Hoping for an offensive start
Huskies start new era against Holy Cross
STORRS » The energetic former record-setting high school quarterback from Arkansas, the fiery 62-year-old cancer survivor and the soft-spoken signal caller from Maryland have arrived to do what some might find impossible — add some punch to a perennially listless UConn offensive unit.
The arrival of offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes and quarterback David Pindell has given some downtrodden UConn football fans the sense of hope. Gone are the days of milking every precious second off the play clock and the feeling that any offensive possession without a turnover could be viewed as some sort of victory.
Lashlee’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense will be on display Thursday when the most recent rebooting of the UConn football program begins with the season opener against Holy Cross (7:30 p.m., SNY).
Lashlee is turning to Grimes, his former coaching colleague at Auburn, to fix what has been a porous offensive line unit, and to Pindell, a junior-college transfer with previous experience playing in no-huddle offenses, to get the offense rolling.
The statistics prove the trio has their work cut out.
• The Huskies were the only FBS team not to score a first quarter touchdown during the 2016 season.
• UConn only led for 9:30 in the first quarter and 31:38 in the first half during the 2016 season.
• Wake Forest and UConn are the only teams to rank 100th or lower in total offense in each of the last four seasons.
Up first for UConn is a Holy Cross team which lost its only two players from 2016 with more than 10 tackles for loss, including sack leader Ryan Smith. However, the focus during camp has not been on the visiting Crusaders, but on the arduous task of putting an offensive unit on the field that can sustain drives, display explosive tendencies and yes,
score touchdowns in the first quarter.
“We are all ready to go, we are polishing it up for Thursday,” UConn senior tight end Alec Bloom said. “We’ll be on the field and going fast.”
Pindell is one of three new offensive starters for the Huskies, joining redshirt freshmen Cam DeGeorge at guard and Quayvon Skanes at wide receiver. The other eight starters have combined for either 115 or 124 starts, depending on whether Bloom or Tommy Myers starts at tight end.
The question will soon be answered whether it was coaching or personnel resulting in the offensive struggles.
“We are going to play fast, we are going to try to dictate the tempo the best we can, play to the strengths of what we have,” Lashlee said. “We are going to be exciting to watch and hopefully we can score some points.”
The turning point of the offense might have come about a week and a half ago when the 11 on 11 portion of practice became nothing but a display of how to drop passes. When the drill ended, an irate UConn coach Randy Edsall unleashed an obscenity-filled tongue lashing. All reports are that since that day, the offense has made tremendous strides.
“We knew if we played like that going into Holy Cross, we weren’t going to win, so we used that to bounce back because everybody wants to win going into that first game,” Pindell said. “We know that if we want to win that first game, we have to practice hard, so we have to pick things up.”
After that aforementioned practice, Edsall chatted with Pindell and encouraged him to play with more of a carefree approach. Edsall doesn’t want Pindell to start throwing into double or triple coverage, but he does want him to be more than a game manager and to realize simply trying not to make mistakes does not lend itself to quality quarterback play.
“I think I try too hard to be as perfect as I can be, I know I can’t be perfect because in real life nobody is perfect,” Pindell said.
Pindell’s track record is one of reliable play. In his final season at Oakland Mills in Columbia. Md. Pindell threw 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. He added 21 rushing touchdowns. He had 31 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and eight touchdown runs in his lone season as a starter at Lackawanna College. Now comes the challenge of playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
“Coming from Lackawanna, I thought it was going to be forever being there,” Pindell said. “I can remember my first day there like it was yesterday, just how fast it went by. It’s fun being here, I never thought I’d be at a Division I school. I (thought) about what the moment is actually like and now that the moment is actually here, I’m happy for that opportunity.”
New UConn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is seen here while he was at Auburn at a 2014 news conference before the BCS national championship game.