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Football: Huskies host Memphis to end season

Associate Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 23:12

A deeply unsatisfying season will come to an end for the UConn football team come Saturday evening at Rentschler Field. But despite the Huskies’ poor open to the year and 2-9 record, they have one thought on their minds: finish strong.

A win against Memphis (3-8, 1-6 American Athletic Conference) could move UConn as high as sixth in the conference at 3-5 and would end the season on a three-game winning streak. More importantly, it would cap off the careers of 14 seniors “the right way.”

“It’s unbelievably critical to send these guys off,” interim head coach T.J. Weist said, “because this senior class has been through some up and downs. They’ve been through two tough losing seasons the last two years since coming off the 2010, you know, best season in the history of the program. And then going through what we’ve been through this season…now fighting back to having some success and winning – we want to finish it off right for them.”

Among those 14 seniors are nine players who have started for the Huskies at least once this season, including four offensive linemen – Jimmy Bennett, Tyler Bullock, Kevin Friend and Steve Greene.

After struggling mightily to open the season in both run blocking and pass protection, that line has improved dramatically in the past few weeks. After yielding 38 sacks in the first eight games, the men in the trenches have allowed just four over the past three weeks. UConn’s rushing average has also shown steady improvement from just 52 yards per game after the first three contests to 85.3 yards per game now, including two 100-plus yard efforts in the last three games.

“The O-linemen deserve a lot more credit than they get,” quarterback Casey Cochran said. “…On every one of my pass plays, if my linemen didn’t hold up one of those guys on defense then they’re going to come take my head off, it’s like that the whole game. I think they deserve a lot more credit.”

That added time in the pocket has been vital for Cochran over the first three games as a starter, and aided his efficient 25-for-33, 311-yard, two-touchdown performance in the win against Rutgers last Saturday.

This Saturday, he’ll have to be weary of Tigers’ cornerback Bobby McCain, who Weist dubbed the best cornerback the Huskies have faced this year.

“He is a tough player,” Weist said. “He’ll be a tough guy to run routes against because he’s one of the better playmakers we’ve seen.”

Aside from the seniors, Saturday’s game could also be the final contest in a UConn uniform for linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. Though Smallwood, who’s averaged 10.2 tackles per game and is a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, has said he will not decide until the season is over, there is certainly a chance that the redshirt junior could declare.

“I always go out there, I always look around,” Smallwood said when asked if he would savor the moment Saturday in case it is his final game. “I enjoy the fans and the support we get each week. But…I’m just going to prepare this game the way I’ve always prepared it.”

Friend, who’s not yet worked his way back from a concussion, is considered questionable for Saturday’s game. UConn will be without both safety Ty-Meer Brown and offensive guard Gus Cruz on Saturday, as their injuries – though not considered career-ending – have been deemed season-ending.

UConn has announced that seniors can pick up a free ticket for Saturday’s game by bringing a valid student ID to the ticket office on Friday.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Rentschler Field. The game can be seen on ESPN3.

 

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