UConn faces first road test Saturday at Vanderbilt

The UConn football team doesn’t have any appearances scheduled for Michigan’s Big House or in South Bend, Ind., but the Huskies are now focusing on preparations for their first road game of the season. After opening the season with a 35-3 victory over Fordham Saturday at Rentschler Field, coach Paul Pasqualoni said Sunday he has concerns about his young team’s ability to handle a hostile crowd.

That anxiety is amplified by the fact UConn is likely to continue rotating three inexperienced quarterbacks at Vanderbilt Saturday.

“Oh yeah, we’re definitely concerned,” Pasqualoni said when asked about taking the Huskies on the road the first time. “Any time you’re on the road and you’re playing a quality opponent [it’s a concern]. Vanderbilt’s an SEC team. Obviously, we’ve got to be very mature about this, especially at the quarterback position and being in that stadium.

“And I’m concerned about the tailbacks, because we’ve got young, inexperienced people there. They’re going to have to take care of the ball. We can’t turn the ball over down there. That would be a recipe for disaster.”

One year ago Sunday, the Huskies opened their 2010 season at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Trailing the Wolverines 24-10 late in the third quarter, tailback D.J. Shoemate fumbled on a fourth down play after he had picked up a first down. Shoemate never got back in the good graces of then-coach Randy Edsall. But he worked hard in spring ball and fall camp to prove to Pasqualoni that he won’t be careless with the ball.

Shoemate had been expected to get the start at tailback against Fordham but he sprained an ankle in drills Thursday and Pasqualoni decided to go with redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs. McCombs made the most of the opportunity, carrying 24 times for 141 yards and four touchdowns after being told he was starting during pre-game stretching.

The Huskies were comfortable at home against Fordham Saturday but must hit the road to play Vanderbilt on Sept. 10.

Pasqualoni hopes that holding out Shoemate against Fordham will give the senior transfer from USC time to fully heal.

“We had him dressed and ready to go,” Pasqualoni said of Shoemate. “But I told him I was going to go cautiously with it. I didn’t want to set him back for this week. I wanted him ahead of the rehab for this week, starting [Monday] when we start practice again. So I said to him, ‘You’ve got to trust our judgement here – the trainer, the doctor and myself.’ We’re going to do what’s right. He was obviously disappointed.”

Vanderbilt (1-0) defeated Elon 45-14 Saturday before a crowd of 27,599 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. First-year coach James Franklin gambled on fourth down three times to keep drives alive and the result was 17 points. Larry Smith threw for two touchdowns and passed for another as the Commodores snapped a seven-game losing streak. Elon outgained Vandy 323-309 but three Elon turnovers led to three Vandy TDs.

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Huskies find surprise star in McCombs

Coach Paul Pasqualoni's debut at UConn was a success as the Huskies defeated Fordham 35-3

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – The quarterback situation at UConn may not be any clearer than it was before the Huskies defeated Fordham 35-3 Saturday, but a surprising star did step into the spotlight on this sunny day at Rentschler Field.

Lyle McCombs, the redshirt freshman tailback from Staten Island, N.Y., got a chance to start when D.J. Shoemate sprained his ankle in practice Thursday. After the coaching staff observed Shoemate wasn’t going to be 100 percent, head coach Paul Pasqualoni said the decision was made to start McCombs and save Shoemate for next week’s game at Vanderbilt.

How did that work out? McCombs carried the ball 24 times for 141 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and broke free for a 60-yard scamper to the Fordham 2 in the second quarter. Two plays later he busted into the end zone for a 1-yard TD run that gave UConn a 14-0 lead.

McCombs, who is 5-8 and 172 pounds, said he got the word he was starting during pre-game stretching. Everyone had assumed Shoemate, the transfer from USC, would start for the Huskies. McCombs was expected to get his share of time – but nothing like he did.

“I had no idea and they said, ‘You get to start today, so make the most of it,’ ” McCombs said. “I was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ I did make the most of it, I guess.”

