UConn and Coast Guard football teams open their seasons tonight
UConn football program will put all its changes to the test
In many ways, UConn is a vastly different football team than last season.
There's a new coaching staff, led by head coach Randy Edsall. New uptempo offense. New defensive alignment. New players in some key positions, including quarterback.
And there's also a new attitude and a renewed commitment.
Now it's time to find out to see if those changes will translate to success this season.
The answer will begin to reveal itself starting with today's season opener against Holy Cross. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Edsall is eager to learn more about his team. “It will be interesting to see how these guys play, how they react because you just don't know,” Edsall said. “But I'm excited about watching them go out and perform. … For me and for the staff, we don't know how any of them react because we haven't been around them in real game situations.
“… We'll learn about who are those guys that can go out and handle the pressure and think their way through all the different things that go on during the game and who are those guys that can make adjustments? Who are those guys that don't panic? Who are those guys that rise up to
meet the challenges and to meet some of the situations that we're going to be confronted with?
“And who are those guys that are going to play with the pride, the passion and the energy and the physicalness that you want them to play with?”
Optimism is certainly high inside the UConn locker room. The Huskies are determined to become a winning program again and win back fans. They've suffered through six straight losing seasons, including 3-9 in 2016.
“It starts on Thursday,” senior Luke Carrezola said. “With Coach Edsall coming back, I think the whole state in general is just real excited to see us play, so we really want to come out and make a name for ourselves.
“… Right now, there's just excitement everywhere. You walk around the locker room and it's just a different vibe.”
It may be a challenging climb back to respectability. Only one team, Tulane, received fewer votes in the American Athletic Conference preseason football media poll than UConn, which was selected to finish last in the East Division.
Any turnaround has to start on offense.
The Huskies were dreadful last season, ranking last in the country in scoring at 14.8 points per game. They managed just 16 points in the last four games. They didn't score a touchdown in the first quarter all season.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has introduced an uptempo attack and versatile quarterback David Pindell, a junior college transfer, is now at the helm. Pindell, who threw for 2,424 yards and 31 touchdowns last season at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa., is growing more comfortable each week but he's yet to take a game snap.
“I'm excited about the opportunity,” Pindell said. “I feel as though if everybody just goes out there and does their job there shouldn't be any major surprises or anything.”
Pindell has a promising but somewhat unproven group of receivers at his disposal. Tight ends, basically ignored last season, are expected to play a bigger role.
Edsall is a firm believer in establishing a reliable ground game in order to succeed. Senior Arkeel Newsome, the leading returning rusher last season at 59.6 yards per game, will be counted on to pump some life into a running attack that averaged 117.3 yards last season.
Whether the Huskies can consistently find the zone may depend on the offensive line, which struggled last season. Experience is there, as four first team players started at least three games last season. Redshirt freshman guard Cam
DeGeorge is the only newcomer.
“It's a unit that hasn't had a lot of success,” Edsall said of the offense. “But that's in the past, we don't worry about that. … I can see this unit having success as we start and we continue to work and continue to build. There's guys that have pride. Guys understand the roles and understand what we're going to do. Now it's up to them to go out and play and execute.”
The Huskies will unveil an aggressive 3-3-5 defense under the guidance of defensive coordinator Billy Crocker, a Waterford native.
“He brings a ton of energy,” Carrezola said of Crocker. “It's awesome to be around. As a whole, it's more of an attacking defense so it's going to be more explosive than before.”
Defense could be the backbone of the team with veterans like Carrezola, linebackers Junior Joseph and Cam Stapleton, defensive linemen Folorunso Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby and defensive back Jamar Summers leading the charge. Top returning tackler Vontae Diggs, a linebacker, could return from a knee injury by mid-September. Depth is a concern, though. The biggest mystery is special teams. Placekicker Michael Tarbutt, a redshirt sophomore, sat out last season and missed his only career field goal attempt as a freshman. Edsall has yet to name a starting punter, trying to pick between freshman Luke Magliozzi and redshirt freshman Brett Graham, two players making their debuts this season. Return specialists Jordan Swann, a freshman, and redshirt freshman Quayvon Skanes also are untested.
Edsall is happy with the progress his team made in all areas during preseason.
“They've picked up all the things that we installed really well,” Edsall said. “It's a together group that really wants to win and wants to do the things necessary in order to win.”
UConn head football coach Randy Edsall watches practice this spring at the Shenkman Training Center in Storrs.