Big East Preview -- Part 5

This is the fifth in a six part preseason preview of the Big East. I'll continue my tour with a look at the newbie Connecticut Huskies. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


In only its second season of Division IA competition under Head Coach Randy Edsall, Connecticut finished 9-3 but, as an independent lacking conference bowl affiliations, failed to receive one of only two at-large bowl bids.  The Huskies also christened brand new 40,000-seat Rentschler Field and drew an average attendance of approximately 37,000.  Sure, Connecticut played a weak schedule.  But the Huskies beat most of the opponents they faced, including three teams from three BCS conferences – Indiana, Rutgers, and Wake Forest.  The Huskies also lost to Tangerine Bowl champ North Carolina State on a defensive score in the final seconds of the game.  Connecticut is one of the early media darlings of the 2004 season.  One national publication after another is picking Connecticut to finish in the upper division of the Big East in its inaugural season. 

Edsall returns 15 starters – plus one kicker – from a young but experienced pack.  Are the Huskies overrated?  Only time will tell.  Connecticut is now playing a BCS conference schedule.  Even in a weakened Big East, that is a step up in competition from the MAC-lite schedule that the Huskies played last year.  How will Connecticut handle the weakly physical pounding against bigger, more athletic opponents?  Here is a look at the Big East newbie Huskies of Connecticut. 


Connecticut lost only three starters from an offense that emerged as one of the best in Division IA.  The Huskies operate a multiple offense that will use a standard pro set, 3WR or 4WR formations, or a 2TE alignment at any given time.  The FB is only a part time player, appearing only in the pro set.  Otherwise, the Huskies use one RB sets.  Connecticut has a potent passing game capable of hanging 300 yards on an opponent.  However, the Huskies also have a running game as three TBs recorded at least two 100-yard rushing games and two had 200-yard games.  Connecticut's 2003 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 180 rushing yards per game (#4 in the current Big East and #34 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 298 passing yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #10 in Division 1A)
  • 478 total yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #8 in Division 1A)
  • 34 points per game (#1 in the Big East and #17 in Division 1A)

Edsall has built his young program around a young QB who likely will play on Sundays.  Four-year starter Sr QB Dan Orlovsky (279 of 475 for 3,485 yards, 33 TDs, and 14 INTs) returns as the centerpiece of the Connecticut offense.  Orlovsky is a candidate for several major national awards, including the Davey O'Brien Award for the nation's best QB and the Maxwell Award for the player of the year.  Orlovsky is a potential 1st round NFL draft choice.  Former backup QB Jermell Williams (4 of 7 for 90 yards plus 4 carries for 41 yards) suffered a career-ending knee injury during the winter and will not return.  RS So QB Matt Bonislawski will replace Williams as Orlovsky's backup.  Orlovsky gives Connecticut a chance to beat every opponent that it faces. 

Connecticut lost only two-year starter RG Leandre Dupree, who did not return for a fifth season, from its starting OLine.  Backup LG Laurence Olivier and backup RG Jason McKee also departed.  The four returning starters have a combined ten years of starting experience.  Three-year starters RS Sr LT Ryan Krug and RS Sr LG Brian Markowski will anchor the left side of the OLine.  Two-year starters RS Sr C Billy Irwin and RS Jr RT Grant Preston also return.  Former backup RT RS So Craig Berry will replace Dupree as the starting RG.  Sr C Jeff Fox and former backup LT RS Jr Michael Kodish, who has been switched to LG, are experienced backups.  RS Jr LT Brendan Borowski, RS Fr RG Brian Kersmanc and RS So RT Aloys Manga will join the second unit.  The veteran OLine will compensate with experience what they lack in raw talent and continue to provide Edsall with a balanced offense by protecting Orlovsky and opening holes for the Husky TBs.  However, there is little depth. 

