This morning I reached a point of writer’s block where I threw up my hands and said to myself: ‘there’s no way I can come up with enough to do the usual Friday preview series’ and even posted as much this morning when tweeting out our most recent Cougar football redshirt tracker.
I’ve found a second wind of sorts as I attempt to write about a 2-4 Houston Cougar team taking on UConn Huskies football for hopefully the last time ever.
Here are the 5 most interesting things I could come up with about (or tangentially about) UConn football.
1.) Unconventional Grad Transfers:
The graduate transfer has become ubiquitous in college sports seemingly overnight, especially in college football and basketball.
It’s one of the few NCAA rules of any recent vintage that actually makes sense and gives student athletes much deserved agency. If someone can balance the insane commitment of playing a college sport and still graduate on time (or unbelievably, graduating early) they deserve to finish up their college career at whatever school will take them.
Still, UConn football took a couple of unique grad transfers this past off season. With basically zero Division 1 experience at quarterback, the Husky staff brought in grad transfer Mike Beaudry. What makes this unique was Beaudry’s last school was Division 2 West Florida. In fact, Beaudry was the first signee in Argos program history and started all but 1 game at QB in 2017 when UWF went to the D2 national title game in their 2nd season ever.
Beaudry missed all of the 2015-16 and 2018 seasons with injuries and I guess unsurprisingly is questionable with an injury going into Saturday. This season Beaudry on has 1 TD pass to his name but has also completed over 63% of his passes (at 6.3 yds./att.) and throws INTs a bit less frequently than the other 2 UConn QBs who’ve started in 2019.
As I referenced earlier Beaudry was one of a pair of D2 grad transfers, the other being receiver Ardell Brown. The Rochester, NY native began his collegiate career at Seton Hill University, a small Catholic liberal arts school just east of Pittsburgh. Brown had 2,425 career receiving yards and in his final season had 81 receptions for 1,267 yards and 9 TDs. His numbers are a bit humbler (16 receptions/176 yards/1 TD) in the Husky offense, but that’s a reflection of UConn’s QB instability as much as anything.
2.) Lou Spanos and Sisyphus:
More than any new assistant coach in Division 1 FBS 1st-year UConn defensive coordinator Lou Spanos inherited a task on par with the Greek mythical figure Sisyphus. If you are unfamiliar with Sisyphus, he was a mythical king who because of various transgressions was doomed for an eternity to push a boulder up a hill and have it roll away every time as he approached the top.
The myth is synonymous with futility and what better word describes present day UConn football?
The 2018 UConn defense has a strong case for being the worst in modern Division 1 history. The Huskies allowed 50.4 points/game, 337 rush yards per game and maybe the most astonishing stat: allowing 8.9 yards per play. On average, the Huskies 2018 opponents got nearly a 1st down every time they ran a play. Save for a close 22-17 loss to UMass, they didn’t allow fewer than 38 points in a game last year.
The fact that head coach Randy Edsall was able to get a candidate of Spanos’ caliber is somewhat of a coup. Last time he coached in college, Spanos coordinated defenses at UCLA from 2012-13 that were somewhere between solid and pretty good while skewing a bit more aggressive. Spanos also coached in the professional ranks with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans among others.
It was clear in week 1 that this wasn’t going to be a historically bad defense as the Husky defense held FCS opponent Wagner to 14 points (not counting a Wagner INT TD) and 185 total yards in UConn’s lone win to date. Shutting down an average team from a lower division wouldn’t be notable for most teams, but considering the Huskies gave up 49 points to Rhode Island a year ago, it was a sure sign of progress.
Simply crediting Spanos with this improvement would be ignoring the contributions of returners like Omar Fortt and Tyler Coyle who took lumps as underclassmen last year or impact transfers like DJ Morgan and Diamond Harrell. Also, this is still far from even being anything close to a ‘good’ defense.
That’s the painful reality of a rebuild this dramatic, the Huskies have cut about 10 points and 160 yards off the previous season’s averages and are still among the worst defenses at this level. To some degree UH fans are experiencing this with the Coogs’ rebuilding defense, but on an entirely different scale.
3.) A Texas & Canada Pipeline (with Less Controversy):
One of my favorite weird minutiae things from college football is when a school develops a ‘pipeline’ to an unlikely part of the country, or in some cases the world. The way this specifically relates to UConn is the fact the Huskies have 13 players on their roster from Texas or Canada.
The fact that the Husky program has 6 players originally from Canada (including Mike Beaudry, who played high school football in Florida and was born in Saskatchewan) is a bit less surprising.
To those of us way down in Texas, Connecticut is already part of that great vast swath of North America where it regularly gets below 40 degrees and snows 4 to 6 months per year.
