#73 Connecticut Football 2014 Preview

Connecticut Huskies

Overall Rank: #73
#6 American

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The Connecticut football program needed some energy and they hope new Coach Bob Diaco can provide it. Coach Diaco spent the last four years as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator. While he has no head coaching experience, he does provide a proven defensive scheme and a youthful energy that will pay off in recruiting sooner or later.

2013 Record: (3-9, 3-5)
2013 Bowl: None
Coach: Bob Diaco (0-0 at Connecticut, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Cummings
Defensive Coordinator: Anthony Poindexter

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Lyle McCombs, RB, 670 yards
Passing: Casey Cochran, QB, 1,293 yards
Receiving: Geremy Davis, WR, 1,085 yards
Tackles: Obi Melifonwu, S, 70
Sacks: Reuben Frank, DE, 2.0
Interceptions: Byron Jones, CB, 3

Other Key Returnees: RB Max DeLorenzo, QB Chandler Whitmer, WR Deshon Foxx, WR Shakim Phillips, OL Alex Maeas, LB Jefferson Ashiru

Key Losses: LB Yawin Smallwood, DL Shamar Stephen, DL Tim Willman, DB Taylor Mack, OL Jimmy Bennett

The Huskies overall defense was not too bad last year. They did rank 51st in the country in total defense. Coach Diaco will switch UConn to a 4-3 defense and that should help the team get more pressure in the opposing backfield. The Huskies totaled a mere 16 sacks in 2013 and that must get better. Experienced upperclassmen Julian Campenni, Reuben Frank and Angelo Pruitt should be able to pick up the slack. There is even more talent at linebacker, despite the loss of Yawin Smallwood. Former Florida Gator Graham Stewart is ready to step into a full-time starting role and will be joined by fellow juniors Marquise Vann and Jefferson Ashiru. Vann spent most of last season hurt and he could emerge as a very productive playmaker if healthy. As long as the front seven can get to the quarterback, the UConn secondary should be much improved. Obi Melifonwu is a big play safety and corner Byron Jones picked off three passes and recorded 60 tackles. Sophomore Jhavon Williams started five games as a freshman and will man the spot opposite of Jones.

The offense does return a lot of talent at the skill positions, but their success will come down to whether or not the line can give them time to operate. Outside of senior center Alex Maeas, the line is terribly inexperienced. That is bad news for whoever ends up under center. The Huskies return three quarterbacks who started four games apiece last year. It was Casey Cochrane who was the starter during the team’s three wins to end the 2013 campaign. Cochrane threw for 1,293 yards and 11 scores, while getting picked off just four times. Those are much, much better numbers than Chandler Whitmer, who started the first four games of the year before suffering an injury, and Tim Boyle put up. The running game has potential with last year’s top rusher Lyle McCombs and promising freshman Arkeel Newsome, but McCombs rushed for just 670 yards and five touchdowns during his junior campaign and there may not be any improvement while the line retools.

The Bottom Line:
The best news for the Connecticut offense is at wide receiver. Geremy Davis caught 71 passes for 1,085 yards and Deshon Foxx added 43 receptions for 534 yards. The schedule is easy enough that this group should be able to make it to a bowl game for the first time since their 2010 Fiesta Bowl appearance. The American Athletic Conference is not all that tough and the Huskies miss Houston and get UCF and Cincinnati at home. As long as the offensive line does enough to keep the offense moving relatively consistently, Coach Diaco will have a nice start to his head coaching career.

Projected Bowl: Military Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 84.4 (119th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 234.2 (63, 8)
Total Offense: 318.6 (112, 8)
Scoring Offense: 20.6 (106, 8)
Rushing Defense: 135.4 (23, 6)
Pass Defense: 249.2 (87, 5)
Total Defense: 384.6 (51, 6)
Scoring Defense: 30.3 (85, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.1 (70, 4)
Sacks: 1.33 (107, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 3.50 (119, 10)


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