Five questions on UConn

Please welcome back Kevin from The UConn Blog. This went rather well last year, so he's back for a another go around.

On the Banks: Rutgers fans are not at all happy with their play calling on offense right now, which has some parallels to the situation at UConn after Dan Orlovsky graduated. For a while the Husky offense was basically just running Donald Brown and Andre Dixon, with Tyler Lorenzen scrambling around as a momentary distraction to try to keep defenses honest. Their former offensive coordinator, Rob Ambrose, is now at Towson. Edsall's chosen replacement was to pluck Joe Moorhead from Akron. How has that hire affected the UConn football program?

The UConn Blog: How does the blooming of the flowers affect April?
 
No one ran a glorified 1940's offense like UConn under Rob Ambrose. Donald Brown is great, and we love him for sure. But UConn football in 2008 - the last year of the Ambrose regime - became an incredible chore to watch. Run, run, desperation incomplete pass. Run, run, desperation incomplete pass. Sprinkle in the occasional drive with long Brown touchdown runs, and you get the idea.
 
Under Moorhead, there's actually a semblance of a vertical passing game at UConn (minus a couple games at the beginning of this season, but I blame Zach Frazer). That fact would have led the 2008 version of me to declare you a sorcerer of black magic and lies. The fact that the running game remains roughly as good as ever is just icing on the cake.
 
The guy and his schemes aren't perfect, and if I never see another poorly-designed bubble screen again, I'll be thrilled. But Moorhead has completely freshened up the offense, and made it possible for UConn to keep up with anyone in the league.

On the Banks: Riddle me this: last year, Cody Endres was significantly better than Zach Frazer at quarterback. I understand that Endres was suspended a few months ago and had to miss the first few games of this season, but why did Edsall basically hand the job to Frazer in the spring without any semblance of a competition? What was your reaction to this situation? Does Edsall deserve criticism for stubbornly sticking with Frazer, or credit for finally course-correcting and starting Endres?

The UConn Blog: I have run hot and cold on Zach Frazer over the last four years.

I was impressed the first time I saw him in a game, when he zipped a beautiful bullet TD pass in the 2008 comeback win at Louisville. I was discouraged the time I saw him throw three interceptions in four passing attempts, which he did in the '08 season finale against Pittsburgh. And so on and so forth, alternating brilliance and frustration for two seasons.

Meanwhile, I always considered Cody Endres the superior quarterback, because he utilized things like "touch" and "looking at more than one receiver."

To be fair, Frazer had a very solid end to the 2009 season. Not so solid that he should be installed as the starter in March, but solid enough. He looked like a legitimate Division I quarterback. So it's understandable that Edsall would want to give as many reps as possible with the first team. I get that part.

On the other hand, Frazer is what he is: a streaky QB with a cannon arm who can pass against anyone during a hot streak and who can lose to Temple during a cold streak. He's not a guy you can count on to play 13 solid games in a row, whereas Endres has been mostly consistent whenever he's seen the field. Edsall was foolish to ignore this.

Edsall, for whatever reason, felt he had to justify the decision because Frazer was a "leader," which is coach speak for "bad veteran QB." It almost felt at times that Edsall was buying into his own soundbites, although maybe it just looked that way because Endres was an idiot and got himself suspended in August - well after Frazer had been ordained the starter - leaving the coach with no other options.

As you can tell, I wasn't happy with the original decision to elevate Frazer to permanent No. 1 in the spring. But I was prepared to let it go if Good Frazer showed up. He didn't. And yes, I do give credit to Edsall for making a move, even if it was too late to save UConn the embarrassment of scoring 10 points on Michigan or losing to a MAC team. At least we're still 0-0 in the Big East.

On the Banks: For years you could always count on Edsall and UConn for two things: running the ball and defense. Jordan Todman looks like another good one, but why hasn't the UConn defense looked that great up to this point? I know they've had a few personnel losses and injuries, but what happened to the group who were pretty solid for decent stretch of nearly a decade?

The UConn Blog: I have a two-pronged theory here, and both prongs are related to recruiting.

First of all, it's tough for any team to replace NFL-caliber defensive players like linemen Cody Brown and Julius Williams, or DBs like Robert Vaughn and Darius Butler. (Not for nothing, but Jasper Howard was also an incredibly talented corner who should be in the middle of an all-conference-level senior season, with the NFL in his future.) So some of it is simple attrition combined with the fact that UConn isn't  yet a football factory.

