CONNECTICUT HEAD COACH RANDY EDSALL
A veteran in his 25th year of major college coaching with three years in the NFL, Edsall has tackled the challenge of bringing a former NCAA Division I-AA team up to par with the BIG EAST in a six year span head on, guiding the Huskies to victory in the 2004 Motor City Bowl. He has compiled a 46-51 career record in his ninth season at UConn, including wins in 35 of UConn’s last 56 games. He has never faced Virginia. Immediately prior to becoming UConn’s head coach in 1998, Edsall served as defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech in 1998 under George O’Leary. Edsall began his coaching career at his alma mater, Syracuse, from 1980-1990, working under Frank Maloney and Dick MacPherson in a variety of capacities. Among his highlights at Syracuse was being a part of the 1987 team that went undefeated at 11-0-1, tying Auburn, 16-16, in the Sugar Bowl. Edsall moved on to Boston College where he coached defensive backs under Tom Coughlin from 1991-93 before following Coughlin to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, staying on the First Coast through the 1997 season. Edsall is a native of Glen Rock, Pa., and graduated from Susquehannock High School. He was recently inducted into the York Area Sports Hall of Fame.
VIRGINIA HEAD COACH AL GROH
Al Groh is 47-34 in his seventh year as head coach at Virginia and 73-74 in 13 years overall as a college head coach. He was named the 2002 ACC Coach of the Year and has led UVa to four bowl games in his first six years there. Groh returned to his alma mater in 2001 after spending the 2000 season as the head coach of the New York Jets, going 9-7. Groh spent 12 years as an assistant coach in the NFL with the Falcons, Giants, Browns and Patriots, helping the Giants to Super Bowl XXV and the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI, both under Bill Parcells. He was a linebackers coach for most of his NFL tenure with four years as a defensive coordinator. Groh was the head coach at Wake Forest from 1981-86, compiling a 26-40 record. He was also an assistant collegiately at Army, UVa, North Carolina, Air Force, Texas Tech and South Carolina after starting his coaching career in 1967 at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville. Born in New York City, Groh attended Chaminade HS in Mineola, N.Y. before moving on to UVa where he earned his B.S. in commerce in 1967. He lettered in both football and lacrosse for the Cavaliers.
RADIO & TV COVERAGE
For the 24th time in UConn’s last 27 games the Huskies will appear on live television this week as the game is the game is shown live on ESPNU as the middle game of a BIG EAST tripleheader. UConn also appeared on ESPNU this year on Sept. 22 at Pitt. Doug Bell, Charles Arbuckle and Melissa Knowles have the call.
For the 16th consecutive season, WTIC 1080-AM in Hartford serves as the flagship station for the UConn Radio Network. WTIC is the state’s only 50,000 watt signal and can be heard in 23 states and parts of Canada. Veteran UConn announcers Joe D’Ambrosio (play-by-play) and Wayne Norman (color commentary) return to call the action with Kevin Nathan on the sidelines. The UConn pregame show begins 90 minutes prior to kickoff and is hosted by Bob Joyce, while at home games, the UConn Tailgate Show will air two and a half hours prior to the game with Arnold Dean. The UConn Football Radio Network also includes WILI 1400-AM in Willimantic, WXLM, 102.3-FM in New London, WLIS 1420-AM in Old Saybrook, WMRD 1150-AM in Middletown, and WLAD 800-AM in Danbury. UConn football games are also broadcast over the internet at WTIC.com.
HOO ARE YOU? HOO? HOO? HOO? HOO?
This week’s game will be the first ever meeting between UConn and Virginia on the gridiron. That is a break from recent history for the Huskies who have not faced an opponent for the first time since playing host to Liberty on Sept. 10, 2005. During the early half of this decade as the Huskies transitioned to then-Division I-A, UConn routinely played schedules where a majority of the schools were first-time opponents. Though new to Charlottesville, the Huskies have played several schools from Virginia in its football history, going 13-12-1 all-time against schools from the Old Dominion State (1-0 vs. Hampton, 1-4 vs. James Madison, 1-0 vs. Liberty, 9-1 vs. Richmond, 0-1-1 vs. VMI, 0-2 vs. Virginia Tech and 1-4 vs. William & Mary). The last time UConn faced a Virginia-based team was the afore-mentioned game against Liberty, a 59-0 win for the Huskies at Rentschler Field. UConn’s last trip to the Commonwealth of Virginia was a 47-13 loss at No. 5 Virginia Tech on Sept. 27, 2003 in Blacksburg.
(I CAN’T WAIT TO) MEET VIRGINIA
Virginia does not have any Connecticut natives...UConn’s lone Virginian, Jarrell Miller of Richmond (Highland Springs/Fork Union Military Academy), is ineligible for this season due to his transfer from North Carolina...Miller was a teammate of UVa’s Danny Aiken at Fork Union...In addition to Miller, UConn’s Brandon Dillon and Corey Stringer also prepped at Fork Union...UConn’s Dan Davis and UVa’s Eugene Monroe used to go head-to-head every day at Plainfield High School in New Jersey...UVa’s Nick Jenkins was a teammate of UConn’s Anthony Davis at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Maryland...UConn’s Mike Conroy and UVa’s Jack Shields both attended Boston College High School although several years apart...Randy Edsall and Al Groh were on opposite sides of the 1996 AFC Championship Game with Edsall coaching defensive backs for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Groh serving as defensive coordinator for the victorious New England Patriots...UConn assistant head coach for defense Hank Hughes served as the linebackers coach at recruiting coordinator from 1985-90 at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va...UVa assistant defensive line coach Levern Belin was an assistant at Boston College from 1991-92 when Edsall coached the Eagles’ defensive backs...UVa Director of Video Operations Luke Goldstein worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars, along with Edsall, for three years (1995-97)...Tom Sherman, currently UVa’s football administrative assistant, played professionally for the Hartford Knights of the Atlantic Coast Football League from 1970-73...Virginia Director of Athletics Craig Littlepage served as an assistant basketball coach at Yale in 1975-76 under Ray Carazo. His five-year term on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee ended on Aug. 31 and he was replaced by UConn Director of Athletics Jeff Hathaway...Last, but certainly not least, UVa president John T. Casteen III served as president of UConn from 1985-90.
UConn is 3-6 against active ACC members all-time going 2-0 against Duke (2004 and 2007), 0-3 against Georgia Tech (2002, 2004-05), 0-1 vs. North Carolina (1990), 0-1 vs. NC State (2003) and 1-1 vs. Wake Forest (2003, 2006). The Huskies also faced present ACC members Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech when they competed in the BIG EAST Conference, and played Maryland in 1942 prior to the formation of the ACC. UConn was winless in those games. After facing UVa on Saturday, UConn will have played every current ACC school at some point in its history other than Clemson and Florida State. The team’s 2007 slate, which includes road games at Duke and Virginia, marks the third time in five years that UConn has faced two active ACC schools in the same season joining the 2003 (NC State and Wake Forest) and 2004 (Duke and Georgia Tech) Husky squads. UConn will make it four times in six years next fall when the Huskies play host to UVa and travel to UNC. The Huskies have future home-and-home series currently scheduled against North Carolina (2008-09) and Maryland (2012-13) along with single home games against Virginia (2008) and NC State (2012).
