Non-Conference Preview -- Part 5

This is the last in a five part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at the emerging Connecticut Huskies. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


Connecticut is serious about college sports.  Once the doormat of Big East men's basketball, Connecticut was the Beast of the East during the 1990s – winning a national championship in 1999 – and has continued that role into the new millennium.  Connecticut won its first women's basketball championship in 1995 and has kept winning them.  Former Athletic Director Lew Perkins fostered a culture of excellence and the citizens of Connecticut embraced both programs with a fervor otherwise alien to the northeast college sports environment.  In the late 1990s, Connecticut decided to upgrade its football program from Division IAA to Division IA.  Perkins hired a young head coach – Randy Edsall – with a strong pedigree, having coached under Dick MacPherson at Syracuse, Tom Coughlin at Boston College and the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, and George O'Leary at Georgia Tech.  Perkins obtained the increased funding needed to subsidize the Division IA foray.  Perkins lobbied for and realized the construction of a 40,000-seat football stadium in East Hartford – Rentschler Field. 

Connecticut played its first season of quasi-Division IA football in 2000 as an independent, scheduling primarily Big East and MAC opponents.  In 2001, the Big East invited Connecticut to join the football conference and replace the soon-to-depart Temple Owls.  The Huskies defeated Rutgers on the road in 2001 for their first legitimate win.  Connecticut completed the transition to Division IA in 2002, increasing its scholarship roster from the Division IAA limit of 65 to the Division IA limit of 85.  Edsall had a breakthrough year in 2002, finishing 6-6.  Connecticut won three of four games against lower-division MAC opponents (Buffalo, Ohio, and Kent State), losing a close game to Ball State.  Connecticut also whitewashed a Navy team that was playing much-improved football late in the season.  The Huskies gave a good account of themselves in losses to Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Vanderbilt but were beaten handily for the second consecutive season by vengeful Temple.  Connecticut capped the surprisingly successful season with a road victory over bowl-bound Iowa State at Ames. 

Connecticut opens Rentschler Field this season as it prepares to enter Big East play in 1994, one year earlier than originally planned.  The increased allocation of scholarships over the past four years has produced a roster that is heavily weighted with underclassmen.  Edsall lost 21 lettermen, of whom 17 at most were seniors.  Of these 17, only nine (plus a kicker) were on the two-deep and only seven started.  The returning roster is still young, with only 11 seniors on the two-deep, of whom only 7 – including a kicker – are expected to start.  Edsall returns 14 starters – plus one kicker – from a young and hungry pack of pups who are growing up quickly.  Connecticut's offense and defense both improved substantially, making strides as it moves from Division IAA also-ran to fledgling Division IA newbie to BCS conference member.  That's the plan, anyway.  Here is a look at the emerging Huskies of Connecticut. 


Connecticut returns eight starters from an offense that rapidly moved into the middle echelon of Division IA programs.  The Huskies operate a multiple offense that will use a standard pro set, a 2TE alignment, or a 3WR formation at any given time.  The Husky offense appears extremely balanced as it executed a 50%-50% ratio of designed runs and passes last season.  Connecticut's 2002 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 31 points per game (#28 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 360 yards per game (#75 in Division 1A)
  • 137 rushing yards per game (#72 in Division 1A)
  • 223 passing yards per game (#55 in Division 1A)

Edsall is building his program around a young QB who is his sole blue-chip recruit.  Two-year starter Jr QB Dan Orlovsky (221 of 366 for 2,488 yards, 19 TDs, and 11 INTs) returns as the centerpiece of the Connecticut offense.  Orlovsky, a former high school All-America selection in several recruiting publications, is a potential 1st round NFL draft choice.  RS So QB Jermell Williams (8 of 15 for 136 yards plus 13 carries for 34 yards) displaced the former starting QB as the backup midway through last season and will return as Orlovsky's understudy.  Orlovsky has matured quickly and will give Edsall an experienced field general as Connecticut moves into the Big East. 

Connecticut returns intact is backfield two-deep.  So TB Terry Caulley (220 carries or 1,247 yards and 15 TDs plus 25 receptions for 205 yards) is the workhorse of the backfield.  As a true freshman, Caulley gained more rushing yardage than any freshman since Tennessee's Jamal Lewis in 1997.  So FB Deon Anderson (34 carries for 119 yards plus 5 receptions for 12 yards) is mostly a blocker and really is not a secondary threat out of the backfield.  The FB is a part-time position in the Husky offense as Edsall will frequently employ 2TEs or 3WRs.  Former backup TB Sr Chandler Poole (53 carries for 215 yards) was switched to FB in spring camp and will backup Anderson, displacing the former backup.  RS Jr TB Chris Bellamy (36 carries for 95 yards plus 4 receptions for 16 yards) and RS Fr TB Cornell Brockington will battle for the backup job behind Caulley.  Connecticut's young but experienced backfield should continue to provide Edsel with excellent balance to complement Orlovsky's passing. 

