"We came into preseason camp last year, we didn't have a middle linebacker. Yawin's skill set was the best to be that player. He really started to come on last year. He's settling in now. He's confident. He looks instinctive. That's important for that position."
Granted, long season. Granted, weak opponent. But this is what my eyes screamed to me. This UConn defense is a blue streak.
"I don't know if it's going to look that fast next week," Pasqualoni said, laughing. "But we have guys who can run. Sio, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Trevardo, Yawin. Ty-Meer Brown was a quarterback in high school. Byron Jones has a 43-inch vertical jump. We've got athletes on defense."
There was plenty to like.
Nick Williams was an all-purpose demon. Lots of attention has been directed toward transfer Shakim Phillips, Williams and the return of Mike Smith, but Geremy Davis, a physical receiver, has emerged in practice and Whitmer found him five times for 79 yards.
In his debut, Whitmer showed he still will try to force a ball into traffic. He can't get greedy. Yet despite the two interceptions he did hit 15 of 25 passes for 219 yards. Chad Christen nailed all three of his field goal attempts, the longest of 47 yards.
The offensive line was a game of musical chairs during the first half. There was clearly a lot of experimentation going on. UConn played lots of guys and didn't empty its playbook.
"We've got enough plays to paper this wall," Pasqualoni said laughing.
Everybody knows Lyle McCombs can run. Everybody knows that is UConn's bread and butter. And McCombs buttered the bread for 89 yards on 23 carries. Pasqualoni's one complaint was that he wanted to run the ball better on third down.
Games like this, of course, usually open up on turnovers and as good as UConn looked at times the score was only 10-0 late in the first half. That's when Dwayne Gratz intercepted a Wegzyn pass for a 37-yard touchdown return. UConn never looked back.
Was there too much wildcat for my taste? Yes. Scott McCummings, who did miss a lot of practice time in August, got a lot of work in, carrying the ball seven times for 15 yards. It seemed to disrupt the rhythm of Whitmer's offense. Pasqualoni said that with so much run blitz, the wildcat is an equalizer. My eyes told me not so much wildcat next week.
But then again, this is the opener. There's a lot of real stuff and a lot of fool's gold.
And something tells me the UConn speed and pursuit on defense is very real and potentially devastating.
"I'm not surprised at all," said Smallwood, who wore a bow tie to the post-game media session. "Last year, we were ranked like No. 4 in the nation in the run game. We came out trying to prove something this year, that we're a great defense, a top-five defense in the country."
East Hartford, CT, USA