Previewing the Big East: UConn Huskies

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Previewing the Big East: UConn Huskies
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Is there a coach out there that has done more with less the past few years than Randy Edsall?  If you put any value in recruiting rankings, then there probably isn’t.

Despite an average recruiting ranking of 65 by Scout.com over the past five years, Edsall has turned the Huskies into contenders. In the past two seasons they’ve won 17 games, played in two bowl games, won one, and they also captured a share of the Big East title in 2007. 

This season Connecticut is losing four players who were first day picks in the NFL draft, which means the Huskies could be in for a rebuilding season in 2009. Finding ways to replace Cody Brown, Darius Butler, William Beatty as well as the nation’s leading rusher last year, Donald Brown will be vital for the Huskies if they want to make it to a third straight bowl game.

Last season the Huskies were forced to rely heavily on Donald Brown, due to an anemic passing game which was ranked 116th in the nation.

UConn will attempt to create a more balanced attack this season under new offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead. Moorhead brings with him from Akron, an up-tempo, spread style offense that should be far more exciting to watch for Husky fans. 

If the offense is going to achieve the kind of balance that they desire though, they’re going to need more production from their wide receivers. Last year their leading receiver Kashif Moore totaled only 273 receiving yards and one touchdown. 

UConn will also be breaking in a new quarterback, former Notre Dame transfer, junior Zach Frazer. While it’s tough enough for a young quarterback to take over as a starter, it will be immensely more difficult if his receivers can’t step it up. A legitimate receiving threat could go a long way in shortening the learning curve for UConn’s new starting QB.

Fortunately for Connecticut, they do have two talented running backs that should be able to step in nicely for the departed Donald Brown in sophomore Jordan Todman and senior Andre Dixon. 

Dixon was the starter for Connecticut in 2007 and earned all-Big East honors but he currently finds himself second on the depth chart behind the younger Todman. The two will prove to be a dangerous combination for the Huskies and running behind a veteran offensive line, they should be able to make up for the loss of Brown. 

Defensively Randy Edsall’s squad could be outstanding in 2009. On the defensive line, the Huskies will be breaking in a few new starters but the unit could still be very good.

Sophomore defensive tackles Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes combined for 42 tackles and three sacks as freshman a year ago, and they should give opposing offensive linemen fits.

On the edges senior Lindsey Witten and junior Marcus Cambell can cause havoc in the backfield. The two defensive ends both played in 11 games last year and they combined to sack opposing quarterbacks seven times.

As talented as UConn’s young defensive line is, the strength of the defense will be the linebackers. They return all three of their starters from a year ago, juniors Scott Lutrus, Greg Lloyd and Lawrence Wilson.

Lutrus and Wilson were the top two tacklers on the team in 2008 with 106 and 73 tackles, respectively. Lloyd was sixth on the team with 56. 

The trio helped the defense allow the second fewest rushing yards in the Big East last year with just 109.8 yards per game.  With all three back, teams are going to have a tough time running the ball against UConn again this season.

While the linebackers are shutting down the run, the Huskies’ secondary should prove adept at picking off opposing quarterbacks and making plays. The combination of corners Robert McClain and Jasper Howard along with free safety Robert Vaughn grabbed nine interceptions last season.

 That’s one more than either Syracuse or Louisville had as a team, and only one less than USF and Rutgers each had last year. 

While the defense should be great in Connecticut this season, the offense still may not be as balanced as they’re hoping for. If they do figure out how to create a more efficient passing attack then the sky is the limit but with a new quarterback and a new offensive scheme they’re probably a year or two away from achieving the kind of balance they want.

Then considering they have non-conference games against North Carolina, Baylor and Notre Dame as well as conference road games against Pitt, West Virginia and Cincinnati, there is a chance UConn could struggle this year. 

The most likely scenario for the Huskies in 2009 is that Frazer and the rest of the offense will struggle at times and Connecticut will finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Big East.  However, if Frazer can step in and provide UConn with a legitimate passing game then they could have a chance to win the Big East this year.  

As long as Randy Edsall is at the helm, you can be sure the Huskies will continue to be extremely competitive and they will continue to exceed expectations.

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