Connecticut lost only two-year starter RT Steve Cully from a young OLine.  Two-year starters RS Jr LT Ryan Krug and RS Jr LG Brian Markowski will anchor the left side of the OLine.  Starting C RS Jr Billy Irwin returns in the middle.  Starting RG RS So Grant Preston switched to RT in spring camp.  Former starting RG RS Jr Leandre Dupree, previously displaced by Preston, will return to the starting lineup at RG.  Jr C Jeff Fox and RS Sr LG Laurence Olivier are the only experienced backups.  RS Sr RG Nick Graby, RS So LT Michael Kodish, and RS So RT Brendan Borowski have nine games total experience between them.  Connecticut's 100 yards per game improvement last season in total offense was largely attributable to the maturation of a young but experienced OLine, which will be a year more experienced this season. 

Connecticut lost only 2.5-year starter WR Wes Timko (29 receptions for 309 yards and 3 TDs) from a group of WRs that was six players deep.  However, the Huskies also lost leading receiver TE Tommy Collins (39 receptions for 497 yards and 6 TDs), who will be less easily replaced.  Starting WR RS Sr Shaun Feldeisen (33 receptions for 425 yards) and 2 TDs) returns, as does former starting WR RS Jr Matt Cuttaia (14 receptions for 212 yards), who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 4 last season.  So WR Brandon Young (22 receptions for 269 yards and 2 TDs) will be the starting 3WR.  RS So WR Jason Williams (23 receptions for 354 yares and 3 TDs), RS Jr WR O'Neil Wilson (20 receptions for 181 yards), and RS Jr WR Keron Henry (5 receptions for 62 yards – a converted option QB – will be the backups.  Former backup TE RS So Tim Lassen (3 receptions for 18 yards and 2 TDs) will replace Collins while So Justin Wolf will battle RS Fr Conn Davis, RS Fr Ziggy Goryn, and RS Fr Dan Murray for the backup job. 


Connecticut returns six starters off a defense that progressed even further in its development than did the Husky offense, finishing among the nation's leaders in total defense, pass defense, INTs, and TOs.  Edsall employs a 4-3 defense with a designated "rush end", much as do many NFL teams such as the 49ers (the "elephant" position).  Connecticut's DLine isn't designed to make plays but instead occupy blockers, freeing the LBs to make tackles.  The Huskies also use an undersized SLB, much as Temple does with its "Owl" safety in its 4-2 scheme.  Connecticut's 2002 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 23 points per game (#36 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 316 yards per game (#19 in Division 1A)
  • 156 rushing yards per game (#59 in Division 1A)
  • 160 passing yards per game (#5 in Division 1A)

The LB corps was the heart of the Husky defense last year and Connecticut returns two of the three starters – leading tackler Jr WLB Maurice Lloyd (113 tackles, 18 TFLs, 6 sacks, 4 INTs, and 2 FR) plus two-year starter and third leading tackler Jr MLB Alfred Fincher (92 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, and 2 FR).  Three-year starter SLB Jamel Lundy (77 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, and 2 FR) departed.  Former backup SLB So James Hargrave (45 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 3 sacks) will replace Lundy as the "Husky" LB.  Backup MLB and former starter Razul Wallace (16 tackles and 4 TFLs) also departed.  Jr SLB Kinnan Herriott, RS So SLB Taurien Sowell, and RS Fr MLB Darius Leak form a very green second unit after combining for only 8 tackles last year.  The LB corps should continue to be the strength of the Husky defense but Connecticut lacks proven depth. 

Connecticut lost four-year starter DT Greg Smoot (25 tackles and 3.5 TFLs) and backup DE Frank Quagliano (20 tackles and 5 TFLs) off its two-deep on the DLine.  Two-year starter RS Sr DE Uyi Osunder (76 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, and 2 FF), two-year starter RS Jr DE Tyler King (37 tackles and 6 TFLs), and 2.5-year starter Sr DT Sean Mulcahy (29 tackles and 6.5 TFLs) return.  Former starting DE RS Sr Ryan Bushey (11 tackles) – converted to DT last season – will replace the departed Smoot in the starting lineup.  Sr DE Hakeem Kashama (26 tackles and 3.5 TFLs) is the most experienced backup.  Backup DT RS So Deon McPhee (11 tackles) also returns.  RS Fr DE Shawn Mayne and RS Fr DT Rhema Fuller will complete the second unit.  An experienced and older DLine should continue to allow the LBs to serve as the defensive playmakers. 