On UConn’s very first play from scrimmage, starting quarterback Johnny McEntee passed to McCombs for a nifty 8-yard gain on a swing play. That might have chased away the butterflies for both players.

“I was nervous, but that first play, I got hit pretty hard and that woke me up after that,” McCombs said.

It just kept getting better for McCombs after that. His four TDs are the most for a UConn player since Jordan Todman ran for four against Cincinnati on Nov. 7, 2009. While Shoemate convinced Pasqualoni early in camp that he was the starter at tailback – and had learned to protect the football – McCombs never dropped too far behind and entered the week equal on the depth chart. The biggest concern with McCombs, given his size, had been his durability.

Did he answer those questions?

“You tell me,” he said. “I got pretty banged up today, but I’m all right.”

McCombs played on the scout team last year, waiting his turn while Todman did everything for UConn’s offense. But he knew his chance would come.

“It was a long wait but I knew my time would come eventually,” McCombs said. “I’m still young. And it came sooner than I thought.”
The response by McCombs allowed the Huskies to keep Shoemate on the sideline and not risk further injury. Pasqualoni said he thinks Shoemate can bounce back and be ready for the Vanderbilt game. If Shoemate and McCombs need to share the running load, the Huskies can feel confident now that McCombs has demonstrated what he can do. McCombs also had two receptions for 17 yards.

“Lyle is in great shape and he has stamina,” Pasqualoni said. “One of the things you really look for in a good back is the ability to stay out there. I don’t like it when they’re looking at you on the sideline like, ‘Coach, I’m tired. Get me out of here.’ For us it’s, ‘You stay out there until we put the other guy in.’ Lyle isn’t big but fundamentally he’s pretty good.

“We’re fortunate we’ve got D.J. We expect him to be healthy and ready to go next week. Lyle is a great guy to put in there. And J.J. [Jonathan Jean-Louis] is ready to go also. I just think it will make the competition a little more fierce.”

Jean-Louis had 18 yards on five carries as the Huskies gained 206 yards on the ground.

NOTES:

McEntee not only started at QB, he completed 8 of 12 passes for 113 yards. Scott McCummings threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Griffin, who looked like a terrific weapon for the Huskies. And Mike Nebrich was 3-for-8 for 60 yards and one interception on a busted play and a bad decision. McCummings also ran seven times for 23 yards. “The next step is to keep going,” Pasqualoni said. “It’s a work in progress. I’ve got to go back and grade the film but I thought there were some pretty good plays that each of them made. I’m sure everybody in this room would’ve loved to have seen one guy jump out in front of the other. But you have to be patient. It’s a fierce competition. We will keep going until it’s clear.”

Pasqualoni became the first UConn head coach to win his coaching debut since 1923. He also tied Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer for most wins (108) by a Big East coach.

Kicker Dave Teggart had five extra points to move into second place all-time at UConn with 104. He now has 254 career points, which ties UConn’s all-time record.

UConn’s defense held Fordham to 20 yards rushing and eight first downs. Linebacker Jory Johnson led the Huskies with 11 tackles. Safety Byron Jones recorded his first career interception. And linebacker Sio Moore did not disappoint. He was all over the field with seven tackles and two breakups.

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Pendergast should be UConn’s top dog

I would never presume to be important enough to offer a suggestion to the president of a major state university. And Susan Herbst, the new president at the University of Connecticut, has no reason to ask for my input.

Herbst seems to be an extremely capable and intelligent person. She casts the image of an organized, competent and confident administrator. Resolute, she has been called. Herbst has been receiving plenty of advice in recent weeks – from columnists, boosters, and UConn fans – regarding the position of director of athletics at UConn. So she doesn’t need anyone else barking instructions in her ears.

But let me say this: There’s really no need to form a search committee to handle the hiring a new athletic director. Paul Pendergast should be the guy who permanently moves into Jeff Hathaway’s office as the new UConn AD.

Herbst announced Sunday that Pendergast would become interim AD on Sept. 19, after Hathaway officially departs Storrs on Sept. 15. Hathaway was fired Friday after eight years in charge of the athletic department. It has been a dizzying few days at UConn. I suppose the university has to go through the formality of a search to avoid any legal issues. And I understand why the interim tag must follow Pendergast at this stage of the process.

