Friday, October 24, 2014

UConn career is over for CB Byron Jones

UConn coach Bob Diaco said on a Friday afternoon teleconference that senior cornerback Byron Jones will miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury he suffered in last night's 31-21 loss to East Carolina.

Surgery will be scheduled at a later date and Diaco said Jones will come back "better than new."

"It wasn't some kind of catastrophic thing there but it does need to be addressed," Diaco said. "Once it is addressed he will be better than new."

"He is very highly thought off (by NFL teams). There are (NFL) executives in our building and they think very highly of him. This will actually help from a time frame standpoint. That is not why the decision is being made. The decision is being made because it needs to be made but this will help him."

Jones made his 38th career start against East Carolina, the most of any active UConn player and his 43 games played is tied with Geremy Davis and Reuben Frank for the most of the team. His 223 tackles and eight interceptions are also tops among the current UConn players.

With Jones out of the picture, UConn is extremely young at the cornerback position. Jhavon Williams got some time last year and has started at the other cornerback position all season but at this point last year John Green was a reserve receiver with the Huskies and Jamar Summers was at Milford Academy.

"They are totally not ready," Diaco said. "They are completely not ready and they are going to play like freshmen like they did last night. We are going to play more freshmen and they will play like freshmen."

Among those freshmen suddenly in the mix is former Suffield Academy star Brice McAllister, who hasn't played in a game all season.

"He is going to get ready to play," Diaco said. "That is a good thing. all these guys playing in games is going to be positive plusses in the ledge book for '15 (season)."

Senior receiver Geremy Davis was also knocked out of last night's game with an ankle injury. Diaco said Davis has a mild ankle sprain and is day to day. Freshman running back Arkeel Newsome missed practice due to a lower leg issue and only played in one second-half series but Diaco said he is 100 percent. While freshman linebacker Junior Joseph did not make the trip as Diaco said there was some academic work he had to take care of.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UConn's kids grew up tonight

The first two road games of the season not only ended with losses but also with performances that made it hard for the UConn fan base to get fired up.

The Huskies once again will return from a road game with a loss but a 31-21 defeat at the hands of No. 18 ranked East Carolina should at least give the Husky faithful some stuff to feel good about for the first time since the Boise State contest.

East Carolina, favored by four touchdowns, did not take the lead until 6:15 remained in the game and the Huskies did it without its star players (receiver Geremy Davis and cornerback Byron Jones) for much of the game. Davis suffered a foot injury while Davis had to leave the field twice for what appeared to be an arm or shoulder issue and did not return after the second trip to the sidelines. Also, freshman tailback Arkeel Newsome was limited to one series and I didn't notice freshman linebacker Junior Joseph out there either.

Although senior Deshon Foxx led the team with 120 receiving yards on four catches, much of the production came from the younger receivers. Foxx had an 88-yard touchdown catch, the longest reception for a UConn player since Dan Orlovsky hit Jason Williams for a 90-yard score against Temple and longest offensive play since a Terry Caulley 98-yard run in 2006. It was seventh longest offensive play in UConn history. However, much of the heavy lifting in the passing game was done by the younger players as 14 of the 20 receptions were made by players who were part of the last two recruiting classes. It was encouraging to see Thomas Lucas haul in passes of 37 and 43 yards, Noel Thomas finish with 57 yards on three catches including his first career touchdown and even Brian Lemelle, a bit of a forgotten man this season, had a 10-yard reception. Dhameer Bradley chipped in with four catches but easily could have had a couple more.

On the other side of the ball, it was clearly a baptism under fire for sophomore Jhavon Williams and freshman Jamar Summers. Both got whistled for multiple penalties but also rose up to make some key plays after East Carolina put up 14 points with relative ease. John Green also got plenty of time especially after Jones was knocked out of the game. When you think about it, of the three cornerbacks UConn finished the game with one of them (Green) was a receiver at this point last season and another one (Summers) was at Milford Academy.

Finally, the offensive and defensive lines impressed me. Sure, the running game struggled but East Carolina is one of the toughest teams in the country to run against. Chandler Whitmer had time to throw the ball and there didn't seem to be any noticeable breakdown in blocking assignments. UConn didn't get to ECU quarterback Shane Carden often but the defensive line held up well against a very good Pirates' offensive line.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UConn defense coming on strong

The Bob Diaco era did not start in a positive manner as the architect before some outstanding Notre Dame defenses watched the Huskies give up more than 500 yards in a season opening loss to Brigham Young.