The secondary suffered the heaviest losses defensively, including several unexpected depatures.  Four-year starter CB Roy Hopkins (53 tackles, 3 TFLs, 6 INTs, and 2 FF) departed.  Two-year starter and second leading tackler SS Chris Meyer (97 tackles, 8 TFLS, 5 FF, and 3 INTs) transferred to Division IAA Sacramento State and CB Marlon Jones (65 tackles and 2 INTs) also transferred.  Two-year starter Sr FS Terrance Smith (72 tackles and 3 TFLs) will anchor the secondary.  Former backup SS Jr John Fletcher (10 tackles) will replace Meyer as the starter.  Former starting CB RS Jr Justin Perkins returns to the starting lineup after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the season opener last year.  Sr Ezra Carey (14 tackles) will battle RS Fr CB Ernest Cole, who received a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Game 3 last year, for the other starting CB job opposite Perkins.  So CB Cathlyn Clarke (5 tackles) will backup Perkins.  RS Fr FS MJ Estep and true Fr SS Donnell Ford likely will backup Smith and Fletcher, respectively.  The return of Perkins will bolster a secondary depleted by the unexpected departure of Jones but the playmaking Hopkins and experienced Meyers will be difficult to replace. 


Three-year starter Sr P Adam Coles (40 yards per punt) is the only specialist returning for Connecticut.  Three-year starter PK Marc Hickok (12 of 17 FGAs and 47 of 48 XPAs) departed.  RS Fr PK Matt Nuzie likely will replace Hickok.  PR Cliff Hill (6 yards per return) and KOR Jason Dellaselva (21 yards per return) both left the program a year early but Edsall should be able to replace the two walkons with more talented athletes.  RS So WR Jason Williams is expected to be the KOR while So WR Brandon Young is expected to be the PR.  Placekicking is the greatest area of concern for the Connecticut special teams but is not that critical given the offensive output the young Huskies generated last season. 


Connecticut has a full 12 game schedule with 6 home games.  The schedule has no bye weeks.  Connecticut opens the season early and plays for twelve consecutive weeks, ending in mid-November.  Such is the life of an independent.  Connecticut faces one Division IAA opponent – dangerous Lehigh.  The Huskies also face downtrodden Indiana, Army, Buffalo, Kent State, Akron, and Rutgers.  Boston College, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest pose the only opponents really out of Connecticut's reach.  Connecticut plays three of the unwinnable games on the road.  The other three road games – at Army, Buffalo, and Kent State – are winnable.  Indiana, Lehigh, Akron, Western Michigan, and Rutgers offer Connecticut chances for wins at home.  Connecticut has plenty of winnable games and should post an improved record. 


August 30


September 6

@ Army

September 13

Boston College

September 20

@ Buffalo

September 27

@ Virginia Tech

October 4


October 11

@ North Carolina State

October 18

@ Kent State

October 25


November 1

Western Michigan

November 8


November 15

@ Wake Forest



I predict that the Huskies will finish 7-5.  The offense will be as potent as it was last year but the defense, especially the pass defense, will slip.  Connecticut will beat its Division IAA opponent – Lehigh.  Connecticut will also beat Army – arguably the worst team in Division IA.  The Huskies will again win three of the four from the their MAC opponents – winning at Buffalo, at Kent State, and against Akron but losing to Western Michigan.  Boston College, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest are out of Connecticut's league right now.  While the Huskies will give respectable efforts, they nonetheless will be overwhelmed.  Connecticut will add home wins over Indiana and Rutgers to its collection of BCS conference team scalps.  Bowl eligible, Connecticut will lobby for an at-large bowl big made available by lack of qualified candidates from bowl-affiliated conferences.  The ACC will be able to fill only four of six contracted bowl bids.  However, the Continental Tire Bowl will snub Connecticut in favor of replacing the #5 ACC team with Marshall or a 6-6 South Carolina team.  And the Humanitarian Bowl will replace the #6 ACC team with the #6 or #7 Pac-10 team, especially if it is Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, or Washington State.  Connecticut will spend the holidays at home. 

Coming Next:  Keys to the Connecticut Game.  I'll review the five keys to the biggest game of the year.  I'll also identify five key players whose contributions will be essential to a win.

Please send any comments to  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.

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