Beat writer breakdown: Breaking down the Connecticut-Michigan football game with Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant
Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant took a few minutes to chat this week about Connecticut football and what fans should expect to see when the Huskies play in Ann Arbor on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC).
In many ways, the Huskies sound like a team somewhat like Michigan - secondary questions abound - but came off a four-game win streak to end 2009 instead of a losing skid like Michigan.
Check out what Conner has to say.
Q: How good, and I know it’s tough to know before a game is played, but how good is this Connecticut team?
Desmond Conner: “It comes down to a few things you have to look at. Obviously, the way they lost five games last year, people talk about the combined 15 points on those five losses. The thing that stands out is the way they lost those games. They didn’t have to play catchup or anything like that. They lost the games in the final moments with basically bonehead plays. Some of those plays were being made by inexperienced guys. Now you’re talking about another year’s worth of experience, a spring camp under their belts. You also had Randy Edsall going to coach the safeties. That’s an area that really will determine how good this team will be. That was really a sore spot last year. They are pretty strong every place else. They have a lot of returnees, eight returnees on both sides. Most guys are on the offensive line, other guys are in the skill positions. Defensively, their strongest unit is the linebacking corps now. Greg Lloyd coming back, it’s one of the best trios in the country and certainly in the Big East. As long as the secondary is OK, then, yeah, those are some of the things you need to look at with these guys. They are experienced, been through some of the battles. They ended the year on a four-game win streak after those tough losses. It’s just their time. They are a talented bunch of guys who have been through some ups-and-downs on and off the field, obviously. Now it’s time for them to take that next step. Most people do consider them a good football team at this point.”
Q: With Zach Frazer, he’s had such an up-and-down career, is he a guy who can take advantage of an inexperienced secondary or does he need to stick with short passes?
DC: “I think this game is going to tell us a lot. To be honest with you, the opportunities we had to see Zach throw in practice were few. The first couple times we got to see him but every other time we went there it was a double-session practice and the starters didn’t practice during that session, getting their work when we weren’t there. Zach was a guy who was letting it fly during the four-game win streak that we had not seen to any point in his career. Putting the ball in the right place, not really forcing things, that’s where a lot of his interceptions came from. He wasn’t doing so much of that down the stretch. He was putting the ball out in the air.”
Q: Has Connecticut really ever gone into an atmosphere like this before?
DC: “I think the closest thing to it would be the Notre Dame game with 80,000-plus but let’s be honest it’s 80,000-plus but it’s a lot more than that when you consider the nostalgia of the place, just the aura of the program and playing at Notre Dame. There’s a lot to overcome, more than just 82 or 84,000 people they played in front of that day. But it didn’t seem to bother them. Obviously, they won the game and the thing about that was that Notre Dame was in a desperate situation. They needed to win that game. They were at home. It was senior day. Everybody knew going in it could very well be the coach’s last home game, which it was, and they overcame all of that. I think there will be some of it, but as far as it lasting the whole game, I don’t see that. They’ve played in front of West Virginia, I think that’s in the 60’s with that. Sixty is not 100 and neither is 80, but I don’t think they are going to be too taken aback by 100,000-plus, certainly not for four quarters.”
Q: What’s the best and worst case scenario for this team Saturday?
DC: “That’s a good question. I was thinking about that. They have to use their overall team speed on Michigan. I think they are faster and they have to take advantage of that. I’m guessing Michigan is probably a little bigger. To me, that may mean slower. I think UConn’s overall team speed is terrific, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s probably the best they’ve had here since they’ve been a I-A program. There’s speed at all positions here, both offense and defense. That’s where they are going to have an advantage on Saturday and throughout the season, to be honest with you. If the secondary is not settled, if Denard Robinson is able to do whatever it is he wants to do, particularly with his legs, because if he can soften them up with his legs he’s going to pick them apart with his arm, too, he’s the guy that they are going to contend with. They are going to have to contend with him and history shows that UConn teams have had trouble with mobile, dual-threat quarterbacks. That would be a key, too. Those are the two major things in terms of getting run out of the building. In the trenches, I think they are going to be OK. They are going to have to be able to run the ball and use their team speed. Those are the things that can win them the game.”