Season ticket sales have eclipsed 27,500, tickets are still available for the Murray State game. They can be purchased over the phone by calling (877) AT-UCONN, or by logging on to TicketMaster.com.
The Racers have one leg up. Last Saturday, Murray State, a I-AA program, topped Division II Glenville State, 56-3. This will be the first match-up for the teams. The Racers were 4-8 last year.
MSU head coach Joe Pannunzio said on Monday, "As I look forward to this week, we're playing a really good team. We're stepping up a level. They've got, probably, a little bit better players than we have. I think they are the best Division I team that we've played up to this point in time." Murray State previously played Minnesota, Middle Tennessee State and Ole Miss during Coach Pannunzio's tenure.
Pannunzio is 22-24 in his fourth year at Murray State, a period highlighted by winning the 2002 Ohio Valley Conference championship.
Since Nov. 1, 2002, the Huskies have a 13-3 record. The 13 wins tie for the 12th most regular-season wins of any school in the nation. Oklahoma, USC and Boise State are tied for the national lead with 16, followed by Kansas State and Miami (Fla.), both won 15 games. And the Huskies are tied with Maryland for the fifth longest active winning streak in the nation (5 games).
UConn is 44-58-2 in season openers dating back to 1896. Last year, UConn defeated Indiana, 34-10. The Racers don blue and gold uniforms which could gives them some luck -- UConn has lost each of its last three season opening contests wears blue and gold (Navy, New Haven and Hofstra). The last win against a gold and blue team (which is also Pitt's colors) was a 27-14 victory over Delaware on Sept. 29, 1951.
Senior linebacker Alfred Fincher, offensive tackle Ryan Krug and quarterback Dan Orlovsky are the team's captains. Orlovsky finds himself on the watch lists for both major quarterbacking awards (O'Brien and Unitas) and both of the major national player of the year honors (Maxwell and Walter Camp). Named to two lists are offensive tackle Krug (Lombardi and Outland) and linebacker Maurice Lloyd (Butkus and Nagurski). Linebacker Fincher was named to the Butkus list and center Billy Irwin was named to the Rimington Award's official watch list.
Orlovsky continues to live up to the local hype he generated as a high school All-American and the Connecticut Player of the Year in 2000 at Shelton H.S, In 2003, Orlovsky was named the team's MVP after hitting on 279-of-475 passes (58.7%) for 3,485 yards with 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a 137.40 rating. With 61 career touchdown passes to his credit, he ranks second amongst all active passers behind only Timmy Chang of Hawai'i. Meanwhile, his 7,352 career passing yards rank eight amongst all active players.
Thanks to the performance of UConn's offensive line in 2003, the Huskies suffered just 10 sacks in 2003, the third fewest of any team in the nation.
UConn's one major personnel change affects the running game. Head coach Randy Edsall decided prior to the start of this fall's drills to air on the side of caution and redshirt tailback Terry Caulley for the season. Caulley was leading the nation with 601 rushing yards last year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury on a non-contact play as he made a cut on just his second carry of the Va. Tech game.
UConn started four different tailbacks in 2003 and three of them recorded a game with at least 188 rushing yards. In the immediate wake of the injury, many outside of the team initially doubted UConn's ability to run the ball without Caulley, but Chris Bellamy, Cornell Brockington and Matt Lawrence all stepped up their play. UConn averaged a productive 159.0 rushing yards per game over the final six games of the 2003 season while the Huskies had a 100-yard rusher in eight of the team's 12 games last year. The starter will be either Brockington or Lawrence.
The lone switch amongst the starters from the preseason depth chart to the current one on offense is the insertion of sophomore tight end Dan Murray into the lineup. There's a lot of depth at wideout. Seniors Keron Henry and Matt Cutaia, along with juniors Brian Sparks and Jason Williams, will form the top of the unit entering the season. Redshirt freshman Seth Fogarty showed a lot of promise during the fall camp, as did several others, including a trio of true freshmen in Nollis Dewar, Ellis Gaulden and Brandon McLean.
UConn lost three of its four starters from last year's defensive line -- Ryan Bushey, Sean Mulcahy and Uyi Osunde. Deon McPhee and Rhema Fuller have a combined 37 career games played at tackle while Shawn Mayne should ably man the end post vacated by Osunde's graduation.
The strongest portion of UConn's defensive unit will be the linebackers where the team returns three starters who have 91 combined career games played and 64 starts amongst them. Alfred Fincher controls the middle, Lloyd holds down the weakside and James Hargrave fortifies the strongside.
In the defensive backfield, cover corner Justin Perkins and strong safety John Fletcher bring experience. UConn's quintet of second-year performers -- Allan Barnes, Ernest Cole, M.J. Estep, Donta Moore and Jahi Smith -- are all featured in the two-deep along with redshirt freshman Marvin Taylor. Estep and Cole are slated to start on Saturday.