In particular, the Husky quarterbacks are well represented by Canadians. Beaudry and true freshman Jack Zergiotis have both started games for the Huskies this year and one or both guys are certain to see action against the Coogs on Saturday. On defense, sophomore defensive lineman Lwal Ugak has 3.5 sacks on the year as part of the beleaguered Husky defensive front.
I am a lot more surprised that there are 7 current Husky players originally from Texas, including Zavier Scott who is from Fort Hood and went to high school in Germany. The majority of these Texan players are from the DFW Metroplex (highlighted by sophomore DT Caleb Thomas from Mansfield), but freshman defensive back Jaylen Jones is from Hastings HS in Alief ISD.
While its not as if UConn regularly plays lots of games in Texas at present, I do wonder if a future independent schedule that’ll certainly feature more games in the Northeast will mean fewer forays by the Husky coaching staff into Texas.
4.) The Lessons of Donovan Williams:
Whenever there is some challenge to the existing student-athlete power dynamic in college sports, you can count on certain ‘reliable’ voice to say the same refrains. These people will talk about how in a bygone time the word commitment really meant something and how players should stick it out at a school, even when it perhaps isn’t in the player’s best interest.
I will preface this story by saying that Donovan Williams is not dealing with problems like not having potable water, sectarian violence or any other bad thing happening you can come up with that’s happening in the world right now. Williams is a scholarship athlete at a good university, albeit not one that’s very good at football. Still, his story is a cautionary tale of sorts.
Williams was a true freshman quarterback in 2016, the last year of the *ahem* colorful Bob Diaco’s tenure as UConn head coach. After 9 weeks of the season the Huskies were 3-6 and coming off a 41-3 road pasting by ECU, who themselves would only win 3 games that year. The offense was bad enough that Diaco had fired the offensive coordinator midseason and promoted the receivers coach.
Not only was there the desperation coordinator change, but bizarrely Diaco named the true freshman Williams as starting QB for a Friday night national TV game vs Temple (the eventual AAC East champions and the league’s best D).
Predictably, trying to jump start a terrible offense with a true freshman failed miserably and UConn was shut out 21-0 and in their next game against Boston College were shut out 30-0. Essentially, that UConn staff burned Williams’ redshirt year (this was before the current 4-game rule) so that they could go 8 quarters without scoring a single point.
Fast forward to present day and Williams is a senior and a team captain. Since that fateful end of 2016 cameo as starting QB, he hasn’t seen any game action as quarterback. In the 2017-18 seasons Williams played as a backup receiver and special teams player, and on the current roster is listed as a tight end.
The last person to complain about this situation would be Williams himself, but after writing all of this out I have to wonder if his career trajectory would have been different if he’d just redshirted the 2016 season like planned. One of the best lessons here, is that is what’s in the best interest of a young man or woman and your college team of choice aren’t always the same.
5.) “U of H” Double Meanings and Other Nutmeg State Experiences:
In November of 2015 I traveled up Hartford, Connecticut for the purpose of watching the 10-0 Houston Cougars play their final road game of the regular season against UConn.
Within 30 minutes of my arrival at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport I found out I could be stranded at the Budget rental car office as I’d nearly maxed out my credit card making my last tuition payment of the Fall 2015 semester. While the Connecticut radio debut of Adele’s album 25 sadly played in the background on the office’s loudspeaker I was able to sweet talk my way into getting a ride to another rental car company’s office.
Naturally, I wasn’t feeling too ‘cash rich’ and scrapped any thoughts of a New York City Friday afternoon day trip and settled for an hour’s drive south to New Haven and the United States’ most tasteless hamburger courtesy of Louis’ Lunch (the alleged 1st purveyor of the burger). Walking for a couple hours around the Yale campus in New Haven was a bit more to my liking and having gotten my fill of classic architecture, I braved Connecticut Friday rush hour traffic to check in at my hotel.
In my infinite wisdom I had slept fewer than 3 hours the night before my flight and by the time I reached my suburban Hartford hotel I was feeling every possible effect. My check-in was pleasant and unremarkable, save for an exchange with the exceedingly polite young woman at the front desk that went something like this:
Woman: What brings you to Hartford this weekend?!
Me: Well, my school U of H is playing UConn in football this weekend here and I am here to watch that.
At this point, the young woman’s expression momentarily changed to one of confusion and for a split second I was horrified that in my sleep-addled state I’d unintentionally said something I didn’t intend to say. But I was quickly given clarity as to the confusion
Woman: Oh, I didn’t know the University of Hartford had a football team.
My momentary concern changed to relief and mirth, as I explained my school was the University of Houston and the 2 of us were able to find humor in that confusion.
The following day’s 20-17 loss at the hands of UConn won’t ever go down as a fun experience for me, but that trip was a reminder that sometimes experiences trump things like wins, losses or a trip going exactly to plan.