HUSKIES LOOK TO STAY PERFECT IN NON-CONFERENCE PLAY
UConn is 4-0 so far this year in non-conference games, defeating Duke, Maine, Temple and Akron. The Husky non-conference slate wraps up on Saturday at Virginia. UConn was last undefeated in non-conference play in 1998 when the Huskies downed Colgate, Yale and Hofstra to go 3-0. UConn will likely never eclipse the school benchmark for non-conference wins as in 2003, competing as an independent, the Huskies went 9-3 on the year, all of which were non-conference games. Last year, UConn was 3-2 out of conference after going 3-1 in 2005 and 4-1 in 2004.
GIVING IT THE OLD COLLEGE TRY
Al Groh is the second former NFL head coach that UConn will face this year. Groh coached the New York Jets in 2000. The Huskies previously faced the Pittsburgh Panthers on Sept. 22 led by former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt. UConn has won each of its last three games against former NFL head coaches, beating Pitt both this year and last while also downing Army on Oct. 14, 2006, a team of Cadets coached by former San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions skipper Bobby Ross. Groh will be the fifth former NFL head coach to face UConn in its brief Division I-A history. Along with Ross and Wannstedt, the I-A era Huskies have also faced Florida Atlantic’s Howard Schnellenberger (Baltimore Colts) and Georgia Tech’s Chan Gailey (Dallas Cowboys).
BYE BYE BYE
The Huskies will look to reverse their post-bye week fortunes in recent years. UConn is just 2-5 following bye weeks since making the move to Division I-A in 2002. The first win was on Oct. 1, 2005 as the Huskies downed Army, 47-13, in West Point while the second was last year’s 46-45 double overtime thriller over Pittsburgh on Nov. 12 at Rentschler Field. The Huskies have not had a single bye week in a season since 2002. UConn played all 12 of its games without a breather in 2003 and had two bye weeks in each of the past three seasons.
A moniker which dates to early American history, four states (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia) still retain the official designation of “Commonwealth.” UConn is 2-0 this year against teams from commonwealths, defeating both Temple and Pittsburgh. In addition to facing UVa this week, the Huskies will play host to Louisville next week giving UConn an opponent from three of the four commonwealths this fall. Only once has UConn ever faced teams from all four commonwealths in the same season as the 1999 Huskies played teams from Kentucky (Kentucky), Massachusetts (Northeastern and UMass), Pennsylvania (Villanova) and Virginia (James Madison and Richmond). The Huskies could only match this feat in 2007 if they were to be paired in a bowl game against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ lone FBS entry, Boston College.
UNDEFEATED SEASON ALIVE THROUGH FIVE
UConn is 5-0 after five games for the first time since 1995, prior to the team’s move to then-Division I-A status. That season, the Huskies set a school record with six straight wins to open the season. The Huskies do have two longer unbeaten streaks to open a season coming in 1924 (6-0-2) and 1928 (4-0-3). The Huskies had never previously started better than 2-0 in the I-A era. The Huskies also had never previously started better than 2-0 during head coach Randy Edsall’s nine-year tenure at UConn. Edsall though has seen a longer streak in his coaching career as he was the defensive backs coach at Syracuse in 1987 when the then-Orangemen went 11-0 before tying Auburn, 16-16, in the Sugar Bowl.
WINNING FIVE TIES FOR THREE
Winners of each of their last five games, the Huskies are presently riding what ties for their third longest winning streak of the Division I-A era with a run of five straight wins from Nov. 20, 2004-Sept. 10, 2005. UConn won seven straight from Oct. 25, 2003-Sept. 11, 2004. The Huskies also have a I-A era streak of six wins (Nov. 2, 2002-Sept. 6, 2003) to their credit. Within the context of a single season, it is UConn’s longest winning streak since closing the 2003 campaign with five straight wins. The Huskies have not won six straight games within the confines of a single calendar year since their six-game winning streak to open the 1995 season.
HUSKIES GET NATIONAL POLL VOTES
UConn received 20 votes in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll and 36 votes in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Additionally, UConn stands third in the also receiving votes category of this week’s Harris Interactive Poll with 104. UConn first received votes this year in the Sept. 23 AP poll when the Huskies received three. The team cracked the coaches’ poll’s votes column the following week. UConn also received votes in both polls at various times during the 2003 and 2004 seasons but has never earned a national Top 25 ranking. Prior to this season, UConn’s last national poll votes came in the final polls of the 2004 season following an 8-4 finish and 39-10 win over Mid-American Conference Champion Toledo in the Motor City Bowl. The Sept. 23 Harris poll was the first time that UConn had ever received votes in that BCS component’s three-year existence.
A SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER
UConn went a perfect 5-0 in the month of September marking the first time in school history that the Huskies have ever won five games in a single calendar month. UConn had previously won four games in a month on numerous occasions, most recently in November of 2002 when UConn beat Florida Atlantic, Kent State, Navy and Iowa State. The last time the Huskies completed a full calendar month without a loss was when the squad went 3-0 in November of 2003 with wins over Western Michigan, Rutgers and Wake Forest. UConn’s last perfect September was in 1998 when the Huskies downed Colgate, Maine and Yale to open the season at 3-0. This year was UConn’s fifth perfect September of all-time with a minimum of three games played.
AND THEN THERE WERE 11
UConn is one of just 11 remaining undefeated teams in the nation. The others are Arizona State, Boston College, California, Cincinnati, Hawaii, Kansas, LSU, Missouri, Ohio State and South Florida. With three of the 11 teams (Cincinnati, UConn and USF), the BIG EAST has the most remaining undefeated teams of any conference. The Big 12 (Kansas and Missouri) and Pac-10 (Arizona State and Cal) have two each while the ACC (BC), Big Ten (Ohio State), SEC (LSU) and WAC (Hawaii) have one apiece.
TURNING THE PAGE
One key to UConn’s early success in 2007 has been its impressive +9 turnover margin as the Huskies have created 14 turnovers while giving the ball away just five times. UConn’s ratio ranks sixth in the nation in this critical category. Demonstrating its importance, five of the nation’s top seven teams in terms of turnover margin are presently undefeated (Cincinnati-1st, Cal-3rd, LSU-4th, UConn-6th and BC-7th). In 2006 UConn was -1 on the season in turnover margin. UConn has made the most of its opportunities this fall too, holding a 51-7 edge over its opposition in points off of turnovers.
