Football's Final Exam

The UConn football team will conclude spring practice on Saturday with the Blue vs. White Spring Game at noon at Rentschler Field. Admission and parking are free. Parking lots open at 9 a.m. with stadium gates opening at 10:30 a.m. Those attending the game are reminded personal bags are not allowed into events at Rentschler Field -- other than bags containing personal medical supplies.

STORRS, Conn. – Connecticut football coach Paul Pasqualoni has opened up his classroom 14 times this spring at the Mark R. Shenkman Training Center. Now he takes his team to Rentschler Field for a final review as the Huskies hold the annual Blue-White Spring Game at noon Saturday.

It comes as no surprise that Pasqualoni has already promised no trick plays and nothing fancy. While UConn fans crave more razzle-dazzle under new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist, that definitely won't happen Saturday. The entire coaching staff wants to see what the UConn players have learned since March 12.

And Pasqualoni said it is all about dependability.

"It's kind of the culminating activity," Pasqualoni said. "I get excited about just good base fundamentals. That's probably not something that fans or people pay much attention to, but it's pretty exciting. You've got a guy dominating the line of scrimmage up front, offensively or defensively, that's pretty exciting."

With that said, the coaches won't be able to make a lot of final conclusions from this event. That's because numerous key players who will dominate the depth chart when summer camp rolls around will miss the game, including linebacker Yawin Smallwood and offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett. Joining those two, who are either injured or recovering from surgery, will be defensive lineman Shamar Stephen, kicker Chad Christen, defensive lineman Jesse Joseph and others.

Center Alex Mateas, battling Tyler Bullock for the starting center spot, will also miss the game after being suspended this week for violating team rules.

The game will not be held in typical team vs. team format. The offense will scrimmage against the defense in various situations, including standard situations, "back to the wall" series starting at the 1-yard line, red zone and others. There will be no punt or kick returns.

Returning starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer will work with the top offensive unit. Redshirt freshman Casey Cochran, who has had a solid spring, will call signals for the other. Reserve Scott McCummings will alternate between both.

Players from the offensive side are confident after installing a new offense under Weist, who was hired in the offseason from Cincinnait.

"It's not totally new," tailback Lyle McCombs said. "That's the good thing. We're progressing well. We're building the chemistry. Some of us are going on our third year together. There's definitely a chemistry and the new guys are coming along and learning too."

Weist, like Pasqualoni, wants to see a high level of execution.

"That's what it comes down to," Weist said. "A lot of your evaluation days are scrimmage days the three Saturdays before the game. But you want guy to focus and play smart on game day.

"I think our offense has responded. We've gone out and made plays. We're finding out who our playmakers are and how our quarterbacks can handle the offense. Chandler has done a good job from that standpoint. Casey has done a good job running the offense and in the huddle."

Defensive coordinator Hank Hughes is directing a unit that must replace starting cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson and linemen Trevardo Williams.

"You have to find guys who can step up and take a leadership role, find guys that can think on their feet and guys that are communicators who can lead the group," Hughes said. "Experience and especially successful experience is difficult to replace. I think we've got a lot of guys working to step up.

"I want to see everyone do their job, run to the football and gang tackle. That's what I'm looking for on every play, every day."


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