoma 20, UConn 10

January, 1, 2011
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So far, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is going mostly as expected: Though Connecticut is scrapping, Oklahoma is in control.

Turning point: UConn, really, produced just one big play -- a pick-six interception from cornerback Dwayne Gratz. But it energized the crowd and gave the Huskies a moment of hope, which grew when the Sooners faced a third-and-4 from their 26-yard line on the next possession. A three-and-out would have established a solid momentum shift. But Landry Jones found Ryan Broyles for 35 yards. While the Sooners only ended up with a field goal, the play quashed the Huskies momentum and helped Jones get back on track.

Stat of the half: 279-109. That's Oklahoma's advantage in total yards at the break.

Best player in the half: Other than the pick-six, Jones has dominated. He completed 21-of-27 for 233 yards and a touchdown at the break. He's been accurate and efficient and the interception didn't break his rhythm.

What Connecticut needs to do: The Huskies are fighting, and the defense has made a couple of plays to keep the game within striking distance. But the UConn offense has to be more aggressive in order to get some points. That means throwing downfield and perhaps trying a few tricks. If the Huskies are playing to win and not just to keep things close, they need to take chances. In fact, quarterback Zach Frazer has looked good. He's completed 10-of-16 for 73 yards. He only averages 120 yards passing per game.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Maybe the experts, and fans, were right: This is a hopeless mismatch.

Two Oklahoma possessions resulted in methodical -- and way too easy -- touchdown drives, while Connecticut's lone penetration into Sooners territory ended when it was stuffed on fourth-and-1.

Little is going the Huskies way. It feels like this one could be over before halftime if they don't find a way to stop Sooners quarterback Landry Jones, who was 10 -for-10 for 112 yards with a touchdown in the first quarter.

The lone positive: Huskies quarterback Zach Frazer is throwing well. He's 6-of-8 for 49 yards.

Is Zach Frazer the key for UConn?

January, 1, 2011
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Might this be Zach Frazer's shining moment?

Connecticut ranked 112th in the nation in passing yards and 113th in passing efficiency this season. Frazer was benched for ineffectiveness four games into the season before coming back to lead the five-game winning streak that got the Huskies to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Still, his season-high for passing yards is 205, and that came in the opener, a blowout loss at Michigan. He never eclipsed 200 yards again. In fact, three times he passed for fewer than 100 yards. He completed just 52.7 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

There is little to suggest he could, say, pass for 220 or so yards with a couple of touchdown passes, particularly against an Oklahoma secondary that ranks 13th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

But that very well might be what he NEEDS to do if the Huskies are to win.

It's not the most plausible storyline. But it's the sort of thing that happens when a team pulls a shocking upset during the bowl season.

And remember the Huskies had plenty of time to add some wrinkles to their offense, considering they last played on Dec. 4.

Fiesta Bowl: Three keys for Oklahoma

December, 31, 2010
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1. Do not turn the ball over more than twice. There's no underestimating this for the Sooners since they are playing as heavy favorites. Even if Huskies running backJordan Todman runs wild on them for 200-plus yards, Oklahoma has the offense that can outscore Connecticut and score 50 points to win if necessary. What can stop that? Turnovers. Oklahoma's receivers, Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, should be able to get open. The Sooners should be able to run the ball with at least moderate success. But lose the ball or throw it to the guys in the wrong jerseys and Oklahoma opens up a game that it should close in the second half. Oklahoma's lost just five fumbles this year compared to 11 interceptions from Landry Jones, so picks are more likely for the sophomore passer. Jones threw three in the first half against Oklahoma State.

One or two turnovers, unless they're returned for scores, won't be enough to cost the Sooners a win. But if the turnover battle gets to 3-0 or 4-0 in favor of UConn, brace yourselves for another Big 12 bowl upset.

2. Keep Todman from busting big runs. Oklahoma gave up a 66-yard touchdown run to Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. early in the Big 12 Championship as part of the Huskers' 17-0 spurt to open the game. That's no big surprise, the Sooners have given up 25 runs of 20 yards or longer this season. Only eight teams in FBS have surrendered more. Of those eight teams, only two are bowling. Todman will get plenty of tough yards against Oklahoma's defense. But if the Sooners keep him from getting easy ones, they'll keep him under 150 total yards, limit big gains for Connecticut, and wear Todman down.

