August 23, 2011
The least you should know about the 2011 Huskies. Part of Big East Week.
• Going out on top. I hope UConn fans got their money's worth out of last year's improbably Fiesta Bowl run, but it was probably best not to get too attached. From that team, the head coach is gone, the starting quarterback is gone, the other starting quarterback is gone, the All-American tailback is gone, the top receiver is academically ineligible, the two best players on the defense are gone. Within a few weeks, even the athletic director will be gone, apparently the victim (at least in part) of a self-important booster who didn't approve of the pick to replace the architect of the program's rise from I-AA obscurity, Maryland-bound Randy Edsall.
The man at the center of that flap, new head coach Paul Pasqualoni, actually looks a lot better today than he did when was fired by Syracuse in 2004, thanks to the black hole that program entered immediately following his departure. After four miserable years under Greg "Gerg" Robinson, Pasqualoni's record at 'Cuse — seven top-25 finishes, three major bowl bids, at least a share of four Big East championships and a .644 winning percentage over 14 seasons — qualifies as the days of wine and roses. But Edsall is an even tougher act to follow in Storrs, and expecting continued progress under a 62-year-old whose last winning season on a college sideline came when current recruits were still in elementary school seems a bit … optimistic.
• Meet your new Shoemate. Like Donald Brown before him, running back Jordan Todman assumed a Herculean workload last year that eventually accounted for 40 percent of the Huskies' total offense. With 116 yards on 32 carries in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma, Todman moved to No. 2 nationally in rushing yards (1,690), yards per game (140.8) and carries per game (27.8) for the season, earning him a nod as the Big East's Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American by all five of the largest college football outlets on the web. Not surprisingly, it took him about ten minutes after the final gun sounded to decide he'd rather get paid for the punishment in the NFL than return for his senior season.
No offense has the luxury of shrugging off those kind of numbers walking out the door, especially an offense like UConn's, which depends so overwhelmingly on pounding out a living between the tackles. (See below.) But the Huskies are in relatively good shape to weather the attrition for two reasons: One, they've got three returning starters up front, including All-Big East center Moe Petrus, on a line built for nasty run blocking; and two, they've got another promising workhorse type in senior D.J. Shoemate, a former blue-chip recruit who transferred cross-country from USC after the Trojans were slapped with NCAA sanctions last summer. If he holds on to the ball, there's very little competition for the offensive spotlight.
That video has more than 6.02 million views since it was posted in February, which is roughly 6.02 million more passes than McEntee has attempted during his first three seasons on campus: His only action to date consists of a few handoffs in garbage time of a win over Rhode Island in 2009, which saying a lot considering the woebegone state of the Husky passing game last year. UConn cycled through three different starters and turned in one of the ugliest pass efficiency ratings in America, but still no Johnny Mac.
Only one of last year's trio is back (little-used sophomore Michael Box), but as of last week, the competition seems to be down to McEntee and a true freshman, Michael Nebrich, a "dual threat" type with an amazing fake 40 time.
• The quiet killers. If the Huskies really excelled at anything, it was the kicking game, which played no small part in overcoming the lack of offense en route to the conference title: Kicker Dave Teggart was first-team All-Big East and buried 10 field goals in 10 attempts in wins ultimately decided by a field goal or less; return man Nick Williams was second-team All-Big East and took a kickoff back for a touchdown in a 30-28 win over Pitt; and punter Cole Wagner dropped a Big East-best 26 punts inside opponents' 20-yard lines.
All three are back, and with them a crucial edge in a conference where the scores tend to be low and the margins very slim.