Sophomores Important for Huskies in 2012

NBC Connecticut

Ten days. That's how long until UConn's 2012 season officially begins when it hosts UMass at Rentschler Field. And unlike a year ago when the Huskies entered the season with no real offensive identity, things should be different this time around.

It's not the typical situation where veteran leadership will be the difference between winning and losing. There will be leadership, for sure, but it'll uncharacteristically be coupled with youth. This is one of the unintended benefits of not having much depth during a 5-7 campaign. Any success this team has will be because of its sophomores.

The running game has sophomore Lyle McCombs, a freshman All-American a year ago and UConn's starting quarterback, Chandler Whitmer, is a sophomore who arrived in Storrs after a sting in junior college. Always cautious, coach Paul Pasqualoni, isn't ready to proclaim the Huskies conference champs.

''I think we have to be very careful of a sophomore slump,'' he said according to the Associated Press. ''(McCombs) was so unknown last year and ran the ball so well and became a very dependable guy for us.''

That's an understatement; McCombs rushed for 1,100 yards and carried the offense when the passing game struggled (which was more often than anyone would like to remember). And that's where Whitmer comes in. He was originally recruited by Illinois before landing at Butler Community College (Kansas) where he threw for more than 3,000 yards in 2011. Balance is plan for the Huskies.

''That's the plan,'' Whitmer said. ''That's how football games are won, with balance. That's our main plan is to protect the ball, have long drives and put the ball in the end zone.''

Helping to facilitate the passing game: the return of wideout Mike Smith, who missed last season after being declared academically ineligible. He'll be joined by Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips and return specialist Nick Williams will be the No. 3 receiver. And then there's tight end Ryan Griffin, considered UConn's best NFL prospect on the offensive side of the ball.

''We've got speed, we've got size, strength, power,'' Whitmer said. ''We've got a lot.''

Now it's just a matter of doing something with all that. Given that the players, despite their youth, now have a year in offensive coordinator George DeLeone's system, it's reasonable to assume that 2012 will look a lot different than 2011.

''The kids are much further along in the sense of knowing the system and the terminology, the flow of the words as you call offensive plays and defenses,'' Pasqualoni said. ''The kids are very, very aware of what's expected.''

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