But I’m convinced Herbst has already found the right person for the job.

“It could be [permanent],” Pendergast said Monday. “I think I have to act that way.”

The best thing about Pendergast was that he wasn’t acting. He was just being himself. And that put a lot of UConn people at ease already.

Paul Pendergast is the guy this department needs right now. All the smiling faces around Storrs Monday made that obvious. UConn called the media together for a little meet-and-greet at the Burton Family Football Complex. For many it was a chance to shake hands and say welcome back to Pendergast, who is a former senior associate AD for development at UConn. For the coaches and other members in the athletic department, it was a chance to meet the new boss in a staff meeting.

The new boss set a very good tone. He wants to be in the mix when that search committee does its work – whenever that will be. Herbst hasn’t announced a timetable, but she certainly has placed a lot of trust in Pendergast.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the idea of putting your finger in a dike and holding the level of water where it is,” Pendergast said of his assignment. “You can’t be a leader unless people are willing to follow.”

The UConn athletic department has been a dysfunctional family the past five or six years. That is putting it mildly. That finally caught up with Hathaway, who simply was not a “people person.” Hathaway is not a bad person and it is regrettable that things played out this way at the end. He did make mistakes. At the same time, UConn athletics enjoyed unparalleled success during his reign. That conflict has brought national attention to the situation.

Hathaway is packing his boxes today but it’s not just because he didn’t get along with men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun or former football coach Randy Edsall. Under Hathaway’s watch there were issues with compliance, attendance, academics and fundraising. That’s too much to overcome.

So now there is a changing of the guard.

Pendergast, who left UConn in 2006 for Saint Francis Hospital, helped raise money for the football complex he stood in Monday. But, he noted,“there’s two people who walked in here for the first time today and I was one of them.”

The other person just happened to be Calhoun, who slipped out a back door to avoid reporters. One of the major disagreements Calhoun had with Hathaway was over the lack of a practice facility that could be used by the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Calhoun has long been jealous of the football practice facility, which is outstanding and up to NFL grade, and he refused to walk through the doors of the Burton Complex.

Until Monday.

Herbst and Pendergast support the idea of a basketball facility. So Calhoun should be extra happy.

“There’s at least 40 others in the NCAA that have facilities that we should have here,” Pendergast said. “I’d like to put a hole in the ground today, but not just have it be a hole in the ground.”

Calhoun hasn’t issued a statement regarding Hathaway’s “retirement.” Don’t hold your breath until he does. Women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, on tour with his squad in Italy, stirred up things Sunday with a statement he sent home to the women’s beat writers. He questioned the decision to replace Hathaway and mentioned a “disgruntled few” who chose to focus on the negative. It didn’t require a lot of reading between the lines to conclude that Auriemma was pointing a finger at Calhoun, booster Bob Burton and perhaps others.

Asked about Auriemma’s statement, Pendergast deferred to Herbst. She had already downplayed it during a conference call with reporters Sunday, saying, “Geno and I will keep talking.”

Calhoun and Auriemma have a long history of not getting along. Geno’s jab from Italy won’t improve that. But you’ve got to love Pendergast’s response to all of that, when he was asked Monday.

“The two coaches run separate programs,” he said. “In my mind, they don’t need to hold hands wherever they go. That’s kind of bizarre because it doesn’t happen in any other sports. . . . But [based on] the idea that we do something like a building that’s going to benefit both, I think there’s going to be times when Jim and Geno need to be on at least the same page as us.”

There’s an honest and simple answer we haven’t heard during the previous two administrations of Hathaway or Lew Perkins. Pendergast is a straight shooter and a people person. That’s why he has been successful as a fundraiser and as a leader. That’s why a couple of Hall of Famers with huge egos won’t stop him from doing his job.

Worried about his age at 65? Forget about it. He has more energy and desire that two 30-year-olds put together – more wisdom and expertise too.

