Sophomores to play key roles for Connecticut

Connecticut hasn’t had back-to-back losing seasons since

2006.

Second-year coach Paul Pasqualoni and a couple of other

sophomores want to keep it that way.

After finishing a disappointing 5-7 in 2011, a year after

playing in the Fiesta Bowl, Pasqualoni is making a switch at

quarterback.

Sophomore Chandler Whitmer, a junior-college transfer from

Georgia, beat out last year’s starter, senior Johnny McEntee, and

three other quarterbacks for the job. It’s on him now to help these

inexperienced Huskies.

And the other sophomore being charged with that task is tailback

Lyle McCombs, who carried the ball more than 275 times for more

than 1,100 yards as a freshman.

”I think we have to be very careful of a sophomore slump,”

Pasqualoni said. ”He was so unknown last year and ran the ball so

well and became a very dependable guy for us.”

The Huskies could use a few of those. And Pasqualoni is still

trying to find them.

Quarterback Scott McCummings still will be used when the Huskies

run an option-style ”wildcat” package, but Whitmer’s the guy.

Originally recruited by Illinois, he threw for more than 3,000

yards at Butler Community College in Kansas last year, and

Pasqualoni hopes he will help balance an offense that averaged

fewer than 195 yards through the air in 2011.

”That’s the plan,” Whitmer said. ”That’s how football games

are won, with balance. That’s our main plan is to protect the ball,

have long drives and put the ball in the end zone.”

Freshman Joe Williams has shown a lot of speed, while freshman

Max DeLorenzo and junior Martin Hyppolite are more power backs who

will try to all back up McCombs. And Whitmer has a couple of newer

weapons at receiver to help the cause: fellow transfer Shakim

Phillips from Boston College, and senior Mike Smith, who missed

last season with academic issues. Another senior, speedster Nick

Williams, will play in the slot.

”We’ve got speed, we’ve got size, strength, power,” Whitmer

said. ”We’ve got a lot.”

On defense, too. Eight starters return on that unit, in fact,

including all three linebackers and shut-down cornerback Blidi

Wreh-Wilson, who missed much of 2011 with a knee injury.

Linebacker Sio Moore said Wreh-Wilson and senior corner Dwayne

Gratz will often be asked to shut down the other teams’ top

receivers.

”What that does is free up the front seven or eight guys to

just create chaos,” he said. ”That’s what we plan to do.”

The Huskies’ biggest concern may be the middle of the defensive

line, where standout tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Marin both

graduated, and projected starter Shamar Stephen has missed much of

camp after spraining his right knee.

UConn brought in Andreas Knappe, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-9,

300-pound prospect from Denmark to add depth. But he’s not expected

to play much as a freshman.

The Huskies also must replace place kicker Dave Teggart, who

holds the school record for points, field goals and extra points.

Junior Chad Christen and freshman Bobby Puyol have been

competing.

Pasqualoni acknowledges the Huskies struggled at times during

his first season with complicated NFL-style offenses and defenses.

But the 63-year-old year coach said there is less of a learning

curve this season.

”The kids are much further along in the sense of knowing the

system and the terminology, the flow of the words as you call

offensive plays and defenses,” Pasqualoni said. ”The kids are

very, very aware of what’s expected.”

And that has led to some big expectations … at least,

internally.

”A realistic goal is to win the Big East,” Wreh-Wilson said.

”Hey, we’ve done it before, and not that long ago.”

UConn opens the season at home on Aug. 30 against UMass. It

follows that up with key non-conference games with North Carolina

State and at Maryland, the team’s first meeting with former coach

Randy Edsall.