Questions Remain About UConn Passing Game - NBC Connecticut
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Questions Remain About UConn Passing Game

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Perhaps this shouldn't come as much of a surprise given all the upheaval on the UConn football team in recent months.

    Former coach Randy Edsall bolted for Maryland, leaving many of his assistants behind to fend for themselves. His replacement, Paul Pasqualoni, has been tasked with finding a quarterback, big-play wide receivers, depth at running back, all while implementing a new offense that stresses the downfield passing game.

    As you might expect, it was a work in progress during spring practice. All of which explains why Brian Bennett, ESPN.com's Big East football blogger, doesn't have the Huskies highly ranked in any of his preseason offensive categories.

    Unless you're talking about high school or small-time college programs, it's seldom the case that an offense can be consistently successful by relying solely on the running game. Which means that, in general, the offense begins and ends with the quarterback. Pasqualoni mentioned during spring practice that he won't name a starter until the fall, but he's looking for someone who can throw the ball down the field, something the Huskies struggled to do with Zach Fraser under center.

    Bennett ranked his top Big East QB candidates to pass for at least 3,000 yards in 2011 and UConn came in last … by default (if you're curious, West Virginia's Geno Smith was Bennett's top pick).

    "It's entirely possible that more than one player starts under center in 2011, which would hold down the individual numbers," Bennett writes. "Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone will throw it more than Randy Edsall did. But when you see the horrific stats that Huskies signal-callers amassed in the spring game (albeit in bad weather) and factor in the continued lack of big-time playmakers at receiver, it seems doubtful that a UConn QB will be challenging for any league passing titles in 2011."

    Which brings us to the receivers, a unit only as good as the quarterback(s) tasked to get them the ball. You can probably see where this is going: Bennett doesn't have one Huskies pass catcher among the top eight, either (the Mountaineers' Tavon Austin is No. 1). We have written previously that UConn's wideouts had below-average numbers a year ago but again, much of that goes back to the quarterback, and Edsall's reliance on Jordan Todman, the 2010 Big East Player of the Year (1,695 rushing yards, 14 TDs).

    Finally, there's the running game which, despite the lack of depth, remains the most dependable cog in the offense. Todman's accomplishments have been noted, but his replacement(s) -- likely a backs-by-committee approach -- should be the focus early in the season while the quarterback(s) and wide receivers get comfortable. The obvious choice to do much of the heavy lifting is D.J. Shoemate, a Southern Cal transfer who played well in Saturday's Blue-White spring game. (19 rushes, 110 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown).

    "Picking a UConn back to go over 1,000 used to be a given," Bennett notes. "Donald Brown eclipsed 2,000 in 2008, two backs got into four figures in 2009, and Jordan Todman finished second nationally in rushing a year ago. The Huskies still have a powerful offensive line that will pave holes, and the running game will be important with an unproven quarterback. But there's no clear heir to Todman. Shoemate has gotten most of the reps this spring but must prove he's elusive enough to be an elite tailback. If not, perhaps Lyle McCombs or an incoming freshman will get a shot."

    If there is one bright spot, one certainty, it's this: the Huskies' defense looks to be as formidable as ever. And Pasqualoni hopes that the old cliche -- defense wins championships -- holds true, at least while he finds a way to make the passing game come together. He has just over four months to work out the kinks.