TAKING THE HARD ROAD AGAIN
Last fall UConn played what the NCAA ranked as the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule, battling seven bowl teams, including two BCS participants and four teams that won 10 games during the regular season. The Huskies are facing another tough slate in 2007 as five of the team’s final six games will come against teams that won bowl games a year ago in Louisville (Oct. 19), USF (Oct. 27), Rutgers (Nov. 3), Cincinnati (Nov. 10) and West Virginia (Nov. 24). While the first half of the slate does not feature any bowl teams from a year ago, it does include a pair of road games in ACC country as the Huskies travel to Duke (Sept. 1) and Virginia (Oct. 13). UConn is one of just six BCS conference schools this year to play two road games against BCS conference foes or Notre Dame. The Huskies join Duke (at Northwestern and Notre Dame), Florida State (at Colorado and Florida), Louisville (at Kentucky and NC State), Pittsburgh (at Michigan State and Virginia) and USC (at Nebraska and Notre Dame) in that regard.
ONLY THE YOUNG CAN PLAY
UConn has played a total of 17 freshman, including six true freshmen, so far in 2007. The six true freshmen are Aaron Bagsby, Marcus Campbell, Kijuan Dabney, Jasper Howard, Greg Lloyd and Anthony Sherman. Redshirt freshmen Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson both started the first five games at linebacker while fellow redshirt freshmen Mike Cox, Anthony Davis, Marcus Easley, Zach Hurd, Mathieu Olivier, Kevin Poles, Alex Polito, Derek Rich and Greg Robinson also have all seen action this season.
BRAVE, CRAZY, MOSTLY YOUNG
For the second straight year, UConn is seeing plenty of underclassmen in prominent roles. The 2007 Huskies have just two senior starters on the offensive side of the ball (WR Larry Taylor and RG Donald Thomas) and three on defense (DT Dan Davis, LB Danny Lansanah and CB Tyvon Branch). The youth is especially evident at the offensive skill positions where UConn will likely start a pair of sophomore receivers (Terence Jeffers and Brad Kanuch), a sophomore tailback (Donald Brown) a redshirt freshman fullback (Anthony Davis) and a JuCo quarterback (Tyler Lorenzen). If games truly are won in the trenches, UConn should be in great shape for 2008. Of the 10 offensive linemen on the preseason two-deep, nine are expected back next fall and the same can be said of seven of the eight two-deep defensive linemen.
JUST FOR STARTERS
UConn has been fortunate to have a fairly consistent starting lineup this fall. The same 11 have started all five games on defense while the core of the offense has remained the same thus far. No UConn player started all 12 games last year at the same offensive position. Conversely, six Huskies started all 12 games at the same defensive position. UConn started a total of nine different offensive linemen last past year, including five players making their first career start. It was tough a season ago but has created a measure of depth that is helping UConn in 2007. Eight different Huskies started a game in UConn’s defensive backfield in 2006. A total of 21 different players started a game on offense, 10 of which were making their first career start. A different offensive line combination started each of the final four games. UConn started 17 different people on defense in 2006 and has used four different place kickers last year.
OUR DOCTORS DID NOT FEEL GOOD
UConn came through its 2007 fall camp and the first month of the regular season with very few injuries of note and, while always a welcome event, it was even more welcome than usual in Storrs after the injury bug hit the Huskies hard in each of the past two seasons. Some of UConn’s busiest staffers in 2006 were its athletic trainers and physicians, much like in 2005. Out for the whole 2006 season from the preseason were WR Seth Fogarty (foot), WR Ellis Gaulden (knee), S Jahi Smith (multiple concussions) and DE Jason Ward (foot). Players who saw action this past year but were knocked out for the season due to injury included OT William Beatty (lower leg), TE Martin Bedard (elbow), DE Cody Brown (arm), C Keith Gray (shoulder), QB D.J. Hernandez, OT Mike Hicks (ankle) and WR Brandon McLean (ankle). TE Dan Murray missed the first three games with a high ankle sprain and was limited by the injury in the first few games that he did play. LB Ryan Henegan missed the first two games with a hamstring injury. TB Terry Caulley played with a broken bone in his hand after missing some action while LB Dontá Moore played through a broken arm suffered on Sept. 30 against Navy. Another pair of contributors to miss some time as the season progressed were S Allan Barnes, who missed a pair of games with a hamstring injury, and CB Darius Butler who missed the Syracuse game with a hamstring injury. WR Larry Taylor did not play against Cincinnati following a concussion suffered at Syracuse and CB Ernest Cole also missed the Cincinnati game due to a knee injury. WR Robert Theoudele was not available for the final four weeks with a shoulder injury. FB Deon Anderson missed the season finale at Louisville with a stinger. This trend, unfortunately, continued from 2005 when 18 different players from UConn’s preseason two-deep missed at least one game due to injury.
THE QUARTERLY REPORT
In three of the four quarters UConn has simply dominated its opponents this year while merely controlling the other. UConn has outscored its opponents 32-7 in the first quarter in 2007, 52-10 in the third quarter and 47-7 in the fourth quarter. The closest quarter this season for UConn has been the second, during which it is only outscoring opponents 52-31. The four quarters add up to a 183-55 advantage for UConn in scoring margin this year.
While UConn is 21-8 all-time at Rentschler Field, the results on the road have not always been as joyful for the Huskies although the team hopes that tide is turning. The Huskies have won each of their first two road games this year, taking contests at Duke (Sept. 1) and at Pittsburgh (Sept. 22), UConn’s second BIG EAST road win of all-time. UConn won a single road game each year from 2004-06 and last won multiple road games in 2003 when the Huskies took four games away from Rentschler Field with victories at Army, Buffalo, Kent State and Wake Forest. Of UConn’s 27 losses in the Division I-A era, 16 have come on the road. During the combined 2004-07 seasons, UConn is 5-11 on the road but 16-7 at home with an 1-0 mark at neutral sites (Motor City Bowl vs. Toledo). UConn is 2-9 in BIG EAST road games with the lone wins coming at Rutgers on Nov. 25, 2004 and at Pittsburgh on Sept. 22.
AFTER BREAKTHROUGH 2006, BIG EAST IS BACK FOR MORE
Following its 2006 reemergence on the national scene after posting a 5-0 record in bowl games, including its second consecutive win in a BCS bowl, the realigned BIG EAST is showing that it is here to stay in 2007.
* The conference has three teams in the top 25 of the polls this week including two in the top 10. Overall, five of the BIG EAST’s eight teams (63%) have been ranked at some point this year and six of the eight (75%) have received votes in the polls at some point this season (all but Pittsburgh and Syracuse).
* The BIG EAST has three undefeated teams (Cincinnati, UConn and USF), the most of any conference. The Big 12 and Pac-10 have two each.
* Road wins over fellow BCS conference opponents is always a good measure of success and the BIG EAST has four so far this year with Louisville winning at NC State, West Virginia winning at Maryland, USF winning at Auburn and UConn winning at Duke. The four wins by the BIG EAST are the most of any conference. The ACC, Big 12 and Pac-10 each have three BCS road wins.
* Overall, the BIG EAST has six wins thus far over teams from other BCS conferences, the four mentioned above plus Cincinnati’s win over Oregon State and USF’s victory over North Carolina. The BIG EAST’s six wins ties the ACC for the most of any BCS league even though the BIG EAST has the fewest teams to accumulate these wins. The Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC each have five wins over BCS conference schools so far this year.
