Given the unprecedented heights reached by the Connecticut football team in 2010 – a BCS appearance – there was little question that 2011 would pale by comparison.
It did. And perhaps even more than folks thought.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni's first season with the Huskies ended with a 5-7 record, which ended a four-year string of bowl appearances. Pasqualoni's hiring after predecessor Randy Edsall left for Maryland drew some flak from boosters, but he took over a team with a lot of holes. Some of the holes couldn't be filled, most notably at quarterback.
|Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (2nd season)
Last season: 5-7, 3-4 Big East
Spring practice dates: March 20-April 14
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (7): T Kevin Friend, G Steve Greene, TE Ryan Griffin, FB Mark Hinkley, G Adam Masters, TB Lyle McCombs, QB Johnny McEntee
Defense (9): S Ty-Meer Brown, CB Dwayne Gratz, S Byron Jones, E Jesse Joseph, S Jerome Junior, LB Jory Johnson, LB Sio Moore, LB Yawin Smallwood, E Trevardo Williams
Special teams (1): P Cole Wagner
UConn struggled to throw the ball, which in turn placed too much of a burden on the rushing attack. Opposing defenses ganged up on the run, and the result was a mediocre offense, one that averaged just 313.2 yards (108th nationally) and 24.3 points (82nd).
Pasqualoni and his staff will be looking for some consistency at quarterback this spring, and they also need to rebuild the receiving corps and revamp the line, which lost its two best players (C Moe Petrus and T Mike Ryan). Lyle McCombs was productive as a redshirt freshman and showed that he could be the latest in a long line of productive Huskies tailbacks.
The defense looks to be in better shape, especially at linebacker. Still, there are some questions. This spring, the Huskies are looking for two new starters and to develop depth at tackle, and while there are numerous returnees in the secondary, the Huskies too often were strafed by the pass last season; the secondary must tighten up.
The biggest problem: Quarterback. When there are so many prolific passing offenses in college football, it's not good when you don't have a reliable quarterback. Last season, UConn received wildly inconsistent play from walk-on Johnny McEntee and freshmen Michael Nebrich and Scott McCummins; as a result, the Huskies had a hard time getting any kind of passing game going. This season, there are five quarterbacks who will compete for the starting job in the spring.
On the spot: WR Shakim Phillips. A couple of years ago, Phillips was one of the most heralded wide receiver recruits on the East Coast and committed to Boston College. Phillips struggled to get playing time at the Heights after battling through some nagging injuries, then transferred to UConn. With some major holes at wide receiver, now is Phillips' time to prove he was worthy of his four-star ranking.
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On the verge: TB Lyle McCombs. UConn has had an impressive recent history of big-time running backs, with Jordan Todman being the most recent; first-round pick Donald Brown preceded Todman. Last season, unheralded redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs rushed for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns. McCombs should establish himself even more this season.
General overview: With Pasqualoni at the helm, the defense looks to be in good hands. The biggest question is whether the Huskies can get an offense to support the defense. With question marks at quarterback, wide receiver and on the line, it will be important for players at those positions to emerge this spring.
For in-depth coverage of UConn athletics, go to UConnReport.com
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- Paul Pasqualoni