CONNECTICUT HEAD COACH RANDY EDSALL
A veteran in his 22nd 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. He has compiled a 31-37 career record in his six seasons at UConn, including wins in 20 of UConns last 27 games. Immediately prior to becoming UConns 27th head coach on December 21, 1998, Edsall served as defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech in 1998 under George OLeary. 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. Amongst 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 NFLs 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.
TOLEDO HEAD COACH TOM AMSTUTZ
Born and raised in Toledo, Tom Amstutz is 36-14 in his four years as head coach at his alma mater. Amstutz has guided the Rockets in that time to three MAC Western Division titles, two MAC championships and three Motor City Bowl berths. Amstutz served as an assistant at Toledo from 1977-86 and 1990-2000 before being named head coach. He spent the final seven years of this time as the Rockets defensive coordinator. Of the nine bowl games in Toledo history (including 2004), Toledo Tom has been head coach for three and served as an assistant coach during three more. The lone gap in his tenure at UT came from 1987-89 when he served as outside linebackers coach at Navy. Amstutz graduated from Toledo in 1977 after earning a pair of varsity letters as an offensive guard.
RADIO TV COVERAGE
HUSKIES MAKE FIFTH NATIONAL TV APPEARANCE
UConn will play its fifth nationally televised game of the season when ESPN carries the Motor City Bowl live as the Bristol-based networks lead-in to ABCs Monday Night Football coverage of the St. Louis Rams and NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles. Sean McDonough, Craig James and Dave Ryan will have the call from Ford Field. All three have previously worked at least one UConn game this season. UConn has previously appeared on the ESPN family of networks four times this year, posting a 2-2 record, beating Pittsburgh and Rutgers.
For the 13th consecutive season, WTIC 1080-AM in Hartford serves as the flagship station for the UConn Radio Network. WTIC is the states only 50,000 watt signal and can be heard in 23 states and parts of Canada. Veteran UConn announcers Joe DAmbrosio (play-by-play) and Wayne Norman (color commentary) return to call the action with Bob Joyce on the sidelines. The UConn pregame show begins 90 minutes prior to kickoff, while at home games, the UConn Tailgate Show will air two and a half hours prior to the game with Arnold Dean and Kevin Nathan. The UConn Football Radio Network also includes WILI 1400-AM in Willimantic, WLIS 1420-AM in Old Saybrook, WMRD 1150-AM in Middletown, WICC 600-AM in Bridgeport and WLAD 800-AM in Danbury. UConn football games are also broadcast over the internet, with assistance from Yahoo!, at UConnHuskies.com.
SERIES/BOWL GAME NOTES
SERIES WITH ROCKETS READY TO BLAST OFF
UConn and Toledo are meeting for the first time on the gridiron, although this bowl game meeting is a case of being better late than never. UConn was originally scheduled to face Toledo at the Glass Bowl on Oct. 23, 2004. However, because the Huskies were invited to join the BIG EAST Conference a year earlier than scheduled after the losses of Miami and Virginia Tech, the team had to frantically restructure its 2004 schedule and the matchup with the Rockets was one of several casualties. The Huskies instead played host to Temple on that date in league play while Toledo welcomed MAC foe Central Michigan.
The Huskies have become quite familiar with the Mid-American Conference over recent years as the Huskies played four teams from the league in 2000, 2002 and 2003 while facing three more in 2001. The Huskies only faced Buffalo from the league in 2004, but the original draft of the schedule, before the teams BIG EAST timetable was pushed up a year, included four MAC teams as games with Western Michigan, Toledo and Central Michigan were moved. UConn is 18-10 all-time against MAC schools and has won eight of its last nine meetings against the league. Toledo will be the eighth different MAC team that UConn has faced since 2001, joining Akron, Ball State, Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Ohio and Western Michigan.
TOLEDO AND DETROIT CONN-ECTIONS
UConns Quanear Gaskins played at Aliquippa High School outside of Pittsburgh with Toledos Marques Council and Travis Williams...UConn defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos worked with Toledo graduate assistant Chris Binder at Maine from 1995-2000 both as a player and a fellow coach. Binder was an All-Yankee Conference punter as a senior in 1996 when Lakatos was the Black Bears special teams coordinator...UConn does not have any active players from either Ohio or Michigan. The last Ohioan to suit up for UConn was Martins Ferrys Chad Martin who lettered from 1995-98. On the Michigan side, the Husky roster did feature tight end/fullback Terry McClowry from Dearborn, Mich. and Divine Child from 2000-03. McClowry is one of three native Michiganders to ever letter at UConn...UConns only staffers with Ohio ties are assistant coach Dave McMichael and Director of Football Operations Don Corzine. McMichael is a Kettering native and 1974 Bowling Green graduate who also coached the Falcons along with Muskingum College (1977-79). Corzine is a North Canton native...Athletic Trainer Andy Godek came to UConn this summer after two years in Ann Arbor working as a graduate assistant trainer with the Michigan football team while team physician Dr. Jeff Anderson earned his mediacal degree from Michigan...Although it was a short-lived event, Randy Edsall did coach in one of the two Cherry Bowl games played at the Pontiac Silverdome as Syracuse fell to Maryland, 35-18, on Dec. 21, 1985...While an undergraduate at Syracuse, ESPN Motor City Bowl announcer Sean McDonough worked in the football office as a work-study student helping Edsall and others with recruiting matters...UConn does have a few ties to the professional sports scene in Detroit. Former Huskies Richard Rip Hamilton (Detroit Pistons) and Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) each played key roles in bringing the NBA and WNBA Championships, respectively, to Motown. Also, prior to becoming head coach of the Detroit Lions from 1974-76, Rick Forzano served as head coach at UConn from 1964-65. In addition to himself, Forzanos UConn staff included two other future NFL head coaches in Sam Rutigliano (Cleveland Browns, 1978-84) and Lou Holtz (New York Jets, 1976). Rutigliano twice took Cleveland to the playoffs (1980 and 1982) while Holtz found better success in the collegiate ranks where he became the only coach to ever take five different schools to a bowl game (William & Mary, NC State, Arkansas, Notre Dame and South Carolina). He also guided Minnesota to the 1986 Independence Bowl, but left for Notre Dame before the game. The historic staff also included Andy Baylock who later won 556 games as UConns baseball coach.
HOPING IT ISNT A DIRTY DOZEN
For the third consecutive year, UConn is playing a 12th game. In both the 2002 and 2003 seasons, UConn used its 12th game to post a monumental win. On Nov. 23, 2002, UConn posted a 37-20 win over bowl-bound Iowa State on Senior Day in Ames, the programs first ever win over a Big 12 team or a bowl-bound squad. On Nov. 15, 2003, the Huskies found more Week 12 magic with a 51-17 rout of Wake Forest, again on the road. It was just the fourth time since 1983 that a non-conference team had scored at least 50 points in an ACC stadium. UConn is 3-0 all-time in its 12th games, having defeated Hampton, 42-34, in a first round 1998 NCAA Division I-AA Playoff game. Due to the rotation of the calendar placing an extra Saturday between Labor Day and the end of November, the NCAA permitted schools to schedule 12 regular season games instead of the standard 11 in 2002 and 2003. Legislation is presently being considered by the NCAA to make a 12th game permanent.
