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UConn spring football game is productive ... to a point

By Chuck Banning

Publication: The Day

Published April 21. 2013 4:00AM
Jessica Hill/AP Photo
Lyle McCombs, right, is brought down by Jefferson Ashiru during UConn's Blue-White Spring football game. There was no live clock and no score kept during the scrimmage, with the only scoring belonging to Bobby Puyol, who kicked a pair of field goals.
Offense is limited, but Pasqualoni likes the strides Huskies have made

East Hartford - Did the UConn faithful get to see the best its football team had to offer during what amounted to an 80-minute controlled scrimmage Saturday at Rentschler Field?

Hardly. But that wasn't really coach Paul Pasqualoni's No. 1 priority during the annual Blue-White Spring Game, especially with a depleted roster that forced him to keep 15 players - a number of them projected starters - on the sideline in sweats while recovering from a variety of injuries.

"Overall, it was a real productive spring," Pasqualoni said. "We got a lot of things done."

Translation: The spring is important, but the real work comes this summer and into training camp when the Huskies are healthy again and the roster expands to include a talented freshman class.

"We built up our confidence most of this spring," new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist said. "Maybe it didn't show today as much as people would like, but I feel confident in our offense. I'm not going to put everything into this spring game."

There was no live clock and no scoring kept during the scrimmage, which began with the offense starting from its own 1-yard line, moving up to the 20, 35 and midfield until eventually ending with a series of red zone drills. Bobby Puyol did kick a pair of field goals, however, from 46 and 20 yards.

Chandler Whitmer, who earned the starting quarterback job during last year's spring game, was solid again this year, completing 8 of 14 passes for 140 yards, while Casey Cochran was 7 of 18 for 101 yards. Both were intercepted once.

Cochran did complete the longest pass of the day, a 53-yarder to Dhameer Bradley, while Deshon Foxx, a converted tailback, had three receptions for 70 yards, Shakim Phillips caught three passes for 49 and Geremy Davis had two for 36.

"Foxx can be dangerous," Whitmer said. "We saw a lot from him today and it shows that we have a lot of weapons. We'll get the timing down in the summer and be ready to go."

Whitmer believes UConn's offense, which struggled to find any kind of consistency a year ago during a second straight 5-7 season, must be able to sustain, and finish, more drives in order to be successful this fall.

"Last year was up and down," he said. "We know that if we can consistently put drives together and keep our defense on the sideline and rested, then we know they can come out and do their thing."

Weist agreed, but reminded everyone that his new offensive system remains a work in progress.

"Those things don't happen overnight," he said. "We've had a good spring. We really progressed from a lot of our earlier scrimmages. We took a bit of a step back today, but we did some good things and that's what I'm going to take away from here and build on for next year.

"Sure, I have to have some patience with certain things developing and certain players developing, but where we're going to come together is in two-a-days this summer ? not just together as an offense but as a group getting to know each other. You talk about sustaining drives, it comes down to guys playing together. It comes down to the quarterback trusting that line."

While the offense looked stagnant at times, the defense played well again, which was impressive considering how it returns only five starters and had three returning starters - end Jesse Joseph, tackle Shamar Stephens and linebacker Yawin Smallwood - skip the game while recovering from offseason injuries.

Tim Willman, vying for a starting position up front, had a pair of sacks while safety Ty-Meer Brown and cornerback Andrew Adams each had interceptions.

c.banning@theday.com

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