3. Defensively, win the fight on first down. Oklahoma has to force Connecticut to throw the ball as much as possible. The best way to do that is force lots of 2nd-and-8 or 2nd-and-9s that eventually force third down passing situations. If you see Connecticut with an impressive third-down percentage, it'll be because they're converting lots of 3rd-and-2 and 3rd-and-3 situations, rather than completing tough passes against Oklahoma's underrated corner duo of Demontre Hurst and Jamell Fleming. The more times Zach Frazer has to drop back and throw it against a prepared defense, the better it will be for Oklahoma. Some teams can consistently convert long third downs. The Huskies, ranked 105th nationally in completion percentage (53.1 percent), aren't one of them.

A freshman inspires UConn

December, 30, 2010
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Connecticut didn't look like a BCS bowl team when it was 3-4 and coming off a 26-0 loss to Louisville. It looked like a team spinning into the toilet, a promising season heading toward the sewer.

Team meetings are often overrated -- an unfocused, unmotivated, divided team doesn't just suddenly transform because guys deliver a fire-and-brimstone speech or two -- but UConn's players seem to believe they saved their season with one.

Part of that was good leadership from upperclassmen, guys such as linebacker and team captain Scott Lutrus. And there was star power: All-American running back Jordan Todman also appealed to his team to turn things around.

"We realized at that point there was kind of a fork in the road and we were going down the wrong path," quarterback Zach Frazer said.

But Frazer specifically recalled a speech that came from an unlikely person: True freshman offensive lineman Gus Cruz, who reminded them of Jasper Howard, a Huskies cornerback who was senselessly stabbed to death on campus the previous year

Said Frazer, "You don't really think a freshman is going to stand up and speak, but some powerful words came out of his mouth... He just reminded us that, 'Hey, Jas isn't here this season, but I'm sure he's watching down.' He didn't go through that experience last year, but he's a team member and he kind of put that in our vision."

It took guts to speak up. And it took something else to create a message that resonated with the team. Cruz said he was motivated by a quote on the wall of the football complex that the Huskies see every day: "Play every play like it's the last play you'll ever play."

Cruz wondered if everyone was doing that.

"I said if Jasper were here, this wouldn't be happening," he said.

What happened thereafter is the Huskies won five games in a row, won the Big East and now will play Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Saturday.

Team meetings don't always work. But sometimes they do.

Said Cruz, "We've been doing pretty good after that."

Zach Frazer hopes to get into The Flow

December, 30, 2010
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It is a pity that Connecticut quarterback Zach Frazer is required to wear a helmet, for it obscures from public view the grandeur of what is known by Huskies insiders as "The Flow."

Most watching UConn on TV only get hints of the mystery and majesty of The Flow. It peaks out from beneath Frazer's blue helmet, warming his neck and perhaps warning the quarterback if a defender is near with diabolical intentions.

Oh, some might dismiss The Flow. Some might call it a mullet. Some might call it a mess. Some might wonder if Frazer is channeling Elvis. But Frazer's hair is not to be trifled with. As the Dude abides, Frazer defines the existence of The Flow in similar philosophical terms: "It happened," he said.

[+] EnlargeConnecticut Huskies quarterback Zach Frazer
David Butler II/US PresswireConnecticut quarterback Zach Frazer's flowing hair is a source of pride.
"Everyone on the team is jealous of The Flow, we'll just put it like that," he explained.

Perhaps. Medusa surely would feel upstaged.

"He thinks it's pretty," UConn linebacker Scott Lutrus said.

What isn't terribly pretty, however, is the Huskies passing game. The Huskies rank 112th in the nation with just 145.1 passing yards per game. And it's not just about a lack of trying: They also rank 113th in the nation in passing efficiency.

