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June 12, 2008
THE SCHEME: In a league where West Virginia's spread offense has been the story over the past few seasons, Connecticut believes in a traditional I-formation approach. The Huskies don't have a lot of flash in their offense because they do not have the personnel to take such risks. Taking care of the football is the name of the game in Storrs.
STAR POWER: Senior quarterback Tyler Lorenzen is the poster child for Connecticut's sure-handed offense. Lorenzen, a left-hander, threw only six interceptions last season and never more than one in a game after transferring in from junior college. He completed 60 percent of his passes in UConn's nine wins but only half in the Huskies' four losses.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman Moe Petrus, who had been a center, leapt ahead of junior Alex LaMagdelaine at one of the guard spots. LaMagdelaine had 18 starts over the past two seasons. Petrus is from Quebec.
IT'S HIS TIME: Squeezed out of the quarterback mix with the arrival of Lorenzen, D.J. Hernandez moved to wide receiver last season and caught 30 passes for 404 yards and two touchdowns. Hernandez – a fifth-year senior – will be counted on more heavily this season.
STRONGEST AREA: Andre Dixon's emergence last season should mean UConn has the best tailback duo in the Big East this season. Dixon and Donald Brown combined for 1,649 yards and 11 touchdowns last season even though they missed a total of three games between them. Redshirt freshmen Robbie Frey and Kelmetrus Wylie also will see time.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Connecticut lacks a vertical passing game and is limited in terms of big-play potential. Lorenzen averaged the second-fewest yards per attempt (6.8) in the conference. The Huskies' best deep threat, Brad Kanuch, caught only 27 passes for one touchdown last season. It didn't help matters that Terrence Jeffers, who was UConn's leading receiver last season with 44 catches, decided to transfer.
OVERVIEW: Connecticut has plenty of experience among its eight returning starters. Led by a senior quarterback and its tailback tandem, Connecticut should remain the sure-handed team it was last season, when it turned the ball over only 15 times. Lorenzen played with ligament damage in his throwing thumb and also suffered a knee injury, contributing to UConn's late-season swoon. Lorenzen must stay healthy and productive for the Huskies to have a chance at making another run at the conference title.
THE SCHEME: Connecticut lines up in a 4-3 with one of the outside linebackers playing the role of the "Husky" linebacker. The Husky – this season, it will be former starting strong safety Dahna Deleston – is a safety/linebacker hybrid. Overall, more speed is available for Edsall with Deleston moving to a linebacker spot and former outside linebacker Scott Lutrus moving into the middle.
STAR POWER: Lutrus surprised many by emerging as a Freshman All-American last season, finishing 107 tackles and four interceptions. He slides over to middle linebacker this season with the departure of leading tackler Danny Lansanah.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The long wait for Jarrell Miller may be over. Miller signed with North Carolina as a four-star linebacker prospect out of high school in 2006, but he didn't qualify and went to prep school. He signed with UConn in 2007, then sat out last season as a redshirt. He now is a defensive tackle, where he is expected to be an oft-used backup.
IT'S HIS TIME: Senior cornerback Darius Butler is one of the stars of a solid defense, and 2008 is shaping up to be a big year. He is out of Tyvon Branch's shadow in the secondary. At the same time, Butler could see time on offense as a wide receiver and as a kick returner. He should be a legit all-league candidate.
STRONGEST AREA: The Huskies boast one of the best front sevens in the Big East. Lutrus was a freshman All-America and fellow linebacker Lawrence Wilson was a freshman all-conference selection. Defensive linemen Julius Williams, Cody Brown and Rob Lunn (a combined 19.5 sacks) return as well.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Beyond Butler and junior free safety Robert Vaughn, the secondary is untested. Sophomore Jasper Howard emerged from spring ball as the starter at the other cornerback spot, while sophomore Kijuan Dabney and redshirt freshman Jonathan Jean-Louis will continue to compete for the job at strong safety through fall camp.
OVERVIEW: The move of Lutrus to the middle and Deleston to "Husky" linebacker (and, to a lesser extent, Miller to defensive tackle) hints at a faster overall defense. Eight starters return on a defense that carried Connecticut to its best season since joining the Big East. Connecticut was 10th nationally in pass-efficiency defense and 14th in scoring defense. UConn also ranked seventh in the country in turnover margin at plus-14. The Huskies will be hard-pressed for a repeat performance, though, without veterans Branch and Lansanah.
Connecticut returns its kicker and punter, but must replace difference-makers on the return teams. Tony Ciaravino made 22 of 27 field-goal attempts, including four of five from 40 yards and beyond. Desi Cullen averaged 40.7 yards per punt. Cornerback Jasper Howard disappointed as a return man during the spring, meaning Connecticut likely will look to Butler or true freshman Jordan Todman for those duties.
Greg Schiano has been rightly lauded as a master program builder after turning Rutgers around, but Edsall deserves mention in that conversation as well. Connecticut is 41-31 in its first six seasons as a Division I-A program and claimed a share of the Big East title last season. Last season's trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl was UConn's second bowl, and postseason appearances look as if they will become the norm. Edsall, a Tom Coughlin disciple, has overseen the building of a new stadium and new facilities during his tenure. More seasons like '07 will mean bigger programs will come calling. His staff has been largely anonymous (and has stayed intact) in recent years. Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Todd Orlando and outside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Lyndon Johnson deserve credit for developing the backbone of recent teams.
Another manageable non-conference schedule could help Connecticut put up another impressive record. Virginia still is on the docket but the Cavaliers likely will take a weaker team than they had last season to Storrs. The Huskies also trade one conference doormat for another – Duke for Baylor. A road trip to North Carolina is the toughest non-conference game. In the Big East, Connecticut gets league favorite West Virginia and Pittsburgh at home but must travel to USF and Rutgers. UConn beat the Bulls and Scarlet Knights by a combined 26 points last season.
Connecticut's success in 2007 was greeted with as much skepticism as any team's in the nation. The Huskies padded their record with a soft non-conference schedule and had some lucky breaks – Larry Taylor's "unfair catch" for a punt-return touchdown in a 21-17 victory over Louisville, for starters. But Connecticut's swoon at the end of the season may be exaggerated, given Lorenzen's injury problems, and the Huskies return 16 starters from a team that finished 9-4. The schedule, both in-conference and out-of-conference, is manageable enough for another bowl, if not Big East title contention.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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