Williams Stars in 37-0 Victory

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – After watching his Connecticut football team open the season with a 37-0 victory over old rival Massachusetts at Rentschler Field, coach Paul Pasqualoni said the defense "hit expectations" and the special teams "exceeded expectations."

The head coach didn't offer a concise assessment of UConn's offense – perhaps because so many people were involved it would have been very complicated. But he did point out three turnovers that will give the coaching staff something to harp on in practice next week.

"Three turnovers is not acceptable," Pasqualoni said.

But that is coach talk.

Only once in UConn's disappointing season of 2011 did the Huskies score more than 37 points, but this was not an offensive explosion. This victory over the Football Bowl Subdivision newbies from Amherst, Mass., came with seven points from the defense, seven points from the special teams, and nine points from kicker Chad Christen, who kicked field goals of 36, 47 and 19 yards.

Senior cornerback Dwayne Gratz intercepted a pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Taylor Mack blocked a punt in the third quarter and Max DeLorenzo recovered in the end zone for another TD.

Put that together with a defensive effort that held UMass to three first downs and just 59 yards in total offense and that was UConn's formula for success.

"We came out here trying to prove we are a great defense and I think this performance solidified it," said sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who led that performance with seven tackles, one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss that totaled 17 yards. "Now we've just got to keep going the rest of the season."

With that team effort in mind, there still was one new offensive wrinkle that provided the most entertainment and perhaps the most excitement for this new season. And that was the all-purpose effort of senior wide receiver Nick Williams.

Williams, the 5-foot-10, 184-pound speedster who has thrilled UConn fans with his ability to return kicks, finished the game with 143 all-purpose yards. He was UConn's second leading rusher with 24 yards on three carries. He caught one pass for 16 yards, had 37 yards on kickoff returns, and 66 more on punt returns.

Quite simply, Williams was all over the field, eluding blocks, picking up yards and making life miserable for a UMass defense that could not match his speed. The Huskies put him at the slot receiver and let him work his magic by running sweeps and adding to the depth at receiver.

"In the off season, that became my main focus," Williams said of playing the slot receiver. "I had a little chip on my shoulder. I wanted to be more than just a return guy. So far, this season, I'd like to be even more involved and be out there more on offense. I'm hoping that continues to happen.

"Any way I can contribute in the pass game, run game, return game, blocking, whatever it is I'm all for it and I'm excited. I'm just happy to be on the field."

The Huskies scored on their first offensive possession of the game and Williams wasted no time getting involved. After new quarterback Chandler Whitmer (15-for-25, 219 yards, two interceptions) handed off to tailback Lyle McCombs (23 rushes, 82 yards) for a five-yard gain on first down, reserve quarterback Scott McCummings handed off to Williams out of UConn's "wildcat" package. Williams picked up 14 yards and a first down to the UConn 44 on a sweep around the right side.

Whitmer kept the drive going with two completions for 16 yards. The first went to fullback Michael Osiecki and moved the ball to the UMass 37. The second was to Williams as UConn faced a third-and-five at the UMass 21.

"I think people know about Nick in the return game from last year but his hands are unbelievable and his quickness allows him to do a lot of things," Whitmer said. "Everybody saw tonight that he can do a lot of things. He's real fast and when he gets running there aren't many people who can keep up with him."

Williams picked up nine yards rushing and almost got into the end zone on a first-and-goal but he left the ball one yard short of the end zone. McCombs took care of business on the next play, picking up the final yard and scoring the first TD of the season. After a 75-yard drive on 12 plays, the Huskies led 7-0 with 5:59 left in the first quarter.

"I love that wildcat sweep we run with him," Pasqualoni said, "because he's running full speed when we hand it to him. He has a chance to circle the field and make some yards. And he's pretty nifty with the underneath stuff."

UConn built the lead to 20-0 by halftime and there was little doubt the game was over. The Huskies didn't execute quite as well in the second half, but Pasqualoni stayed with the "wildcat" packages and McCummings scored on a one-yard run with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter to make it 34-0.

In addition to McCombs, six other Huskies rushed the ball. Williams was one of eight UConn receivers with at least one catch. Sophomore Geremy Davis was another pleasant surprise, leading the way with five catches for 79 yards. And McCummings ran for 13 yards, including that TD run in the third.

"As a coach you're kind of happy that you got a lot of guys in the game," Pasqualoni said. "We played some true freshmen tonight and we played lot of people. We've got some things to work on, so we go back and work."

When all was said and done, the one player who may have a set a new tone for the season was Williams. He was asked if his all-purpose yardage is something he can maintain in UConn's new offense.

"I don't know if it's an exact number but I do expect to be a factor in the passing game, in the rushing game and the return game," Williams said. If I can continue to do that, we can block and Chandler can continue to pass the ball, we have a lot of targets out there. I think we're going to be a load to prepare for."


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