In 2016, we’ve penned in nine teams that will appear on our schedule more than one time. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages we’re hearing about as these teams practice for their upcoming intrasquad spring scrimmages. It’ll give us an idea of what the teams will be focusing on before we get to see them play in the fall.
Connecticut (2 games) – The last time we attended UCONN games up at Pratt-Whitney Stadium up at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, it was in 2010. A lot has changed for the UConn Husky football program since back then. They were still in the Big East and we saw them defeat West Virginia in OT ,16-13, and Pitt on a muddy field, 30-28, under then HC Randy Edsall. Now a member of the American Athletic Conference East, the Huskies have been trying to rebuild under third-year HC Bob Diaco. Prior to UCONN , Diaco was the defensive coordinator under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, and our history goes way back seeing the Cedar Grove, NJ native play linebacker for Iowa against NC State in the Kick-off Classic in Giants Stadium back in 1992. Time flies as we’re still having fun with this college football obsession. With an 8-17 record in his first two years at the Storrs campus, Diaco improved his team with four more wins last season and went on to the St. Petersburg Bowl ( who doesn’t go to a bowl nowadays?) where the Huskies dropped a close one to Marshall, 16-10.
The Huskies saw some promise last season with a defense that yielded only 19.4 points per game and pulled off a 20-17 upset at home over eventual AAC champ and No. 8 Houston though the Cougars played without the services of QB Greg Ward. But Diaco has something to build on to try to achieve some more wins in 2016. Despite a low-scoring offense, averaging 17.1 points a season ago, ten starters return from a young offense. With a season played together under their belts and the return of starting QB Bryant Shirreffs who had transferred from NC State two years ago, the Huskies will focus on improving on that side of the ball as the former Fighting Irish DC and linebacker seems to be pulling things together on the defensive side of the ball.
Shirreffs completed 168 passes for 2078 yards and nine TDs a year ago, but he’s going to have to work on his accuracy as he threw eight INTs to improve a poor TD/INT ratio. The QB was also the second leading rusher for the Huskies gaining 503 yards and scoring three TDS. Top WR Noel Thomas returns with 54 catches for 719 yards and three TDS. This combo will look to improve upon the passing game. RB Akeel Newsome averaged 4.3 yards per carry tallying 792 yards and six TDs while making 45 catches for 465 yards. Ron Johnson took the ball into the end zones five times and ran for 224. Four of five interior starting linemen return to take control the line of scrimmage and two TEs, Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers, combined for 38 receptions for 546 yards. The game experience is prevalent on offense and there seems to be good development going on here, but now it’s time for UCONN to take it the offense to the next level. Offensive coordinator Frank Verducci, a Seton Hall grad (they have no football program) with 31 years of coaching experience in college and in the pros, will be the man responsible for pulling the strings to make this revved up offense into high gear.
Defensively, MLB Junior Joseph returns as the second leading tackler for a year ago with 93 tackles. Safety Obi Melifonwu was among the top defenders and Junior CB Jamar Summers (Orange, NJ) picked off eight INTs last season. PK Bobby Puyol converted 16 of 18 FG attempts last year including 52-yarder in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Justin Wain returns to take care of the punting duties for UCONN.
The Huskies will play their first of seven home games opening against FCS and former Yankee Conference foe Maine on Thursday, September 1. We will see the Huskies on the road and at home this season against two formidable foes in what should be some challenging games.
UCONN games we will see this season: Sept. 10 at Navy; Nov. 4, Friday night vs. Temple.
Spring game: April 16
Last up: Penn State