No, you’re not about to read a basketball article. Kevin Ollie won’t be mentioned other than on this line. This is not a drill. It is intentional.
If you’ve forgotten about UConn football since their Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2011, you can probably be forgiven. There’s been a steady stream of down turn since Randy Edsall exited stage left for Maryland (I guess that’s really stage south) and they went 15-33 from 2011 through 2014.
The good news is, that’s over. The better news is, it’s over really, really soon.
Bob Diaco took a year of floggings to the tune of a 2-10 record when he came from Notre Dame in 2014, but within just last year, it was easy to see the culture change.
When things could have spiraled out of control again after sputtering to a 3-5 start with a daunting end to their conference schedule awaiting, the Huskies went on a three-game win streak that nabbed East Carolina, Tulane, and then a season-defining win against top 20 Houston in late November.
They gave up an average of 11 points per game in that stretch. For reference on how good that defense was at times, Houston failed to score under 30 only twice all season and under 20 only once … that game.
Which is what brings us to the crux of the UConn revival project: defense.
The program was 15th in the nation last year in terms of points per game surrendered at 19.5 per. While they got gashed at times in the running game, this is still a unit that’s in the catbird seat for being overlooked this fall simply because the MSM doesn’t pay much attention to UConn football.
They’ll regret it.
They return a loose 15 starters (I say loose because it depends on who and how you define “starters”) and on defense, there are only three senior starters projected. They have a strong junior class anchoring this team, particularly in the front seven behind Junior Joseph (LB), Luke Carrezola (DE) who had six sacks last season, and then Jamar Summers (DB), who was second in the nation in interceptions.
The offensive line wasn’t good last season, and that has to improve. UConn can’t rely on the defense having to jam a square peg into a round hole and hope it fits for wins again as it had to last year, most notably in a 7-3 win over Tulane where the lone score was a Summers pick-6.
Improvement will be a key to a much better record, too, because the joint isn’t devoid of play makers. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and running back Arkeel Newsome (juniors, you guessed it) are genuinely electric players who would be buoyed by the improvement of a line that returns four starters.
The key, though, to major revival is that defense. Summers is a star in the making. Aside from the volume of interceptions, Summers showed a significant amount of clutch. In addition to the jaunt against Tulane that wound up being the only and winning UConn score, it was he who had a late pick in a go-ahead scoring drive against Houston that helped seal the season-defining upset.
Summers, dare I say it, is a guy you’re going to hear a ton about whenever he goes onto the NFL that will have you scrambling to see what the 6’0″ corner did in college.
The schedule is friendly enough, as well. There are no back to back road games, and games against Virginia and Syracuse are at home. There’s a clear opportunity to improve upon last year’s much-exciting 6-7 campaign that ended with a bowl game loss to Marshall, but saw success in even being in a bowl game after a brutal 2-10 2014 campaign.
You probably won’t hear a lot about UConn, some because they’re in the AAC and it gets overlooked, some because the style of ball they play doesn’t lend itself to extreme sex appeal. They mostly aim to run the ball, control the clock, play the field position game, and rely on between the hash marks offense and stingy defense to win.
That’s not the type of football that gets you the main stage at the concert, but those who really like the music genre show up wherever you’re at because they know it’s not mainstream and true to the roots of the music, or in this case, game.
Beware. Basketball isn’t the only thing that’ll be a force to be reckoned with, and soon, in Storrs.