Hop­ing for an of­fen­sive start

Huskies start new era against Holy Cross

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - By Jim Fuller jfuller@nhreg­is­ter.com @NHRJimFuller on Twit­ter

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.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

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.

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