UConn’s Randy Edsall bemoans the state program was left in when he returned in 2017
STORRS — During an emotional and pointed “state of the program” address, UConn football coach Randy Edsall never once uttered the names of either Paul Pasqualoni or Bob Diaco, but there was no questioning that in Edsall’s eyes, the damage done by the former UConn coaches has made for a more strenuous reclamation project than Edsall was anticipating when he agreed to return to Storrs.
UConn is last among 130 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense after opening the season with blowout losses to nationally ranked UCF and Boise State. Edsall knows that with each missed defensive assignment and every touchdown scored by the opponent, the frustration grows among those who remember when Edsall coached UConn to six winning seasons in the final eight years during his first stint with the Huskies.
“We’re doing everything we can but if somebody thinks we’re going to take some fairy dust, just sprinkle it and all of a sudden it’s going to change, you might as well go and keep drinking alcohol or something because this isn’t easy, but it’s fun,” Edsall said. “It’s fun because these kids want it, they want to do it and they’re out there trying. Most of them shouldn’t even be playing (as freshmen).
“I have more patience now that what I used to but I see that we’re all on the right track and we’re doing the right things. I know maybe it’s not going to be as quick as maybe what some people might like but if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it the right way and when (you) have it going, you can turn it over to somebody else. You can’t cut corners, you can’t take shortcuts. It’s just a shame what has happened from 2011-17; you can’t get it back but it’s a great lesson when you don’t do the right things how quickly it can go. You saw what the time it took to get it there but if you don’t do the things you are supposed to, it’s going down and it’s going to take a little bit longer to get back to where you want it to be and that’s the reality of it in this sport.”
Edsall pointed out that UConn has only two players (center Ryan Crozier and defensive end James Atkins) who have been with the program for five seasons that have significant roles with the current squad. As a point of reference, UCF and Boise combined to start eight fifth-year seniors on offense or defense and played 11 others who had been with their programs for five years.
With Darrian Beavers moving from linebacker to defensive end and safety Omar Fortt doubtful to play in Saturday’s home game against Rhode Island (noon, SNY), UConn will likely have started 19 different players on defense in the first three games of the season, including nine who had never taken a snap at UConn heading into the season.
“Take it as a challenge,” UConn safety Tyler Coyle said. “We have a lot of freshmen playing and they’re being forced to play; you can’t redshirt, you’re going to have to play and be a part of the team this year and that’s what they’re doing.”
If Fortt is unable to play due to the concussion he suffered against Boise State, only Coyle and cornerback Tahj Herring-Wilson will have started at the same position on defense in each of the first three games. No position has been more hectic than the cornerback position opposite Herring-Wilson. True freshmen Keyshawn Paul and Ryan Carroll started the first two games, while classmate Jeremy Lucien is slated to get the call against URI.
“You play two top-20 teams and those weren’t good matchups for us,” Edsall said. “I got a text from my good buddy (former UCF coach) George O’Leary yesterday and he tells me that speed and experience is not a good matchup, lack of those things, lack of speed, lack of experience aren’t good matchups against the two teams we just played. As he said, keep the faith and the wins will come, and that’s what we are doing.
“This is a massive rebuild. You see those first two games, take a look at what’s happening with the number of guys going to the NFL where that was and where it is now, but these kids are working, they’re trying.”
UConn is coming off a game in which it gave up 400 yards rushing and 418 passing yards in Saturday’s 62-7 loss to Boise State, when the Huskies started five true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and true true sophomores.
“If you don’t think we’re working on that (limiting explosive plays) every day, you’re crazy,” Edsall said.
As hard as it might be to believe, UConn could be even younger on defense against Rhode Island with true freshman Oneil Robinson, a former Capital Prep star, expected to start if Fortt is unable to play.