ONE MONTH UNTIL KICKOFF FOR THE HUSKIES !!!!!!
We are exactly one month away from the opening of the UConn Football Season in 2021. And as practice begins Friday with Media Day tomorrow (Thursday), there are way more questions than answers as the season approaches.
This we know, the cancellation of the 2020 season wasn’t the worst thing to happen to UConn Football. I actually think it was the best thing for the program. The student athletes, with the help of Matt King and his strength and conditioning staff, definitely got bigger, stronger and faster in the weight room. If you haven’t seen the photos on social media from the program or Coach Randy Edsall, you’ll be impressed. How the results in the weight room impact the on field product remains a large question mark.
If there is a positive from not playing in 2020, and let’s be honest, it would have been a piece meal schedule where Covid certainly would have played a role on the season, is that everyone got the chance to redshirt. More practice, weight room and conditioning and most importantly, saving some wear and tear from the athletes. This will all pay major dividends in my opinion come August 28th at Fresno State.
I see a lot of comparisons with the 2002 team to this squad. It’s a big year for Football in Storrs, and Randy Edsall and the staff can’t make excuses anymore. A deeper team, more talent and the appearance that the team and it’s on field leaders have bought in to what the staff is selling. Accountability for each other as teammates. That’s a major factor to what this team may do on the field this season. That 2002 Team had a lot of confidence going into the season, made a statement that a turnaround was evident by giving Boston College a dog fight in the opener. Yes, it took frustrating losses over the first two thirds of the season before that team turned a corner, won four straight to finish 6-6 and spring boarded the Huskies into Rentschler Field. It took young leaders like Dan Orlovsky and Alfred Fincher to get the ball rolling. One of the questions is, who are those leaders in 2021 ??
The Three asked to pilot the mission are long snapper extraordinaire Brian Keating of Darien, New Haven’s own Travis Jones and Offensive Lineman Ryan Vandemark. Keats and Vandemark have seen the bad and the ugly of the program, they are, along with the rest of the Huskies, determined to turn things around in 2021. Let’s take a peek at what lies ahead.
The first thing that sticks out is depth. 5 qb’s, 6 rb’s, 18 o-linemen, 15 receivers and 6 tight ends on offense. 19 db’s, 12 lb’s and 14 d-lineman. Given the redshirt year where the Huskies partook in the majority of practice, the thinking is competition was and will be fierce over the next three weeks for starting roles.
The first big question is who will the starting QB be on August 28th ? Jack Zergiotis took the majority of the snaps in 2019 as a true freshman. 1,782y, 9TD and 11 int. Throw in the 33 times qb’s were sacked and the recipe for success was minimal. But Jack, along with Steven Krajewski and the NC State Transfer, Micah Leon seem to be in the mix. Is the Stratford Native from Avon Old Farms, Tyler Phommachana a dark horse in this battle ?? We’ll ask the head coach tomorrow. With a group of talented wideouts to throw the ball to, led by Cam Ross and Matt Drayton, the Huskies need not only a dangerous double threat behind center, but a good decision maker as well.
The running back position is no doubt lead by Kevin Mensah. Back to back 1,000yd seasons for the Worcester native who with a monster year, could pass Donald Brown for the All Time School Rushing record. Kev’s been extremely durable in his time at UConn, I’d expect nothing less of him in 2021. I’m hearing Nate Carter, the freshman from Rochester, NY has made some waves over the last calendar year. Plus, the grad transfer from Miami, Robert Burns could mean some great things in the run game.
As long as the most important piece to the puzzle gets better, that’s the Offensive Line. Yes, Mensah has back to back 1,00 yard seasons, but as mentioned in the QB section, 33 sacks against isn’t a good number at all. Rayn Vandemark and Jonathan Pace are the only two with multi years of experience up front in a UConn uniform. Dylan Niedrowski started the last few games in 2019 and Christian Haynes saw time as well. Who will play center ? Perhaps Juco Transfer Sydney Walker or Valentin Senn, the transfer from Colorado will make the starting group. Of the 18 lineman, nine are freshman or redshirt freshman. And keep an eye on Chase Lundt as well. Some big boys up front that Offensive Coordinator and offensive Line Coach Frank Guifre will have to mold together to be a cohesive unit.
We mentioned Cam Ross and Matt Drayton, they are just the tip of the iceberg of a deep core of wide outs. Heron Maurisseau, Cam Hairston and Elijah Jefferys join the other two returnees with experience. The others ? Young..get used to that term. Josh Tracey was Tyler Phommachana’s main threat at AOF, joins the Huskies as does a young man from Westport with some UConn DNA in his blood, Mark Didio, Jr. His dad, Mark, Sr. , still holds many pass catching records at UConn.
Jay Rose leads the Tight Ends, the Southington native has seen it all in Storrs. And he along with Jayce Medlock, will lead a youthful group of Huskies in that position. Medlock was thrown into the fire as a freshman, has gained 7 pounds, but I’m wondering what the physique is like ??
The DEFENSE got abused in 2019, allowing 41 points and nearly 470 yards per game. Lou Spanos’ group certainly needs to see those numbers decrease in a big way in 2021. We know Travis Jones has transformed himself into a beast of a player up front. Can Travis and Lwal Ugwak clog up the middle while Eric Watts and East Hartford’s Kevon Jones get the pressure on the QB from the ends ?? 19 sacks in 2019, but the other numbers tell the main story. Again, there is plenty of youth. Perhaps someone emerges from that group to air in the trenches.
A lot of familiar names back at LB, led by Grad Student DJ Morgan, who battled stingers in 2019. Jackson Mitchell emerged as a potential force in the middle. Now, can Omarr Fortt, Terrance Ganyi and Ian Swenson do enough to solidify the middle ??
The Huskies allowed 243y per game passing in 2019, partly due to lack of pressure up front, but the DB’s took a hit as well with only 7 int’s. And their best DB, Tyler Coyle was among the transfers out. Among the familiar names back, JUCO transfer Diamond Farrell, Myles Bell, Jeremy Lucien and Kyle Williams. But 19 DB’s in total should mean some great competition for spots in camp…
Special Teams is anchored by Mr Reliable, Brian Keating as the senior Long Snapper. He’s perfected his craft and wouldn’t be shocked if an NFL team gives him a crack next fall. The Kicking game will see new faces, Freshmen Blake Otto and Aussie Hayden Kerr will battle in the punting game, while the place kicking duties may belong to highly touted freshman Joe McFadden from Texas. Who got offers from bigger schools closer to home, but chose to kick in Storrs. Noah Iden is the lone returnee with any kicking experience on the roster. Who replaces Art Tompkins as the kick returner ?? Probably one of those freshman speed demons at wideout..
The Coaching Staff has seen a great transformation in the student athletes. And we’ll get a peak Tomorrow at Media Day. We’ll reintroduce you to the names you know and let you get the know the newbies as we countdown to August 28th. Way more questions than answers at this point, but I’d say this right now, 6-6 is attainable. Let’s see what the season brings !!