THE FIRST FRAME
UConn is making its bowling debut in Detroit. It has been five years since a team has made its bowl debut, an event that last occurred when Boise State appeared in the 1999 Humanitarian Bowl, where the Broncos defeated Louisville, 34-31, on their home (blue) field in Boise...Each of the last two teams to make their bowl debut won the game as Idaho was also victorious in Boise, beating Southern Miss in the 1998 Humanitarian Bowl...UConn will be the second team to make its bowl debut in the Motor City Bowl, joining Marshall, a 34-31 loser to Ole Miss in 1997...The last team to make its bowl debut and face a MAC school was in 1984 when UNLV faced, curiously, Toledo, beating the Rockets, 30-13, in the California Bowl, played at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno. UNLV later forfeited the game to Toledo for using ineligible players...Schools making their bowl game debut are 8-6 since the Division I-A, I-AA split in 1978 and 2-2 since 1990...UConn, UAB and Troy will all make their bowl game debuts this year. The three first-time schools tie for the most in a single year since four schools made their bowl debuts following the 1952 season in Florida (Gator), Southern Miss (Sun), Syracuse (Orange) and Wisconsin (Rose). Three teams also made their bowl game debuts in 1984 (Army, UNLV and Virginia).
HUSKIES MAKING SECOND POSTSEASON APPEARANCE
Although this is the bowl debut for UConn, the Huskies have played a pair of post season games. In 1998 the team qualified for the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. UConn defeated Hampton, 42-34, on Nov. 28 at Memorial Stadium in Storrs but fell a week later, 52-30, at eventual runner-up Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals. Current Chicago Bear Adrian Peterson ran for 232 yards and four touchdowns for the Eagles in the contest. GSU would lose in the final to Massachusetts, a team that UConn defeated twice during the 1998 regular season. The two Husky wins over UMass are believed to mark the only time a team has defeated a college football national champion twice in the same season.
With their bowl game debuts this month, UConn and Troy will become the seventh and eighth schools, respectively, since the 1978 divisional split to have played in both a bowl game and an NCAA Division I-AA Playoff game. The Huskies and Trojans are joined in that regard by Boise State, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Nevada and North Texas. Of that group, only UNT has not won both a playoff and bowl game (the Mean Green went 0-1 in the I-AA playoffs), elite company that both the Huskies and Trojans could join with bowl game victories.
BOWL GAMES AND NEW ENGLAND
UConn will become the seventh school from New England to participate in an NCAA sanctioned bowl game and the first from Connecticut. Other than Boston College, UConn will become the first New England school to go to a bowl game since 1969. BC is making its 16th bowl appearance on Dec. 30 in the Continental Tire Bowl, while other participating New England schools are Boston University (1969 Pasadena), Brown (1916 Rose), Harvard (1920 Rose), Holy Cross (1946 Orange) and Massachusetts (1964 Tangerine).
FORD FIELD FACTS
UConn will be playing in a dome for the second time in school history. The Huskies played their first ever indoor game earlier this year when they fell, 42-30, at Syracuses Carrier Dome on Oct. 30...The Huskies are playing on FieldTurf, or a comparable surface, for the third time in five road games this year. Both Boston College and Rutgers plays on a grass-like artificial surface. Syracuse plays on traditional AstroTurf and UConn faced Georgia Tech on natural grass at Grant Field in Atlanta. UConn is 2-2 all-time on the surface, having also lost at Cincinnati in 2001 and won at Army in 2003 in addition to this years win at Rutgers and loss at BC...UConn will be playing in an active NFL stadium for the fourth time and is 1-2 in such games. UConn lost to South Florida in 2001 at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and split a pair of games against Yale in 1973-74 at the Yale Bowl, which was serving as a temporary home of the New York Giants during the reconstruction of Yankee Stadium. UConn went 0-2 at Boston Universitys Nickerson Field in 1961-62 when the facility played host to the AFLs Boston Patriots. The Huskies have also played at six former NFL or AFL facilities in Franklin Field (Philadelphia Eagles, 1958-70), BCs Alumni Stadium (Boston Patriots, 1963, 1969), Harvard Stadium (Boston Patriots, 1963, 1970), Vanderbilt Stadium (Tennessee Oilers, 1998), Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati Bengals, 1967-69) and the Orange Bowl (Miami Dolphins, 1966-86). It will become a more frequent occurrence now that UConn has joined the BIG EAST as both Pittsburgh (Heinz Field) and new member USF play their home games in NFL facilities. Also, the leagues bowl ties can send the Huskies to the home of the Miami Dolphins (Pro Player Stadium - Orange Bowl), New Orleans Saints (Louisiana Superdome - Sugar Bowl), Arizona Cardinals (Sun Devil Stadium - Fiesta Bowl), Jacksonville Jaguars (ALLTEL Stadium - Gator Bowl) or Carolina Panthers (Bank of America Stadium - Continental Tire Bowl).
HUSKY WIN TOTAL STANDS STRONG AMONGST NATIONAL ELITE
It has been quite a run for the UConn football program. Since Nov. 1, 2002, the Huskies have posted a 20-7 record. The 20 wins are amongst most regular-season wins of any school in the nation over that span. Oklahoma holds the national lead with 28, followed by Boise State and USC with 27 each.
MOST REGULAR SEASON WINS SINCE NOV. 1, 2002
27 Boise State, USC
23 Georgia, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Texas, Tennessee, Utah
22 Auburn, Florida State, Michigan
21 Iowa, Louisville, Miami (Ohio), Ohio State, Toledo
20 CONNECTICUT and six others
HUSKIES BOWL BOUND THIS TIME AROUND
By shuting out Buffalo, UConn became bowl eligible for the second consecutive season and the second time in the schools brief Division I-A tenure. Last fall, UConn went 9-3 but as an independent could not secure a berth. The Buffalo win also clinched a winning season for UConn. The Huskies have never finished below .500 at the Division I-A level, going 6-6 in 2002 in addition to last falls 9-3 mark. Since Division I separated into Division I-A and I-AA, 16 schools have jumped up to the Division I-A level. Of the 16, UConn is one of just five schools to finish its first three seasons at the Division I-A level with a record of .500 or better. UConn joins Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Nevada and future BIG EAST member South Florida in this group.
BIG PLAYS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
The Huskies have shown a propensity on both offense and defense this year to allow big plays in which at least 20 yards are gained. The team that is more assertive in this area tends to win the games. UConn is 5-0 this year when gaining more yards than its opponent on big plays and 2-4 when the opponent gains more years in 20-plus yard chunks. The lone exceptions came on Sept. 30 when Pittsburgh gained 228 yards on six big plays while UConn gained just 137 yards on five of them; and also against Rutgers when UConn trailed 200-152 in this department.
