Ten things to know about Connecticut
Indiana welcomes in its last of three nonconference opponents to Bloomington for Week Four. These are the ten essential facts to know about Connecticut leading into the matchup.
Historically Bad Season in 2018
Connecticut is lucky to still be a team within the confines of the FBS after its 1-11 performance in 2018. The Huskies allowed 50 points per game and more than 600 yards per game in 12 games as a team last year. Both of those numbers are FBS records. The scoring records was held by a 1997 Louisiana team that allowed 50.27 points per game – UConn allowed 50.41 – and the yardage record was set by Kansas in 2015, at 560. UConn broke that record by a long shot, with 617 yards allowed per game.
The offense wasn’t much better. Not historically terrible but not good either. Connecticut rated No. 91 nationally with 378 yards per game.
In comparison, Indiana rated No. 83 in total defense and No. 52 in total offense nationally.
New Starting Quarterback
Connecticut welcomed graduate transfer quarterback Mike Beaudry into its program during the offseason and also signed two-star quarterback Jack Zergiotis from the Class of 2019. Beaudry has a history of injuries, as he’s missed three seasons due to injury and is injured this season too.
His most recent injury gave Zergiotis the opportunity to lead the Huskies’ offense against Illinois in Week Two, and his performance – 21-for-31, 275 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions – won him the starting job.
Indiana will be playing a true freshman quarterback who was 3,172 recruit overall in his class.
Improvements On Defense
Connecticut is working to make improvements as a team but with stress on the defense in particular. Adding linebacker DJ Morgan out of Notre Dame has helped in the departments of leadership, experience and aggression, but against Illinois – a Big Ten opponent coached by Lovie Smith, regardless of the merits within conference play – the Huskies forced three turnovers and got to the quarterback, sacking him twice and rushing him seven times. Connecticut also recorded seven tackles for loss.
The Huskies have sacked the quarterback five times in two games after recording just 11 sacks last year.
Some playmakers to watch for are Morgan at the second level, Omar Fortt and Tyler Coyle at the third level and Lwal Uguak, who leads the team with 2.5 sacks, at the first level.
Only One Returning Starter in Skilled Positions
On offense, Connecticut is returning just one starter from a skilled position, and that starter is running back Kevin Mensah – who will be addressed later. Perhaps the most notable of the players who are no longer playing for the Huskies is quarterback David Pindell, who was fairly average as a passer – 59-percent efficiency, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions in 2018 – but was a real running threat, as he carried the ball nearly as many times as the starting running back Mensah and eclipsed 1,000 yards.
It’s clear that on the offensive side of the ball, Connecticut is attempting to hit the reset button with its personnel after it’s only returned 26 percent of its offensive production from 2018.
Kevin Mensah is The Man
As noted earlier, Mensah is the only returning starter at a skilled position on offense. He remains the lone building block the Huskies have on his side of the ball, as, in 2018, he was the first Connecticut running back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2011.
At least last season, Mensah had Pindell, who formed a sort of rushing attack against defenses. Now, though, it’s just him and Toledo transfer Art Thompkins at running back while the contributors in the passing game, including his quarterback, adjust to each other and to the college game.So far, they’ve combined for 46 percent of UConn’s scrimmage yards in 2019. In two games, Mensah has carried the ball 50 times. That’s 13 more times than Indiana starting running back Stevie Scott in three games.
Mensah is on track to hit 1,000 yards once again as a junior, despite being held to just 27 yards against Illinois in Week Two – the fourth time he’s been limited to less than 30 yards during his time as Connecticut’s starting running back.
Randy Edsall Guided UConn to FBS
Indiana head coach Tom Allen said Monday during his weekly press conference that he has a lot of respect for Randy Edsall, Connecticut’s head coach, and for good reason. Edsall has already had a stint with Connecticut, from 1999-2010, when he helped lead Connecticut from the FCS level to the FBS level – then labeled D-IA and D-IAA.
He left to spend five years as Maryland’s head coach and then spent 2016 with the Detroit Lions as a director of football research and returned to be Connecticut’s head coach in 2017.
Edsall spent his first 11 seasons at Syracuse, where he worked under Tom Coughlin, then followed Coughlin to Boston College and then to the Jacksonville Jaguars before his first stint at Connecticut.
Edsall doesn’t have the most impressive record as a head coach (101-125), but he has gone 3-4 in bowl games and was named the Big East Coach of the Year in 2010, when he led the Huskies to a conference title on the back of Jordan Todman, who rushed for 1,695 yards.
Five Leading Receivers Are in First Years at Program
Connecticut’s five leading receivers are all in their first years playing for Connecticut.
Ardell Brown, a 5-10, 180-pound receiver, is leading the Huskies with seven catches for 81 yards. He transferred in during the offseason after three seasons at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. All of his catches came against Illinois in Week Two.
Matt Drayton, at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, is the most promising young receiver for Connecticut. A three-star prospect out of Jacksonville, Florida, he garnered interest form Miami but never received an offer.
Cameron Ross is in the same boat as Drayton, a receiver that has shown promise and could grow in his first year in the program. Coming out of the renowned St. John’s College High School in Washington D.C., Ross really burst onto the scene against Illinois when he caught four passes for 85 yards. He and Brown will be the two threats Indiana will need to neutralize Saturday in the passing game.
Heron Maurisseau actually did play in three games for Connecticut in 2018, but he received a redshirt and now has five catches for 45 yards as a redshirt freshman.
Art Thompkins, out of the backfield, is one of the five leading receivers for Connecticut and provides a good change of pace from Kevin Mensah. He transferred to the program from Toledo.
No wide receiver has caught a touchdown pass in the Connecticut offense yet.
DJ Morgan Transferred in from Notre Dame
Transfers have done quite a bit of heavy lifting for Connecticut in its efforts to move past 2018. Ardell Brown is leading the receivers room, and Art Thompkins is shoring up the backload in the backfield behind Kevin Mensah, as well as returning kicks.
But no transfer is doing more work than Notre Dame linebacker transfer DJ Morgan. Out of the powerhouse St. John Bosco program in California, Morgan signed and played safety for Notre Dame as the No. 481 overall prospect in the 2016 class. He redshirted the 2016 season and made two tackles during the 2017 season as he transitioned out of safety and back to linebacker, where he played in high school.
Now, as a graduate transfer, Morgan is the catalyst on defense, trying to reshape the Connecticut defense. In two games, he’s recorded 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a pass deflection, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Offensive coordinator Coached for the Colts
Connecticut offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Frank Guifre is coming off his first season at UConn. The six seasons before that, he was an offensive quality control coach for the Indianapolis Colts (2012-17). In Indianapolis, he was a tight ends assistant and an offensive line assistant.
At Connecticut, he helped lead an offense that featured the first pair of Husky running backs to reach 1,000 yards since 2009 and the first 1,000-yard rusher since 2011.
Already Had One Bye Week
Connecticut is one of few teams who have already used one of their two bye weeks this season. The Huskies are currently coming off their bye week to play Indiana. Their last game was a close contest with Illinois, 31-23.