College athletics has been taken over by some stiff, arrogant boardroom types in recent years. They punch the numbers, worry about the bottom line, lose track of the students who are athletes, and they’ve taken the fun out of the games. Pendergast isn’t in that mold. He is a businessman, but he talked about bringing fun back to UConn games again. There is so much room for that and his ideas are going to be innovative.

That’s good news for UConn fans. Many won’t be happy to hear that he wants to raise ticket prices for games against high profile opponents, but that’s one of those national trends that won’t go away. It’s a new way to find revenue and that’s part of his job.

Here’s why it would be fun working for Paul Pendergast.

“It starts with respect and trust,” he said. “If people like you and trust you, you’ve got a chance.”

That’s so refreshing. He talked about accountability. He talked about being able to come to work, raise a hand, admit a mistake, or just ask for help. That’s all about communication and there hasn’t been much communication in this athletic department the last few years.

Pendergast and Herbst have called compliance one of the pillars of an athletic department. UConn learned about that the hard way with the NCAA sanctions in the Nate Miles case. But Calhoun’s program isn’t alone. Look at USC, Ohio State, North Carolina and now the University of Miami.

“I would say be vigilant with one another,” Pendergast said when asked one thing he would stress in compliance. “If we’re constantly vigilant and making each other aware of where there may be an issue – at another school even or a trend we should be on the lookout for – the idea is sharing with one another.”

Pendergast’s best answer of the day came when he was asked about the possibility of searching for a new men’s basketball coach during his interim term as AD. It’s hard to imagine Calhoun not returning for the 2011-12 season, but he hasn’t made a definitive statement about his future. Until he does, anything is possible.

“I didn’t ask him the question,” Pendergast said. “It’s not fair for me to even speculate.

“But the man has a contract. He has a contract.”

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QB job still wide open at UConn

Coach Paul Pasqualoni said Friday that senior D.J. Shoemate has earned the starting job at tailback.

One week into camp, four UConn players remain in the running for the starting quarterback job. That’s what coach Paul Pasqualoni said Friday at media day in Storrs.

No reason to panic. It’s only been a week.

But the Huskies open the season Sept. 1 against Fordham. That’s less than three weeks away now.

“My drop dead date [for a decision] is Thursday, Sept. 1,” Pasqualoni said with a smile. “The game starts at 7 o’clock . . . so somewhere around 5 o’clock. That’s my drop dead date.”

Coach P said he hasn’t ruled out anything. He likes the no-nonsense approach all four have taken. They’ve all done good things, he said. All four have shown improvement. He might go with a two quarterback system. When one guy emerges, the coaches will take UConn’s enormous playbook and whittle it down to size, finding ways to feature the strength of that guy.

But right now there doesn’t appear to be a leader.

Mike Box, Scott McCummings, Johnny McEntee and Mike Nebrich all appeared loose and confident Friday as they posed for photos and conducted interviews on the field of the Shenkman Training Center. It seems to be a friendly competition.

“It’s fun,” said McEntee, UConn’s YouTube sensation who is building his case on the strength of accuracy. “I’m just trying to stay in the running. I don’t think it really is a matter of who Coach likes best. It’s a matter of who will put our team in the position to win.”

If there is a favorite in camp among the other members of the offense, no one is saying. Perhaps UConn’s athletic communications department got that message across during “media training.” Or maybe these guys are just savvy enough to know they shouldn’t assume the role of decision maker.

“Sometimes the quarterbacks rotate and I don’t even notice,” said D.J. Shoemate, who would be the starting tailback if the Huskies played that first game today. “I want to win, so I want to go with the person that’s going to make our offense best.”

Shoemate said he has a gut feeling, but he is leaving it to the coaching staff.

Senior wide receiver Kashif Moore says he tries not to worry about the four-way battle at QB.

“I’m just focusing on my own thing,” he said. That would be running the right routes and catching the ball. Moore did say McCummings has the “strongest arm on the team – no shorter than 75 yards” on his maximum heave.

The four quarterbacks are fortunate to have center Moe Petrus in front of them. The Huskies won’t be utilizing the shotgun as much. Pasqualoni’s offense requires the QB to come up under center the majority of the time.