Connecticut returns intact is backfield two-deep.  However, Jr TB Terry Caulley (89 carries for 607 yards and 7 TDs plus 14 receptions for 81 yards), who suffered a season ending ACL injury in Game 5 last season, has not fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery and will miss the season with a medical redshirt.  As he had last season, Edsall faces a three-way competition to replace Caulley.  Leading rusher RS So TB Cornell Brockington (131 carries for 643 yards and 10 TDs plus 7 receptions for 64 yards) emerged as the starter late last season.  RS Sr TB Chris Bellamy (110 carries for 589 yards and 3 TDs plus 7 receptions for 49 yards) started four games last season before being replaced by Brockington.  So TB Matt Lawrence (45 carries for 124 yards plus 4 receptions for 14 yards) started two games in place of Caulley before being replaced by Bellamy.  The FB is a part-time position in the Husky offense as Edsall will frequently employ 2TEs or 3WRs.  Jr  FB Deon Anderson (35 carries for 124 yards plus 15 receptions for 148 yards) returns primarily in blocking role.  Connecticut's deep and experienced backfield should provide Edsall several options with which to complement the passing of Orlovsky. 

Connecticut lost its top two receivers – two-year starter and leader receiver 3WR Shaun Feldeisen (65 receptions for 860 yards and 7 TDs) plus and second leading receiver WR O'Neil Wilson (51 receptions for 655 yards and 9 TDs), who did not return for a fifth season – from a deep receiving corps that saw nine players contribute meaningfully.  RS Sr WR Keron Henry (39 receptions for 662 yards and 4 TDs) and TE RS Jr Tim Lassen (8 receptions for 90 yards and 3 TDs), who missed the first half of the season with a separated shoulder, are the returning starters.  Jr WR Brandon Young (28 receptions for 399 yards and 4 TDs), who was supposed to replace Wilson, suffered a torn foot ligament in a car accident a week before summer camp opened and will miss the season.  Former backup WR RS Jr Jason Williams (19 receptions for 139 yards) will replace Young opposite Henry.  Former starter RS Sr Matt Cutaia (11 receptions for 203 yards and 2 TDs) will replace Feldeisen as the starting 3WR.  RS So Dan Murray (9 receptions for 123 yards), who started in Lassen's absence last year, will serve as the backup.  RS Sr walk-on WR Brian Sparks and RS Fr WR Seth Fogarty will move into the suddenly depleted second team. 


Connecticut lost four starters off a fledgling Division IA defense that slipped as it's big play capability receded but still placed in the upper third among Division IA teams.  The Husky defense uses a 4-3 scheme with a NT, a weak side rush DE (the "bandit"), a SLB (the "husky") up on the LOS, and the SS at LB depth in an eight-man front.  The Connecticut secondary tends to play soft coverage to prevent giving up the big play.  Connecticut's 2003 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 139 rushing yards per game (#4 in the current Big East and #45 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 201 passing yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #33 in Division 1A)
  • 340 total yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #32 in Division 1A)
  • 25 points per game (#3 in the Big East and #56 in Division 1A)

Connecticut returns intact its LB corps – the heart of the Husky defense last year – two-year starter and leading tackler Sr WLB Maurice Lloyd (122 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 2 FF, and 3 FR), two-year starter and second leading tackler Sr MLB Alfred Fincher (115 tackles, 11 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 3 FF, and 2 FR), and Jr SLB James Hargrave (74 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 2 FF).  Sr SLB Kinnan Herriott (16 tackles and 2 TFLs), RS Jr WLB Taurien Sowell (26 tackles and 3 TFLs), and RS So MLB Darius Leak (13 tackles) return as the backups, although Leak has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules but is expected to return.  The LB corps will anchor the Connecticut defense but a weaker DLine will be complicate their task. 

Three-year starter and third leading tackler FS Terrance Smith (98 tackles and 2.5 TFLs) was the only loss from the secondary.  Sr SS John Fletcher (60 tackles), RS Sr CB Justin Perkins (69 tackles and 6 INTs), and So CB Allan Barnes (37 tackles), who displaced the starter late last season, return to the starting lineup.  RS So FS MJ Estep (12 tackles) will replace Smith as a starter.  Former starting CB RS So Ernest Cole (40 tackles), who lost his job to Barnes, and Jr CB Cathlyn Clarke (8 tackles) will return as backups.  Former backup FS So Donta Moore will slide over to backup Estep and RS Fr Donnell Ford will replace Moore as the backup FS.  Like Leak, Clarke has been suspended indefinitely for a violating team rules but is expected to return.  The Husky secondary, other than Perkins, is very pedestrian – lacking playmakers, experience, and depth. 

