D.J. Hernandez, a 6-foot-1, 202-pound redshirt junior, was UConn's quarterback last year when the Huskies pulled out a 46-45 double-overtime decision on the QB's two-point conversion run. Hernandez also ran for 130 yards and passed for 164. So, one could understand if Joe Clermond took advantage.
The Panthers didn't get many opportunities to hit Hernandez last season and whiffed on their few chances, but there should be plenty when UConn (3-0) meets Pittsburgh (2-1) Saturday at 7 p.m. at Heinz Field. Hernandez is just as dangerous as a receiver and on special teams as he was as a quarterback.
"Having a competitive edge, we want to get after these guys after last year, but as long as we come out and play Mad Dog defense against them this year I'll be all right,'' Clermond said. "Connecticut, they have a new quarterback, but he seems like he can do the same things as Hernandez.
"And they still run the ball, so we have to stop that and be able to get after the quarterback. But we know we can be successful doing both, because we have confidence doing it again. And what we've accomplished so far has shown us that all our hard work will show up on the field.''
UConn has junior-college transfer Tyler Lorenzen (6-5, 226) at quarterback this season. He has completed 68.2 percent of his passes (58-for-85) for 706 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Lorenzen also has run for 73 yards and a score, so he is dangerous.
"They obviously made a switch at quarterback,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said, "and the young man who plays there now is big and strong and fast. ... He's an extremely accurate passer, but we hopefully won't see the scrambling that we got out of Hernandez last year.
"But Lorenzen will tuck the ball and go, and he's made some yardage while doing that. There's a lot of similarities in style with the quarterbacks and certainly in scheme. They seem to throw the ball a little more than in past years, but they certainly don't mind running the ball, either.''
Redshirt sophomore tailback Donald Brown, who scorched Pitt for 205 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 43 carries, is still UConn's leading rusher with 240 yards and three scores. However, the Huskies also use former fullback Lou Allen, a redshirt junior, as a tailback as well as redshirt sophomore Andre Dixon. Allen has 73 yards and two scores, while Dixon has 139.
"Donald Brown is our starter, but the one thing is that you need to have more than one guy play tailback,'' UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "So, it's great that we have three guys who can be productive for us in the backfield. ... But Donald Brown is our starter. Andre is a good running back, but you need to have two guys (in) a long season. And we have three guys now.''
When Lorenzen passes the ball he has spread it around to seven different receivers. Sophomore Terrence Jeffers (6-2, 211) leads with 14 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, while senior Larry Taylor (5-6, 167) has 11 for 117 and Brad Kanuce has 10 for 171 (17.1 average). Hernandez only has nine catches, but they are for 164 yards (18.2) and one touchdown.
"Hernandez is a great football player and contributes on so many special teams as well as being a dangerous receiver for Connecticut,'' Rhoads said. "They can throw a reverse pass or a double-pass or put him at quarterback, so he's a real weapon. And he did a number on us last season.
"Brown, obviously, has impressed the country with what he's done. And the fresh legs they brought in last week proved that he can be dangerous as well. So, whomever they line up (at running back) is going to be a threat, and they certainly emphasize the running game.''
And if the Panthers get a chance for redemption for last season, they won't hesitate to take a shot.
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