In preparation for Saturday's game against UConn, I spoke with Andrew Porter of The UConn Blog about the matchup. Below, we talk a bit about the transition to Paul Pasqualoni, UConn's defense, and their use of the Wildcat formation. My answers to The UConn Blog's questions will be up over there today.
1.) How is the transition to the Paul Pasqualoni regime going so far?
About as well as could be expected. A lot of fans were disappointed with the hire when it happened because Pasqualoni is far from a thrilling choice to lead the Huskies, but 18-months into his tenure I've warmed up to it. He's not a terribly exciting coach, but you never get the sense UConn is headed backwards, which is important for a team that has only a little over a decade of FBS experience. Last year the Huskies were 5-7 thanks a combination of youth, injuries and the adjustment to a new system, and that was okay. Expectations are certainly higher this year, but things are looking good so far.
2.) UConn will run some Wildcat, but how much of that should we expect, and how much should we be concerned about it?
You should expect to see a good amount of it, which is way more than any UConn fan wants to see. If you're looking for a fun drinking game venture over to our OpenThread during the game and take a drink everytime a UConn fan complains about the wildcat -- you'll be dead by halftime. UConn's wildcat is a package designed for running quarterback Scott McCummings, who is a running quarterback in the sense that he runs on every single play that he's in as quarterback (seriously, he'll attempt at most three or four passes on the season).
In past years a package like this might not have been objectionable, but this year it appears UConn has an actual quarterback in JUCO-transfer Chandler Whitmer, and benching him for McCummings every couple of plays is horribly disruptive. Whitmer completed nine passes of 10 or more yards in the first game and he was replaced by McCummings on the subsequent play seven times, which is infuriating. That doesn't mean it isn't effective -- McCummings' option runs can often go for a decent chunk of yardage, but it gets the Huskies out of sync and allows the defense to reset knowing they'll almost certainly face a run. One wrinkle worth noting: UConn did unveil a trick play where Whitmer lines up as a WR and winds up throwing deep off a reverse, so if you see both quarterbacks on the field prepare for some silliness.
3.) The Huskies' defensive performance against UMass was very impressive, but UConn wasn't particularly noteworthy on that side of the ball in 2011...was the performance against the Minutemen a sign of things to come or more indicative of the level of competition?
A sign of things to come. UConn's defensive numbers weren't great last year, but that was a product of A) installing coordinator Don Brown's aggressive new schemes and B) a secondary that was plagued by youth and injuries. That meant they while they would look good much of the time, they were prone to giving up big plays. That should be much less of a problem this year as Blidi Wreh-Wilson (a two-year captain and the team's best corner) has gotten healthy and the two oft-burnt freshman playing safety last year seem to be much improved sophomores. I don't expect that UConn will shut out the Wolfpack or hold them to just 57 yards (as they did UMass), but they'll provide a challenge.
If UConn has a defensive weakness it's on the interior of the defensive line, so missing those two certainly doesn't help. Stephen was expected to start but missed most of fall camp with an injury, so the Huskies are used to his absence. Jennings wasn't a starter, but losing him really limits the available bodies UConn has to throw out there. The lack of depth might be an issue as the game goes on and the line wears down.
5.) How has the quarterback situation sorted out? Who are the playmakers on that side of the ball we need to be concerned about?
Outside of the aforementioned McCummings situation UConn's quarterback situation seems to have finally sorted itself out. And that's a big finally as UConn hasn't had a good, or even average quarterback since 2004. Whitmer has only played one game at the FBS level, and it was against UMass, but unlike literally every UConn quarterback of the past seven years, he looked comfortable in the pocket, had a natural throwing motion and was able to hit his receivers in stride. We're excited. Who he's throwing to is a bit more of a mystery -- sophomore Geremy Davis emerged as his favorite target in Week 1, though athletic transfer Shakim Phillips could be (something) of a deep threat. The real danger might be running back Lyle McCombs. He's small (5'8", 166 lbs) but came out of nowhere to post 1150 yards as a freshman last year. He's fast, athletic and is adept at breaking tackles considering his size. The only question with him is the offensive line which struggled last week. If they can open some holes he can do some real damage.