Aug. 31, 2012
By Scott Waggoner
In his first game as starting quarterback for the University of Connecticut, Chandler Whitmer wasn't perfect. With the defensive performance the Huskies gave Thursday night he didn't have to be.
The Huskies cruised to a 37-0 victory over UMass, relying on big plays from their defense and special teams.
Playing in their first game at the FBS level, the Minutemen weren't greeted kindly by a Connecticut defense that gave up only 59 yards the entire game. UConn's defensive front and linebackers created constant pressure on the Minutemen's first-year starting quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who struggled going 9-22 for 56 yards.
Connecticut broke the game open when cornerback Dwayne Gratz picked off Wegzyn towards the end of the first half and returned it for a touchdown.
"Defensively we really played well," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said of his team.
UConn's special teams provided their own share of big plays led by team captain and wide receiver Nick Williams, who had a combined 103 return yards on the night. Williams nearly scored on two punt returns, using his electrifying speed to give Connecticut's offense good starting positions.
"I thought we had field position all night," Pasqualoni said.
Williams contributed in other areas too. He was featured in several wildcat packages, where he picked up 24 yards on the ground.
"Any way I can contribute makes me happy," Williams said. "I'm all for it, whether it's a rush, a return or a catch."
The Huskies officially put the game out of reach in the third quarter after cornerback Taylor Mack blocked UMass's Colter Johnson's punt after Johnson bobbled the snap. Running back Max DeLorenzo scooped up the ball for the score to put the Huskies up 27-0.
Whitmer, a redshirt sophomore who transferred from Butler Community College in Kansas, didn't light up the screen, but he played smart and took what the Minutemen defense gave him early. He finished the night 15-25 for 219 yards and two interceptions.
His first interception resulted from a miraculous play by UMass defensive back Darren Thellen who tipped the ball to his teammate Tom Brandt when Whitmer was trying to throw the ball away. Despite a couple of blemishes, Whitmer looked more comfortable as the game progressed. He ended his night well, connecting with tight end Ryan Griffin on a pretty 34-yard pass in the fourth quarter.
"It's a building block," said Whitmer of his first game as a Husky. "There's going to be bad plays in every game but I just need to learn from those mistakes and try and improve."
The Huskies will face a much stiffer test next Saturday when North Carolina State comes into Rentschler Field. Connecticut linebacker Yarwin Smallwood looks forward to the challenge.
"Our offense and defense got a lot of confidence from tonight's win," Smallwood said. "We are ready for N.C. State."