Nor has the situation at quarterback been pretty. In fact, it's been a bit of a soap opera. Frazer and Cody Endres had gone back and forth with the starting job for a couple of years, but Frazer seemed to take control when Endres injured his shoulder in 2009. Then Endres got suspended and the job became Frazer's this fall. But Frazer, who transferred from Notre Dame in 2007, was benched after the first four games for inconsistency and Endres took over, a demotion that Frazer didn't take particularly well.

Then Endres got kicked off the team for a team rules violation, and the Huskies opted to go with redshirt freshman Mike Box over Frazer. Box started the 26-0 loss to Louisville that dropped the Huskies to 3-4 overall. Back to Frazer.

Yet, when things looked most dire and the season seemed to be in a tailspin, something clicked. Frazer didn't start passing for 300 yards. Heck, he didn't even start passing for 200 yards. But the Huskies started winning. And that five-game winning streak is why The Flow is on display before the Huskies face Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Saturday.

There is no question what the UConn offense is all about: All-American running back Jordan Todman, the nation's second-leading rusher, and a veteran, physical offensive line. But Frazer has been behind center since a midseason transformation, and his game management is notable for an important characteristic.

"He's won games for us," Lutrus said. "Look at his record as a starter. He's a smart quarterback who is great with checks and makes smarts decisions."

Frazer's numbers don't sparkle. He completed 53 percent of his throws with five touchdowns and four interceptions. But, again, he's 5-0 since he regained the starting job and the Huskies won the Big East championship.

"He makes good decisions. He avoids sacks. He's productive in the red zone," offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said. "He's made plays when he's needed to. We've got an All-American running back and three All-Big East guys up front. The bottom line is whatever we need to do offensively in order to help us win games."

And Frazer believes that if Oklahoma shuts down Todman, the Huskies can throw the ball well enough to win.

"Our game plan is based on whatever they are going to do," he said. "We can run the ball. We can throw the ball. If they are geared to stop the run, I feel confident we can execute in the passing game."

Oklahoma hasn't been great against the run the this year. The Sooners have given up 151.8 yards rushing per game, which ranks 63rd in the nation, and they have been particularly vulnerable to big plays in the run game: They've surrendered 42 run plays of over 15 yards this season. Only four teams have yielded more, and none had winning records.

Still, the Sooners have played far more balanced offenses. They certainly will crowd the line of scrimmage and key on Todman and force Frazer to throw. The Sooners have been particularly good on third down this year, with foes converting at just a 34 percent clip, which ranks 15th in the nation. The Huskies struggle on third down: Their 32 percent conversion rate ranks 112th in the nation.

In other words, Frazer is going to have to get into The Flow. And we're not just talking about his notable hair.

"If we can run the ball, then good," he said. "But if we really need it, our passing game can step up."

Reply hopeful Huskies fans: May The Flow be with you.
1. Huskies were just tougher: Is Connecticut the most talented team in the Big East? Probably not. But the Huskies are going to the BCS because they were better at handling adversity than any other league team. Their three key wins -- at home against West Virginia and Pitt, and at South Florida in Saturday's finale -- came by a total of eight points. In each, they faced tough times; they trailed in the second half against the Mountaineers and Panthers, and they needed a goal line stand in the final two minutes to avoid falling behind against the Bulls. Each time they answered, and that's why UConn, improbably, is the Big East's BCS representative. That being said ...

[+] EnlargeUConn's Jordan Todman
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaJordan Todman was held to just 2.8 yards per carry against South Florida, something that will need to improve for the Huskies to have success in their bowl game.
2. UConn needs to diversify: The South Florida game tape will no doubt be dissected in either Norman, Okla., or Blacksburg, Va., on Sunday night. The Bulls stacked the box and were athletic and aggressive enough to hold Jordan Todman to just 2.8 yards per carry and no runs longer than 9 yards on 33 attempts. The Huskies couldn't make South Florida pay in the passing game, throwing for just 112 yards. If Zach Frazer and the UConn passing attack doesn't improve in the next month, it will have trouble competing against Oklahoma or Virginia Tech.