* The BIG EAST has five teams in the national top 25 of scoring offense (Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia). The league also has five in the top 25 for scoring defense (Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers, USF and West Virginia). The BIG EAST is the only league with five teams in the top 25 of both categories. No league has more than the BIG EAST’s five in either category. The Big 12 also has five in the total offense ranking while the ACC and Big Ten tie the BIG EAST with five for total defense.
BIG EAST PERFECT IN BOWL GAMES
The BIG EAST Conference tied the record for best bowl record in 2006, going a perfect 5-0 as a group. It was just the third time that a conference has gone 5-0 in bowl games. No league has gone undefeated playing in more than five bowls, but the SEC in 1996 and Big Ten in 1998 matched the BIG EAST’s 2006 accomplishment. Highlighting the five wins were victories over both of the ACC’s division champions as Louisville downed Wake Forest in the FedEx Orange Bowl and West Virginia took down Georgia Tech in the Toyota Gator Bowl. Additionally, Rutgers topped Kansas State of the Big 12 in the Texas Bowl, USF downed East Carolina in Birmingham’s PapaJohns.com Bowl and Cincinnati beat Western Michigan in the inaugural International Bowl at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
HUSKIES EARN HIGH MARKS AT OBEDIENCE SCHOOL
For each of the past three years, UConn has been one of the least penalized teams in the country. UConn was a disciplined squad in 2005 as the Huskies led the BIG EAST in 2005 in fewest penalty yards at 47.2 per game (519 yards in 11 games). This average ranked 23rd in the nation. In addition, UConn’s 68 penalties on the year narrowly ranked second in the league, just one behind Syracuse’s conference-low total of 67 accepted infractions. UConn’s discipline in 2006 was in the same fashion, with just 65 penalties on the year for 511 yards. The 511 yards and 65 penalties were both the fewest in the BIG EAST. The Huskies ranked 33rd and 43rd in the nation respectively in those categories. Thus far in 2007, UConn is second only to West Virginia in the BIG EAST in both fewest penalties and yards.
CONN-TROLLING THE FLOW OF THE GAME
A telling sign of UConn’s strong performance on both sides of the ball during its brief tenure as a Division I-A program has been its ability to both record and prevent long drives. Since the start of the 2002 season, UConn’s offense has strung together 52 scoring drives of at least 80 yards while the Husky defense has surrendered just 29 such marches. UConn also holds a 14-5 advantage over its opponents in the number of 90-yard and over drives since becoming a I-A program.
NFL ALUMNI WATCH
Three former Huskies have made active rosters for NFL teams on opening day in 2007. Alfred Fincher (2001-04) was the backup middle linebacker for the New Orleans Saints while Dan Orlovsky (2001-04) continues to battle to be the number two quarterback for the Detroit Lions behind Jon Kitna. Fullback Deon Anderson (2002-06) was a sixth round selection of the Dallas Cowboys and has made the 53-man roster for that proud franchise for his work at fullback and on special teams. Additionally, four former Huskies found themselves in preseason training camps Ray Blagman (Arizona), James Hargrave (Detroit), Tyler King (Jacksonville) and Sean Mulcahy (Cincinnati).
HUSKIES DOMINATING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL
Over the past 56 games, UConn has outgained its opponent 41 times, including the first three games in 2007. This stretch, like many UConn trends, dates back to a disheartening 28-24 loss at Vanderbilt on Oct. 26, 2002. Over this 56 game span, UConn has averaged 396.1 yards per game of total offense and 318.3 yards per game of total defense. So far in 2007, UConn’s total offense edge over its opponents is just under 150 yards at 399.6 to 250.6.
CONNECTICUT’S SIX CAPTAINS
The UConn team selected a school-record six team captains for the 2007 season, Darius Butler, Dan Davis, Keith Gray, D.J. Hernandez, Danny Lansanah and Larry Taylor. The diverse group features three players on each side of the ball and one player from each of the three defensive positional groups, spreading the leadership roles evenly. The group consists of three seniors and three juniors. Butler, Gray and Hernandez are the first juniors to serve as a team captain at UConn since Roy Hopkins and Jamal Lundy held the honor in 2001. Lundy was reelected as a captain in 2002 but Hopkins was not. UConn had never previously had more than four permanent captains, a sum used in 1979, 1991, 1992, 1998, 2001 and 2006. The six ties for the most nationally with San Diego State while Wisconsin has five permanent captains and one rotating game captain.
Each week head coach Randy Edsall issues an award for the Scout Team Players of the Week. In recognition of their often-overlooked hard work, those players earn a spot on the Husky travel squad and the dress list for that week’s game. The weekly honorees are listed below.
DUKE: Ellis Gaulden (offense), Harris Agbor (defense), Doc Goudreau (special teams).
MAINE: Gary Bardzak (offense), Scott Schultz (defense), C.J. Marck (special teams).
TEMPLE: Nathan Sherr (offense), Doc Goudreau (defense), John Yurek (special teams).
PITT: Robbie Frey (offense), C.J. Marck (defense), Kendall Reyes (special teams).
AKRON: Zach Frazer (offense), Jarrell Miller (defense), Alex Molina (special teams)
After each UConn victory, head coach Randy Edsall awards game balls for the team’s top performer on offense, defense and special teams. The 2007 recipients are listed below.
DUKE: Tyler Lorenzen (offense), Cody Brown (defense), Desi Cullen (special teams)
MAINE: William Beatty (offense), Scott Lutrus (defense), Tyvon Branch (special teams).
TEMPLE: Andre Dixon (offense), Dahna Deleston (defense), Tony Ciaravino (special teams).
PITT: Donald Thomas (offense), Lawrence Wilson (defense), no special teams recipient.
AKRON: Andre Dixon (offense), Dan Davis (defense), Tyvon Branch (special teams).
ACTIVE CAREER LEADERS: Larry Taylor (7), Darius Butler (3), Tyvon Branch (2), Cody Brown (2), Andre Dixon (2), D.J. Hernandez (2), Danny Lansanah (2), Lou Allen, William Beatty, Donald Brown, Tony Ciaravino, Desi Cullen, Dan Davis, Dahna Deleston, Tyler Lorenzen, Scott Lutrus, Donald Thomas, Lawrence Wilson.
HUSKIES DOMINATING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL
Over the past 56 games, UConn has outgained its opponent 41 times, including four of the first five games in 2007. This stretch, like many UConn trends, dates back to a disheartening 28-24 loss at Vanderbilt on Oct. 26, 2002. Over this 56 game span, UConn has averaged 396.1 yards per game of total offense and 318.3 yards per game of total defense. So far in 2007, UConn’s total offense edge over its opponents is just under 150 yards at 399.6 to 250.6.