Petrus is a senior captain who has started 39 consecutive games for the Huskies. He’s a leader. He’s smart and he’s one of the best interior linemen in the country. Petrus is one of the reasons why Pasqualoni can take his time making a decision. The kid is a rock for the Huskies. But he is dealing with four different snap counts and four different cadences.

“It’s not the same as having a starter named and working with him on a full-time basis,” Petrus said.
“But at the same time, we’re getting an equal amount of reps for all the guys. We are developing a certain amount of familiarity and getting comfortable with a number of guys.

“It’s a little challenging right now, but in the long run I think it will help us.”

Petrus did say he prefers a QB who sits in the pocket and doesn’t scramble much. That might have been perceived as an endorsement for McEntee, but Petrus corrected that quickly.

“Whatever is best for the team,” he said.

Whatever – and whenever. We may not know until 5 p.m. on Sept. 1. But only one can start against Fordham.

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Goodbye to a friend

The shock factor is slowly going away. Reality is starting to set in.

Somewhere in the flood of memories and sadness these last three days, I realized I will never be on the receiving end of a Solomon Shrug again – and I’m really going to miss that.

If I had been thinking, I would have counted the number of times I saw that shrug over the past 26 years. I should have kept a log. The shrug was a common part of any conversation with Dave Solomon. It was practically a form of punctuation for the sports columnist for the New Haven Register. Dave would tilt his head, raise his shoulders and contort his face to express himself a certain way.

He made it work in any situation. Most often the shrug came with a smile. Perhaps he had just fired a zinger in your direction. Or maybe you had countered his zinger with one of your own. Perhaps he had just asked a question and was awaiting a response. Or maybe he just stated something he believed to be a fact.

Whatever the reason, the shrug always worked. That was Dave.

And now the shrug is gone.

Wednesday morning we will gather to tell Dave Solomon goodbye. The longtime writer/columnist for the Register died Saturday evening in a single-car accident on Interstate 91. He was almost back home in Meriden after covering the first football practice of the season at UConn.

Dave was 59. Taken away much too soon. It’s one of those things that makes no sense.

I received the news at midnight Saturday, through the magical new world of social media. I was headed to bed and had just put my iPhone on the nightstand when the signal of a text message got my attention. It was from my son Joe, who just graduated from the University of Kansas and is living and working in Kansas City.

“David Solomon died….”

It was downright surreal.

“Dave Solomon from New Haven?”

“Yes. In a car crash.”

“How did u hear?”

“On twitter… Search for Dave Solomon on twitter.”

I didn’t want to believe it. Then I found the tweet from the Register, where Sean Barker had posted the news. It was on Facebook too. “Toughest six inch story I’ll ever have to write,” Sean wrote. “Rest in Peace my good friend.”

The reactions started pouring in on Twitter. I cried. Tears and then more tears. My heart started to ache. As several friends have said this week, you just can’t get your head around this. I couldn’t go back to bed. I was up half the night. Didn’t go to sleep until well after 3 a.m. and then it was just restlessness after that.

I had planned on going to that UConn practice Saturday. But at some point in the morning I decided against it. I didn’t have an official reason to be there, and I had gone to Big East media day earlier in the week. I decided I would read the accounts from all the beat writers on Sunday.

Part of me wishes I had stuck to the original plan. I would have seen Dave one last time. But who could have known it was the last time? Most likely, we would have headed to our cars. I would have said, “See ya, David.” He would have said, “Bye Kenneth.”

Dave was one of the few people who could get away with calling me Kenneth. I prefer Ken. Certain people can call me Kenny. My mother is really the only person who routinely calls me Kenneth and I can’t change that. Dave could do it and it didn’t bother me. Not sure why. Randy Smith of the Journal Inquirer used to do it too. Maybe it’s a columnist thing. Or maybe Dave just had to mess with everyone’s names.

That was just Dave.

Randy passed away a little over three years ago. I still miss his laugh, his questions, his undeniable style and I miss it every time I’m on press row or in the press box at a sporting event in Connecticut.