Freshman Shane Hussar takes over the punting duties with sophomore Matt Nuzie returning as the placekicker.
The Racers already have suffered some injuries. From Saturday's game, backup fullback Zack Knight (broken fibula) is out for four to six weeks and wide receiver DeSean Hammons hurt his foot. Then in practice, linebacker Keith McClain hurt his thumb. Both are day-to-day.
Junior running back Nick Turner was named a I-AA.org player of the week. He helped Murray State to a 21-0 second-quarter lead, scampering 65 yards for a touchdown on a punt return and scooting 28 yards for another score on the ground. The Mississippi State transfer rushed 13 times for 106 yards, caught two passes for 43 yards, returned six punts for 102 yards and brought back one kickoff for 27 yards. One of Turner's receptions went for a 38-yard gain, the longest of the night for the Racers. He piled up 278 yards of all-purpose yardage for the night.
The Racers return 14 starters led by running back Ron Lane who gained 676 yards last season. Lane added 105 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, gaining the longest run from scrimmage in the game with a 33-yarder in the third quarter. Turner and Lane became the first MSU tandem to run for 100 yards since 1999
Coffeyville Junior College transfer Adam Fisher is the starter. He was 11 for 20 for 155 yards. Tight end Jimmy St. Louis . was the leading receiver with four receptions for 38 yards and wide receiver DeSean Hammons, another juco transfer, had three catches for 34 yards.
Defensively, the Racers have experience on the line and at linebacker, but are bringing in two new starters in the secondary that helped lead the conference in passing defense.
The Sports Network picked MSU to finish seventh in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference.
Murray State is 0-8 since 1998 against Division I-A opponents. The streak will continue to nine games with at least a 20-point win. This is a great way to open a very important season for Connecticut football. Some new faces get a chance to meld with a strong crew of returning veterans, five of whom are on watch lists for 10 national awards.
(starters in bold)
WR: 17 Matt Cutaia (Sr., 5-11, 188)
80 Jason Williams (Jr., 6-0, 182)
WR: 1 Keron Henry (Sr., 6-2, 217)
84 Brian Sparks (Jr., 5-10, 188)
LT: 73 Ryan Krug (Sr., 6-4, 319)
74 Michael Kodish (Jr., 6-5, 296)
LG: 54 Brian Markowski (Sr., 6-2, 289)
62 T.J. Dlubac (Jr., 6-2, 312)
C: 58 Billy Irwin (Sr., 6-2, 279)
56 Jeff Fox (Sr., 6-2, 305)
RG: 72 Craig Berry (So., 6-5, 315)
61 Immanuel Hutcherson (Fr., 6-1, 283)
RT: 78 Grant Preston (Jr., 6-5, 298)
71 Matt Wood (Fr., 6-4, 281)
TE: 46 Dan Murray (So., 6-5, 247)
91 Tim Lassen (Jr., 6-5, 273)
QB: 7 Dan Orlovsky (Sr., 6-5, 238)
16 Matt Bonislawski (So., 6-4, 203)
TB: 33 Cornell Brockington (So., 6-0, 203) OR
42 Matt Lawrence (So., 6-1, 200)
FB: 30 Deon Anderson (Jr., 5-10, 240)
8 Sam Dorvil (So., 5-11, 245)
DE: 40 Shawn Mayne (So., 6-3, 241)
92 John Baranowsky (Fr., 6-2, 256)
DT: 76 Deon McPhee (Jr., 6-2, 286)
57 Matt Applebaum (So., 6-4, 290)
DT: 93 Rhema Fuller (So., 6-3, 296)
53 Ray Blagman (So., 6-3, 309)
DE: 52 Tyler King (Sr., 6-5, 267)
59 Jason Ward (So., 6-3, 259)
SLB: 32 James Hargrave (Jr., 5-11, 228)
20 Kinnan Herriott (Sr., 5-11, 227)
MLB: 9 Alfred Fincher (Sr., 6-1, 240)
47 Taurien Sowell (Jr., 6-1, 225)
WLB: 11 Maurice Lloyd (Sr., 5-11, 232)
48 Danny Lansanah (Fr., 6-1, 232)
LCB: 2 Justin Perkins (Sr., 5-11, 184)
10 Marvin Taylor (Fr., 5-11, 179)
FS: 35 M.J. Estep (So., 6-0, 191)
27 Jahi Smith (So., 5-11, 184)
SS: 12 John Fletcher (Sr., 5-9, 187)
21 Dontá Moore (So., 6-1, 197)
RCB: 41 Ernest Cole (So., 5-10, 183)
26 Allan Barnes (So., 6-0, 188)