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UConn Football Preview

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(Tyler Barrick/Getty Images Sport)

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By PAT EATON-ROBB,  Associated Press

STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ 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.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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