THE SECRET TO THIRD DOWN? FIRST AND SECOND DOWN
One way the UConn offense has been able to sustain drives better than the teams opposition in 2004 en route to a 7-4 record has been its success on first and second down translating into a better third down conversion rate. UConn has faced 159 third downs this year while its opponents have faced 152. However, UConn has had to convert from seven yards or longer on just 76 of its 159 third down attempts (48%) while the opposition has had to go from seven yards or longer on 91 of its 152 tries (60%). UConn has had to convert from 15 yards or more just 16 times while its opponents have stared down third-and 15 or longer 24 times. In its shutout of Buffalo, the Bulls faced 10 conversions of seven yards or greater and failed on each of them.
HUSKIES DOMINATING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL
Over the past 27 games, UConn has outgained its opponent 23 times. The first exception came when UConn was outgained by Rutgers 455-321 on Nov. 8 of last year in its home finale, a game the Huskies won 38-31. The other three were on Sept. 17 at Boston College when the Eagles held a 334-291 edge, on Oct. 13 when West Virginia held a 462-365 advantage and on Nov. 13 when Georgia Tech outgained UConn 410-225. The Rutgers contest marked the first time since losing at Vanderbilt on Oct. 26, 2002 that UConn had been outgained. Over this 27 game span, UConn has averaged 456.7 yards per game of total offense and 323.2 yards per game of total defense. In its last 16 games, UConn has eclipsed 500 yards of total offense seven times.
CONN-TROLLING THE FLOW OF THE GAME
A telling sign of UConns 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, UConns offense has strung together 31 scoring drives of at least 80 yards while the Husky defense has surrendered just 15 such marches. UConn also holds a 7-2 advantage over its opponents in the number of 90-yard and over drives since becoming a I-A program.
The Huskies are 9-1 in November over the past three seasons combined, its entire tenure in Division I-A. UConns loss at Georgia Tech on Nov. 13 snapped a winning streak in the month of November that dated back to 2001, as UConn had posted a perfect 7-0 mark in the calendars penultimate month over the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Last fall, the Huskies were a perfect 3-0 in November with wins over Western Michigan (Nov. 1), Rutgers (Nov. 8) and Wake Forest (Nov. 15). Those wins came on the heels of a 4-0 November in 2002 as the Huskies topped Florida Atlantic (Nov. 2), Kent State (Nov. 9), Navy (Nov. 16) and Iowa State (Nov. 23). The Huskies defeated Buffalo (Nov. 20) and Rutgers (Nov. 25) this November. UConns last November loss, prior to Georgia Tech, came on Nov. 24, 2001 when the Huskies lost to Temple at Franklin Field in Philadelphia in a contest that was rescheduled after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
SIX HUSKIES NAMED ALL-BIG EAST
UConn landed six players on the All-BIG EAST teams on Nov. 30, which were determined in a vote of the leagues coaches. Cornell Brockington, Alfred Fincher and Justin Perkins all earned first-team recognition while Ryan Krug, Maurice Lloyd and Matt Nuzie were second team picks. Brockington led the conference with 1,146 rushing yards on the year and picked up an average of 156.0 all purpose yards in BIG EAST games. Fincher led the conference with 131 tackles, tying for fifth in the nation while his five forced fumbles tied for second nationally. Perkins tied for the league lead with 15 passes defended and returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns, setting both a season and career school record. Krug is the anchor piece of a line that helped the Huskies lead the league in total offense. Lloyd was fourth in the conference with his 99 tackles while Nuzie, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, was second in the league with 16 field goals on the season, one shy of the school seasonal record.
WEEKLY BIG EAST HONORS ABOUND
UConn has claimed each of the BIG EASTs weekly honors at least once this season, all of which were initial firsts for the program. Dan Orlovsky was named the Offensive Player of the Week after his four-touchdown effort in UConns win over Army on Sept. 25. Orlovsky won the award again after UConns loss at Syracuse on Oct. 30, making him only the fifth player in BIG EAST history to win Offensive Player of the Week honors outright in a losing effort and just the second since 1996. Orlovsky hit on 39 of his 51 passes for 445 yards in the game with three touchdowns and two interceptions. During the contest he also became UConns career passing yardage leader. Following UConns historic win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 30, Alfred Fincher (Defense) and Matt Nuzie (Special Teams) earned league recognition. Fincher tied a then-career high with 17 tackles against the Panthers, including 1.5 TFLs, a forced fumble and a pass break up. Nuzie tied his career high by nailing three field goals, including a 49-yarder as time expired in the first half. The kick topped his previous career long of 38 by 11 yards. Shane Hussar was also named Special Teams Player of the Week once. He got the nod after the Buffalo game on Nov. 20 when he punted for a 43.2 average and left three of his five kicks inside the UB 12.
WILSON NAMED BROYLES AWARD FINALIST
On Nov. 30, UConn offensive coordinator Norries Wilson was named one of six finalists for the Broyles Award, annually presented to the nations top assistant coach. Wilson is the first Husky mentor to be so honored. He stands alongside Oklahomas Chuck Long, Auburns Gene Chizik, Californias Bob Gregory, Iowas Norm Parker and Boise States Chris Peterson. The award is in just its ninth year and already three former winners have already gone on to become head coaches at major college programs in David Cutcliffe (Ole Miss), Ralph Friedgen (Maryland) and Mark Mangino (Kansas). The eight-man selection committee that approved Wilson is also an impressive group, consisting of Frank Broyles, Hayden Fry, Bo Schembechler, Vince Dooley, Don James, Dick MacPherson, Grant Teaff and LaVell Edwards. Combined, those eight legends of college football coaching have won four national championships, nine national coach of the year honors, over 1,300 games, 59 conference titles and appeared in 112 bowl games.
TEAM AWARDS ANNOUNCED
For their leadership and dedication off of the field as much as their performance on it, Alfred Fincher and Dan Orlovsky shared the team MVP honor at the Huskies annual awards banquet on Dec. 5 at the Rome Commons Ballroom in Storrs. Cornell Brockington was named offensive MVP and the defensive honor went to Tyler King. The Huskies averaged 268 ypg of total defense prior to him breaking his leg in the waning moments of UConns win over Pittsburgh while permitting 383.8 ypg in the six games after the injury. Matt Nuzie received Special Teams Player of the Year recognition. The Scholar Athlete Award was given to senior wide receiver Keron Henry, who will graduate this spring with a double major of electrical engineering and computer science with a mathematics minor. The Huddle Club Award also went to Henry. The honor is bestowed upon the Husky who best exhibits leadership and dedication and is viewed as the ultimate team player. The Kendall Madison Award was given to Brian Sparks. A former walk-on, Sparks was recognized for being a strong team player whos dedication, hard work and outstanding citizenship best exemplify the strong spirit of the UConn Huskies. The award is named for the former Husky who was tragically killed in the mid 1990s while being a good samaritan in his attempt to break up a bar room fight. The Brian Kozlowski Award was given to Ryan Krug for being courageous, hard working and productive. The award is named for the former Husky and current Washington Redskins tight end who through relentless hard work, effort and dedication has been able to have a lengthy NFL career.
