Can McEntee Be UConn's Main Man?

STORRS – It's easy to forget where Connecticut quarterback Johnny McEntee comes from. And it's almost impossible to predict where he is headed. Think about that.

For the past two months, McEntee has been involved in a three-way battle for UConn's starting role at quarterback. Even though he started the first four games of the season, the popular approach was that all three quarterbacks would be ready for each game – and who knew what might happen.

The Huskies were living proof of that time-tested saying: Any team that has three quarterbacks doesn't have a quarterback.

That may have changed last Saturday in Buffalo, when McEntee found his passing touch and led the Huskies a 17-3 victory. He threw his first two touchdown passes of the season and passed for 213 yards. When it was over, UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said McEntee had separated himself from Scott McCummings and Mike Nebrich.

Saturday against Western Michigan (3:30 p.m., Rentschler Field), McEntee will make his fifth start, but he will do without the suspense that accompanied the other starts. Pasqualoni made it official on Thursday, naming McEntee the starter at QB for this game – based on the progress he made week-to-week and especially for his turnover-free performance against Buffalo.

McEntee actually may have elevated himself during practice leading up to the Buffalo game. That's the way George DeLeone, UConn's offensive coordinator, sees it.

"You have to understand the whole picture here [with McEntee]," DeLeone said. "Here is a kid who is a walk-on, never played, never did anything, just a scout team guy hanging around. All of a sudden he's a starting quarterback. Next thing you know he's had two tough outings [against Vanderbilt and Iowa State].

"Now the son of a gun, at that point, could have shriveled up, taken his ball and gone home. Instead, the kid worked his tail off last week in practice. I could see it in his eyes. It was different. It was, ‘You mean this is important? This is Division I football, right?' He was focused and it resulted in a better outing."

Buffalo used a defensive scheme against the Huskies that was determined to stop the run. UConn's reputation as a run-oriented offense has bridged the gap from Randy Edsall to Pasqualoni. Buffalo essentially challenged the Huskies to win with the passing game. And McEntee did that, hitting 12 of 21 passes for 213 yards, throwing two touchdown passes and not throwing an interception.

"I think it says something about what is inside the kid," DeLeone said. "It's the measure of the man. What he went through. Where he's come from. Nobody ever gives him a chance. All of a sudden, he's the starting quarterback. Then he goes out and finds outs, ‘Oh [crap] this is Division I football. Wow. This is hard work.' It clicks in. Now he has the type of practice, I think a quarterback needs to have. We hadn't had that this year. Now he understands it. Can we take that and move forward? I don't know."

Western Michigan (2-2) has lost at Michigan and at Illinois. The Broncos have defeated Nicholls and Central Michigan. They are holding opponents to 135 passing yards a game.

This game is important for McEntee and the Huskies. If he can lead UConn to victory again, there will be a confidence boost as the Huskies head into Big East Conference play Oct. 8 at West Virginia. If the offense sputters again, things could start to snowball and turn ugly.

"I've just got to take the same approach," McEntee said. "I've got to keep fighting for the job and go out and give my all every day in practice. I felt a little more in rhythm [against Buffalo]. I still made a lot of big mistakes. Some of the plays I called were wrong. That's the stuff I've got to fix."

When McEntee came here as a walk-on from Fullerton, Calif., in 2008, he never imagined starting at UConn.

"It was kind of a dream," he said. "When I first got here I thought I was never going to play. I came to a 7-on-7 in the summer, I was like, ‘There's no way I'll ever play. These guys are too good.' I just stuck with it and every year I started to get a little bit better."

Heading into this spring, UConn fans likely knew him for two reasons. First, there was his YouTube video of trick shots that made national news. And he was a high school teammate of tailback D.J. Shoemate, who transferred to UConn from USC in 2010 after much encouragement from McEntee.

"Sometimes I wanted to quit, but having such good people around me made me want to stick with it," McEntee said. "In those two games (against Vandy and Iowa State), if I had played better I think we had a good chance of winning.

"But those are over and we're just trying to move on. I'm just trying to build slowly off each game and learn from them."

Few Division I programs would put their immediate future in the hands of a redshirt junior walk-on. McEntee is still playing without a scholarship. If he leads UConn in the right direction the remainder of the season that obviously could change.

But no one at UConn is thinking of that right now. All the answers will come on the field, starting Saturday.

"Now [the question is] whether he can start stringing a few good performances together," DeLeone said. "We'll see. As they say, to be continued."


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