NEW WALK-ONS INCLUDE TWO LITTLE INDIANS
Of the new walk-ons who joined the program prior to the 2007 season, two have a connection to the Cleveland Indians, one of them real and the other fictional. Mike Conroy was a first round draft pick by the Indians in 2001 out of high school and spent six years in the team’s organization, most of them with Lake County of the South Atlantic League. A native of Scituate, Mass., Conroy played for six years at the single A level batting .248 before retiring and going back to school to fulfill his dream of playing college football. Conroy is one of seven former minor league baseball players currently on Football Bowl Subdivision rosters. Meanwhile, Oliver Bernsen is the son of actor Corbin Bernsen who is perhaps best known for his role as Indians third baseman Roger Dorn in the movie Major League. A native of Studio City, Calif., Bernsen’s mother, Amanda Pays, is also an actress while his grandmother, Jeanne Cooper, is the matriarch of the soap opera The Young and the Restless in her role as Katherine Chancellor. Also, his grandfather, Harry Bernsen, produced several movies including Three the Hard Way starring NFL legend Jim Brown. The younger Bernsen was looking for a school in the northeast where he could pursue acting.
BOND, CARL BOND
In alumni news, former Husky Carl Bond (1995-98) has a role in the movie “The Game Plan” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kyra Sedgwick. Bond plays the part of "Sanders" on the fictional Boston Rebels, and also serves as a double for actor Morris Chestnut. Bond also previously appeared in "Invincible," another Disney football film. At UConn, Bond was a second-team Division I-AA All-American in 1997 and a two-time All-Atlantic 10 pick at wide receiver. He led UConn with 61 catches, good for 1,004 yards, and a team-high 11 touchdowns as a senior in 1998 to help lead the Huskies to the I-AA quarterfinals.
YOU KNOW GRAY IS MY FAVORITE COLOR
In an effort to help combat the heat at Duke by avoiding dark colors, the Huskies wore their white uniforms with silver pants in Durham as opposed to the customary national flag blue pants on the road. After defeating the Blue Devils, the team captains decided to keep the same look for UConn’s second road game, Sept. 22 at Pittsburgh, and the combination again resulted in a win. Prior to this season, only once had UConn ever worn that combination. That other instance was on Oct. 5, 2002 when UConn dressed as such for a game against No. 1 Miami in the Orange Bowl.
WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, all BIG EAST officials will be using special pink whistles during October, including Saturday’s game at Virginia. “BIG EAST football officials are behind this cause 100-percent,” said league Supervisor of Officials John Soffey. “Anything that we can do to raise awareness of this cause is good for everyone. Our officials are pleased to contribute in a small way.”
TJ, KANUCH AND TYLER TOO
UConn’s offensive unit is a young one as the group features just two seniors on its two deep in wide receiver Larry Taylor and right guard Donald Thomas. Meanwhile, the silver lining to a rash of injuries the past two years is that UConn is youthful yet experienced at the skill positions in particular. True sophomores Terence Jeffers and Brad Kanuch were thrown into the fire last fall and both proved to be dependable pass catchers, starting each of the final eight games of the year. Another sophomore, Donald Brown, will start at tailback after earning All-BIG EAST recognition last fall as a freshman. His backups are a sophomore in Andre Dixon and a junior in Lou Allen, a bruising tailback at 238 pounds. UConn has a pair of freshman at fullback and a quarterbacking corps that features a junior (Tyler Lorenzen), a sophomore (Dennis Brown) and two freshmen (Cody Endres and Notre Dame transfer Zach Frazer). Each of UConn’s top three tight ends will also return next fall yet starter Steve Brouse in particular already possesses a wealth of gameday experience.
HUSKIES WASTING LITTLE TIME TO GET ON TOP
UConn has scored on its opening drive in three of its five games this year. At Duke, Tony Ciaravino hit a 30-yard field goal on the opening drive. Against Temple, Donald Brown had an eight-yard touchdown run and, at Pittsburgh, Lou Allen had a one-yard plunge. One exception came against Maine when Ciaravino missed a 51-yard field goal. However, UConn was still on the scoreboard very early against the Black Bears as Scott Lutrus scored a touchdown on a 25-yard interception return on the game’s second play, coming at the 14:12 mark.
LINING THEM UP
The UConn offensive line is in the interesting position of being both young and experienced at the same time. The Huskies have just one senior on the two-deep yet also have eight players with previous game experience at UConn, including seven people who have started games on the offensive line for the blue and white. The lone senior of the group is senior Donald Thomas at right guard, a former walk-on. Entering the 2007 season, William Beatty (9), captain Keith Gray (5), Mike Hicks (10), Alex LaMagdelaine (10), Dan Ryan (7), Donald Thomas (1) and Trey Tonsing (8) had all started games for the Huskies. UConn head coach Randy Edsall has often called this the best line UConn has had since the senior-laden group that pushed the Huskies to the 2004 Motor City Bowl. Better yet, this 2007 edition of the line will be back in near entirety for more in 2008.
HERNANDEZ RECEIVES NEW ASSIGNMENT
D.J. Hernandez started six games a year ago at quarterback and had fair success, highlighted on Nov. 11 against Pittsburgh as he spurred UConn on to 46-45 double overtime victory in one of the program’s most thrilling games as the Huskies erased a 31-17 fourth quarter deficit at Rentschler Field. Hernandez completed 20-of-29 passes for 164 yards with a career high four touchdowns and no interceptions but it was his work running the ball that was more noteworthy. His 17 carries were good for 130 yards while he also scampered in for the game-winning two-point conversion. Hernandez’s on-field leadership was crucial in the rally to win the game. He led UConn on touchdown drives of 98 and 77 yards in the fourth quarter, the latter capped with a touchdown pass to Dan Murray with just three seconds remaining in regulation. Still, with the addition of Tyler Lorenzen and Dennis Brown able to play after redshirting in 2006, Hernandez quickly found himself in the third spot on the depth chart at quarterback midway through spring practice. Too athletic to sit on the bench, Hernandez approached Edsall about playing at wide receiver and the results have been a tremendous positive for the team. Using his athleticism and in-depth knowledge of the offense to his advantage, Hernandez has made a smooth transition to his new role and has been one of the team’s top receiving threats in 2007. The move also allows Edsall to use him on special teams while Hernandez has shown a passion for downfield blocking and participating in some of the contact that he was deprived of when wearing a red quarterback jersey in practice. His smooth transition and the character and leadership he displayed in making it helped get the junior elected as a team captain.
DJ GOES TRIPLE PLATINUM
D.J. Hernandez caught a 57-yard touchdown pass at Duke in the season opener on Sept. 1. It was UConn’s longest passing play since Hernandez threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Young in the 2006 season-opener against Rhode Island. The scoring grab also put him in very elite company as Hernandez became just the fourth player in school history to catch a touchdown, rush for a touchdown and throw for a touchdown in their UConn career, joining Keron Henry (2001-04), Tory Taylor (1995-98) and Ken Sweitzer (1978-81).
FROM IOWA TO CONNECTICUT VIA SAN DIEGO
Tyler Lorenzen took a circuitous route to being named UConn’s starting quarterback. The native Iowan and first-team All-State quarterback signed with his beloved Iowa State out of high school but the Cyclones tried to switch him to wide receiver. Wanting to play quarterback, he transferred to Palomar Community College near San Diego where he was named a first-team JuCo All-American last fall after completing 229-of-332 passes (69-percent) for 2,960 yards with 26 touchdowns and three interceptions. Lorenzen joined UConn in January after carrying a 4.0 grade point average at Palomar and was named the starting quarterback on August 14. At Duke, he became the fourth different starting quarterback for UConn in the past four opening days. D.J. Hernandez started last year’s opener, Matt Bonislawski was under center when the 2005 season began and Dan Orlovsky started the third and final opening day contest of his illustrious UConn career in 2004.
