CONNECTICUT (1-1, 0-0 Big East)
SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW
Punter: Senior Desi Cullen is one of four Connecticut team captains for the 2009 season. Cullen has handled punting duties for the Huskies each of the past two seasons, turning in averages of 40.7 yards in 2007 and 39.8 yards last season. This year, he has averaged 43.7 yards on 13 punts, placing six inside the opponent's 20-yard line. In 147 career punts, Cullen has averaged 40.6 yards per punt with a career long of 60 yards at Virginia in 2007 and 51 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line (34.7 percent). His career punting average is the best in Connecticut history, and he likely will be a Ray Guy Award candidate by the season' midpoint. Connecticut ranks 17th nationally in net punting (40.3 ypp), and the Huskies have allowed 22 yards on eight punt returns (4.8 ypr). Cullen also handles kickoff duties for UConn and is the holder for all place kicks.
Return Specialists: Connecticut has employed three players on kickoff returns this season -- sophomore tailback Robbie Frey, senior cornerback Robert McClain and sophomore tailback Jordan Todman. Frey has been the most productive, averaging 28.3 yards on three returns with a long of 39 yards. Todman has returned two kicks for 44 yards, while McClain has returned two for 24 yards. Connecticut ranks 56th nationally in kickoff returns as a team (21.9 ypr). ... Junior cornerback Jasper Howard handles punt return duties. He has returned eight punts for 22 yards, a 2.8-yard average, with a long of 10 yards.
Other: Junior Derek Chard is the Huskies' deep snapper. ... Connecticut has held opponents to a 14.0-yard average on kickoff returns this season, allowing only 42 yards on three returns with a long of 15 yards. That average ranks fourth nationally; however, UConn is the only team in the top 50 of the rankings that has allowed fewer than five returns this season.
CONNECTICUT (1-1, 0-0 Big East)
Line: The Huskies' line, as a whole, is young but very good. Of the four starters, only one is an upperclassman -- senior end Lindsey Witten (6-5, 260) -- and they have combined for only 29 career starts. Witten has 10 career starts to his credit with six in 2006, two last year and two this season. But don't let his lack of vast starting experience fool you; Witten is an athletic end with the capability of wreaking havoc on an opposing quarterback. He has 7.0 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss through the first two games and is tied for second and fourth nationally in those respective categories. Witten has seven of the team's 10 sacks and more than half his tackles (12 total) have been behind the line of scrimmage. All that is not shabby for a guy who entered this season with 10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in 36 career games. Witten was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after an eight-tackle, four-sack performance against North Carolina last week. The other end is true freshman Jesse Joseph (6-3, 238), a native of Laval, Québec. Joseph has nine tackles this season with 0.5 tackles for loss and has forced one fumble. Connecticut's interior defensive line is made up of redshirt sophomores Kendall Reyes (6-4, 286) and Twyon Martin (6-2, 271). Reyes earned five starts last season, while Martin started eight games; so, they are hardly green. Reyes has seven tackles and 1.0 sack this season. Martin, who is perhaps a bit undersized but very athletic for a defensive tackle, has eight tackles and one interception this year.
Linebackers: The heart of Connecticut's defense is its linebackers, a unit that features three returning starters with 66 career starts amongst them. Junior strong-side backer Scott Lutrus (6-2, 241) is the cream of the crop. A Bednarik Award candidate, Lutrus earn All-Big East honors last season after a Freshman All-America campaign in 2007. He has eclipsed the 100-tackle plateau in each of the past two seasons; he has 17 career tackles for loss and five career interceptions, four of which came his freshman season. With 28 career starts, Lutrus is the second-most experienced player on the Husky defense. Junior Greg Lloyd Jr. (6-1, 245) anchors the middle spot. The son of former Pittsburgh Steelers great Greg Lloyd, the younger linebacker started the first 10 games last season before a two-game hiatus due to injury; he returned for the Huskies' bowl game and had four tackles against Buffalo. Lloyd tallied 2.5 tackles for loss against Baylor last season, a career-best outing. This season, he is second on the squad with 17 tackles, including a team-best nine solo stops; he also has one sack. Junior Lawrence Wilson (6-1, 220) patrols the weak-side backer spot. Like Lutrus, Wilson is in his third season as a starter and has amassed 206 career tackles. He earned second-team Freshman All-America honors in 2007 after recording 113 tackles with 8.5 stops behind the line. Last year, he racked up 73 tackles with 6.0 for loss to go along with three interceptions. Wilson leads the Huskies with 20 tackles this season, including 2.0 for loss and one sack. Behind the starters is an equally capable threesome with junior Greg Robinson (6-2, 240) backing up Lloyd, redshirt freshman Jory Johnson (6-1, 211) backing up Lutrus and redshirt freshman Jerome Williams (5-11, 230) backing up Wilson. However, expect the starting three to be on the field the vast majority of the time.