It’s going to be that way with David too. I don’t remember the first time I met Dave. It must have been September or October of 1985, when I was hired by The Hartford Courant to cover the UConn men’s basketball team. I’m from Kansas and I came to Hartford after stops in St. Joseph, Mo., Binghamton, N.Y., and Baltimore. I was 27 and I didn’t know anyone in Connecticut when I arrived. I knew of Owen Canfield and Woody Anderson from reading the Courant when I covered the 1982 Big East tournament at the Hartford Civic Center. That was it.

I do know this: Dave Solomon was one of the few people who didn’t treat me like an outsider when I arrived in 1985. He was one of the few that tried to make me feel at home.

We spent a lot of time together on the UConn beat. That involves planes, trains and automobiles. That involves pre-game dinners on the road. It involves a lot of time watching practice and waiting for interviews. Connecticut writers know how to compete, but most have realized life is lot easier if you get along. Dave and I weren’t friends who got together away from the games and the press boxes. But we certainly were friends.

Dave spoke Bronx. I get a lot of questions about Dorothy, Toto and the Wizard of Oz. He was a UConn grad. He knew I was proud of being a Kansas grad. He knew I could become defensive if someone spoke poorly of the Jayhawks. More than once, David would look at me in the press room, or on press row during a UConn game, and he’d say, “Is that how they do it at Kansas?”

How could you get mad at that? He was just messing with you. It was priceless.

I always respected Dave as a journalist. In December 1998, when UConn football coach Skip Holtz left the Huskies to become offensive coordinator at South Carolina, I received my marching orders from the Courant. I was told to cover the search for the new coach and I was told it would be unacceptable to be beaten by any other outlet. That’s pressure, but that’s the newspaper business. It’s what we all live for, I think.

On Dec. 19, the Courant sports section led with my story: “It’s Edsall’s Job; UConn to Hire Ga. Tech Assistant.” I had worked my butt off, worked all my sources, made calls all over the country. I had the details of the four-year contract. I had talked to Edsall earlier and he had denied any contact with UConn. When my sources told me Edsall was the guy, I dug out Edsall’s home number. Randy and his wife guarded their privacy closely and when he arrived in Storrs the next week his first question was how I had gotten the unlisted number. Classified information, I said.

In those days, we didn’t post stories on Twitter. We didn’t have web sites for our newspapers. I went to bed on Dec. 18, thinking I had the big scoop. I did. Everything was correct and I had not been beaten.

The next morning I learned that the Register had news of Edsall’s hiring too. David had the story. Who else? I had my sources. He had his sources. We took different routes but both got the story. So we tied. It wasn’t an easy task for either of us. But we both did our jobs. My respect for Dave rose to another level that day. (I always kidded him that my story had more details, but a tie is a tie.)

Since Sunday morning, I keep having this memory. Dave and I are sitting in an airport. Our connection to somewhere for a UConn game has been delayed. We spend the whole time talking about our families. This really happened. I just can’t remember where. The location of the airport in this memory is fuzzy.

Dave has Judy. I have Nancy. Dave has two daughters. I have two sons. We shared family stories and progress notes quite often along press row. Judy, Lisa and Abby already know this, but Dave loved them very much. He was a proud father and family meant everything to him. We came from different backgrounds, but we held those values in common. The last six years, since I left the Courant, we have had a chance to sit closer together on press row. That gave me a chance to know him even better.

Dave has been praised for his reporting and writing ability in so many tributes this week. I salute him for always putting family first.

The last time I saw Dave was in Storrs, back in April, at the press conference when Kemba Walker announced he was turning pro. After the formal session, Dave engaged Jim Calhoun in a lively discussion of academic standards, the NCAA, and the Academic Progress Rate. Phil Chardis and I joined in. Dave wasn’t trying to be negative about anything related to UConn’s graduation rate, but Calhoun and Solomon simply weren’t on the same page. It was one of those classic conversations, the kind that took place much more often when Calhoun was in the early years of his tenure at UConn.