3. West Virginia has only itself to blame: The Mountaineers and their fans were hanging on every play of the South Florida-Connecticut game, hoping the Bulls could win and send their team into the BCS. West Virginia had the best defense in the Big East and probably should have won the league going away. But even in Saturday's 35-14 win over Rutgers, the problem that plagued the Mountaineers -- turnovers -- reared its ugly head. They lost three fumbles inside the Scarlet Knights' 15-yard line and nearly gave away two more. That kind of sloppiness with the ball is why West Virginia lost to Syracuse and Connecticut -- and why it's now hoping for the Champs Sports Bowl at best.

4. Bobby Eveld will push B.J. Daniels: Eveld, a true freshman walk-on, made his first career start in place of the injured Daniels against UConn. Though he had his share of mistakes -- he threw three interceptions, two of them on tipped balls -- he also showed a pocket presence and moxie that ought to make Daniels a little nervous. A 6-foot-5, he's nearly six inches taller than Daniels, and he delivers nice, accurate balls. He threw for 105 yards in the fourth quarter and led his team on a scoring drive in the final two minutes for the second straight game. At the very least, the Bulls should let Eveld compete for the starting job next spring with the mercurial Daniels.

5. Rutgers and Cincinnati face long offseasons: The Scarlet Knights and Bearcats, who had seemingly begun to establish themselves as perennial bowl participants, each finished off 4-8 seasons on Saturday. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano needs to do a thorough examination of his program and staff, especially on offense. He might also lose former rising star Tom Savage to a transfer. Butch Jones never could get the young Cincinnati defense to play well, nor could he fix the team's turnover problems. There may have been some complacency around the program after two Big East titles, and there are some holes to fill on the roster. Neither team is going bowling, but each team's offseason should be busy.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Lawrence Wilson grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He went to Paul Bryant High School, for crying out loud. Yet Wilson couldn't get as much as a head nod from any SEC schools.

Now he's a fifth-year senior linebacker for Connecticut, and maybe the perfect poster boy for these underdog, under-loved Huskies.

[+] EnlargeUConn's Lawrence Wilson
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Lawrence Wilson returned an interception 55 yards for the Huskies' only touchdown of the game.
Wilson's 55-yard first-half interception return was the only touchdown for UConn on Saturday night, but his team somehow found a way to beat South Florida 19-16 and clinch its first-ever BCS berth.

"Payback is what I call it," Wilson said. "For overlooking me. Now we're going to the BCS. I can't believe it."

Neither, probably, can the rest of the country, or even the rest of the Big East. The Huskies are in just their ninth year of playing at the FBS level and their seventh in a automatic bid conference. What's more, they started this year 3-4 overall and 0-2 in league play before improbably winning their final five games. At 8-4 and never having once been ranked this season, UConn is shockingly BCS-bound.

It is also bound for a month's worth of knocks from critics. None of it will leave a mark.

"People have already said a lot of things about us," quarterback Zach Frazer said. "That's fine. We know we deserve to be here."

Saturday's game showed why a lot of people doubt the Huskies' ability to compete in a BCS bowl.

They managed only 232 total yards against South Florida, which came in with a simple yet effective plan: Stop the UConn running game. Everybody has tried that this year, but most failed. The Bulls overloaded the box all night and practically begged Frazer to beat them over the top.

Yet even with the numbers stacked against the run, star tailback Jordan Todman pounded it 33 times into the crowd. He gained only 93 yards, just the second time this season he has been held under 100 in a game. The longest Connecticut run of the night went for nine yards.

Running it in a phone booth still is usually a more preferable option than throwing it. Frazer, never an accurate passer, completed less than half his attempts (13-of-29) for a paltry 112 yards, the fourth straight game the Huskies have been held under 125 yards passing. You can already envision the headaches an athletic defense like Oklahoma or Virginia Tech will cause with a month to prepare against such a one-dimensional attack.

But Saturday's game also illustrated UConn's strengths: its resiliency and resourcefulness.

The defense came up with a crucial stand after South Florida drove to the 5-yard line in the final two minutes with three chances to take the lead. Frazer completed two key passes after USF's tying field goal to get within kicker Dave Teggart's range.

