“Sense of urgency” for Huskies in 2013
Published: Sunday, August 25, 2013
Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013 23:08
According to the UConn football team’s introduction video, the program is the “fastest growing program in D-I history.”
It’s hard to argue with that, even when talking about a program that played its first game 117 years ago.
One look at UConn’s Division I-A timeline says it all.
The Huskies made the leap from I-AA to I-A in 2000, playing as an independent until they could join the Big East Conference.
In 2003, UConn opened Rentschler Field, which holds more than twice as many fans as the old home of the Huskies, Memorial Stadium, or as it is known now, the site of the new basketball facility.
In 2004, the Huskies joined the Big East Conference. That season, in their first year of eligibility, UConn made a bowl game. Led by Dan Orlovsky, the Huskies beat Toledo in the Motor City Bowl.
In 2007, UConn claimed a share of the Big East title, entering the final day of the season with a chance of making a BCS game. Unfortunately, 2007 was the year where Pat White and Steve Slaton were at their peak for West Virginia.
In 2009, riding a three-game losing streak following the death of teammate Jasper Howard, the Huskies went to South Bend, Ind. and beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in double overtime - arguably the greatest win in program history. UConn went on to beat Steve Spurrier and South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.
In 2010, UConn again won a share of the Big East Conference. This time, they won the right to represent the Big East in a BCS game. The Huskies lost to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
After only seven seasons of being bowl eligible as a Division I-A member, UConn had made five bowl appearances, including the BCS appearance, and won three of those games. That is as successful of a transition as can be hoped, and all of it was done under the watchful eye of Randy Edsall.
Randy Edsall. The name brings a sour taste into the mouths of UConn fans. Like a thief in the night, UConn’s beloved coach slipped away within hours of losing to Oklahoma to become the head coach at Maryland.
What has transpired at UConn since Edsall left has proven that as quick as a program can rise, it can fall even faster.
UConn’s disappearance in two years makes it look like Auburn is still what it was with Cam Newton.
Under the direction of Paul Pasqualoni, the most successful coach in Big East history, the Huskies have endured two straight 5-7 seasons. The 2012 season was as telling about the past two years as it gets. UConn was ninth in the country in total defense. But failure to score will almost always result in a loss, and UConn ranked 110th out of 120 schools in total offense.
Despite the failures of the past two seasons, UConn brought back Pasqualoni for the final year of his contract. Pasqualoni understands what is at stake if UConn fails to reach a bowl game this year. At the team’s media day on Aug. 9, Pasqualoni said that there is “a sense of urgency” about this season.
It is easy to be critical of the Huskies based on the last two seasons, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. But this could be the year the offense steps up.
Chandler Whitmer will be back under center when the season begins on Aug. 29 against Towson, and he will have a couple of veteran receivers to throw to, most notably Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips. Junior running back Lyle McCombs is a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award, and the former Freshman All-American will need to return to his 2011 form if the Huskies are going to be successful.
But the biggest concern is with the offensive line. If UConn put the same five players on the offensive line two weeks in a row last season, it was a miracle. The Huskies were horribly affected by injuries on the line, and with so many different combinations of players, it was hard to get any chemistry developed.
The offensive linemen enter the 2013 season with a clean bill of health, and that should make it easier for what was once the deepest position the Huskies had to develop chemistry and protect Whitmer and McCombs.
“They’ve really improved,” Pasqualoni said on Sunday. “I’m anxious to see them Thursday night. I think we’ve practiced well – they’ve been very consistent.”
The offense will need to rise to the occasion because the defense is going to do everything it can to keep the team in position to win. The ninth-ranked defense in the country lost six starters from 2012, but there is still depth and a whole lot of talent that should keep UConn near the top of the defensive rankings.
UConn’s linebacker core will be fun to watch in 2013. Junior Yawin Smallwood is going to be the leader of the defense and one of the best linebackers in the American Athletic Conference. The Huskies also added Florida transfer Graham Stewart for the 2013 season. Stewart was a defensive standout at Xavier High School in Middletown, Conn.
It is easy to look at the meteoric rise and even quicker fall of UConn football and feel a sense of pessimism about 2013. But the Huskies have the capability to surprise a lot of people and return to the bowl scene.