The UConn Huskies are half-way through their season, and currently stand 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big East. While that record wasn’t what the Huskies were hoping for at the beginning of the season, the team is better than their record indicates. The team should really be 5-0 and 3-0 in the conference. All three of the losses this year came after the Huskies gave up a fourth quarter lead. Against North Carolina the Huskies had a ten point lead, but lost the game 12-10. Against Pittsburgh the Huskies had a fifteen point lead at one point, but lost the game 24-21 on a last second field goal. Against West Virginia this past weekend the Huskies scored with four minutes to go to take the lead 24-21, but once again they gave up a late score and lost the game 28-24.
The team has had to face a great deal of adversity this year in dealing with the injury of captain and defensive playmaker Scott Lutrus, the switching of quarterbacks during the season, and most recently the loss of a teammate, Jasper Howard, who was murdered a day after the Huskies homecoming win over Louisville.
So after 5 games and a lot of adversity, here are my mid-season grades for the team:
QUARTERBACKS: Zach Frazer started the season as the starter, but after two mediocre performances and a knee injury in the first two games of the season, the stage was set for Cody Endres. In the four games he has played since taking over for Frazer, Endres has completed close to 65% of his passes for 1314 yards and 6 touchdowns. Endres has made some mistakes, but overall he has improved throughout the season and is doing things to help his team win. OVERALL GRADE: BRUNNING BACKS: The duo of Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon has given the Huskies one of the best running games in the conference. One question heading into this season was how was UConn going to replace the production of Donald Brown, the nation’s leading rusher from a year ago? In the first five games Todman and Dixon have made up for the lost of Donald Brown. Dixon has rushed for 654 yards and 7 touchdowns, while Todman has rushed for 596 yards and 7 touchdowns. The duo has played well in every game, but they disappeared in the fourth quarter of the Pittsburgh game, when the team really needed them to step up. Overall though, the Huskies have proven once again that no matter whose rushing the football, they will have success here at UConn. OVERALL GRADE: B+
RECIEVERS: One of the biggest question marks coming into this season was the receiving core. After a terrible season last year, the Huskies were looking for playmakers on the outside. Through the first few games, the Huskies were still looking for that go-to-guy. A few players made some plays, such as Brad Kanuch, Michael Smith, and Isiah Moore. But no guy really stepped up and became that deep threat and consistent playmaker. However, over the past three games, Senior Marcus Easley has become that guy for the Huskies. Easley has had over 100 yards receiving and has had a touchdown in each of the last three games. With his emergence and hopefully more consistency from the other receivers, the offense will have a passing attack it can rely on. OVERALL GRADE: C
OFFENSIVE LINE: The big guys up front have been solid for most of the year. Besides a few sacks here and there, and the one holding penalty on Dan Ryan against North Carolina for a safety, the offensive line has been a strong point for the Huskies. They have given Dixon and Todman room to run, and have given Endres decent protection in the pocket. OVERALL GRADE: B+
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Huskies front four on defense have been pretty consistent this year. Lead by Senior Lindsey Witten, who is second in the nation in sacks, the defensive line has been a strong point for UConn this year. Freshman defensive end Jesse Joseph has proven to be a playmaker as well, while Kendall Reyes has played well at the tackle position. They did have a bad game against Pittsburgh when they were man-handled by the Pitt offensive line. OVERALL GRADE: A-
LINEBACKERS: Captain Scott Lutrus has been out for all but two games this year (he has been cleared to play this weekend against Rutgers), however the linebacker core has played extremely well even without their leader. Lawrence Wilson is leading the Big East in tackles and has become more of a vocal leader. Greg Lloyd has been very consistent and Lutrus’ replacement Jory Johnson has played very well. Once Lutrus is back on the field the Huskies will have the best linebacker group in the Big East. OVERALL GRADE: A
DEFENSIVE BACKS: The Defensive Backs have played well all season, but they lost one of their leaders in Jasper Howard. Team captain Robert McClain and fellow senior Robert Vaughn have played extremely well, as both have 4 interceptions on the year. Jerome Junior and Jonathan Jean-Louis have split time at the other safety spot and have been solid players. Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz will be competing for playing time at the corner position that was Jasper Howard’s. OVERALL GRADE: B+
SPECIAL TEAMS: Desi Cullen is having a good senior year as he is one of the top punters in the Big East. Kicker Dave Teggart, who was one of the most consistent kickers in the conference a year ago, has struggled so far this year. He is just seven for twelve on field goal tries this year, and missed two costly ones against West Virginia that could have given UConn the victory. Teggart needs to find his rhythm again, and when he does the Huskies will have a solid special teams duo. OVERALL GRADE: C+
HEAD COACH RANDY EDSALL: Coach Edsall has built this program to what it is today, and has done it with class and integrity. Coming into this year the Huskies had a lot of question marks, and overall the team has played better than their 4-3 record indicates. Coach Edsall and his assistants have done a good job with this team, but they need to continue to preach the concept of “Finishing” to the team. The only downside to the coaching this year has been that the team has blown three fourth quarter leads, and some of that falls on the coaching staff. While on the field, Coach Edsall may have a little work to do, off the field he has been “Coach of the Year” in my book. Dealing with the tragedy of losing a player is never easy, but what Coach Edsall went through was just awful. He had to identify the body, call Howard’s parents to tell them what had happened to their son, call Jazz’s girlfriend to tell her the bad news, then tell the team that they had lost a teammate and brother. Coach Edsall has handled this entire situation with class and has been the leader and support for the team, the program, the Howard family, and the entire UConn community. Coach Edsall has done a marvelous job leading this team through this horrific time, while trying to get them back to normal business of playing football. OVERALL GRADE: A+
The Huskies have plenty of talent, heart, and desire to win every game the rest of the season. If the team can continue to improve, play together, play the entire game, play for Jasper Howard, and follow the lead of Coach Edsall, then they can have a very successful season.
The team will return to the field this Saturday when they host Big East rival Rutgers at Noon at the Rent. It will be the first home game since the death of Jasper Howard, and many tributes will be made at the game. The team hopes its ultimate tribute will be a win in Howard’s honor.