LETS GET IT STARTED
UConn is 6-0 this year when scoring first and 1-4 when the opponent strikes first with the lone exception coming at Rutgers on Thanksgiving morning.
TURNING OVER THE EXPECTED RESULTS
UConn committed four turnovers against Temple, then a I-A era high, and won. The only time this year that UConn didnt turn teh ball over was during a loss at Georgia Tech.
NO RETREAT, BABY, NO SURRENDER LARGEST DEFICIT OVERCOME TO WIN (I-A ERA) Deficit Date Opponent Score Quarter Final
UConn trailed Duke, 20-6, with just over 11 minutes to play at Rentschler Field on Sept. 11, but rallied for a thrilling 22-20 win. This was not an isolated event for UConn. In the 35 games since UConn became a Division I-A team, six times the Huskies have erased a 10 point or greater deficit to win a game and five times UConn has rallied in the fourth quarter for a victory. The Duke game was the fourth time in which the team had done both. UConn trailed Rutgers 17-7 at the half on Nov. 8, 2003, and 24-21 entering the fourth quarter, but fought back to win the game. The Huskies rallied from a 31-21 third quarter deficit against Akron last Oct. 25, winning the game on a 27-yard Matt Nuzie field goal as time expired. UConn erased a 20-6 third quarter deficit to beat Ohio, 37-19, during the 2002 season. The following lists chart each instance of 10 points or greater comebacks, and fourth quarter rallies, for UConn in the Division I-A era:
17 11/1/03 Western Mich. 0-17 2nd W, 41-27 14 9/11/04 Duke 6-20 4th W, 22-20 14 9/21/02 Ohio 6-20 3rd W, 37-19 10 11/8/03 Rutgers 7-17 3rd W, 38-31 10 10/25/03 Akron 21-31 3rd W, 38-37 10 11/23/02 at Iowa State 10-20 3rd W, 37-20
FOURTH QUARTER COMEBACK VICTORIES (I-A ERA) Date Opponent Deficit Score Time Game Winning Play 9/11/04 Duke 14 6-20 11:05 Matt Nuzie 21 field goal 11/8/03 Rutgers 3 21-24 8:04 Cornell Brockington 1 run 10/25/03 Akron 6 28-34 8:43 Matt Nuzie 27 field goal 10/18/03 at Kent State 8 20-28 1:51 Wilson 14 pass from Orlovsky 9/21/02 Ohio 6 13-19 14:05 Dan Orlovsky 1 run
SIX MORE YEARS!!!
The traditional battle cry in presidential election years is for four, but UConn and head coach Randy Edsall made it six more years as the two recently agreed on a contract extension through the 2009 season. Edsall will receive a base salary of $200,000 this year, a sum that increases by $25,000 per year. He will also receive $495,000 for other commitments, a sum that increases $50,000 per year. The contract also includes a one month bonus for a bowl appearance and a three month bonus for making a BCS bowl. Director of Athletics Jeffrey Hathaway called the deal another milestone in the numerous positive developments that the UConn football program has experienced in the past several years.
YOUTH IS SERVED
Eight true freshmen have appeared for UConn this season. The biggest area where true freshmen are making an impact is on special teams. Tyvon Branch is serving on-and-off as one of the teams kickoff returners while Larry Taylor has also fielded kickoffs and also returned punts, with true freshman Brandon McLean as his backup. Branch has also been used in the secondary and made a start at corner back at Georgia Tech. Shane Hussar won the teams punting honors and, against Murray State, he became the sixth true freshman to start a UConn game in the Division I-A era. Hussar was joined by another true freshman in the kicking corps as place kicker Tony Ciaravino has seen action on the teams onside kicks. Afa Anoai and Julius Williams also got into the mix against Murray State, mainly on special teams. Anoai has played consistently as a backup at defensive tackle. Dan Davis made his debut against Army at defensive end and has seen steady action as a reserve. Six true freshmen played for the Huskies in 2003 with the secondary seeing the largest infusion of freshmen.
Each week head coach Randy Edsall issues an award for the Scout Team Player of the Week on both offense and defense. In recognition of their often-overlooked hard work, those players earn a spot on the Husky travel squad and dress list for that weeks game. The weekly honorees are listed below. Game Offense Defense Murray State WR Ellis Gaulden DE Dan Davis Duke OG Immanuel Hutcherson CB Darius Butler Boston College WR Matt DAgata LB Justin DeRubertis Army TE Steve Brouse DE Harold Stanback Pittsburgh OL Pat Shortell S Donnell Ford West Virginia WR Aaron Smith LB Justin DeRubertis Temple C Trey Tonsing DB Quanear Gaskins Syracuse TE Steve Brouse DT Rob Lunn Georgia Tech OG Ken Rice LB Robert Theoudele Buffalo RB Lou Allen DB Dahna Deleston Rutgers OT Aloys Manga LB Robert Theoudele
After each UConn victory, head coach Randy Edsall awards game balls for the teams top performer on offense, defense and special teams. The 2004 recipients are listed below.
MURRAY STATE: Jason Williams (offense), Alfred Fincher (defense), Keron Henry (special teams).
DUKE: Keron Henry (offense), Alfred Fincher (defense), Keron Henry (special teams).
ARMY: Dan Orlovsky (offense), James Hargrave (defense), Larry Taylor (special teams). PITTSBURGH: Cornell Brockington (offense), Alfred Fincher and Tyler King (defense), Matt Nuzie (special teams).
TEMPLE: Cornell Brockington (offense), Maurice Lloyd (defense), Larry Taylor (special teams)
BUFFALO: Dan Orlovsky (offense), Alfred Fincher (defense), Shane Hussar (special teams)
RUTGERS: Dan Murray (offense), Maurice Lloyd (defense), Deon Anderson (special teams)
Active Career Game Ball Leaders: Alfred Fincher (5), Dan Orlovsky (5), Cornell Brockington (4), Terry Caulley (4), James Hargrave (3), Keron Henry (3), Tyler King (3), Maurice Lloyd (3), Deon Anderson (2), Billy Irwin (2), Ryan Krug (2), Brian Markowski (2), Dan Murray (2), Matt Nuzie (2), Justin Perkins (2), Larry Taylor (2), Jason Williams (2), Allan Barnes, Chris Bellamy, Matt Cutaia, Jeff Fox, Kinnan Herriott, Shane Hussar, Tim Lassen, Grant Preston, Brandon Young.
HUSKIES RECEIVE FIRST EVER PRESEASON POLL VOTES
Connecticut received votes in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today preseason coaches polls, the first preseason Division I-A votes in the programs history. The Huskies cracked the receiving votes columns of both polls during the 2003 season for the first time at the Division I-A level. The program has yet to crack the top 25 of either poll.
