Connecticut’s first season in the Big East was its last campaign with prolific quarterback play. Dan Orlovsky threw for 23 touchdowns and over 3300 yards in 2004 — down from his junior season output of 33 and 3485, but still far and away, the best the Huskies have had since.
UConn has had a revolving door behind center: D.J. Hernandez, Michael Box, Zach Frazer, Cody Endres, Johnny McEntee, Scott McCummings, Matt Bonislawski, Dennis Brown. For various reasons, Husky head coaches Randy Edsall and Paul Pasqualoni have had to cycle through play callers. Tyler Lorenzen was easily the most productive since Orlovsky with over 2300 yards in 2007, but a broken foot cut short his final season.
A foot injury hampering the best quarterback of the last seven years is fitting, because QB play has been the program’s Achilles heel through a largely successful run. Last season’s 5-7 finish under first year coach Pasqualoni ended a run of five consecutive bowl appearances. Rushing and defensive play were effective, as has been the case throughout this recent stretch.
Freshman Lyle McCombs followed in the footsteps of Jordan Todman, Donald Brown, and Andre Dixon before him. His 1151 yards trailed only Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead for most in the Big East. The Husky defense racked up 34 sacks to rank No. 13 in the Bowl Subdivision. Linebacker Sio Moore returns to anchor UConn on that side of the ball. Moore’s 16 tackles for loss led the Huskies, as did his three interceptions (tied with fellow returnees Ty-Meer Brown and Dwayne Gratz). Moore’s 6.5 sacks ranked second to All-America caliber defensive end Trevardo Williams.
Williams complemented since-drafted tackle Kendall Reyes nicely on the line, the duo combining for half the team’s sacks (Williams provided 12.5 of the 17).
A glaring flaw was instability at quarterback. McEntee and McCummings each played regularly, though the latter primarily for rushing purposes. McEntee just 51 percent of his pass attempts for 2110 yards and 12 touchdowns, with eight interceptions.
With the corps of returning players, the ingredients are present for UConn to contend in what should be a wide open (what else is new?) Big East title race. Once more, quarterback play will be the primary question mark.
There’s a positive outlook on the position after spring ball, though. JUCO transfer Chandler Whitmer stood out in workouts, though he did not lock up No. 1 duties. McCummings was sidelined through the spring with a toe injury.
Whichever of the two likely frontrunners wins the job will have to develop chemistry with a new No. 1 receiver. Kashif and Isiah Moore are both gone, the Huskies’ leaders in yards and with Kashif, touchdowns. That leaves tight end Ryan Griffin as the top returner with 499 yards and three touchdowns, and Nick Williams the leading wide out. Williams was good for 21 yards per catch, albeit in just 11 catches. McCombs was also a reliable target out of the backfield.
Should Pasqualoni tab Whitmer the starter, it will be interesting to see how McCummings is used. He rushed for five touchdowns and 285 yards, both second most among all Huskies last season. He’s too valuable an asset to not implement at all. However, the cliche says a team with more than one quarterback has no quarterback. For Connecticut, multiple quarterbacks have not produced consistent results.