Special teams proved to be enormous all night. Teggart drilled the 52-yard game-winner with 17 seconds left after making a 50-yarder earlier in the half. Punter Cole Wagner was an unsung hero, averaging 53 yards on six punts in a game of field position. And returner Robbie Frey kept setting up the Huskies in good spots; he got the winning drive started on the UConn 40.

"Football is not about style points; it's about winning and losing," head coach Randy Edsall said. "This is who we are."

Is that identity good enough to merit a BCS game? You bet, Edsall says.

"The bottom line is we won the game and nobody can take anything away from us," he said. "We played by the rules and we won the Big East, so we get the BCS. That's what the rules are, and we're going."

Few would have thought that possible on Oct. 23. The Huskies got blasted 26-0 at Louisville that afternoon, just days after Edsall dismissed starting quarterback Cody Endres for failing a second drug test. Connecticut had lost to Rutgers the week before and was blown out by Michigan and Temple earlier in the year. The season hung in the balance.

"You could see it on everyone's faces -- we were like, 'Where are we going to go and what's going to happen?'" Frazer said. "We could have easily gone down the tank and gone home for Christmas."

But this is a team that learned to battle back from adversity last year, when teammate Jasper Howard was murdered after a midseason game. Following some heartbreaking losses, the players regrouped to win their four games. Edsall is hoping that the Orange Bowl takes the Huskies because Howard, who would have been a senior this year, called Miami home.

Reps in loud blazers from both the Fiesta and Orange bowls checked out the delirious UConn locker room, and perhaps they argued over who should get stuck with the Huskies. This a team that nobody wanted in a BCS game, full of players hardly any big schools wanted, with a style of play nobody wants to watch.

Like it or not, though, the Huskies are going to the BCS. And nobody can overlook them any more.

"We worked for it and we earned it," Wilson said. "We had a hard path, but we proved we're a great team."

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Halftime: UConn 10, South Florida 3

December, 4, 2010
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Quick halftime analysis from Raymond James Stadium, where Connecticut leads South Florida 10-3.

Turning point: No doubt about this one. UConn linebacker Lawrence Wilson grabbed a pass tipped by lineman Trevardo Williams and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown and the lead with 1:11 left. The interception happened on the first play after Jon Lejiste picked off Zach Frazer inside the USF 10 and returned it to midfield. The crowd was stunned into silence at the unbelievable turnaround.

Stat of the half: UConn has 124 total yards while USF has 131, and each is averaging right at 4 yards per play. That's how close it is. This has been a defensive battle, and the Huskies have come up with the huge defensive play for a score.

What South Florida needs to do: The Bulls' defensive strategy has been pretty clear. They're loading the box to stop the running game, and doing a reasonably effective job at it. Jordan Todman has 50 yards on 16 carries at the half, a down game for him. USF is playing single coverage against the UConn wide receivers and daring Frazer to beat it. That has worked and should continue to work. But the Bulls need to find a way to move the ball with true freshman walk-on quarterback Bobby Eveld, who has already thrown two interceptions. It may take a big special teams or defensive play for South Florida to win this game.

What Connecticut needs to do: The Huskies are just 30 minutes away from a BCS bid. They need to hold on and not succumb to the pressure of the moment. Frazer must hit a couple of long throws to loosen up the defense, but he can't make mistakes like he did on the Lejiste interception late in the half. The defense is playing great, and the Bulls don't look capable of scoring much against it. If they stick with what got them to this point, UConn will be going to a BCS game.

Bulls containing Jordan Todman so far

December, 4, 2010
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TAMPA, Fla. -- It's probably only a matter of time before Jordan Todman gets going, but so far South Florida has limited the surefire Big East offensive player of the year.

Todman had only 21 yards on six carries in the first quarter. Those six carries are the big stat. The Bulls have done a good job of containing his yardage on first and second down, forcing UConn to take him off the field and look to pass on long third downs. Zach Frazer has thrown it eight times, and ideally the Huskies would like to run it much more than throw it.

