Maybe you've heard, but things are pretty busy up in Storrs, Ct., right now. That didn't stop Andrew Porter from The UConn Blog from carving out some time from Jim Calhoun retirement posts and Notre Dame abandoning their conferences posts to virtually sit down with us and offer up some special insight on Saturday's upcoming Edsall Bowl. Make sure to pop over there later today to read our take on Maryland's side of the game, but first check out what Andrew has to say on Don Brown's defense, the future under Randy Edsall, UConn's offense, and much more.
The biggest storyline on the sidelines is obviously Randy Edsall, and we'll get to him in a second. But first: it looks like Don Brown's treating you pretty well up there in Storrs. UMass and N.C. State may not be particularly fearsome competition, but #3 in the country in scoring D is still #3 in the country. With Brown in his second year (which is when things really come together, as any Maryland fan could tell you) and nine starters returning from a good unit last season, it looks like UConn's defense could be something special. Just how good are you expecting this side of the ball to be? Do you see a potential Achilles heel here anywhere?
Good. Very good. Like better than it's ever been at UConn and one of the best units in the country good. That's not necessarily news to you fine folks, but it is accurate. I don't care if half of UConn's stats came against UMass, this defense is for real. The linebacking corps is terrifying and after a year where a couple of freshman safeties got thrown to the wolves while their counterparts at corner were held back by injury the secondary has turned into a force. If UConn has a weakspot it's in the center of the D-line, where the Huskies were weak to begin with but have been weaker thanks to a handful of injuries. However, it seems likely DT Shamar Stephens could play this week. He was projected as a starter after the spring but has been injured all fall. That doesn't mean the whole line is weak though, the best player on the defense might be DE Trevardo Williams who runs a 4.4 40 and spent most of UConn's game against NC State attached to Mike Glennon's back.
The good news for Maryland is that UConn's offense looks as impotent as their defense is stout. It's not like the Terrapins have a well-oiled machine, but they still easily outdid three touchdowns in two games - not to mention Chandler Whitmer's five interceptions. Lyle McCombs was expected to have a big year but hasn't impressed early, and while Whitmer appears to have equipped himself alright, he also looks more than a little mistake-prone. How concerned are you about this offense, and how can they fix themselves up?
Incredibly. I know I might have sounded hyperbolic in my praise of UConn's defense, the defense, but as excited as they make me I am equally disheartened by UConn's offense. It's not just because they're bad either, it is how they're bad. UConn's spent a decade with a relatively strong offensive line and a complete dearth of effective skill position players (a handful of running backs excluded). That equation has been completely flipped this year. McCombs has talent -- he showed it last year and has had a couple of flashes of brilliance this year, but he's getting no protection. Likewise, Chandler Whitmer has the best form of any UConn QB in the past decade, but without a credible running threat and facing a lot of pressure he forces his passes and makes exactly the type of turnover-prone mistakes you'd expect a young QB to make (he's a redshirt sophomore and Saturday will be his third FBS start). If the line can come together I think UConn's offense could do just enough to support the stellar defense, but I don't have a lot of hope.
One other thing: UConn runs a wildcat formation that is as ill-advised as it is ineffective. UConn fans hate it with a passion but offense coordinator George DeLeone can't get enough of it. It's manned by backup QB Scott McCummings (or on occasion by WR Michael Smith), and UConn will attempt a pass from the formation once or twice a season. Other than that it's just an excuse for the offense to lose three yards on a QB keeper.
Okay, give it to us straight: did you see this kind of performance coming with Randy? Couldn't you have warned us or something?
I didn't think it would get this bad this fast, but I don't think any UConn fans are surprised. I'll be kind and say that Edsall's personality is unique, and something that can only work with a certain kind of player (discipline-thirsty masochists). Introducing him into another environment -- especially one that had high expectations with another coach's players -- was always going to be tough. You guys probably got the worst possible scenario, but it was definitely possible.
Piggy-backing off that: knowing what you know about him and his time in Storrs, do you see any reason to believe Edsall can turn things around in College Park?
If he can, I think it'll be because he's shown that he can develop talent when he gets his type of player into his system, but I'm not sure that'll be enough at Maryland. Edsall could have gone 8-4 every year at UConn and been coach for life, retiring only as the Huskies agreed to name the stadium after him. That's not going to work at Maryland where you have more of a tradition and a far higher set of expectations.
Back to the game: we know about Whitmer, McCombs, and hugely-productive linebacker Yawin Smallwood. Who are two names we may not know, on both sides of the ball, who'll have a big impact come Saturday?
I mentioned Trevardo Williams above and I'll throw his name out again -- the guy is a terror and you can chalk him up for a sack or two. Sio Moore and Jory Johnson are both senior linebackers who have had fine careers and can make an impact on any play. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a talented corner and second-year captain who can go a long way to shutting down his side of the field. You'll note I didn't mention any offensive players here -- wide receiver Shakim Phillips is athletic but has been quiet for the Huskies so far, if anyone could break it should be slot receiver Nick Williams who is undersized but fast as all hell. Watch out for him on kick returns too.
And last one: who ya got?
I'm taking UConn because I think the defense is just that good. I'll say the offense lucks its way into a touchdown and either the defense or special teams adds one for a 14-10 win.