OUR OWN LITTLE EPCOT CENTER HERE IN STORRS
While the overwhelming majority of the 2004 UConn football team is comprised of players from the northeastern United States, the Huskies have a far greater international influence than a typical college football team with players hailing from three different foreign countries. UConn has three Canadian players, in the Quebecois trio of Dan Desriveaux, Shawn Mayne and Jason Ward. Offensive tackle Aloys Manga is a native of Duana, Cameroon while both defensive tackle Deon McPhee and corner back Cathlyn Clarke grew up in the Bahamas. Wide receiver Keron Henry was born in Guyana and moved to the U.S. when he was very young. Last season, UConn also welcomed Australian punter Adam Coles and two other Canadians (Hakeem Kashama and ONeil Wilson). Back in his native country, Wilson is a wide receiver for the CFLs Montreal Alouettes.
Senior linebacker Alfred Fincher, offensive tackle Ryan Krug and quarterback Dan Orlovsky were named as the teams 2004 captains in a vote of their teammates on April 16, the day before the annual Blue-White Spring Game.
INDIVIDUAL HUSKIES GET NATIONAL RECOGNITION
In a sign of increasing national awareness and respect for the great things happening at UConn, five different Huskies were named to preseason watch lists for major national positional awards. Dan Orlovsky finds himself on the watch lists for both major quarterbacking awards (OBrien and Unitas) and both of the major national player of the year honors that produce an official watch list (Maxwell and Walter Camp). Orlovsky was named a semifinalist for the Unitas. Offensive tackle Ryan Krug (Lombardi and Outland) and linebacker Maurice Lloyd (Butkus and Nagurski) were named to two separate lists, while linebacker Alfred Fincher was named to the Butkus list and center Billy Irwin was named to the Rimington Awards official watch list. As the season progressed, Orlovsky made the Unitas semifinalists cut while Matt Nuzie was named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.
DAN-O STILL PUTTING ON A SHOW
Senior Dan Orlovsky, highly-recruited out of high school, 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. He started off the 2004 season exactly where he left off in 2003, tying his own school record with five touchdown passes against Murray State. His 219.28 passing efficiency rating was also a career high and, through one week, led the NCAA. He also equalled his own career high of 382 passing yards in the game, hitting on 19-of-29 passes (65.5%). He later eclipsed that yardage total by throwing for a school record 445 yards at Syracuse on Oct. 30. Orlovsky has now thrown a whopping 65 TD passes during the last 27 games (2.4 per game) and holds the school record with 82 career TD strikes. He was named the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for four touchdowns against Army on Sept. 25. He earned the honor again after the Oct. 30 game at Syracuse in which he set a school, BIG EAST and Carrier Dome record by completing 39 passes for a UConn record 445 yards, fifth-best in BIG EAST history. In 2003, Orlovsky was named the teams 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.
ORLOVSKY AMONGST THE NATIONS ACTIVE LEADERS
With 82 career touchdown passes to his credit, Dan Orlovsky ranks third amongst all active passers behind only Timmy Chang of Hawaii and Andrew Walter of Arizona St. Meanwhile, his 10,467 career passing yards ranks seventh amongst all active players. Meanwhile, his 39 completions at Syracuse are the most in the nation this year by someone other than Texas Techs Sonny Cumbie. His 445 passing yards in that game are the second most this season against a member of a BCS Conference trailing only the 522 that Kyle Orton of Purdue threw for against Indiana on Nov. 20.
A poised and mature Dan Orlovsky has seen his statistics make a dramatic improvement of late. Below are his statistics from the first 18 games of his career and the last 27 (record listed is only in games which he started): TD INT YPG CMP% EFF REC* First 18 17 20 167.2 52.5% 103.60 3-11 Last 27 65 30 276.0 62.0% 140.04 20-7
ORLOVSKY STREAKS SNAPPED
Against Duke, Dan Orlovsky rallied UConn from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit by completing 68-percent of his passes in the game (23-for-34) for 290 yards. Much talk after the game though was centered on the fact that he didnt throw a touchdown pass. The game snapped a school-record string of 25 consecutive games in which Orlovsky had thrown a touchdown pass, dating back to the season finale of his freshman year, Nov. 24, 2001 at Temple. Orlovsky recently had another career-best string come to an end as he had a streak of 116 consecutive passing attempts without throwing an interception end at Rutgers.
By throwing for 316 yards in UConns game at Virginia Tech on Sept. 27, 2003, Dan Orlovsky joined some elite company. Since the start of the 2001 season (47 games), only six quarterbacks have thrown for 300 yards in a regular season game against the Hokies stringent defense. In that regard, Orlovsky joins Miamis Ken Dorsey, Marshalls Byron Leftwich, Syracuses Troy Nunes, Pittsburghs Rod Rutherford and Virginias Matt Schaub. The feat was not accomplished once in 2004 against the ACC Champion Hokies.
HUSKIES IN THE NATIONAL LEADERS
Several UConn players are currently amongst the NCAA leaders. Dan Orlovsky ranks fifth in passing, 13th in total offense and 27th in passing efficiency. Keron Henry (48th) and Jason Williams (87th) both rank for most receiving yards per game while Henry (36th) and Matt Cutaia (100th) rank in receptions per game. Cornell Brockington is the nations 20th leading rusher, and tops in the BIG EAST despite sparse playing time in the first two games of the year. Collectively, UConn boasts the nations 10th ranked passing offense and 17th ranked total offense.
SCORING FIFTY IS NIFTY
Between beating Wake Forest, 51-17, to end the 2003 season and racing past Murray State, 52-14, to open the 2004 season, UConn scored at least 50 points in consecutive games for just the third time in school history. In 2002, the Huskies beat Florida Atlantic, 61-14, on Nov. 2 and Kent State, 63-21, on Nov. 9 in the final two games ever played at Memorial Stadium. In 1945, UConn closed the season with a 53-0 win over Maine followed by a 54-0 win over Boston University. UConn has never eclipsed the half-century plateau in three straight games.
THE EAST HARTFORD 500
In seven of its last 16 games, UConn has recorded at least 500 yards of total offense. UConn opened its 2004 season with a 530-yard offensive effort against Murray State and picked up 503 more against Army. The Huskies racked up 512 yards of total offense against Temple and 566 at Syracuse the following week. In the final five games of the 2003 campaign, UConn posted 515 at Kent State (Oct. 18), 568 against Western Michigan (Nov. 1) and 536 at Wake Forest (Nov. 15). Earlier in the 2003 season, UConn had recorded 613 yards of total offense at Buffalo (Sept. 20), a total that was just five yards shy of the school record mark of 618 set on Sept. 30, 1995 at Yale.
FINISHING IN THE RED IS GOOD
You wouldnt want your financial ledgers to be full of red ink, but UConns 2003 late season success was in part due to finishing its time in the red zone in style. UConn entered the Duke game having scored on each of its last 29 possessions in the red zone, dating back to its Oct. 18 game at Kent State. The run included 21 touchdowns and eight field goals but was snapped against the Blue Devils when Matt Nuzie missed a field goal on the games opening possession. After going 5-for-5 at Rutgers with all five scores being touchdowns, UConn has scored on 37 of its 41 red zone possessions this season (90%) with 25 touchdowns.