USF has definitely loaded the box as much as possible, and the Bulls should have gotten burned for a touchdown on it. But Frazer didn't see wide open tight end John Delahunt when the Huskies caught the Bulls on a first-quarter run blitz. They still picked up 22 yards on the play, but had to settle for a field goal to tie it.

South Florida is making Connecticut go to the passing game more than it would like. If the Huskies can beat them through the air, the Bulls can live with that.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Greetings from Raymond James Stadium, site of the final Big East game of the 2010 regular season.

It hasn't been a good season for the league by any measurement, but at least we're in for an exciting finish. Unless you just woke up from a Rip Van Winkle-sized nap, you already know that Connecticut will win a share of the Big East title and the all-important BCS automatic bid with a victory. South Florida is the most popular team in West Virginia this evening, as a Bulls win pushes the Mountaineers to the BCS.

A very pleasant night awaits in Tampa. The temperatures are in the low 60s, which feels great to me even though I heard a few locals complain Friday that it was "chilly." (Oh, spoiled Floridians). But that's good news for Connecticut, which won't have to worry about unfamiliar heat or humidity.

Who will start at quarterback for South Florida? Injured B.J. Daniels was listed as questionable; he came out to the field before anybody and started throwing at about 5 p.m. He wasn't wearing a noticeable brace or wrap on his balky quad, but he also was just throwing from a stationary position and not running around. If I had to bet, I'd say walk-on Bobby Eveld starts, but we probably see both guys.

The Bulls have been winning with smoke and mirrors on offense anyway; their biggest conundrum is how to stop the UConn running game that has plowed over everybody. I really like what Mark Snyder has done with the defense this year and think he can come up with a scheme that puts pressure on Huskies quarterback Zach Frazer to make plays in the passing game. But others have had the same idea and left with Jordan Todman's cleat marks on their chests.

I'll be really interested to see how this game starts. UConn is playing with all the pressure, and how will the Huskies deal with that? USF doesn't have nearly as much to play for -- a win probably means a Hyundai Sun Bowl appearance instead of the Meineke Car Care or BBVA Compass Bowl -- but it is Senior Night and the atmosphere here is usually pretty rowdy for night games.

I expect it to be a defensive, grind-it-out kind of game, but this Big East season has been anything but predictable. Back with more soon ...
Before the season began, Connecticut quarterback Zach Frazer wrote out his goals. The highlights included beating Pittsburgh and West Virginia, winning a Big East title and making a BCS game.

"There's only one thing left to cross off," he said.

[+] EnlargeZach Frazer
John Korduner/Icon SMIThe Huskies are 4-0 since QB Zach Frazer reclaimed the starting job.
Frazer, though, probably couldn't have scripted how the season would go for him. Or maybe he could have, if he had just remembered his history.

Call him The Closer. Zach Frazer just wins (in November).

This is the second straight season that the quarterback struggled early, lost his job and then led the team on a late-season surge. There was a bit more turmoil involved this time, however.

Frazer looked poised for a big year this offseason, but the team started off just 1-2 with him at the helm as the offense sputtered. He was benched just before halftime against Buffalo for backup Cody Endres, and the Huskies' passing game immediately improved. Endres took over full time, and Frazer was bumped all the way down to third string behind redshirt freshman Michael Box.

As a fifth-year senior who's been through many ups and downs, Frazer could have given up or moped around after the demotion. He didn't.

"I prepared like I was still playing," he said. "I met with our offensive coordinator and coach [Randy] Edsall and flat-out asked them what I could do to get back out on the field and improve my game. I knew if there was another opportunity, I wasn't going to let it slip away."

He knew from experience how volatile the Huskies' quarterback situation could be. He and Endres flip-flopped as starters in 2008 when Tyler Lorenzen got hurt. Frazer opened 2009 as the starter before getting hurt and giving way to Endres, then reclaimed the job after a season-ending injury to Endres.

Endres knocked himself out this time, earning a dismissal for a repeated failed drug test just before the Louisville game. Box started that week and struggled as UConn lost 26-0. Frazer came in late and briefly gave the offense a spark, and Edsall reinstalled him for the next week. UConn is 4-0 since.