The Cougars ripped through the UConn defense for 20 plays of at least 10 yards including five of more than 20 yards. However, since that game UConn's defensive numbers rank up there with just about any other team heading into tomorrow's showdown with a powerful East Carolina offense.

Over the last five games UConn ranks sixth among FBS programs have surrendered an average of 287.4 yards per game. If you look at the last four games, the numbers are even better as the Huskies are one of four teams to allow less than 285 yards of offense per game and one of three to do it exclusively against fellow FBS opponents.

Diaco has sold his players on the bend but don't break philosophy that has worked for him so well at previous stops. It may mean fewer sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers but that is a trade off Diaco can live with.

"We are not a feast or famine outfit," Diaco said. "If you watch college football yesterday, you can watch a lot of outfits that operate that way and what you see is you might see some entertaining sacks and TFLs, maybe a pick or ball destruction here or there but you also see a lot of points. Our objective, we want to keep the points down so nothing is going to compromise that so that is what we are trying to do. That is what our defense's objective is to do. As we take the next step, there were 15 plays that who unit needed to watch just from practice the day before that need to get corrected. We have a long way to go so whatever think we are, we are going to be way better."

It should be noted that during that same span East Carolina has gained the second most yards, ranking 62 yards behind Marshall through the last five games and 103 behind Ohio State over the last four games.

Here's the list

OFFENSEMarshall         2868
East Carolina 2806
Ohio State      2783
Washington St. 2778
West Virginia  2770
Baylor             2759
TCU               2671

DEFENSELouisville          1145
Alabama            1297
Michigan State  1314
Wisconsin         1351
Stanford            1378
UConn             1437
UCF                 1446
Penn State        1454
Mississippi       1468
Clemson          1476

Ohio State      2456
East Carolina  2353
TCU               2244
West. Kentucky  2174
Marshall        2163
Mississippi St. 2114
Arizona           2101
Baylor            2090
West Virginia 2076

DEFENSELouisville         940
Alabama        1034
UCF               1124
UConn           1137
Mississippi    1146
Clemson        1159
Stanford        1171
Penn State     1177
Michigan State 1179
Boston College 1184
Wisconsin     1189

Former UConn LB Dorsey on '15 College Hall of Fame ballot

Former UConn linebacker John Dorsey, currently the general manager of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, is on the ballot for the 2015 College Football Hall of Fame.

Dorsey, who played at UConn from 1980-83, is UConn's all-time leader with 495 tackles.

Dorsey's 184 tackles as a senior is not only a UConn single-season record but he has three of the top five marks for tackles in a season and he had four of the 12 20-tackle game in program history.

Former Stratford High star Curtis Eller, who like Dorsey is a former two-time Yankee Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is also on the ballot thanks to his four-year run at Villanova. Yale's Dick Jauron and John Zanieski as well as former Southern Connecticut State director of athletics Darryl Rogers are also on the ballot.

Dorsey, Eller, Zanieski, Jauron and Rogers have been on the ballot before and time will tell if they get the chance to add College Football Hall of Famers to their already impressive resumes.

UConn's numbers away from home downright frightening

I know it is a small sample since UConn has only played on the road in two of the first six games of the season but there have been some absolutely dreadful offensive numbers put up by the Huskies in road games.

There are 128 teams playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level this season and UConn is tied for 127th with Wake Forest with an average of 9.5 first downs per game, is 127th (only ahead of Eastern Michigan) in scoring offense with an average of 8.5 points per game which includes a defensive touchdown. The Huskies are also 122nd in tackles for loss allowed and passing offense.

Wait, there is more.

UConn is the only FBS team yet to have a red-zone conversion in road or neutral site games. What's worse is that the Huskies have made it into the red zone on one of 21 offensive drives in the losses to South Florida and Tulane. UConn is dead last, counting all games, in red zone offense scoring points seven times in 14 trips to the red zone. The Huskies are also at the bottom with the 21 percent ratio of scoring touchdowns during trips to the red zone. The site I use for my research only goes back to 2008 and no FBS team during that time failed to hit the 30 percent mark in touchdown/red zone trips ratio. The scary part is that other than Temple, East Carolina is ranked higher in total defense than any of the teams the Huskies have faced this season.

Thankfully the NCAA doesn't chart the number of drives under 10 yards but on the road 14 of the 21 offensive possessions would fall into that category.

"Most of the mistakes we have made are mental mistakes," UConn senior offensive guard Gus Cruz said. "We have a lot of young guys in there and everybody has made mistakes. We have let a couple of 'backers free and allowed them to make tackles for TFLs (tackles for loss). We have to eliminate those. We have to buckle down with the technique and be physical with them and we are going to be able to accomplish the things we sent forth."