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? O-LINE STARTERS SURE ARE
With three seniors in left tackle Ryan Krug, left guard Brian Markowski and center Billy Irwin, junior right guard Grant Preston and sophomore Craig Berry, UConns starting offensive line has combined to start an incredible 169 career games. The yin to this yang though is the backup situation. Other than the five starters, UConns offensive linemen had combined to appear in a total of just 44 career games entering the season, 35 of which were accounted for by reserve center Jeff Foxs career-long tenure as the teams long snapper. Michael Kodish became the first reserve to start a game when an ankle injury to Ryan Krug pressed the junior into a starting role against Army on Sept. 25.
Head coach Randy Edsall preaches a balanced offensive attack, evenly mixing rushing and passing plays throughout his tenure at UConn. The 2004 season though has seen UConn trail late in several games recently and has forced the passing play count to swell for the first time since UConn was fully welcomed into Division I-A. Adjusting the 15 sacks allowed which the NCAA counts as rushes, the Huskies have 438 passing plays to their credit this fall and 375 rushing plays. The 2003 season more closely followed the traditional Edsall offensive pattern. Last year, the Huskies attempted 483 passing plays and 463 rushing plays. In 2002, the sum was exactly even with 421 rushing and passing plays attempted.
LIKE A BROCK
Cornell Brockington has eclipsed the 100-yard plateau six times thus far in 2004, leaving him one shy of tying the school record which is shared by teammate Terry Caulley. Brockington earned the start at tailback at Boston College and did not disappoint, turning in a 105-yard effort on 24 carries, including UConns lone touchdown. He was also the teams leading receiver with five catches, good for 40 yards. That effort was followed up in style a week later with a 111-yard rushing effort against Army. Brockington finished just a yard shy of his career high when he carried the ball 31 times for 185 yards with one touchdown against Pittsburgh. After being held to 90 yards by West Virginia, he jumped back up on track and gained 181 on the ground against Temple followed by 123 at Syracuse. Brockington had 216 yards of total offense against the Orange behind the strength of a team-season high 10 receptions. Brockington has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing plateau in seven of his 10 career starts. In his only start prior to 2004, he was the teams offensive catalyst, running for 182 yards and four TDs, in UConns 51-17 win at Wake Forest on Nov. 15, 2003. He is by far the BIG EASTs leading rusher at 104.2 yards per game and earned first-team All-Conference honors. A solid receiver as well, Brockington averaged 156.0 yards per game all purpose yards in conference play.
DEEP TAILBACK ROTATION
Helping make the decision to shut down Terry Caulley for the year easier was the fact that 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 UConns ability to run the ball without Caulley, but Chris Bellamy, Cornell Brockington and Matt Lawrence all stepped up their play and created a log jam on the depth chart. UConn averaged a productive 159.0 rushing yards per game as a team over the final six games of the 2003 season while the Huskies had a 100-yard rusher in eight of the teams 12 games last year. The rotation of that potent depth continued into the 2004 season as both Lawrence or Brockington started games with Brockington leading the BIG EAST and rushing and earning first-team All-Conference honors. Bellamy, Brockington and Lawrence all rushed for a touchdown in 2004.
A TOUGH CAULL TO MAKE
With his knee not yet 100% recovered from a serious injury suffered last September 27 at Virginia Tech, head coach Randy Edsall decided prior to the start of this falls drills to air on the side of caution and redshirt tailback Terry Caulley for the season. Caulley, who played as a true freshman in 2002 when he was named to the Freshman All-America team, will have two years of eligibility remaining next fall. 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 game against the Hokies.
Keron Henry helped fuel UConns win over Duke by making a career high eight receptions for a career high 112 yards while also adding to the teams success on special teams. For all his good work, Henry earned UConns game ball on both offense and special teams. He becomes the first offensive player of the Edsall era to accomplish this double. Uyi Osunde earned the defensive and special teams game balls for his efforts in UConns 61-14 win over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 2, 2002 in the penultimate game at Memorial Stadium. With his 117-yard receiving effort against Army on Sept. 25, he became the first Husky to have multiple 100-yard receiving efforts in one year since John Fitzsimmons eclipsed the century mark three times in 2000. Henry presently ranks 36th in the nation in receptions (5.27 per game) and 48th in receiving yards (71.09 per game). He ranks fourth in the BIG EAST in each category.
WHERE THERES A J-WILL, THERES A WAY
Speedy wide receiver Jason Williams earned a game ball for his efforts against Murray State when he caught four passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. The junior had just 139 receiving yards all of the 2003 and no touchdowns. Williams first TD strike was an 80-yard pass and run against the Racers. The duo wasnt done though, topping that with a 90-yard touchdown connection against Temple on Oct. 23. It was the third longest passing play in UConn history and the eighth longest in BIG EAST history. Williams is UConns second-leading receiver on the season by yardage, making 41 catches for 618 yards with three touchdowns and a team-best 15.1 yards per reception average.
EDSALL LETS THE DAN-IMAL LOOSE
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. Murray demonstrated his great combination of blocking and receiving ability during the teams fall drills and earned the starting nod for opening day against Murray State where he did not disappoint. In addition to showing his adept blocking skills, Murray caught four passes for 92 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown grab. All were career highs. Murray put a string bookend to the regular season when he earned the teams offensive game ball at Rutgers. He caught five passes for 135 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Murray became the first UConn tight end to eclipse the century mark since Brian Kozlowski had 151 yards at Boston University on Nov. 14, 1992. Other than a three-yard touchdown grab, each of his catches were good for at least 20 yards.
LASSEN LASSOES TOUCHDOWNS
UConn tight end Tim Lassen has made the most of his 14 career receptions. Six of the 14 have been good for touchdowns, including one during UConns win over Army on Sept. 25.
SHARING THE WEALTH
Edsall has made a point of having a deep rotation at wide receiver throughout his time at UConn. This year, seniors Keron Henry Matt Cutaia and Brian Sparks, along with junior Jason Williams, formed the top of the unit. Regardless of who ends up in the mix from play-to-play, Edsall keeps them involved. Through 11 games, 13 different Huskies have caught a pass, nine have hit double digits in receptions and eight different UConn players have caught a touchdown pass. The nine players to catch a touchdown pass tie for fourth best in the nation. Boise State, California and Miami (Ohio) have each hit 10 different receivers for a touchdown. In 2003, 15 different players caught a pass for UConn and eight Huskies hit double figures in receptions. The shared receptions also created an even distribution of receiving yardage. Despite the fact that UConn has thrown for 9,381 passing yards over the past three seasons combined (268.0 ypg), the Huskies have had just 10 100-yard receiving games, with six different receivers reaching the plateau (Shaun Feldeisen, Henry, Dan Murray, Williams, ONeil Wilson and Brandon Young). A total of 10 different Huskies caught a touchdown pass in 2003. The stats were similarly diverse in 2002 when seven different Huskies caught at least 20 passes which tied for the fourth in the nation during the regular season.
YOUNG IS RESTLESS
The Huskies were without one of their top wide receivers for the 2004 season. Junior Brandon Young suffered a foot injury in a bad automobile accident in his native Maryland the weekend before fall training camp started. In addition to his 28 receptions last fall, Young also contributed as a kickoff and punt returner.
