As the Rant Sports 100 in 100 countdown rolls on, we move our way into the Big East to check in on the UConn Huskies. Paul Pasqualoni has led the Huskies to back-to-back disappointing seasons and could be in trouble if he doesn’t turn it around in 2013. What are his chances?
Last season, UConn finished just 5-7, but posted an impressive win over the Big East champs, the Louisville Cardinals, and boasted the best defense in the conference. Their inability to score points, however, doomed them to the lower levels of the Big East and kept them out of a bowl game yet again. Will Pasqualoni be able to fix UConn’s glaring weaknesses in time for next season?
UConn relied heavily on the passing game in 2012, though with mixed results. Chandler Whitmer gave it his all during his sophomore season, but struggled for long stretches. He completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 2,664 yards with nine touchdowns but 16 interceptions. He will have to improve his accuracy and decision making in 2013 if UConn has any hope of improvement.
He could also be helped out by an improved running game. Last season, the Huskies had one of the worst rushing attacks in college football, averaging just 87.9 yards per game. Lyle McCombs returns for his junior season after rushing for 860 yards and six touchdowns. He will need some help with a second option emerging in the running game after no other UConn rusher gained more than 140 yards or had more than 40 carries.
Both will be helped by an improvement in the offensive line play. All five starters return from 2012, though the unit was a massive disappointment last season. The Huskies are counting on a year of experience to gel the unit and make them a more cohesive group that can handle defensive lines in the Big East next season.
UConn loses four players off their top-rated defense from 2012 to the NFL Draft, making the chances of a repeat performance highly unlikely. That puts added pressure on Yawin Smallwood to step up and lead the Huskies’ defense next season. Smallwood led the team last year as a sophomore with 120 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss, and he will need to do even more next fall.
He’ll get some support from senior defensive lineman Tim Willman, who will have to build on his three sacks from 2012, and the secondary duo of juniors Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown, each of whom had an interception last season. The rest of the defense will be filled with untested options and playmakers must emerge early if the Huskies have any hope of coming close to their defensive production from last season.
UConn has a difficult non-conference schedule to start the season, though they have the benefit of getting to stay home for their first three contests. Early home games against the Maryland Terrapins and Michigan Wolverines will test just how good UConn will be in the early going and give a barometer for how tough they will be down the stretch in conference play.
A three-game stretch during their conference slate could decide just where they land in the new American Athletic Conference. Back-to-back road games against the Cincinnati Bearcats and Central Florida Knights followed by a home contest against the league favorite Louisville Cardinals will give UConn a pretty accurate depiction of where they’ll land in the conference standings.
At the end of the day, there is too much for UConn to replace on defense and not enough coming in to fix their issues on offense to overcome it for the Huskies to legitimately challenge in the AAC. Will another missed bowl season prompt major change at Connecticut next offseason?