Not wanting to be only the bearer of bad news, I can report that in road/neutral site games UConn is ranked second in pass defense, fifth in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. There's some other impressive defensive numbers that I was able to research and I will be sharing those later on today.

The site for the Newark Star-Ledger has an online poll to see who is the best receiver/tight end in New Jersey.

UConn commits Tyraiq Beals and Ian Campbell are among the choices. Beals is currently No. 2 on the list receiving 300 of the 2,519 votes while Campbell has received nine votes. The poll is open until Monday.

For people into such things, the betting line for tomorrow's game continues to grow. It is up the Pirates being favored by 28 points.

The site lists lines for 48 FBS games and the UConn/ECU contest matches Marshall being favored by 28 against Florida Atlantic as the most lopsided line this week.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UConn teammates excited about Arkeel Newsome's future

Arkeel Newsome's first game as UConn's starting tailback did not go the way the record-breaking former Ansonia High star would have liked.

Newsome lost two fumbles, both in Tulane territory as the Huskies failed to score a touchdown in a 12-3 loss.

While Newsome has yet to made available to the media this season, senior offensive linemen Alex Mateas and Gus Cruz had plenty to say about the talented freshman.

"He's a great guy to block for along with all the other running backs," Mateas said, "Arkeel has been doing really well. I completely forgot about those little parts in the game against Tulane. I love him and he has a bright future. He kind of keeps to himself but he doesn't have to say very much because he talks with his performance but I love him, he is a great kid."

Here's the take from Cruz on Newsome.

"He is a young guy and he running hard," Cruz said. "All of that is encouraging. I don't really care too much about the fumbles. I appreciate the guys running hard. One of them he was really running hard, put a hand down and next time he will probably keep both hands on (the ball). The other time it wasn't really his fault, he was down (emotionally) because he was young but I think that was a good learning experience for him early. Moving forward I don't think he is going to have those problems as far as turning the ball over. He is going to be more game savvy as far as how to run with the ball and that all comes with experience. I am encouraged to watch him run and it is exciting at the same time."

I spoke to Cruz about how his season has been progressing and whether the offseason conditioning work he had to miss because of his cardiac and blood clot issues has left him struggling to regain the form he showed as a sophomore and junior. That was a focus of a story on the Register's site.  

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UConn continues to hit pay dirt with Canadian prospects

The coaches and coaching staffs have changed over the years but whether it was Randy Edsall, Paul Pasqualoni or Bob Diaco calling the shots, UConn has continued to secure commitments from north of the border.

The commitment of Trinity Pawling receiver Hergy Mayala, a Montreal native, gives UConn three Canadian natives among its 18 current Class of 2015 commitments. He joins Canisius (N.Y.) High kicker Michael Tarbutt from Grimsby, Ontario and St. Paul's (N.H.) defensive end Philippe Okounam, who is also from Montreal.

UConn coaches can't comment on committed recruits until they sign national letters of intent but I did ask UConn senior center and Ottawa native Alex Mateas if there was something special that the Huskies do to entice Canadian prospects to come to school in Storrs.

"They just create a real good environment for any sort of incoming freshman Canadian or from down here," Mateas said. "Coaches really welcome them in and it is just a great place to learn."

Assuming all three recruits arrive on campus in August, UConn could have its largest contingent of Canadian players since 2003 even with Mateas' graduation since offensive lineman Trey Rutherford out of Markham, Ontario, would join the three incoming freshmen.

For those wondering, there were five Canadians on the 2003 squad - receivers Dan Desriveaux and O'Neil Wilson as well as defensive ends Shawn Mayne, Jason Ward and Hakeem Kashama. As far as I can tell, the 1999 season is the last time UConn didn't have at least one player from Canada on its roster.

Going back to 2003, UConn has had 11 players from Canada on the team and each year had multiple Canadian players on the roster. Every one of the Canadian players have been taken in the CFL draft and I would imagine the streak will continue with Mateas being selected as well.

John Delahunt and Martin Bedard are still in the CFL while Jesse Joseph's rights are owned by Montreal but he opted to give the NFL a shot this year so we'll see if he makes it onto a CFL roster next year. The other player is former UConn center Moe Petrus, who also worked his way into an NFL training camp.

UConn in the NFL: Week 7

It was a pretty quiet week for UConn alums in the NFL especially with injuries keeping Darius Butler, Marcus Easley and Donald Brown on the sidelines again.

