Massachusetts (0-0) at Connecticut (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 30th, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rentschler Field (40,000) -- East Hartford, Connecticut.
Television: ESPN3.com, Big East, SNY. Home Record: UMass 0-0, UConn 0-0 Away
Record: UMass 0-0, UConn 0-0. Neutral Record: UMass 0-0, UConn 0-0. Conference
Record: UMass 0-0, UConn 0-0. Series Record: UMass leads 33-36-2.
GAME NOTES: The Massachusetts Minutemen will be welcomed into their first
season at the FBS level on Thursday when they take on Connecticut in an all-New
England showdown at Rentschler Field.
The 2012 season will be the first in which Massachusetts will be a member of an
FBS conference after competing at the FCS level for the rest of the program's
history. The Minutemen will be breaking in as a member of the Mid-American
Massachusetts went 5-6 overall last season and was 3-3 on the road in what was
a rather mediocre season that ended without a playoff berth. After opening the
year with two wins, the Minutemen dropped two straight including a 45-17
loss to Boston College. UMass rebounded with two wins, but then went 1-4 the
rest of the way to close out the year.
UConn had an equally bland and disappointing year that ended without a
postseason berth. After four straight bowl appearances, the Huskies went 5-7 in
2011, missing out on bowl legibility by a game. UConn went 2-4 to start the
season, but lost three of those games by seven or fewer points. UConn then
split its last six games in a season in which the Huskies could never
consistently put together wins.
These squads have a long history against one another with 71 total meetings
dating back to 1897. The last meeting occurred in 1999, the last year in which
UConn was an FCS school. UMass won that contest 62-20 after losing the three
The move up to the FBS also came with a change in the coaching staff for
Massachusetts. Former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar will take
over head coaching responsibilities and Mike Kruczek will be the third
offensive coordinator in as many seasons for the Minutemen. Kruczek will employ
a spread attack at Massachusetts.
One consistency for UMass on offense will be quarterback Kellen Pagel. Despite
playing in three different systems, the junior managed to start each of the
last two seasons with some relative success. In 2011, Pagel completed 57.3
percent of his passes for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns.
A key to a successful spread offense is the line which could be a strength for
the Minutemen. Four starters return in the trenches including three seniors,
led by left tackle Nick Speller.
Giving Pagel time to throw will be crucial for the Minutemen, who are decidedly
weak at the skill positions. Chase Danska and Marken Michel are the expected
starters at receiver but the two combined for just four catches during the 2011
season. Tight end Rob Blanchflower will likely be called upon in many passing
situations, as the leading returning receivers with 18 catches in 2011.
Equally thin is the rushing attack for UMass with just 35 carries between
Jordan Broadnax and Alan Williams, who figure to both be utilized in a tandem
Although its defense was solid last season, UMass will be shifting from a 3-4
scheme to a 4-3 alignment in 2011. The good news is that 10 starters will
return, providing stability in terms of personnel.
Middle linebacker Perry McIntyre is the leading returning tackler after he
racked up 116 stops last season. The senior was also adept at getting into the
backfield where he recorded a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss. Flanking
MCIntyre will be Chad Hunte and Tim Brandt, who combined for 88 total tackles
The defensive front also has all four starters returning. Defensive tackle
Charles Thompson is the leader after recording three sacks last season, the
most by any defensive linemen on the team. The line will need to do a better
job of creating pressure, with the team as a whole only recording 23 sacks in
The secondary is the only area that will need a replacement but with a deep
pool to choose from, that shouldn't prove to be a problem. True freshmen
Randall Jette will get the first crack at replacing the opening at cornerback.
Senior strong safety Darren Thellen had 68 total tackles and team-highs in
passes defended (5) and interceptions (5) last year.
Connecticut ranked just 108th in total yards nationally last season and is a
team that won't make a ton of noise offensively. The Huskies won't take anyone
by surprise this season with the bulk of the offensive load clearly going to
running back Lyle McCombs. The sophomore is coming off a breakout freshman
season when he rushed for 1,151 yards and 7 touchdowns, while earning a spot on
the Freshman All-American team.
While the run game is certain to be a strength it is the passing game that has
really hampered Connecticut offensively. Juco transfer Chandler Whitmer was
given the nod as the starting quarterback. The redshirt sophomore went 18-
for-27 for 187 yards in two touchdowns in the spring game and impressed head
coach Paul Pasqualoni enough in the summer to earn the start.
Whitmer he will be learning the ropes along with his receivers, who are largely
inexperienced. Nick Williams is the veteran as a senior but had only 11 catches
last season. Sophomore Shakim Phillips, a transfer from Boston College, could
be a force. All-Big East tight end Ryan Griffin (33 receptions, 499 yards)
should have an even bigger role in the passing game as the receivers come
Just like the offense, Connecticut's defense found great strength in the run
game last season, while failing to do so against the pass. The Huskies ranked
4th nationally (85.7 ypg) in rush defense, while ranking 113th (281.0 ypg)
against the pass.
Nine starters will return from that squad and the hope is that a year of
experience can improve an already strong defense.
The linebacking corps leads the way with a ton of experience and depth. Jory
Johnson and Sio Moore are both entering their senior seasons and Yavin
Smallwood will be the third starter after playing well as a freshman. Johnson
led the trio with 97 tackles, while all three finished in the top 10 in the Big
East in the category.
UConn's secondary will need a lot out of the four returning starters, most
notably Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who played in only five games last season. Even
though the Huskies struggled to stop teams from racking up huge passing totals,
the defense did manage to create turnovers with a +8 turnover margin thanks to
the 15 interceptions the team amassed.
The Huskies were very strong up front last season, but Kendall Reyes and Twyon
Martin are now gone. Now the strength shifts to the ends, where Trevardo
Williams and Jesse Joseph each return as starters. Williams is the real
standout on the line, after recording a team-high 12.5 sacks last season.
There is obviously excitement surrounding the Massachusetts football program as
it takes the step into the FBS. The Minutemen though were middle of the road in
the FCS last season. Meanwhile, Connecticut came within one win of a bowl game
last season and has the strength on defense that would cause trouble for more
experienced offensive teams. Expect the Huskies to ruin the Minutemen's FBS
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Connecticut 37, Massachusetts 10
08/29 10:38:08 ET
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