Ed­sall ex­per­i­ment­ing with new play­ers, line­ups late in sea­son

Huskies have not started same 11 on ‘D’ in any 2 games

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Sports - By Alex Put­ter­man aput­ter­man@courant.com

TULSA, OKLA. — As UConn bar­rels to­ward the end of an eighth straight los­ing sea­son and coach Randy Ed­sall ad­mits that wins and losses aren’t the pro­gram’s short-term pri­or­ity, the Huskies’ depth chart is get­ting, well, deeper.

Over the last few weeks, Ed­sall and his staff have granted op­por­tu­ni­ties to a num­ber of play­ers who didn’t play early in the sea­son, in­clud­ing safety Robert King and re­ceivers Cameron Hairston and Gar­ri­son Bur­nett, among oth­ers.

Many re­serves be­gan see­ing more snaps since Ed­sall an­nounced that key mem­bers of the fresh­man class would be shut down as red­shirts, but that’s not the only rea­son the Huskies are us­ing more of their ros­ter late in the sea­son. Ed­sall has said in re­cent weeks that he’s in­ter­ested in check­ing out more play­ers to help him gauge who will be able to help the team in the fu­ture.

With UConn down more than 30 points late in Satur­day’s loss to Tulsa, Ed­sall had an op­por­tu­nity to give quar­ter­back Steven Kra­jew­ski his first col­lege snaps, but he left the fresh­man on the side­lines. Ed­sall did, how­ever, turn to fresh­man run­ning back Dante Black, who picked up 3 yards on his first ca­reer carry.

Thanks to a new NCAA rule, fresh­men can play in up to four games with­out burn­ing their red­shirts, mean­ing UConn coaches can use Kra­jew­ski and Black as much as they want over the fi­nal stretch of the sea­son with­out cost­ing the rook­ies a year of el­i­gi­bil­ity.

From the start, UConn’s sea­son has been one of steady lineup churn. The Huskies have not started the same 11 play­ers on de­fense in any two games this sea­son, a fact that owes in small part to in­juries and in large part to the coaches’ con­tin­ued de­sire to find the op­ti­mal group. In to­tal, 22 dif­fer­ent play­ers have started for UConn on “D,” with not a sin­gle player start­ing ev­ery con­test. (Safety Omar Fortt has started ev­ery game for which he has been healthy, but he missed a week with a con­cus­sion.)

Against Tulsa on Satur­day, the Huskies started three safeties and only two lineback­ers, mir­ror­ing a per­son­nel group­ing they de­buted (to some suc­cess) two weeks ago at South Florida.

Though the Huskies’ of­fen­sive lineup has been more steady than its de­fen­sive one, Ed­sall and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor John Dunn have tin­kered in re­cent weeks with dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of re­ceivers and tight ends. Aaron McLean and Keyion Dixon have emerged as reg­u­lar starters, dis­plac­ing Tyler Davis and Tyraiq Beals.

Entering Satur­day night’s game, 72 play­ers had ap­peared in a game for UConn this sea­son. And given how Ed­sall has man­aged the last few weeks, that num­ber only fig­ures to grow.

Satur­day night lights

Af­ter Satur­day’s 7 p.m. kick­off, UConn has now played at night in four of its five road games this sea­son (with the lone ex­cep­tion be­ing a 3:30 start at Syra­cuse). Ed­sall com­plained about the pat­tern this week, point­ing out that when games start late, play­ers don’t re­turn home un­til early the fol­low­ing morn­ing. … Tulsa hosted its home­com­ing this week­end, mak­ing Satur­day the fourth straight game (three on the road, one at home) the Huskies have played dur­ing some­one’s home­com­ing. … As ex­pected, backup quar­ter­back Marvin Wash­ing­ton did not travel with the Huskies to Tulsa. Ed­sall said Tues­day that Wash­ing­ton had to learn how to be ac­count­able for his ac­tions. … Once again, line­backer San­tana Ster­ling wore No. 22 in honor of team­mate Eli Thomas, who was hos­pi­tal­ized last month af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke.

STEPHEN PINGRY/AP

Tulsa’s Corey Tay­lor scores a touch­down in front of UConn’s Oneil Robin­son on Satur­day in Tulsa, Okla.

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