Second of all, I think you could make a strong case that Edsall began to change his recruiting strategy for defensive players after the 2007 embarrassment at West Virginia. He reasoned that, to stop guys like Pat White, the Huskies needed speed at every position. And so he began to recruit quicker guys across the board.

An interesting idea, but the result - four years later - is that UConn began the season with defensive ends weighing less than 250 pounds and defensive tackles hovering around the 275 mark. Oh, and also, Denard Robinson showed that UConn still isn't fast enough. Oh, and also, the defensive backs are young and still, uh, learning, at pass coverage.

So UConn went from being very good against conventional offenses and crap against the spread to being average-to-bad against conventional offenses (because the small D-line has issues stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback) and crap against the spread.

(Hey, maybe Edsall was just trying to copy Schiano - ed)

On the Banks: Ok, men's basketball. Seriously, what the hell. That's it. Nothing involving UConn basketball makes any sense to me anymore. I, and probably everyone else just assumed that they'd always be good under Calhoun.

The UConn Blog: Believe me, when I write my annual 17,000-word season preview, it will take me 15,000 words to make sense of it all.

It's been an ugly 18 months or so since UConn was in the Final Four. Calhoun is feeling pressure from all directions, the team completely fell apart with the senior "leadership" last year, and, oh yeah, UConn's probably going to dock itself a scholarship because of recruiting violations.

These will be tricky, interesting times for UConn. Calhoun's already said he has signed his last contract (a five-year deal beginning this year which almost no one thinks will end up lasting five years). There's no line of succession yet planned; recruiting is uncertain with the NCAA investigation still underway; and the program is in danger of dropping off the national radar if they miss the dance again.

In the meantime, Cal is just kind of throwing anything he can against the wall - Germans? HELL YEAH - in order to have a shot at title No. 3.

Calhoun's track record speaks for itself, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't very uneasy about where UConn basketball will be in 2015.

On the Banks: Leaving aside how bad Big East conference football has been this year, what's your take on the latest round of expansion rumors? There's Villanova, TCU, UCF; pretty much every program out of the "Big Six" with BCS auto-bids has been mentioned at some point or another. UConn of course moved its program up from I-AA during the mid-90s, while Villanova stood pat at that time. Is UConn's path applicable at all to Nova moving up in terms of resources and facility upgrades? What about splitting the Big East up along football lines?

The UConn Blog: If a split is inevitable, I would like to see TCU, Central Florida and either Houston/Memphis or Kansas/Missouri (if the Big 12 dissolves) join the eight football teams.

Well, actually, I'd like to see Penn State, Maryland, Boston College and Notre Dame join the eight current football teams, but we're not talking crazy pipe dreams.

Anyway, I don't know that a split is inevitable, because we're the idiot conference where basketball is tops. But if it does happen, I would wish the eight non-football members the best of luck and start hoping the league becomes relevant in the money sport.

As for Villanova, the pro is that they are worlds better on the field than UConn was in 1999. But the contrast between Villanova now and UConn then is striking.

Villanova doesn't receive millions in state funding. It's not a state school with a wide-reaching alumni base. I don't believe they'll be able to build a new stadium on campus or expand their current one to FBS levels. Temple has the lease at the Linc for another 20 years. Philadelphia is a pro sports town, especially for football.

UConn worked because Connecticut politicians pushed for the upgrade, spent the money for it, and they found someone in the state to donate enough land for a state-of-the-art stadium. And even now, 11 years later, with the best practice facilities and one of the newest stadiums in America, the program is still clinging to the edge of relevancy. And that's in a state where UConn is really the only game in town.

It's a tough climb. If Villanova is willing to do it, then good on them, and huzzah for keeping a little bit more of the original Big East intact. But they have to seriously commit for their program to be worth the league's time.

Thanks again to Kevin for his help here, and worst of luck to UConn on Friday night. My corresponding answers are up at The UConn Blog, unfortunately along with a picture of Satan's worldly apparition. Anyone brave enough to click ought to be ready to avert their eyes and scroll their mousewheels to avoid the initial danger of instant and permanent blindness.

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