By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni understands that his grace period for producing a winning team at Connecticut is all but over.
After inheriting a program that had just been to the Fiesta Bowl under Randy Edsall, the Cheshire native has coached the Huskies to consecutive 5-7 seasons. He acknowledged that won’t be acceptable this year.
“There’s an urgency, certainly, about it,” he said.
“We’re trying to do this the right way. We’re trying to do it long term. We’re trying to build it for the long haul, and sometimes that doesn’t happen as fast as you’d like it to,” he added.
The Huskies come into the season, the first in the new American Athletic Conference, with new coordinators on both offense and defense.
Long-time assistant coach Hank Hughes, who ran the defense under Edsall, moves back for his second stint in that job. He replaces Don Brown who left to join Steve Addazio at Boston College.
T.J. Weist, most recently an assistant at Cincinnati, was hired to revive an offense that averaged fewer than 18 points a game last season and ranked 110th in the NCAA last year at 318 yards per game. He replaces 65-year-old George DeLeone, who now has the title of associate head coach, and will handle the offensive line.
“It’s different paces than last year,” quarterback Chandler Whitmer said. “We can go slow. We can go fast. We’ve got a bunch of new personnel sets. But the scheme is similar, which is nice for the older guys.”
Pasqualoni said the changes do not mean he’s abandoning his conservative approach, and the Huskies still will emphasize execution over flash.
Five things to watch for from Connecticut:
1. A YOUNG DEFENSE: After seeing four defensive players drafted into the NFL, including both starting cornerbacks, UConn will be more inexperienced on that side of the ball. Pasqualoni says the priority will be avoiding the big play. “I don’t want to be a big risk-taker on defense, we’ve got too many young guys,” he said. The Huskies will rely heavily on linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who had 120 tackles last season, and end Jesse Joseph, who was granted a fifth year of eligibility after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles.
2. LESS WILDCAT: The quarterback who ran last year’s wildcat package, junior Scott McCummings, came into camp overweight, was switched to receiver and subsequently tore an Achilles tendon, putting him on the shelf for the season.
3. STABILITY AT QUARTERBACK: Whitmer, a junior, is the clear No. 1 heading into the season after throwing for 2,664 yards a year ago with nine touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The battle to be his backup is among Casey Cochran, a redshirt freshman and freshmen Tim Boyle, Richard Lagow and Kivon Taylor. All of them are pro-style quarterbacks.
4. NEW LOOK: The Huskies begin life in the re-packaged American Conference with brand new uniforms. The face of the school’s revamped Husky Dog logo is featured, staring forward from the crown of the helmet, which no longer includes the block letter “C” on its side.
5. NONCONFERENCE TESTS: After opening the season on Aug. 29 against Towson, the Huskies host former coach Edsall and Maryland, then welcome Michigan in the highest-profile game ever at Rentschler Field.
“We’ll know a lot about ourselves after those first few games,” Smallwood said. “We know we have great potential to win those games, so we’re going to do whatever it takes to do that and get UConn football back on the map.”
Predicted finish in conference: 7th.
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