I never saw Dave’s column. Not sure if he ever wrote one on the topic.

But he did do a lot of shrugging that day, mostly out of frustration.

Boy, I’m going to miss that.

Goodbye Dave. Thanks for being such a good writer. Thanks for being such a good person. And thanks for being my friend.

We’re all going to miss you.

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Huskies searching for QB

Coach Paul Pasqualoni is returning to the Big East as head of the Huskies

Summer is over.

Not according to the calendar, of course. The meteorological change of seasons is still weeks away, but college football teams are starting up practice all over the country – even in the brutal heat of Texas – and that means the fall sports season is very much upon us.

The Big East held its annual clambake Monday night in Newport, R.I., and media day followed the next morning at The Hotel Viking. Perhaps the most notable stat from both events belonged to South Florida offensive guard Jeremiah Warren, who consumed seven lobsters under the big tent at Fort Adams State Park. Those who keep track of such things said that tied a conference record. (Together, Warren and I ate about 7 ½ crustaceans. I actually prefer the coconut shrimp served during cocktail hour.)

The UConn Huskies hold their first practice Friday afternoon. A lot has happened since that 48-20 loss to Oklahoma on Jan. 1 and the Paul Pasqualoni era is about to officially begin in Storrs. The Huskies open the season Sept. 1 against Fordham at The Rent. On the thrill-o-meter, that ranks a bit lower than last year’s opener at Michigan.

But the program isn’t exactly in need of thrills right now.

Since the release of the Big East preseason media poll, much has been made of the fact that UConn was picked sixth in the eight-team conference. Last year’s BCS bid to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl apparently erased the memory of many in Connecticut. The Huskies were 5-2 in Big East play and not so far from fourth place (Syracuse at 4-3) or fifth (USF and Louisville tied at 3-4). The top isn’t too far from the bottom in the Big East.

And Pasqualoni heads into his first fall camp with absolutely no idea who will be starting at quarterback against Fordham. Quarterback issues are nothing new at UConn, but Coach P is really playing a game of spin the bottle this time. The restructuring of the offense – not to mention a new system – certainly had to contribute to the forecast that the Huskies will stumble toward the Big East basement.

“That’s legit, I am not embellishing anything,” Pasqualoni said about the QB situation at media day. “I’m not exaggerating. I do not know right now today who the quarterback is going to be. I know who the candidates are going to be. I like the candidates, but I don’t know which one it is going to be.”

The depth chart at QB looks like this heading into the first practice:

4 Mike Box OR
11 Scott McCummings OR
18 Johnny McEntee OR
2 Mike Nebrich

This isn’t a quarterback controversy. It’s a search committee headed by Pasqualoni, who knows the evolution at the QB spot and his ultimate decision will set an important tone for the entire season. Under Randy Edsall last season, the Huskies averaged only 151.1 passing yards a game. That has to improve.

Box, a 6-3 sophomore, is the only one of the candidates who has thrown a pass in college play. He was 6-of-17 for 65 yards last season behind Zach Frazer and Cody Endres. McCummings is a redshirt freshman. McEntee is a junior. Nebrich is a true freshman.

With D.J. Shoemate, the USC transfer, likely taking over at tailback and replacing All-Everything Jordan Todman, the Huskies really are searching for a new offensive leader. Shoemate is the favorite at tailback. Still, the competition there could be intriguing. And the coaching staff wants to get the offensive line set.

But the QB situation seems sure to dominate the news from camp, even though Coach P is preaching patience.

“I would like to make the decision as soon as I can,” Pasqualoni said. “What that means I am not sure, but I am prepared to go the distance. I am prepared to get it right. I want to get it right no matter what it takes.”

Pasqualoni said the last time he went through something like this was 1995 when he was at Syracuse and decided on a starter during pregame warmups before the opener at North Carolina. The winning candidate was named Donovan McNabb. He played every snap the next four years.

We can’t predict things will work out quite that well for the Huskies. But you never know.

Before Monday night, who knew one person could eat seven lobsters – all in one sitting.

- Ken Davis

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