#58 Connecticut Football 2013 Preview

Connecticut Huskies

Overall Rank: #58
#5 American

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After wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville, Connecticut had the opportunity to win one more game and reach a bowl last season. The Huskies fell to Cincinnati in their season finale, but they did a very good job of just getting that close considering how inconsistent the offense was all season long. Not counting the season opener against Massachusetts, the Huskies never scored more than 24 points in 2012. With more experienced skill players and a defense that could be just as a stout, this is a group that should be able to reach six wins.

2012 Record: (5-7, 2-5)
2012 Bowl: None
Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (10-14 at Connecticut, 146-86 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: T.J. Weist
Defensive Coordinator: Hank Hughes

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Lyle McCombs, RB, 860 yards
Passing: Chandler Whitmer, QB, 2,664 yards
Receiving: Geremy Davis, WR, 613 yards
Tackles: Yawin Smallwood, LB, 120
Sacks: Yawin Smallwood, LB, 4.0
Interceptions: Byron Jones, S, 1; Ty-Meer Brown, S, 1

Other Key Returnees: WR Shakim Phillips, FB Reuben Frank, C Tyler Bullock, OL Steve Greene, OL Jimmy Bennett, OL Kevin Friend, DE Angelo Pruitt, DT Shamar Stephen

Key Losses: WR Nick Williams, WR Michael Smith, TE John Delahunt, TE Ryan Griffin, OL Adam Masters, LB Sio Moore, CB Dwayne Gratz, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, DE Trevardo Williams

The Huskies ranked ninth in the nation in total defense. And considering how often the offense put them in bad situations, allowing fewer than 20 points per game was quite impressive. The front four returns Shamar Stephens and Angelo Pruitt and will be even stronger with ends Jesse Joseph and Elijah Norris back after missing much of last season with injuries. The linebackers must replace Sio Moore, a third round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but that should not be much of a concern. The Huskies will build around Yawin Smallwood, an underappreciated talent in the middle of the field. Smallwood led Connecticut with 120 tackles as a sophomore and will be the next Huskie linebacker headed to the NFL. Graham Stewart, a transfer from Florida, and Ryan Donohue, a transfer from Maryland, are expected to step into starting roles beside Smallwood. The secondary lost a couple great corners in Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but once again Connecticut is ready to reload. Byron Jones was a starter at safety last season and will move to one of the corner positions, while senior Taylor Mack has waited his turn.

New coordinator T.J. Weist will attempt to inject some energy to a struggling offense. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer has a full year of running the offense under his belt and he should be able to make better decisions as a result. Whitmer, a 6-1 junior, has a nice arm and threw for a decent 2,664 yards in 2012, but his 16 interceptions to just nine touchdowns was a huge problem and must be rectified. The fact that the offensive line allowed 33 sacks did not help Whitmer make quality decisions. With four starters back in protection, Whitmer should have more time to get things done. However, there are some concerns with Whitmer’s receiving targets. Connecticut relies heavily on their tight end and Ryan Griffin is off to the NFL. Griffin caught 29 passes for 484 yards and six touchdowns during his senior season. No other player on the team had more than one touchdown pass. Sophomore Sean McQuillian has the potential to be the big target in the red zone this team desperately needs to find, but he had no catches in just three appearances as a freshman. Geremy Davis will once again be Whitmer’s favorite target and Shakim Phillips is not a bad secondary option, but the offense will not get much better without a reliable tight end.

The Bottom Line:
The Huskies want to run the ball as much as possible and two years ago Lyle McCombs proved that he is a capable back. Last year McCombs struggled with injuries and rushed for just 860 yards on 243 carries. Connecticut kept giving McCombs the ball even though he struggled to consistently move the chains. If he is healthy, McCombs should get closer to his 4.2 yards per carry average that he reached in 2011. The schedule is very interesting with four of Connecticut’s tougher games, against Maryland, Michigan, Louisville and Rutgers coming to Rentschler Field. It is very unlikely that this team can come away from their home slate without a couple losses, yet they should be able to make up for it with road games against Buffalo, UCF, SMU and Temple.

Projected Bowl:  BBVA Compass Bowl

2012 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 87.92 (117th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 230.42 (65, 5)
Total Offense: 318.33 (110, 8)
Scoring Offense: 17.75 (118, 8)
Rushing Defense: 97.92 (7, 2)
Pass Defense: 212.00 (36, 3)
Total Defense: 309.92 (9, 1)
Scoring Defense: 19.83 (19, 3)
Turnover Margin: -1.17 (110, 7)
Sacks: 2.75 (18, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.75 (100, 7)

Madness 2014 NFL Draft Rankings:
#79 Yawin Smallwood


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