TYLER RE-TRACES HISTORY
In his starting debut on Sept. 1 at Duke, Tyler Lorenzen was very impressive in leading the Huskies to a 45-14 win. Lorenzen earned the offensive game ball and a BIG EAST weekly honor roll mention after completing 22-of-30 passes for 298 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 56 yards, giving him 354 total yards on the day. The 298 yards were the most by a Husky since Dan Orlovsky’s school-record 445 at Syracuse on Oct. 30, 2004 while also ranking as the most by a first-time Husky signal caller since Ryan Tracey threw for 340 on Sept. 2, 2000 in his first start.
HUSKIES TAKE TO THE AIR
UConn’s passing attack has shown dramatic improvements thus far in 2007 compared to 2006. Through five games, UConn is averaging 218.6 passing yards per game and has an efficiency rating of 139.29. Last year UConn averaged just 141.0 yards per game and had a 103.94 rating. The passing attack has been more effective moving the ball when it counts too. UConn has picked up 51 passing first downs through five games this year as opposed to just 38 at this juncture of the 2006 season. The Huskies are ranked 28th nationally in passing efficiency after finishing both the 2005 and 2006 seasons 104th in that category.
SHARING THE WEALTH
Through three weeks, four UConn wide receivers (D.J. Hernandez, Terence Jeffers, Brad Kanuch and Larry Taylor) had over 100 receiving yards on the year. Last fall it took six games for the Huskies to reach that plateau with tight end Steve Brouse going over the century mark against Army to join Kanuch, Taylor and Brandon Young. Through four games, UConn has two receivers (Hernandez and Kanuch) with over 200 receiving yards on the year. Last year, UConn did not have two 200-yard receivers for the season until after game nine with Larry Taylor hitting the plateau on Nov. 11 against Pitt.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU-CONN?
Donald Brown burst onto the scene last fall as he became the only freshman at any position to be named to the All-BIG EAST team as voted on by the league coaches. Brown averaged 134.6 rushing yards per game in his five BIG EAST starts. He made his first career start on Oct. 29 at No. 15 Rutgers on national television and about 20 minutes from his hometown of Atlantic Highlands, N.J. The freshman was hardly star struck as he ran for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Perhaps more impressive was the competition this 199-yard rushing game was done against. Rutgers had not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Walter Reyes of Syracuse did it on Oct. 2, 2004. The Scarlet Knights entered the game ranked 12th nationally in rushing defense, yielding just 78.4 yards per game. In his second game, against Pittsburgh, Brown ran the ball 43 times (one shy of the school record) for 205 yards and two touchdowns while also making four receptions including another touchdown. Brown’s 205-yard effort against the Panthers is the second-best by a freshman nationally in 2006, trailing only Wisconsin’s P.J. Hill’s 257-yard performance against Northwestern on Oct. 7. Brown capped his season with a 122-yard effort on 21 carries at Louisville.
DEFENSES DREADING DIXON
Sophomore Andre Dixon saw his first significant action of his career at tailback against Temple on Sept. 15 and made the most of his opportunity. Dixon ran for 129 yards on 21 carries against the Owls. Dixon is now one of four active UConn players who have a 100-yard rushing game to their credit as a Husky, joining Lou Allen (2005 vs. USF), Donald Brown (four times) and D.J. Hernandez (2006 vs. Pitt). He continued to shine against Akron on Sept. 29 rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries wile catching four passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.
FINISHING IN THE RED IS GOOD
You wouldn’t want your financial ledgers to be full of red ink, but UConn’s Division I-A era success is in part due to finishing its time in the red zone in style. Since 2002, UConn has tallied on 210 of 244 (86%) of its red zone possessions. Of the 34 non-scoring drives, 23 came as a result of a missed field goal attempt. UConn has gotten off to a solid red zone start in 2007 by going 20-for-21 with the lone non-scoring drive being a missed field goal at Duke. UConn has presently scored on each of its last 19 red zone possessions, notching 14 touchdowns and five field goals in that time.
PITT HAD NO CHANCE TO CATCH UP AT HEINZ FIELD
UConn took control of the team’s game at Pittsburgh early on Sept. 22. The Huskies scored 27 first half points to take a 27-7 edge into the spacious locker room at Heinz Field. It was the most points that UConn had ever scored in the first half of a road BIG EAST game. The previous high was 21 at Rutgers on Nov. 25, 2004. It was the most points that UConn had scored against any Division I-A team in the first half since tallying 30 against Toledo in the 2004 Motor City Bowl. It was the second-most points that UConn had ever scored in the first half of a BIG EAST game regardless of site. UConn scored 31 points in the first half against Temple at Rentschler Field on Oct. 23, 2004.
DEFENSE AMONGST THE NATION’S BEST
UConn’s defensive unit has been amongst the best in the nation early on this year. The Huskies are fourth nationally in total defense yielding just 250.60 yards per game. UConn is eighth in passing efficiency defense with an 94.91 rating. The Huskies rank fourth in scoring defense at 11.00 points per game, a sum that would be still lower were it not for a kickoff return touchdown at Duke. The Huskies are 15th nationally against the run at 89.20 yards per game. UConn is eighth with 8.80 tackles for loss per game and 15th with 3.20 sacks per game. UConn’s 11 interceptions tie for fifth nationally while the Huskies rank seventh in third down conversion defense at 27.4%.
PICK-SIX. PICK-12. PICK-18.
The Huskies have already returned three interceptions for touchdowns this young season. Darius Butler ran one back 36 yards for a score at Duke on Sept. 1 while Scott Lutrus scored on a 26-yard interception return on Sept. 8 and Lawrence Wilson had a 51-yard score on an interception at Pittsburgh on Sept. 22. The three touchdowns tie the school record set in 2002 and matched in 2004 when Justin Perkins returned two interceptions for touchdowns and Alfred Fincher also had one. In 2002, Jamal Lundy, Razul Wallace and Chris Meyer all had interception return touchdowns. Butler’s interception return for a touchdown at Duke was the second of his career and ties Perkins for the school record. Butler’s other interception return touchdown was an 84-yard run-back at Army on Oct. 1, 2005, part of a three-interception day for the then-freshman.
PASS DEFENSE=PASS OFFENSE
UConn’s passing defense as generated almost as many points as it has allowed. UConn has surrendered just four passing touchdowns in 2007 while returning three interceptions for touchdowns.
DOUBLE DIGITS ALREADY?