Secondary: Connecticut's secondary is anchored by senior safety Robert Vaughn (6-0, 200), the most experienced Husky defender with 29 career starts. Vaughn, a second-team All-Big East pick last season, is tied for fifth nationally among active Football Bowl Subdivision players with 10 career interceptions, seven of which came during as a sophomore in 2007. This year, he ranks third on the team with 13 tackles. Vaughn had an interception and recovered a fumble in the Huskies season-opening victory at Ohio. The other safety spot is handled by redshirt freshman Jerome Junior (6-1, 212). He ranks fourth on the squad with 12 tackles, including seven last week against North Carolina. The corners are patrolled by senior Robert McClain (5-9, 198) and junior Jasper Howard (5-10, 180). McClain, one of four UConn captains, cracked the starting lineup late last season but has played in 35 career games. His numbers each of the past two seasons were nearly identical: 30 tackles with 19 solo efforts and three interceptions each season. However, last year he showed signs of being a capable blitzing corner with 5.5 tackles for loss. This year, McClain has seven tackles and one interception. Howard is in his second season as a starter after seeing limited action as a true freshman in 2007. He has nine tackles this season with one assisted stop behind the line and one pass break up.
Campus Readying For Parents Weekend & Football
We're officially less than 48 hours from kickoff of Saturday's home opener vs. Connecticut. And for those that haven't heard, this weekend is Parents Weekend at Baylor University. The festivities kickoff tonight with a "Traditions Rally" for the students, and hopefully by Saturday afternoon the studentbody, and brand-new Baylor Line, will be ready to rock-and-roll at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Dwain "Big D" Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a nice feature on Coach Briles in today's paper, "Don't tell Briles that Baylor can't get it done." The Connecticut Post published a preview story today: "UConn recognizes danger of Baylor QB Griffin."
Previewing the Opponent: UConn Offense
CONNECTICUT (1-1, 0-0 Big East)
Quarterback: It is quite possible that no team in the nation is experiencing as much tribulation at the quarterback position as Connecticut. Two-year starter Tyler Lorenzen completed his eligibility last year, and the Huskies had two capable replacements in Zach Frazer and Cody Endres. Each started two games last season while Lorenzen was injured and each played in three other games. While Frazer had slightly better numbers than Endres, neither was earth-shattering. Frazer won the starting job for this season, but he was forced to leave last week's game against 19th-ranked North Carolina with a knee injury during the third quarter and will miss the Baylor game. Endres, who spelled Frazer for the reaminder of the North Carolina game, came down with a stomach virus early Tuesday morning; however, he is expected to play Saturday against the Bears. A redshirt sophomore, Endres is a physical presence at 6-foot-4, 223 pounds. He made his first collegiate start last season against eventual Big East champion Cincinnati; he was not spectacular (18-of-47, 196 yards), but he did not throw and interception and led the Huskies to a 40-16 victory. Endres, who was 3-of-7 for 30 yards last week against North Carolina, has not yet thrown a touchdown pass in 91 career attempts; however, he has been only three times (all coming against West Virginia last season). In fact, he did not throw an interception in his first 70 career attempts. Endres should not be much of a running threat as he has only two yards rushing in five career attempts. ... Behind Endres on the depth chart is Michael Box, a true freshman who of yet has never seen action at the collegiate level. The Huskies have two other quarterbacks on their roster in redshirt freshmen Casey Turner and Marcus Aiken, neither of which has ever played.
Running Back: While Lorenzen's departure was a hole to fill for the Huskies this season, his were nowhere close to being the biggest shoes to fill. Those belonged to tailback Donald Brown, a 2008 All-American and Big East Offensive Player of the Year who rushed for 2,083 yards and 18 touchdowns in 13 games last season. Brown, a first-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts, led the nation in rushing (160.2 ypg) in 2008, including a 150-yard, two-touchdown night against Baylor. Sophomore Jordan Todman is the man attempting to fill those shoes. The 5-foot-9, 189-pound Todman galloped for 157 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in the Huskies' season opener at Ohio two weeks ago. He was slowed to 66 yards on 18 carries last week against North Carolina, but he gained nearly all the Huskies' rushing yardage (72 yards) and scored UConn's lone touchdown.of any sort. Todman averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season, gaining 296 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries. He has been utilized sparingly in the passing game with two receptions last season, one against Ohio and two last week against North Carolina, but his longest career reception was a nine-yard gain last season (he also had a reception for minus-5 yards in 2008). ... Senior Andre Dixon (6-1, 202) also will see his share of carries. A 2009 Doak Walker Award watch list member, Dixon gained 100 yards on 19 totes at Ohio but managed only 21 yards on seven carries against UNC. Dixon, who saw limited action last year, was a second-team All-Big East selection in 2007 after gaining 828 yards with three touchdowns and logging 24 receptions for 280 yards and another score. ... The only other non-quarterback with a rush this season for the Huskies is receiver Kashif Moore, who has 17 yards on two rushes. ... Fullbacks Anthony Sherman (junior, 5-11, 230) and Anthony Davis (redshirt junior, 5-10, 243) are used primarily for blocking purposes; although, Sherman was used extensively in the passing game last season (second on the team with 24 receptions) and Davis' lone reception this season was for a touchdown.