Anthony Sherman made the biggest splash with an 11-yard touchdown reception in the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-20 win over San Diego. It was his second career regular-season for Sherman who had a 12-yard TD catch in a win over Cleveland last season. Also, Jordan Todman had a 26-yard reception which is his third play of at least 25 yards in his three NFL seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Cleveland Brown 24-6 for their first win of the season.

Here's the breakdown

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 31-21 loss to Dallas
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Was not active (concussion)
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis:Was not active (ankle)
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Was not active (knee)
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had two tackles in 24-6 win over Cleveland
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have a catch in 30-23 loss to Pittsburgh
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Bye week
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Did not have a tackle in 29-7 loss to Baltimore
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had five tackles including tackle for a loss in 24-13 loss to Arizona
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had two tackles in 23-20 loss to Kansas City
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had two catches for 12 yards including an 11-yard touchdown and had a tackle in 23-20 win over San Diego
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had one tackle in 17-16 loss to Buffalo
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had a 26-yard catch in 24-6 win over Cleveland
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Had seven tackles in 19-17 loss to Washington

Trinity-Pawling WR/CB commits to UConn

According to his Twitter account Trinity-Pawling receiver/cornerback Hergy Mayala has committed to UConn.

Uconn Commit #Huskies🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾

Mayala is originally from Montreal and is the third Canadian recruit in this class.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 191 pounds on the team's Maxpreps page, Mayala caught his team's only touchdown in a season-opening 17-6 loss to Loomis Chaffee.

Mayala and Trinity Pawling hosts Avon Old Farms on Saturday and then comes to Connecticut on Oct. 31 for a 7 p.m. against Salisbury.

Monday, October 20, 2014

UConns young defensive line continues to mature

Due to some quirky scheduling UConn is in the midst of playing one game in 25 days. It has given the UConn coaching staff time to tighten up some things as well as allowing the Huskies dealing with minor injuries the opportunity to heal.

During yesterday's press conference I asked Bob Diaco if there happened to be a particular player or position group which has made the biggest strides in practice during the two weeks with no games to be played. The first unit he mentioned was the defensive line.

"The D line especially the young d-line players are getting better with the fundamental eye progression," Diaco said. "They have done a better job there, (playing) faster, violent, more heavy hands. I think they are moving along."

UConn's defense has allowed opponents between 271-302 yards in the last five games and a major reason is the rapid development of many players seeing their first sustained playing time.

Fifteen different players have tackles for loss for the Huskies and six of them (Junior Joseph, Folorunso Fatukasi, Mikal Myers, Cole Ormsby, Ellis Marder and Cam Stapleton) did not have a tackle for loss heading into the season. Myers and Marder were the only ones of the group to appear in a game before this season and they had a combined total of just 11 career tackles. Marder is the only defensive back among the group so the future of the defensive front seven looks to be in pretty good hands.

"I think we are progressing great," Myers said. "I think we are trying to get better every day and the one thing Coach (Diaco) stresses to us is to get better every day. It doesn't matter what class we are in, as long as we play hard and to the best of our abilities

"They do a great job in strength and conditioning and I feel like I am way stronger than I was when I first got here so that is something helps me on the field, it is showing."

Switching gears, it was rather predictable with Halloween quickly approaching that the announcers calling the UConn/Tulane game made mention of the upcoming holiday when Myers made one of his two tackles for loss since he has the same name (spelled differently) as the main character in the Halloween movies.

"I've been getting that since elementary school, it is something I have always gotten," Myers said. "It gets old after a while."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Story of UConn's Fatukasi is one of perseverance

If I were to rank the UConn football stories I have been dying to write this season I'm not sure I could come up with one to top that of redshirt freshman Folorunso "Foley" Fatukasi.

Back in June of 2013 I went to a practice for the Empire Challenge so I could catch up with Fatukasi, who at that time had yet to step foot back in his Far Rockaway, New York home which was deemed uninhabitable after Hurricane Sandy touched down back in 2012.

With Fatukasi seeing more and more playing time in recent weeks, I requested Fatukasi in each of the last few media access periods but he had a class conflict during the normal Tuesday press luncheons. With this week's media gathering on Sunday because the Huskies play at East Carolina on Thursday, I was finally able to catch up with Fatukasi and it was well worth the wait. The story should be up on the Register's site shortly and will be running in tomorrow's paper as well.

You can't help but be struck by Fatukasi's incredibly upbeat attitude despite the trials and tribulations his family has endured over the last two years.

"I've never had a sob story," Fatukasi said. "I've always been happy because I have a loving family but that seeing people you care about going through the same things you are going through, it was really bad. I can only imagine what people in New Orleans went through in Hurricane Katrina. When it is over you don't know what to expect the next day or the day after that, all you can do is to continue to play and have faith because you don't know what is going to come.