UConn’s defense has intercepted 11 passes through the first five games of the year. In 2006, UConn intercepted 12 passes all year while the Huskies managed 14 in 2005. The 11 interceptions tie for fifth in the nation to date. UConn’s four interceptions at Pittsburgh on Sept. 22 tied the Division I-A era school record set at Iowa State on Nov. 23, 2002 and equaled at Army on Oct. 1, 2005. The Huskies have recorded at least one interception in each of their last seven games dating back to the Nov. 18, 2006 tilt at Syracuse.
RUNNING IT IN HASN’T BEEN AN OPTION EITHER
UConn has allowed just two rushing touchdowns through the first five games of the year, a sum that ties for fourth in the nation. Cincinnati, Ohio State and Wyoming have yielded just one rushing touchdown apiece. A year ago, UConn yielded two or more rushing touchdowns in six separate games as UConn ranked 105th in the nation against the run at 179.58 yards per game. UConn presently ranks 15th nationally at 89.20 yards per game.
THIRD DOWN INEFFICIENCY
A critical element to UConn’s defensive success in 2005 and 2006 was that the team’s opponents found third down to be a tough row to hoe. The 2007 season is off on the same path as Duke converted just two of its 11 third down tries against UConn and Maine just two of 14. At a rate of 27.4% through five games, UConn ranks seventh in the nation. Teams haven’t done much better on fourth down as UConn is tied for 11th nationally with a rate of 25%. In 2005, UConn led the nation in third down conversion defense at 24% (38-for-157). LSU was second in the nation behind UConn with a rate of 28.2-percent followed narrowly by SEC rival Alabama at 28.3. UConn did well in this area as well in 2006. The Huskies ranked 29th nationally with a 33.1% conversion rate.
BAD, BAD CODY BROWN
In the 2007 season opener at Duke, Cody Brown earned UConn’s defensive game ball after making six tackles, including a pair of sacks. It had been two years since a Husky had two sacks in a game, dating back to James Hargrave’s efforts against Syracuse on Oct. 7, 2005. Brown was a disruptive force against Maine and Temple as well making a pair of tackles for loss in each contest. He had a sack at Pittsburgh. Brown is tied for 17th in the nation with 1.50 TFLs per game.
DAVIS MOVES INSIDE; ENDS HOPE TO THRIVE
After three strong years at defensive end where he amassed 18 tackles for loss as a Husky, senior captain Dan Davis shifted his 284-pound frame inside to defensive tackle in 2007. The move allows UConn to take advantage of Davis’ speed between the tackles and also helps provide more opportunities for a glut of talented young defensive ends. Juniors Julius Williams and Cody Brown are starting outside while redshirt freshman Mike Cox and sophomore Lindsay Witten rotate in. Williams is a first year starter but is quick for his 261 pounds and is one of the strongest players on the team. In six starts last year before succumbing to a broken arm Brown made 24 tackles including an impressive 7.5 for a loss, a sum that includes 4.5 sacks. Witten started the final six games with Brown out and made 39 tackles on the year as a true freshman, six of them for a loss including 3.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Davis is starting at tackle alongside junior Rob Lunn who has had a very impressive offseason to earn the starting nod.
Linebacker Danny Lansanah turned up his play in 2006 and helped become a defensive leader both on and off the field. The junior led the Huskies with 99 tackles on the season, 9.5 of them for a loss. He also made four interceptions including a spectacular one-handed grab against Army. The four interceptions tied for the team lead and are the most by a UConn linebacker since Maurice Lloyd had four in 2002. Lansanah is off to a great start in 2007 as he is tied for 7th in the nation with 1.70 TFLs per game (8.5 total).
BRYANT HS GRAD WILSON BEARS DOWN
With Ryan Henegan sidelined for the first month of the season due to injury, redshirt freshman Lawrence Wilson, a graduate of Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has stepped in to play solidly at weakside linebacker. Wilson leads the team lead with 45 tackles through five games while also chipping in three tackles for loss, recovering a fumble, breaking up a pass and scoring a touchdown on a 51-yard interception return.
SKIP TO MY LUTRUS
UConn has also seen a redshirt freshman make an immediate impact at the strongside linebacker post. Brookfield’s Scott Lutrus is third on the team with 32 tackles, 4.5 of which were for a loss. He also intercepted a pass in each of UConn’s first two games, returning his pick against Maine 26 yards for a touchdown just 48 seconds into the contest. In his short time at UConn he has shown a true knack for intercepting passes as he picked off three passes in UConn’s annual Blue-White Spring Game, returning two of them for touchdowns.
INTERCEPTIONS ARE VAUGHN’S PRIDE AND JOY
Robert Vaughn has already intercepted four passes on the season through just five games, snaring an opposing pass in every game except for Maine. Just a month into the year, Vaughn already has the most interceptions in a season for a Husky since Justin Perkins had five in 2004. Vaughn is tied for third in the nation with his four interceptions.
38 SPECIAL: HUSKIES HANG ANOTHER DUNKIN’ DONUT
UConn’s defense held Maine to just 152 yards of total offense in a 38-0 win on Sept. 8. It is UConn’s first shutout since Sept. 10, 2005 and a 59-0 whitewashing on Liberty. UConn actually shutout its first two opponents that season as the Liberty shutout came a week after UConn blanked Buffalo, 38-0, in the season opener. It was UConn’s fifth shutout of the Division I-A era and, curiously, the score has been 38-0 in three of them. In addition to Maine and Buffalo, UConn shutout Navy, 38-0, on Nov. 16, 2002 in Annapolis. Conversely, UConn’s offense has been shutout just once in its I-A tenure. The Maine game was part of a shutout string of 145:27 for the UConn defense that spanned from the opening drive of the Duke game until just before halftime against Temple.
THE QUARTERBACK MUST GO DOWN
For the fourth year in a row, UConn not only recorded a high number of tackles for loss in 2007, but the TFLs have been spread out over a high number of players. Already in 2007 a sum of 15 Huskies have contributed to a TFL and nine have at least half of a sack. A total of 18 different Huskies contributed to a TFL in 2006 and 11 different UConn defenders had at least a half of a sack. UConn was 24th in the nation with its 6.83 TFLs per game and ranked 76th with 1.83 sacks per game, the latter total coming despite the fact that only five teams faced fewer passing attempts than UConn’s 275. A total of 23 different UConn defenders factored in a tackle for loss in 2005 and 14 different Huskies recorded at least a half of a sack.
SECONDARY NOW A PRIMARY OBSTACLE
It should not be a surprise that UConn was ranked 25th nationally last year in passing defense at 178.50 yards per game nor that it stands ninth through five games in 2007 yielding just 161.40 ypg. The Connecticut secondary a year ago blended youth and experience as well as any team in the nation, as the Huskies returned all but one letterwinner from the 2005 secondary which helped the team rank fourth in the nation in passing defense by yielding just 158.5 yards per game. An astounding six different active Huskies (at 2006 season’s end) had started at least six games as a defensive back in their UConn careers. A total of eight different Huskies started a game last year in the secondary. This glut of talented players was a problem for Edsall, but a good problem to have. The depth has carried over to 2007 as all four of UConn’s starters in the defensive backfield, corners Darius Butler and Tyvon Branch, along with safeties Robert Vaughn and Dahna Deleston, held that role at various times in 2006. As expected, the results on the field have been solid as the Huskies presently ranking eighth nationally in passing efficiency defense (94.91 rating) in addition to the afore mentioned ninth place in passing defense (161.40 ypg).
