Big East Preview -- Part 5

This is the fifth in a seven part preseason tour of the Big East. I'll resume my tour of the Big East with a look at the brash Connecticut Huskies. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits, based upon my pre-season research and analysis.


In only its third season of Division IA competition under Head Coach Randy Edsall, Connecticut finished 7-4 (3-3 Big East) and played in its first bowl game.  Sure, Connecticut played a ridiculously weak non-conference schedule.  But the Huskies, expected to win one Big East game in their inaugural season, instead beat Pittsburgh and Rutgers to reach bowl eligibility.  The Huskies closed the year with a 39-10 drubbing of MAC champion Toledo in the Motor City Bowl.  This accomplishment was achieved behind the leadership of a senior class recruited to play right away but without expectations of playing in the Big East (Connecticut was originally scheduled to join the Big East in 2005). 

After building for several years, Edsall now must rebuild without a lot of veteran leadership.  Connecticut is still making the transition to BCS conference team and, as a result, the younger talent is still pushing out veteran experience.  Edsall returns 12 starters – plus both kickers – from a very experienced team.  After leaning upon his offense the past two years, Edsall will turn to his defense to carry the load.  Now, Edsall must live with expectations created by a fast start in the Big East.  Here is a look at the brash Connecticut Huskies, who have made a quick ascent of the Division IA ranks in four years. 


Connecticut lost six starters from an offense that again was one of the more productive units in Division IA (though against a weak schedule).  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 will likely change gears this year and rely upon two proven RBs to take the pressure of an inexperienced QB.  In fact, don't be surprised to see Edsall play two TBs simultaneously.  Connecticut's 2004 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 148 rushing yards per game (#4 in the old Big East and #66 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 281 passing yards per game (#2 in the old Big East and #10 in Division 1A)
  • 430 total yards per game (#1 in the old Big East and #19 in Division 1A)
  • 30 points per game (#1 in the old Big East and #27 in Division 1A)

Connecticut saw substantial upheaval in its backfield.  Backup TB Chris Bellamy (71 carries for 296 yards and 3 TDs plus 17 receptions for 117 yards) departed after a much reduced role last season.  Sr FB Deon Anderson (22 carries for 99 yards plus 14 receptions for 133 yards) transferred out of the program for "personal reasons" after an arrest last winter.  Jr TB Matt Lawrence (28 carries for 117 yards and 2 TDs plus 5 receptions for 61 yards and one TD), who started the first two games of the season but quickly dropped down the depth chart, transferred to Massachusetts.  First Team All-Big East and leading rusher RS Jr TB Cornell Brockington (238 carries for 1,218 yards and 11 TDs plus 34 receptions for 231 yards and one TD), who emerged from a crowded backfield as the feature TB, returns.  Former starting TB RS Jr Terry Caulley, who missed last season after suffering an ACL injury in October 2003, has returned and will push Brockington for the starting job.  So TB Larry Taylor (4 carries for 34 yards), who played as the PR last year, will also see time as a scatback in the spread.  RS Fr Lou Allen will replace Anderson as the starting FB, which is a part-time position in the Husky offense as Edsall will frequently employ 2TEs or 3WRs.  The return of Caulley will give Edsall a deep and experienced backfield, which will carry the offensive load this season. 

Connecticut suffered heavy losses in its receiving corps – two-year starter and leader receiver WR Keron Henry (67 receptions for 891 yards and 5 TDs), starting WR and third leading receiver WR Matt Cutaia (44 receptions for 545 yards and one TD), backup WR Brian Sparks (20 receptions for 176 yards and 3 TDs), and backup TE Tim Lassen (3 receptions for 18 yards and one TD).  Second leading receiver RS Sr Jason Williams (44 receptions for 661 yards and 4 TDs), the starting 3WR and top backup, will replace Henry in the starting lineup.  Former backup RS Jr WR Brandon Young, who missed last season after suffering a torn foot ligament in a car accident a week before summer camp, will start opposite Williams.  RS Fr WRs Nollis Dewar and Ellis Gaulden will be the primary backups and will compete for the starting 3WR job.  Backup WR So Brandon McClean (14 receptions for 132 yards and 2 TDs) has been pushed off the two-deep but will likely serve as the fifth WR in a unit that often deploys a 3WR.  RS Fr TE Steve Brouse will backup Murray.  A receiving corps that was three-deep two years ago now fields inexperienced backups and may be a year away from contributing significantly.   

