Not a Bad Start

When Chandler Whitmer was in high school, there was an article written that quoted him listing his aspirations as a football player. State championship. National championship. Heisman Trophy. Told last week by a Connecticut newspaper columnist that the story could still be found on the Internet, Whitmer laughed.

"Hey, you've got to set goals for yourself," he said.

Can't fault UConn's new starting quarterback for thinking that way. Whitmer and the Huskies aren't contenders for a championship or a Heisman, but the junior college transfer did record a 37-0 victory over UMass in the season opener for both teams at Rentschler Field Thursday night – and his first game as UConn QB.

Whitmer has replaced Johnny McEntee and was named No. 1 on the depth chart just before the start of preseason camp. The record book will show he completed 15 of 25 passes for 219 yards, including a 34-yard reception. He wasn't sacked but he did get picked off twice.

Not exactly Heisman numbers. But not a bad start either – especially at a spot that has been a problem for UConn in recent years.

"I thought Chandler did a good job in the pocket," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said Friday in his day after teleconference with beat writers. "I liked the way he moved around in the pocket. I liked the way he slid into the soft spots. I thought his ball security in the pocket was very, very good."

Pasqualoni said he thought Whitmer played very well on the first drive of the game – a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took seven minutes and 29 seconds and resulted in a 1-yard TD run for tailback Lyle McCombs. The coach also liked Whitmer's deep throws.

"It was OK," Whitmer said when asked to grade his own performance. "Obviously we did a lot of things we want to improve on. Our first drive was good but there are things we can learn from and improve on."

Whitmer's first interception certainly was memorable. The play grabbed the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays of the day on ESPN. Whitmer's pass was headed out of bounds but Darren Thellen of UMass managed to tip it and bat it back to teammate Tom Brandt for the pick.

"I'd say it was luck," Thellen said. "I was in cover-2 coverage, the quarterback threw it out of bounds. I wanted to get the pick but I knew I couldn't make it so I just jumped up. I saw one of my teammates close so I just threw it to him. Fortunately he caught it and made a play."

Whitmer admitted the other interception was a forced pass on his part. UConn also lost a fumble and the three turnovers were the biggest negative on a successful night.

NOTES

UConn defensive end Teddy Jennings was scheduled to have an MRI on his left knee Friday. Jennings was injured in his pursuit of UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn in the third quarter. He walked off and seemed capable of bearing weight on both legs. Pasqualoni said he is optimistic but would wait to see the results before further comment. UConn is already without DT Shamar Stephen, who missed the opener with a knee sprain. His health will be re-evaluated at the start of next week. It may be Tuesday before the status of either player is announced. . . The coaching staff gave out two game balls. One went to the defensive unit as a whole for holding UMass to three first downs and 59 net yards (only 3 rushing). The other game ball went to kicker Chad Christen, who kicked field goals of 36-, 47- and 19-yards. He also did a good job on kickoffs. Um, who was Dave Teggart? . . . UConn took a look at a lot of players Thursday night. The coaches shuffled seven players on the offensive line, including freshman Tyler Smara. Senior guard Adam Masters played three spots. Sophomore guard Gus Cruz got a lot of snaps too. . . . Pasqualoni continues to sing the praises of freshman defensive end D.J. Norris. . . . Even though the Huskies used a lot of players and showed some new wrinkles on offense, Pasqualoni wasn't worried that UConn showed too much of the "wildcat" package or other plays to future opponents. "We could wallpaper this room with plays, so I'm not worried," he said.

BIG EAST UNITY

Most of the high administrative officers of the Big East Conference were in attendance Thursday night at Rentschler Field, including new commissioner Mike Aresco. The Connecticut native and former CBS Sports executive will officially be on the job Sept. 4. The window to begin television contract negotiations begins today and Aresco said the conference will begin its championship football game after the 2013 season.

He is selling a message of unity as he goes from school-to-school painting a bright future for the Big East. Aresco said he thinks UConn, Rutgers and Louisville are committed to staying in the Big East.

"I think they'll stay," he said. "I think they'll want to stay because we'll work hard to keep them here, we'll work hard to show them that this conference is a great conference, we'll work hard to get the kind of TV deal that provides the financial stability as well as the exposure ... We think everybody is committed to this conference."

Once again, Aresco reiterated the conference stance that the Big East wants add a 14th member for football. Louisville athletic director Tim Jurich responded to that Friday. Said Jurich to WDRB.com: "I think that's totally irrelevant. I think they'll add a 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th. I don't think it matters. Numbers are irrelevant. Just get the right schools in. That's the important thing."

Jurich, whose school continues to be linked with rumors to the Big 12, doesn't agree with Aresco that conference realignment has quieted down.

"I don't think expansion has stopped yet," Jurich said. "But I want to make sure that we all caution ourselves: We want to do the best thing for the University of Louisville, too. The Big East has taken a lot of kicks in the face. No question about it.

"But their round is coming up. The TV negotiations have propped every other conference up. The Big East is the last to go … Once that happens I want to see how that plays out. I like a lot of things the Big East has done. Right now the Big East is our home, so we've got to make it the best home it possibly can be."

TOP QUOTE

Max DeLorenzo, a redshirt freshman running back from Berlin, Conn., got credit for the touchdown when UConn's special teams unit blocked a punt near the end zone in the third quarter. DeLorenzo fell on the ball after Taylor Mack's block. DeLorenzo: "We called block, but I actually told all the defensive guys, ‘Block and I'm going to score because I'm an offensive guy.' And sure enough it happened. I was very excited."

NEXT UP

North Carolina State, Sept. 8, Noon, Rentschler Field (SNY). The Wolfpack opened at Tennessee Friday night.


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