Column: Have some Husky Hope
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 00:08
272 days ago, they took off for Cincinnati carrying a sliver of hope for a post-season berth.
Then, through a four-quarter date with the Bearcats, the 2011 UConn football team found out essentially before the check came that it wasn’t getting another chance. Instead, it was going home, alone and empty handed.
But let’s be honest with one another for a minute. Not your old “It’s not you, it’s me” kind of honest; more like “You kiss like a vacuum, joke like 10-year old Carrot Top and I’m throwing a ‘Happy to be single’ kegger after this talk,” honest.
Last season, the Huskies didn’t do enough to be considered a good football team. The 2011 group didn’t have enough to be a good football team. Sure, they had a shot to win in the Queen city that day and get crowned bowl-eligible, but that fact doesn’t make them any better than they were.
They tried to full-on sprint while simultaneously take first steps in their new systems. Offensively, UConn played essentially just two downs and at times the pass defense couldn’t stop a slow drip. Paul Pasqualoni’s bunch was tough, rugged and physical but overall just old dogs with almost no tricks.
After starting the year 2-3 against poor to average competition, West Virginia took the Huskies out behind the woodshed in a 43-16 drubbing. UConn then enjoyed some Homecoming cooking at The Rent, topping an athletic, talented but hornless South Florida Bulls team. Then, the team’s outlook continued to seesaw as they alternated wins and losses until that fateful afternoon in Ohio.
5-7, she wrote. The Huskies couldn’t produce big plays and needed more explosiveness, they said. It was certainly a year to forget, we all agreed.
But let’s be forward thinking with this team for a minute. Tonight, the Rent will welcome a capable quarterback. Tonight, UConn will bring back the most defensive starters in the Big East who could unite into the best unit in the conference. And this season, coach Pasqualoni won’t be a rookie– but rather the second-year leader for seventeen experienced seniors in their last hurrah.
So, write this down: In 2012, they will have enough. They will do enough. They will make a splash sufficient to win games, fans and the label of being of a quality football team. They will take on Cincinnati in the finale again but this time, return to Storrs with a post-season berth.
Write it down.
Hell, sharpie it in hot pink on my forehead if you want.
You will watch this team and be inspired. Why? Take a look:
You will see the better depth in the backfield behind Freshman All-American and 1,000 yard rusher Lyle McCombs. You’ll witness two tight ends forcing mismatches in the passing game and an offensive line that boasts four players with starting experience from last year.
You’ll see a revamped receiving corps with old friend Michael Smith and newcomer, the explosive Shakim Phillips. Nick Williams will be back in the slot where he belongs, tearing up intermediate zones and linebackers like tissue paper. Not to mention everyone’s favorite new Husky at the helm: former junior college all-American honorable mention Chandler Whitmer.
The rumors are true. Hartford, we have a quarterback.
Flipping to the other side of the ball, the secondary remains intact with playmakers in abundance. Captain Bildi Wreh-Wilson will lock down the left side for the Huskies with athletic freak Byron Jones patrolling behind him at free safety. Coached again by their highly aggressive and creative coordinator Don Brown, the cover guys could very well blitz even more, from all sorts of places and angles.
Getting after the passer will be nothing new though for a front line showcasing two excellent bookend pass rushers. Trevardo Williams notched 12.5 sacks a year ago and has his sights set on a sweet sixteen over his senior campaign. Opposite Williams will be Jesse Joseph, who’s fully healthy and ready to again command double teams.
Sandwiched between the front and back units will be a group of linebackers rivaled by few in the country. Opposing running backs will have a better time finding a Saharan snowball than a way to get by past the likes of Sio Moore, Yawin Smallwood and captain Jory Johnson. Moore has already been honored on the Butkus and Lombardi award watchlist for the nation's best linebacker and best linebacker or lineman, respectively.
Of course, when analyzing anything in sports it’s imperative to take into consideration the context or competition. Despite the loss of West Virginia, the Big East conference will see higher quality play across the board in 2012. A top-25 Louisville team is projected as the new top dog and USF is predicted to make a huge rebound to second place. Rutgers always provides a stiff test to UConn, and the Huskies will face all three of these teams on the road.
Yet, have hope because this team can go far. Combined with the toughness and determination instilled in the program a year ago, the tools this team possess will put them on solid ground in good places. No opponent's third down defense will dominate again. No team will pick apart the secondary. No team will achieve easy victory.
You should believe that this team will do enough to win every game and know that’s all you can ask for. The talent, depth, experience, coaching and balance are there. It’s time to hold our expectations up to a higher level too.
So, while the end of 2012 is forecasted as one, big apocalyptic downer, I’m going to tell you differently. 93 days from now, you and I won’t see these Huskies empty-handed. You won’t see the end of anything. You’ll see the beginning of a bright, bright future.