ZAK ATTACK FROM IRAQ
The Huskies have a rather unique person and a great role model at defensive tackle in Zak Penwell. The fourth-oldest Football Bowl Subdivision player in the county at 27 years and eight months old, Penwell served six and a half years in the U.S. Air Force working as a part of a Tactical Air Control Party in Kuwait, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq in addition to various domestic deployments. Raised in Alaska, Penwell moved to El Paso, Texas for high school with his father, a missionary, and mother, a mid-wife. The couple now resides in the Philippines. Married with two children, Zoe and Titus, Penwell was drawn to UConn by its acclaimed kinesiology program. He came to the football program as a walk-on but was awarded a scholarship on Aug. 29. Penwell is one of 12 FBS players, outside of the academies, who have actively served in the military. He is one of 12 native Alaskans on FBS rosters.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
TONY TONY TONY HAS DONE IT AGAIN
Tony Ciaravino edged out true freshman Dave Teggart to serve as UConn’s extra point and field goal kicker as the curtain rose on the 2007 season. He ended up hitting three of his four field goals at Duke and four of his five extra point attempts with the other one blocked. The three field goals made were the most by a Husky kicker since Matt Nuzie hit four in the 2004 Motor City Bowl. He matched that total two weeks later in UConn’s win over Temple when his three field goals included career-long boots from 47 and 50 yards, earning Ciaravino the special teams game ball and BIG EAST Special Teams Player of the Week accolades. Ciaravino handled UConn’s field goals and extra points as the 2006 season drew to a close, the third Husky to serve in that role last season. Ciaravino hit both of his field goal tries last fall and went 12-for-13 on extra points on the year.
CIARAVINO ON A ROLL
Tony Ciaravino has hit each of his last seven field goal attempts dating back to his miss on a career-long attempt of 51 yards against Maine on Sept. 8. It is the longest streak by a Husky since Matt Nuzie’s school-record string of 10 consecutive field goals during the 2004 season. The seven makes matches Mark Carter (1986) for the third longest streak in school history with only David DeArmas’ run of nine straight in 1994 separating the pair from Nuzie’s record of 10. Thanks to this streak, Ciaravino is tied for fourth in the nation with 2.00 field goals made per game. Meanwhile, his 9.80 points per game ties for the seventh most nationally amongst kickers.
KENTUCKY HAMMER NAILS HIS AUDITION
Louisville native Desi Cullen, the self-proclaimed “Kentucky Hammer,” solidified his role as the team’s starting punter and kickoff specialist with a steady fall camp. He earned the special teams game ball after the season opener against Duke for averaging 39.4 yards on his five punts and ably handling his kickoffs with seven touchbacks on his 35 kicks. Cullen handled kickoffs in five games last season as a true freshman and was the understudy to senior Chris Pavasaris at punter. The gregarious Cullen also showed a proclivity towards not staying back in coverage as he aggressively made a pair of tackles on the season in his limited action.
TOUCHDOWN ROLL HAS A NEW BRANCH
With Akron scoring to take a 10-9 lead during the second quarter on its game against UConn on Sept. 29, the Huskies needed a quick answer. Senior Tyvon Branch provided it with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It was the first of Branch’s career and helped earn him BIG EAST Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Impressively, Branch is now one of three active UConn players who have returned a kickoff for a touchdown in their careers joining Larry Taylor (2004 vs. Temple) and Darius Butler (2005 vs. USF). Branch returned three kickoffs on the day for 150 yards, fourth best for a single game in UConn history.
TAYLOR MADE RETURNS
Larry Taylor reassumed his role as UConn’s top return specialist for the first nine games last year before suffering a concussion at Syracuse on Nov. 18. Taylor was 15th in the nation in punt returns, averaging 12.75 yards per run back. Behind Taylor, UConn was 26th in the nation in punt returns as a team. Taylor’s 25.36 kickoff return average ranked 24th nationally until he fell out late in the season due to a low number of returns for the year. Through the week when he fell out, he was one of two players in the nation ranked in the top 25 of both categories, joining Oklahoma State’s Perrish Cox. Taylor hurt his knee in UConn’s game at Cincinnati on Oct. 15, 2005 and the loss was felt hard in the team’s return game. Taylor ranked 18th in the nation in punt returns (12.30 average) and seventh in kickoff returns (34.2 avg.) when he was hurt, but would fall below the national minimum to be ranked because of time missed due to injury. He started the 2005 season off on the right foot with 118 punt return yards against Buffalo on Sept. 1, marking the eighth-best performance in BIG EAST history and the second-best ever by anyone not wearing either a Miami or Virginia Tech uniform. Taylor was not far off of the UConn record of 145 yards set by Joe Markus at Maine on Oct. 20, 1979. Taylor returned in 2005 after an electrifying true freshman season in 2004 during which he became only the second Husky ever (and the first since 1975) to return both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same season. His punt return score was a 68-yard scamper against Toledo that blew the Motor City Bowl wide open. Behind Taylor, UConn ranked 18th in the nation in punt returns in 2004 after finishing the previous season ranked 116th out of 117 Division I-A teams.
WITH OR WITHOUT LT
The field position edge that UConn gains from Larry Taylor is palpable. In games when Taylor has played from start to finish, the Huskies are 22-7. When Taylor does not play throughout, UConn is 1-10.
TAYLOR LEAVES HIS MARKUS ON RECORD BOOK
Larry Taylor’s second punt return at Pittsburgh on Sept. 22 moved him past Joe Markus (1979-82) to break UConn’s career punt return yardage record. Taylor presently has 1,027 career punt return yards, toppling Markus’ total of 1,013 yards. Markus did it on 99 returns (10.2 avg.) while Taylor has needed just 82 to date (12.5 avg.). The 1,027 yards also ranks second in BIG EAST history, trailing only Santana Moss of Miami who returned 84 punts for 1,196 yards in his Hurricane career which spanned from 1997-2000.
MOVIN’ ON UP TO THE EAST SIDE
The Huskies moved into brand new Rentschler Field in East Hartford for the 2003 season with the stadium opening its doors on August 30 when UConn defeated Indiana, 34-10. Conveniently located within miles of Interstates 91, 84 and 384, Adriaen’s Landing and downtown Hartford, the new home of the Huskies lies on 75 acres of land donated to the State of Connecticut from the historic Pratt & Whitney Airfield. The stadium, like the former airfield, is named for that company’s founder, Frederick Rentschler. The stadium boasts a capacity of 40,000 with 38 luxury suites in a massive press box tower which helps enclose the natural grass field. The $91.2 million construction project was an integral part of former Governor John Rowland’s economic development program for the Hartford metro-area. While UConn football serves as the primary tenant, the facility also attracts other prominent events to Hartford. Rentschler Field hosted two concerts by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, one by the Rolling Stones and one this past summer by The Police.