WHY LET THE OFFENSE HAVE ALL OF THE FUN?
Thus far in 2004, Husky defenders have found the end zone three times. Alfred Fincher returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown against Murray State on Sept. 4. Seven days later against Duke, Justin Perkins provided perhaps the critical play of the game when he returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown to cut the Duke lead to 20-19 with 10:14 to play. Perkins scored again on a nine-yard interception return in UConns win over Pittsburgh. UConn last recorded three defensive scores in a single season in 2002. The school record sum of four was set in 1997. Also, the Murray State and Duke games marked the first time the Husky defense has scored in consecutive games since the 2002 season when Razul Wallace scored on an interception return against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 2 and Chris Meyer did likewise on Nov. 9 against Kent State.
INTERCEPTION TOTALS PERK UP
Senior cornerback Justin Perkins, who missed all but the first half of the season opener in 2002 with a knee injury, regained the form that made him the teams top cover corner in 2001. Perkins also found his interception knack, snaring a total of six opponent passes last fall, tying for 11th in the nation with 0.50 interceptions per game. He made two interceptions against Rutgers and tied for sixth place on UConns all-time seasonal record chart with his six pick-offs in 2003. He was named to several preseason All-BIG EAST teams in 2004 and backed up the hype, making first-team All-BIG EAST for recording four interceptions, tying him for 28th in the nation. His first one came on Sept. 11 against Duke when he returned a fourth quarter interception 27 yards for a touchdown, a play critical to UConns last rally to edge out the Blue Devils. He also brought an interception back for a touchdown against Pittsburgh, making him the first UConn player to ever return two interceptions for a touchdown in either a season or his career. Previously, 24 different players had returned one each.
AN INTERCEPTION A DAY KEEPS THEIR OFFENSE AT BAY
The UConn defense intercepted exactly one pass in eight of the teams 11 games this fall. UConn didnt make any interceptions against Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Rutgers, all road games, two of which UConn lost.
BUFFALO DOESNT SHUFFLE OFF TO ANYWHERE
UConns defense was dominant against Buffalo on Nov. 20 in the teams home finale. Needing a win to gain bowl eligibility, the Huskies responded by holding the Bulls to 96 yards of total offense on only 49 snaps. In the game, Buffalo had five first downs, four completions on 21 attempts and punted eight times, seven of them being on three-and-outs. It is one of only seven times a Division I-A team has been held to under 100 yards of total offense over the past two seasons combined.
UNDER 100 YARDS OF TOTAL DEFENSE VS. I-A (SINCE 2003) Team Opponent Date Yards Oklahoma Colorado 12/4/04 46 Oklahoma Texas A&M 11/8/03 54 Georgia Tech Maryland 10/9/04 82 Virginia Akron 9/18/04 84 N.C. State Maryland 10/16/04 91 Connecticut Buffalo 11/20/04 96 Ohio Central Florida 10/11/03 98
CONSISTENT STARTING LINEUP
Eight Huskies have started all 11 games this season on defense (M.J. Estep, Alfred Fincher, John Fletcher, Rhema Fuller, James Hargrave, Maurice Lloyd, Shawn Mayne and Justin Perkins).
DESPITE LOSSES, DEFENSIVE LINE IS LOOKING FINE
UConn lost three of its four starters from last years defensive line in Ryan Bushey and team captains Sean Mulcahy and Uyi Osunde, but rumors of the units demise have been greatly exaggerated. An athletic crew of replacements comprise a formidable starting unit. Deon McPhee and Rhema Fuller had a combined 37 career games played at tackle entering the season, while Shawn Mayne is ably manning the end post vacated by Osundes graduation. The backup positions though haven seen a lot of new faces, some of which were forced to step up at end in the wake of Tyler Kings injury. UConns reserve defensive linemen had combined to play five career games entering the season. Jason Ward started the final six games at end for King while Dan Davis saw several reps per game. Afa Anoai and Ray Blagman often found themselves on the field in 2004 as reserve tackles.
LONG LIVE THE KING
As defenses increasingly tried to clamp down on Uyi Osunde in 2003, Tyler King was able to ri-se to the occasion on the opposite end. After making 66 tackles, 13 TFLs and 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons combined, King recorded 77 tackles in 2003 with 17 TFLs and eight sacks, ranking second only to NFL signee Uyi Osunde for UConn in the latter two categories. The hi-octane son of former New England Patriot Steve King showed no signs of slowing down early in the 2004 season. Through five games he led the BIG EAST in tackles for loss and tackles by a defensive lineman. He was named the teams defensive MVP even though he hasnt played since the fifth game of the year as he fractured his right fibula on a play in the waning moments of UConns historic 29-17 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 30 while playing the only way he knew how...all out.
The strongest portion of UConns 2004 defensive unit has been linebackers where the team returned all three starters from 2003 who entered the season with 91 combined career games played and 64 starts between them. Tri-captain Alfred Fincher leads by example from his middle linebacker post while preseason Butkus and Nagurski Award candidate Maurice Lloyd holds down the weakside and James Hargrave fortifies the strongside. Fincher and Lloyd both earned All-BIG EAST recognition for their play in 2004 which saw them rank first and fourth, respectively, in the BIG EAST in tackles during the regular season. UConn also has several experienced reserves, including Kinnan Herriott (29 games played entering the year) and Taurien Sowell (22).
ITS FINCH IN A PINCH
Senior linebacker Alfred Fincher didnt let his final home opener at UConn go by without making an impact. Fincher made seven tackles, tying for second on the team, a total that included 1.5 tackles for loss. Fincher also broke up a pass and intercepted another, returning it 16 yards for his first career touchdown. It was UConns first defensive score since Chris Meyer ran an interception back 63 yards for a touchdown on Nov. 9, 2002 against Kent State. He has kept the ball rolling and through the end of the regular season, he leads the BIG EAST with 131 tackles and was a first-team all-conference selection. Fincher rose to the occasion when UConn hosted its first ever BIG EAST Conference home game has he tied his career high with 17 tackles against Pittsburgh, on national television, to earn conference Player of the Week honors. He followed that up with 21 tackles against West Virginia to set a career high and 16 more against Temple with three pass breakups in coverage. His 11.91 tackles per game tie for fifth in the nation.
SECONDARY MAINLY IN SECOND SEASON
The UConn defensive backfield is receiving great senior leadership from cover corner Justin Perkins and strong safety John Fletcher, however the rest of the unit is almost entirely sophomores. The quintet of second-year performers Allan Barnes, Ernest Cole, M.J. Estep, Dontá Moore and Jahi Smith are all featured in the two-deep along with redshirt freshman Marvin Taylor. Though mostly young, they do have some seasoning. Barnes, Cole, Estep and Smith all saw action in at least 10 games last fall while Moore appeared in six. Included in that total are nine starts for Cole and three for Barnes. Estep was frequently used as the squads top nickel back. Over the course of the season, three differed corners have started opposite Perkins in Cole (8), Barnes (3) and speedy true freshman Tyvon Branch, who started at Georgia Tech.