An experienced OLine has been decimated with three departed starters and four departed backups.  Four-year starter and Second Team All-Big East LT Ryan Krug, four-year starter LG Brian Markowski, and three-year starter C Billy Irwin are gone.  As are backups C Jeff Fox, LG T.J. Dlubac, LT Michael Kodish (who had a year of eligibility remaining), and RT Brendan Borowski (who also had a year of eligibility remaining).  Three-year starter RS Sr RT Grant Preston was switched to LT to replace Krug while former starting RG RS Jr Craig Berry was moved into Preston's vacated slot at RT.  Former backup RG RS So Brian Kersmanc will replace Markowski at LG.  RS Fr C Trey Tonsing and RS Fr RG Immanuel Hutcherson will complete the starting lineup.  RS Fr LT William Beatty, RS Jr LG Matt Applebaum (a converted DT), true Fr C Joe Akers, RS Fr RG Pat Shortell, and RS Fr RT Matt Wood will form a green second unit.  The Husky OLine is very inexperienced.  However, Edsall must have faith in his young charges since he dispatched two fourth year players with a year of eligibility remaining to clear roster space. 

Connecticut lost its offensive centerpiece in four-year starter and 5th round NFL draft choice (New Orleans) QB Dan Orlovsky (288 of 457 for 3,354 yards, 23 TDs, and 15 INTs), who was nominated for several national awards yet did not even earn All-Big East honors in a slightly disappointing senior campaign.  Former backup QB RS Jr Matt Bonislawski (4 of 7 for 22 yards) barely played behind Orlovsky and enters the season raw and inexperienced.  RS Fr QB Dan Hernandez will backup Bonislawski.  The inexperience at QB, in conjunction with a thin receiving corps, likely means that Edsall will likely rely upon his running game.  However, Bonislawski is more mobile than was Orlovsky.  Therefore, Connecticut may employ a run-oriented spread offense that also uses the QB as a run threat. 


Connecticut lost four starters off a defense that was surprisingly among the best in the Big East for a program four years removed from Division I-AA competition.  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 2004 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 137 rushing yards per game (#2 in the old Big East and #42 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 190 passing yards per game (#1 in the old Big East and #19 in Division 1A)
  • 327 total yards per game (#1 in the old Big East and #27 in Division 1A)
  • 22 points per game (#3 in the old Big East and #36 in Division 1A)

The Huskies lost only one player off their two-deep DLine – three-year starter DE Tyler King (31 tackles, 10 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, and 2 FR), who missed the second half of the season with a broken leg.  Starting DT RS Sr Deon McPhee (24 tackles and 4 TFLs), starting DT RS Jr Rhema Fuller (31 tackles, 8 TFLs, 2 sacks, and one FF), and starting DE RS Jr Shawn Mayne (41 tackles, 10 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 2 FR, and one FF) return.  Former backup DE RS Jr Jason Ward (15 tackles, 2 TFLs, and one FF), who started in place of the injured King, will maintain his starting job.  Backups RS Jr DT Ray Blagman (8 tackles and one sack), So DT Afa Anoai (7 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks), and So DE Dan Davis (8 tackles and 1.5 sacks) also return.  RS So DE Harold Stanback (3 tackles and one TFL) will complete the second unit.  The Huskies have a young but experienced DLine that will anchor their defense. 

Connecticut lost two starters from a thin secondary – three-year starter and First Team All-Big East CB Justin Perkins (38 tackles, one TFL, 5 INTs, and 2 FR) and two-year starter SS John Fletcher (62 tackles and 6.5 TFLs).  Backup SS Jr Donta Moore (12 tackles) was suspended this summer after being arrested for shooting a pellet gun from a car.  Starting FS RS Jr MJ Estep (66 tackles and one FF) and two-year starter CB RS Jr Ernest Cole (28 tackles, 2 TFLs, and one INT), who was displaced as the starter but regained the job in place of his injured replacement, return to anchor the secondary.  Former starting CB Jr Allan Barnes (14 tackles and one FF), who replaced Cole before suffering a season-ending ACL injury, will battle former backup CB So Marvin Taylor (12 tackles) for the starting SS job.  RS Fr Darius Butler will replace Perkins in the starting lineup.  Backups So CB Tyvon Branch (20 tackles) and RS So FS Ricky McCollum (5 tackles) return.  Backup Jr CB Jahi Smith (3 tackles), who missed the last half of the season with a shoulder injury, will complete the two-deep.  Though returning seven players who have seen action, the Husky secondary only has three players – and two starters – with appreciable experience. 