The Huskies lost half of their two-deep DLine, including three starters.  Three-year starter DE Uyi Osunde (84 tackles, 24.5 TFLs, 11 sacks, and 2 FF), 3.5-year starter DT Sean Mulcahy (37 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, and 4 sacks), and two-year starter DE Ryan Bushey (36 tackles, 8 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, and 2 FF) departed.  Backup DE Hakeem Kashama (32 tackles, 8 TFLs, and 5 sacks) is also gone.  Only three-year starter RS Sr DE Tyler King (77 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 8 sacks, and 2 FF) returns.  Former backups RS Jr DT Deon McPhee (16 tackles and 3 TFLs), RS So DT Rhema Fuller (14 tackles and 2 TFLs), and RS So DE Shawn Mayne will move into the starting lineup.  RS So DE Jason Ward, RS So DT Matt Applebaum, RS So DT Ray Blagman, and RS Fr DE Gary Mack constitute a very green second unit.  A very inexperienced DLine could pose major problems for the Husky defense as it faces a more difficult schedule with stronger opponents. 


Four-year starter P Adam Coles (42 yards per punt) is the only loss off special teams for Connecticut but he is a big loss.  True Fr P Shane Hussar will likely replace Coles.  RS So PK Matt Nuzie (11 of 21 FGAs and 47 of 49 XPAs) is the incumbent but true freshman P Tony Ciaravino will challenge for the job.  True Fr Larry Taylor likely will displace incumbent PR RS So David Sanchez (4 yards per return), whose production was awful.  With Jr KOR Brandon Young (21 yards per return) out for the year with a torn foot ligament, So CB Allen Barnes likely will join RS Jr KOR Jason Williams (24 yards per return) in fielding kickoffs.  The punt game is the biggest concern for the Connecticut special teams because the punter is inexperienced and the returners have not produced.   


Connecticut has an 11 game schedule with seven home games.  Only seven games will be played on Saturdays.  The Huskies play on Wednesday night against West Virginia, on Thursday morning (Thanksgiving) at Rutgers, on Thursday night against Pittsburgh, and on Friday night at Boston College.  Both Thursday games occur on short weeks after Saturday games.  Connecticut has two bye weeks – in early October before the Wednesday night game and again in early November.  After facing only six teams from BCS conferences last year, Connecticut will play eight this year.  The non-conference schedule is soft, with only one tough assignment – Georgia Tech.  The Big East schedule is not favorable with two of three games against league middlings on the road.  The road schedule is daunting with visits to Chestnut Hill (Boston College), Syracuse, Atlanta (Georgia Tech), and Piscataway (Rutgers).  The home schedule is accommodating with only two tough matchups – Pittsburgh and West Virginia.  Connecticut is likely going to need three league wins and seven total wins to earn a bowl bid.  The Huskies will likely need to win two of three from Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and Syracuse to reach that threshold. 


September 4

Murray State

September 11


September 17

@ Boston College

September 25


September 30


October 13

West Virginia

October 23


October 30

@ Syracuse

November 13

@ Georgia Tech

November 20


November 25

@ Rutgers



I predict that Connecticut will finish 5-6 (1-5 Big East).  The Huskies will beat Murray State, Duke, Army, Temple, and Buffalo easily.  However, these programs are all near the bottom of the Division IA ranks – and Murray is Division IAA.  Georgia Tech will not suffer the same fate as Wake Forest (blowout loss) or North Carolina State (narrow win) did against Connecticut last year.  The stingy Yellow Jacket defense will throttle the Husky offense while the Tech offense pushes the Connecticut defense around.  Connecticut will receive a rough reception to the Big East.  Boston College is still too strong for Connecticut in the trenches and will control the line of scrimmage while cruising to a comfortable win.  Though rebuilding, Pittsburgh still has too many athletes for Connecticut on both sides of the ball.  Although the Huskies explosive offensive poses a threat to one-dimensional West Virginia should Connecticut get a big early lead, the Mountaineers will play keep away with their powerful running game and will not let the Husky offense get into gear.  Syracuse, like Boston College and West Virginia, will use its powerful running game to play keep away from the Husky offense and will prevail in the Carrier Dome.  Rutgers will also physically manhandle Connecticut but won't make the crippling mistakes that the Scarlet Knights did a year ago.  After a season in which Connecticut flirted with a bowl bid, the Huskies will come back to earth as they set foot in the big time, diluted though the Big East might currently be. 

Coming Next:  Big East Preview, Part 6.  I'll finish my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at the outcast Temple Owls.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

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