Receivers: Connecticut returned most of its receiving corps from last season; however, no Husky had more than one touchdown reception in 2008. The aforementioned Moore (5-9, 182) led the team with 27 receptions last year, but he has only one reception through two games this season. Senior Brad Kanuch (6-1, 192) and freshman Dwayne Difton (5-11, 170) have been the primary targets so far in 2009 with five and six receptions, respectively. No Husky had more than two receptions in the opener at Ohio; Anthony Davis had a four-yard touchdown catch, and Kanuch hauled in a 35-yard touchdown reception. Last week against North Carolina, the Huskies had no passing touchdowns; Kanuch and Difton each had four receptions, going for 56 yards and 25 yards respectively. Other UConn targets on the outside include sophomores Michael Smith (6-0, 192) and Isiah Moore (6-1, 185). ... Redshirt freshmen John Delahunt (6-3, 243) and Corey Manning (6-5, 250) anchor the tight end spot; neither has a reception to date.
Line: Connecticut had to replace a pair of veteran and accomplished linemen following last season with the departure of second-team All-Big East left tackle William Beatty (second-round draft selection of the New York Giants) and center Keith Gray (31 career starts). Senior Dan Ryan (6-8, 316) takes over for Beatty, while redshirt sophomore Moe Petrus (6-2, 288) now handles center duties. Ryan started seven games in 2006 and five games in 2007 but saw only backup duty last year. Petrus earned Freshman All-America honors last season at guard and is backed up by redshirt sophomore Gary Bardzak. Senior right tackle Mike Hicks (6-6, 323) started all 13 games at last season and has a team-high 37 career starts under his belt. The guard spots are filled by junior Mathieu Olivier (6-6, 286) on the left and junior Zach Hurd (6-7, 315) on the right; Hurd started all 13 games last season, while Olivier had no career starts prior to this season.
Baylor-UConn Preview video / Wednesday Articles...
Also, two separate reporters wrote today about the Baylor football program staying grounded heading into Saturday's UConn game and not getting big-headed after an impressive season-opening win at Wake Forest. Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "As always, Art Briles wants Baylor to aspire for more." Tim Griffin of ESPN.com: "Baylor not overlooking Connecticut challenge."
Finally, offensive tackle Danny Watkins got some pub in his homeland today, when columnist Duane Ford of Canada's TSN listed the junior as the No. 2 prospect on his early season Top 20 CFL Draft Rankings.
Briles-BU Among ESPN.com's "Nation's Best Fits"
Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com posted a blog today listing the nation's "10 best coach/program fits" in college football, and ranks Art Briles and Baylor No. 9. The blog is located on the site's Insider-subscription section here. Here's a portion of what Feldman wrote:
"... a local guy whom the local coaches revered. In Baylor's case, that's Briles, whose strong spiritual convictions mesh well within his school's community. Briles' own personal story of fighting back from tragedy also is a great fit..."
Feldman was the author of the ESPN The Magazine story this summer on the Bears, "Four Steps Forward."
Random News and Notes
Evidence of Baylor Nation's excitement for the football program is evidenced this week by news that season ticket sales are at a 10-year high heading into the home opener this Saturday. Speaking of the game, though it may seem like ages since the Bears left the field victorious at Wake Forest two Saturday's back, the Baylor-UConn clash is less than four days away. Cuttin' In The Baylor Line's latest blog entry touches on the effects of having an off week so early in the season.
In case you missed it, the Dallas Morning News yesterday ran an article by Chuck Carlton titled: "Big 12's biggest story could be Baylor" covering the hype surrounding Briles' upstart Bears. Today ESPN.com's Big East blogger, Brian Bennett, wrote a story about UConn looking to "Bounce Back at Baylor."
Watch Briles talk Huskies, Edsall talk Bears
Here are links to videos of both head coaches discussing Saturday's matchup during Tuesday press conferences. Watch Baylor head coach Art Briles courtesy of BaylorBears.com. Watch UConn head coach Randy Edsall courtesy of the Hartord Courant.
After debuting in both national Top 25 polls following the season-opening win at Wake Forest (Baylor's first national votes since 2005), Baylor has lost all votes in one poll after this weekend's off date. The Bears are receiving 15 votes (36th most) in today's Associated Press Poll - two fewer (and two spots higher) than Week 1. Baylor's two votes in the USA Today Coaches' Poll dissappeared in Week 2.
Baylor's much-anticipated home opener vs. UConn is this Saturday at 4 p.m. CDT, here are some reminders...
NO TV: The game will not be televised in any fashion, so the only way to watch live is to be at Floyd Casey Stadium (there will be a delayed stream of the game online at BaylorBears.com which will start after the conclusion of the game).
Experience The "Baylor Athletics Experience"
Baylor added a new extensive arm to its official athletics website, BaylorBears.com, last week when it launched the Baylor Athletics Experience. If you haven't checked it out, do so, it's packed with lots of visuals, pictures, coaches videos, facility videos, highlight videos and lots of links. Well worth a visit.