Connecticut suffered devastating losses at linebacker.  Three-year starter, First Team All-Big East, 3rd round NFL draft choice (New Orleans), and leading tackler MLB Alfred Fincher (140 tackles, 12 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 5 FF, and one FR) and four-year starter, Second Team All-Big East, and second leading tackler WLB Maurice Lloyd (117 tackles, 12 TFLs, 3 sacks, one INT, one FF, and one FR) departed.  As did backup SLB Kinnan Herriott (6 tackles).  Two-year starter and third leading tackler Sr SLB James Hargrave (88 tackles, 15 TFLs, 4 sacks, one INT, one FF, and one FR) will be the leader of the LB unit.  Former backups RS Sr MLB Taurien Sowell (4 tackles) and RS So WLB Danny Lansanah (23 tackles) will replace Fincher and Lloyd, respectively.  RS So WLB Ryan Henegan (8 tackles) and So MLB Julius Williams (7 tackles), and RS Fr Jonathan Smith will comprise the second unit.  Since Fincher and Lloyd rarely left the field, the Husky LB corps is very inexperienced and has no proven depth. 


Connecticut returns most of its specialists.  Only transferred KOR Matt Lawrence (16 yards per return) was lost.  So TB Larry Taylor (15 yards per punt return and one TD plus 31 yards per kickoff return and one TD) returns in both capacities.  So CB Tyvon Branch (20 yards per kickoff return) will also return kickoffs.  So P Shane Hussar (37 yards per punt).  RS Jr PK Matt Nuzie (20 of 28 FGAs and 37 of 42 XPAs).  The kicking game is the biggest concern for the Connecticut special teams, which have formidable return units. 


Connecticut has an 11 game schedule with six home games.  The Huskies play once each on Wednesday night (at West Virginia), Thursday night (Buffalo), and Friday night (Syracuse).  The Huskies start the season early (on a Thursday) and finish late (in early December).  As such, the long schedule provides Connecticut with three bye weeks – in late September, in late October before the Wednesday night game, and again in late November.  The Thursday game is the season opener and provides a long week before Game 2.  The Friday night game is on a short week.  Connecticut plays six 2004 bowl teams – Georgia Tech (Champs Sports), Syracuse (Champs Sports), Cincinnati (Fort Worth), West Virginia (Gator), Pittsburgh (Fiesta), and Louisville (Liberty).  The non-conference schedule again is soft, with only one tough assignment – Georgia Tech again.  The Big East schedule is favorable for a rebuilding team, with two of top three opponents on the road and three home games against league middlings.  The road schedule is daunting with only two realistic opportunities for win – at Army and at Cincinnati.  The home schedule is accommodating with only one tough matchup – Big East newcomer (and favorite) Louisville.  Connecticut is likely going to need three league wins to reach bowl eligibility and possibly a fourth to earn a bowl bid.  The key games will be against Syracuse and Rutgers. 


September 1


September 10


September 17

@ Georgia Tech

October 1

@ Army

October 7


October 15

@ Cincinnati

October 22


November 2

@ West Virginia

November 12

@ Pittsburgh

November 26

South Florida

December 3




I predict that Connecticut will finish 4-7 (1-6 Big East).  The Huskies will beat Buffalo, Liberty, and Army easily but lose at Georgia Tech.  A five-game losing streak in Big East play will ensue, including crucial games against Syracuse, at Cincinnati, and Rutgers.  The Huskies will rebound with a win against South Florida but will be crushed by Louisville to end the season. 

Coming Next:  Big East Preview, Part 6.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at the fellow Division IA newbie South Florida Bulls.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to  I just noticed an error in my email address hyperlink.  I apologize to those of you who have been trying to email me, to no avail.  The link has been fixed.  Drop me a line at my Comcast address.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback, even if I make it hard to do.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the spring camp with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.

Scarlet Report Top Stories