STORRS — The nation’s ninth-ranked defense was housed right here. So was the nation’s 110th-ranked offense. You don’t have to be a sports writer to determine that if the latter ranking was a little closer to the former, UConn would have been a much better football team than the one that finished 5-7.
That No. 9 finish (310 yards a game) improved on the Huskies’ No. 51 ranking (367 ypg) in 2011, the first season the Huskies operated under defensive coordinator Don Brown and his aggressive, pressure-filled system. Last year, the Huskies got much better at it.
Brown is at Boston College now. The style, with a few new wrinkles, remains under Hank Hughes, the longtime defensive line coach and a former defensive coordinator under Randy Edsall (2002-04).
“I think we'll be very similar to what we've been,” Hughes said. “Certainly, P [coach Paul Pasqualoni] has some things he wants to do, and there's some things we've done in the time I've been here, but our kids know a good part of what we've been doing recently, so we'll keep as much of that stuff as we feel applies to who we're playing. You have to be aggressive to some degree, or if you're not, it's death by inches, just a slow death. But by the same token, we're going to have our kids fit into our system. These kids have been recruited for this, and guys have been working in this system. It's not like we're going to have a whole different system because we lost some starters.”
The Huskies lost cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz, linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson, defensive tackle Ryan Wirth and defensive end Trevardo Williams.
Three of the Huskies’ top seven tacklers return, including team leader Yawin Smallwood (120).
“We’ve got some good guys to replace everybody, and we’ve got a good scheme we’re excited about,” said junior safety Ty-Meer Brown. “That pressure was Don Brown’s baby, and he loved to bring the pressure. … We’ll still bring some. We’re not going to sit back and wait for anybody. We’re going to go and attack — attack every offense that we play against and be the best we can be. I’d say the defense is a mix of a lot of different things.”
Tim Willman will start opposite fellow senior Jesse Joseph at defensive end after a strong preseason. Sophomore defensive tackle Julian Campenni (6 feet, 298) appears ready to take on a key role after putting on 15 pounds and getting stronger. The other tackle is returning starter Shamar Stephen (6-5, 313), a senior captain.
“I was taking [first-team] reps all spring, so I knew I needed to be in the best shape possible if I really wanted to contribute to the team,” Campenni said. “I took it as a personal challenge to get where I am now. I know I got a little experience playing, but replacing a fifth-year guy like Ryan [Wirth] is big. You have to make up for it with fundamentals, technique and style of play.”
Senior Ryan Donohue, a transfer from Maryland, and sophomore Graham Stewart, a transfer from Florida and a former Xavier-Middletown standout, will be the starting linebackers next to Smallwood. The cornerbacks are senior Taylor Mack and junior Byron Jones, who started at safety last season. Sophomore Andrew Adams, who played in the Huskies’ nickel packages last season, had moved up to replace Jones. Adams injured a shoulder in a recent practice and is out for about eight weeks. He will be replaced for the opener against Towson by 6-4 freshman Obi Melifonwu.