"There is a lot of stuff I can appreciate. A lot of high schools don't have many resources to (help players) become as good of players as they want to. I have all the coaches, all the players here so playing at the college level has made me appreciate football a lot. Hopefully some day I will be able to give back to my community, show those kids how to do it because I did it once."

"I am always willing to give a helping hand. I was always a generous person but you don't know what can happen the next day so I am ready to give a helping hand to people in need or just to people in general "

With his family dealing with the logistical side of life post-Sandy, Fatukasi has focused on his school work and his ever-expanding role on the UConn team.

He had two solo tackles in his collegiate debut, a 35-10 loss to Brigham Young and has three tackles in each of the last three games. He has been listed as the co-starter at defensive tackle with senior B.J. McBryde in the last two depth charts and seemingly has a bright future at UConn.

"Foley is a big strong kid," said sophomore defensive lineman Mikal Myers, who is tied for second on the team with four tackles for loss. "He is starting to get it every single day. He is getting better, he is taking coaching and adding it to his game."

There wasn't too much news coming out of today's press conference. As expected, neither offensive tackle Dalton Gifford or safety Ellis Marder will be available this week and Diaco said he hoped to have more info regarding when or if they may return later in the week.

He said he'd like to continue with a similar substitution pattern at tailback meaning true freshmen Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson could see the bulk of the carries. Diaco said he'd like to use Tim Boyle more at quarterback but Boyle will need to be more productive and not turn the ball over as much when he does get his opportunity to play in games.

Another monster game for UConn commit Beals

One of the newest UConn commits continues to put up staggering statistics.

Tyraiq Beals caught 13 passes for 239 yards and six touchdowns in East Orange (N.J.) High's 48-46 loss to West Essex on Saturday.

Beals had a 20-yard TD in the first quarter, a 15-yard score in the second quarter, touchdown receptions of 25. 22 and 7 in the third quarter and a 65-yard score in the fourth quarter. He has 54 catches for 881 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first five games of the season.

Tyler Davis, who could be the quarterback throwing him the ball at UConn, threw for 123 yards and two touchdown and ran for another 140 yards and two more scores to lead his Mepham (N.Y.) squad to a 52-18 win over Westbury Senior. Davis, who hasn't thrown an interception in his last three games, has completed 69.6 percent of his passes while throwing for 676 yards with nine touchdown passes versus three interceptions while running for 954 yards and 15 TDs in Mepham's current five-game winning streak.

Also, Trey Blackwell had two tackles for loss in Cedar Creek's 20-0 win over Oakcrest while Michael Tarbutt was 3 for 3 on extra points, had a 37-yard field goal and all four of his kickoffs went for touchbacks as Canisius defeated Cardinal Mooney 24-17 to improve to 7-0.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

HS coach: UConn getting "a monster" in Cespedes

When the UConn coaching staff first made contact with New London coach Duane Maranda, Bryan Cespedes wasn't even on the Huskies' recruiting radar.

UConn has looking at productive defensive end Hunter Roman who ultimately committed to Yale. It was during those meetings six months ago that he mentioned that he had a raw offensive tackle they might want to take a look at. Obviously, they were listening as Cespedes became the first in-state recruit to be a part of the current class of commitments.

"They offered Hunter and I told them that whoever got Bryan was going to get a steal," Maranda said.

The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Cespedes began his high school career at Grasso Tech and when he transferred to New London after his sophomore season he came out for the New London football team. Maranda could see the potential in the inexperienced Cespedes and believes that the three-sport high school athlete could be "a monster" once he gets to UConn, concentrates on football and the strength and conditioning coaches get to work with him.

"He reminds me of (former Waterford High lineman) Zach Hurd and he is bigger than Zach was at (as a high school senior)," Maranda said. "Zach had a great career there and even got to the NFL."

Hurd became a two-time All-Big East offensive lineman and started 39 games for the Huskies.

Cespedes considers UConn to be his dream school and his desire to be a part of what the new coaching staff is trying to build only intensified after he went up to a couple of home games.

UConn's offensive line struggles have been well documented and while UConn could transform one of the tight end players who have committed into offensive linemen, he is the first true offensive lineman to commit to UConn.

Maranda was extremely impressed with the "thoroughness" of the UConn coaches during the recruiting process. While they came to New London games and watched film, Maranda said they were just as concerned with what made Cespedes tick as Bob Diaco and his staff made it clear that they value high-character kids as they try to build a winning atmosphere in the locker room.

New London is 5-1 and current sixth in the CIAC Class M playoff points race.