Here is the part in these kinds of stories where you present the stark statistical differences in a player's performance to illustrate the turnaround. The numbers, though, don't really show it. In the three-and-a-half games before his demotion, Frazer completed 51.7 percent of his passes for 554 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Since his return, he has completed 55.9 percent for 537 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Connecticut continues to defy logic by winning without much of a passing game. The Huskies average just 148.1 passing yards per game, last in the Big East and 113th nationally. In conference games, they've produced just 120.8 yards through the air on average. The only teams in the country throwing for fewer yards than that are all option-based teams.

Still, Frazer threw two touchdown passes in the Pittsburgh game, and Edsall says his quarterback is making all the right checks and decisions. He just has to manage the game, not make mistakes and take advantage of a few opportunities while letting the powerful UConn running game do the rest.

"He finds a way to win," Edsall said. "It might not look as pretty as what some people would want it to look like, but he gets the job done."

Edsall said earlier this year he thought Frazer was trying too hard not to make mistakes. Now, Frazer is playing relaxed and enjoying himself as only a man given a second chance can do.

Make that a third or fourth or fifth chance. Frazer was a big-time recruit out of high school who began his career at Notre Dame with visions of leading his team to major bowl games. He is close to reaching that goal now after some unusual twists and turns.

"It's been a wild ride," he said. "But I wouldn't change any of it. I've learned through this whole process that you've just got to hang in there."

Huskies prepare for major step forward

November, 30, 2010
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"BCS" is a four-letter word for Randy Edsall this week.

The Connecticut coach doesn't want his players talking about it or thinking about it as they get ready for this week's game at South Florida. But he doesn't really have to tell them what this game means. A win puts the Huskies in a BCS bowl for the first time ever.

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireThe Huskies have been in "must-win" mode for weeks, so Randy Edsall doesn't expect the pressure of this week's game to get to his team.
"This university has been through a lot and this team has been through a lot between this year and last year," quarterback Zach Frazer said. "So being a part of this thing and finally building up to this moment, I'd characterize it as a major opportunity and a major step for this program."

"We're all excited," defensive tackle Kendall Reyes said. "We know the Big East title is on the line."

You could call this the biggest week in the history of the program, though technically the Huskies have been through this before. In 2007, they just needed to win their final game to capture the league's Big East bid. They lost 66-21 at West Virginia instead.

"We didn't learn a lot from that game," Edsall said, "other than wiping blood off our backside afterward."

No one expects a similar bloodbath this year. Not with the way UConn has been playing. The team has won four straight games after a 3-4 start, beating contenders Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse in that span while knocking off defending champion Cincinnati last week.

"The biggest difference is confidence," Reyes said. "We're all playing with a lot of confidence now."

And the Huskies think they're better able to handle this situation than they were at the beginning of the year. They came into 2010 with lofty expectations and, for the first time ever, had people predicting them to win the Big East. By all accounts, they weren't ready for that, and some preseason distractions -- including a suspension to quarterback Cody Endres -- knocked them off course.

But after an 0-2 start in the Big East left them no margin for error, they've played with a purpose. Edsall doesn't think the pressure will get to his team this week.

"For the last four or five weeks, if we lose we're done," he said. "We've been kind of playing playoff football the last five weeks. This is a one-game playoff, basically, and it's really no different than what we've gone through the last four weeks."

They'll have to win this playoff against a team that's been just as hot. South Florida has won four of its past five games and is coming off an overtime victory at Miami. While the Big East probably thought the Pitt-Cincinnati game this week would have more title implications, this one features two surging clubs who have played historically hard-fought contests.

UConn has never won in Tampa, though, it has only played there three times. The last three meetings have been decided by a total of 13 points, including last year's two-point Huskies win in the snow.

So there's no need to think too much about the bigger picture or unprecedented accomplishments. Connecticut just needs to find a way to beat the Bulls, and the rest will take care of itself.

"That stuff is definitely in the back of our minds, and there is a lot at stake for this game," Frazer said. "But we'll just try to prepare like it's a normal week. And hopefully on the plane ride home, we'll be coming back as Big East champs."

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