THREE-AND-OUTS BECAME COMMON FOR UCONN FOES
The UConn defense forced Murray State to go three-and-out seven times on Sept. 4, but that is not a new trend to the followers of UConn football. In last years season opener, UConn forced Indiana into five three-and-outs and followed that performance up with several similar showings throughout the 2003 season. UConn picked the pace back up against Pittsburgh, stuffing the Panther offense by forcing seven three-and-outs en route to a 29-17 victory while UConn forced seven more against Buffalo. UConn has forced a three-and-out on 38 of 141 chances in 2004 (27-percent). UConn forced its 2003 opponents to go three-and-out 43 times in 162 possessions, 27-percent. In 2002, UConn forced a three-and-out on 30-percent of opposing possessions, including a season high eight on 12 possessions at Navy.
THEY CALL IT FOOTBALL FOR A REASON
A year ago, UConn forced its opponents to punt a staggering 85 times (7.1 per game). Although the NCAA does not keep this as a category leader, on the flip side, only Arizona (98), Baylor (93), Iowa State (87) and Stanford (86) were forced to punt more times as a team in 2003. By comparison, the UConn offense punted just 60 times last year. Amongst the seasonal highlights, the UConn defense swarmed over Buffalos offense forcing 11 Bull punts out of 13 UB possessions. The lone exceptions came with the end of the first half and a failed fourth-down try late in the game. UConns defense was also solid against Virginia Tech in this category. The Huskies forced the Hokies to punt six times in the game, the same number of punts that Virginia Tech had made in its first three games of the year combined. Two weeks later, NC State had to punt nine times against the Huskies, the Wolfpacks most punts in a game since at least 1999. The trend continued in the 2004 season opener as UConn forced Murray State to punt 11 times on its 15 possessions. Army punted eight times on its 12 possessions against UConn and Pittsburgh eight times on its 16. West Virginias six punts against UConn exceeded its season average. UConn has forced 67 punts this season (6.1 per game) while the Huskies have only punted 51 times.
POTENT HOKIES SHUTOUT ON THIRD DOWN
A concern for UConn entering last years Virginia Tech game was the Hokies startling third down efficiency. Virginia Tech had converted on 67% of its third down tries in 2003 entering the contest (26-for-39) but against UConn the Hokies went 0-for-8. It marked the second year in a row that UConn has held a team without a third down conversion, after stopping Navy on each of the Midshipmens 12 attempts last Nov. 16. UConn nearly topped that feat in its 2004 season opener against Murray State, holding the Racers to just 1-for-13 on third down attempts. Army didnt fare much better against the Husky defense, converting just twice on 13 attempts while Buffalo went 2-for-14 on third down after being forced to convert from 10 yards or longer eight times.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
PUNT AND FIELD GOAL REVERSAL OF FORTUNES
UConns punt return, punt coverage and field goal units have shown a dramatic improvement through 11 games as opposed to this juncture last fall. The averages entering the 12th game of the season are listed below for both last year and this year.
CATEGORY 2003 Avg. 2004 Avg. Punt returns 5.1 12.0 Punt coverage 12.6 7.9 Field goals 8-18 (44%) 16-23 (70%)
THESE ARENT THE RETURNING RETURNERS
One of the soft spots in UConns game last fall was its kickoff and punt returns which ranked near the bottom of the nation. Some speedy true freshmen will hope to help rectify that problem in 2004. The shifty yet diminutive Larry Taylor, easily mistaken on the field for Terry Caulleys little brother, is the teams punt returner on the heels of a dazzling fall camp. Taylor is averaging 12.3 yards per return on 22 attempts in his young career as a Husky to tie for second in the BIG EAST and 28th in the nation. Behind Taylor, UConn ranks 27th in the nation in punt returns after finishing the 2003 season in 116th place out of 117 Division I-A teams. Taylor has also been one of several Huskies to return kickoffs this year and he made his biggest impact as a returned the opening kickoff of the Temple game 97 yards for a touchdown. It was the first UConn kickoff return for a touchdown since 1998 and is believed to be first opening kickoff return for a touchdown in school history. True freshman Tyvon Branch has been the squads top kickoff returner, recording a 20.0 average, with Taylor, sophomores Allan Barnes and Matt Lawrence, true freshman Brandon McLean and junior Jason Williams serving as his partner, but he has been pushed to the bench after some fumbles. The Cicero-North Syracuse product used his blazing speed to capture the 2004 National Indoor Track championship in the 60 meters. McLean, another scholastic track star, returned punts at Syracuse and Georgia Tech when Taylor could not play and is averaging 10.8 per return.
THE NUZIE IS GOOD
The roller coaster career of place kicker Matt Nuzie is currently on a positive swing. He was recently named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and second-team All-BIG EAST. Nuzie capped a school-record streak of 10 consecutive made field goals with a 51-yard boot at Georgia Tech on Nov. 13, UConns longest since 1998. Nuzie opened the season hot as he was perfect against Murray State, hitting all seven of his PAT tries and a 22-yard field goal. A week later against Duke, he hit the game-winning field goal with 3:40 to play in UConn's 22-20 win. After a key miss at Boston College he rebounded though. Against Pittsburgh he kicked his way to BIG EAST Player of the Week honors and a game ball. Nuzie hit on all three of his field goal tries and both of his extra point attempts. The highlight of the field goals was the 49-yard boot he hit as time expired in the first half after two "icing" time outs called by Pittsburgh. It was the longest of his career by 11 yards, topping the old mark of 38 set last year at Buffalo. Nuzie is second in the BIG EAST, and 13th in the nation, by averaging 1.45 field goals per game. Nuzie proved inconsistent last fall in a roller-coaster ride of a season as he replaced three-year starter Marc Hickok. Highlights included his 27-yard field goal as time expired to give UConn a 38-37 win over Akron on Oct. 25, earning him a lift on his teammates' shoulders off of the field and a game ball in the locker room. He also ended his season in style with a career high 15 points in UConn's win at Wake Forest, hitting three field goals and all six of his PAT tries. But, the then-freshman was a frustrating 11-for-21 overall on the year in his field goal tries. Nuzie retained his position over Graig Vicidomino in fall drills as promising true freshman Tony Ciaravino sat out while healing from a quadriceps injury.
HUSKIES HAVE FIRST ROOKIE PUNTER SINCE 2000
With the graduation of Adam Coles in May, the Huskies had to look for a new punter for the first time since Coles freshman year of 2000. True freshman Shane Hussar stepped to the forefront during fall camp and entered the season as the starter. Hussar averaged 44 yards net last fall at American Heritage High School near Fort Lauderdale. A versatile athlete, Hussar also played linebacker and fullback while advancing to the regional wrestling semifinals and the regional final in the discus throw. Hussar had his best performance of the year to date against Pittsburgh when he dropped five of his eight punts inside of the 20. Field position proved critical in the game as UConn started drives at its own 39 as opposed to Pittsburgh beginning its marches at its own 22. He earned his first game ball when he killed three