Welcome To The Next Level UMass

Chandler Whitmer

UConn's new QB Chandler Whitmer looks for a receiver in the first quarter. UConn football kicked off Thursday night against UMass at Rentschler Field. (STEPHEN DUNN | sdunn@courant.com / August 30, 2012)


I don't think we're in the Yankee Conference anymore, UMass.

Then again, new coach Charley Molnar already knew this. And so did anybody with a remote working knowledge of what UConn football has and what UMass football wants to become in the coming years. UConn was a 24 ½-point favorite in its 2012 season opener and, in the Minutemen's first-ever FBS game, nobody really expected them to play it any closer.

And they didn't. Final score: UConn 37, UMass 0.

What matters on a Thursday night like this in August is what we learned. Or more precisely what we think we learned from the Huskies' rout.

For if we have learned anything from opening blowouts in the past decade it's that some of what happens is real. And some of it is fool's gold.

Oh, we can strut around and proclaim we know this, or we know that or we know it all. The truth is that until we see it all in action against a legitimate opponent like North Carolina State on Sept. 8 at Rentschler Field we cannot begin to be sure.

Still, this is what my eyes told me.

There is speed on that UConn defense, some serious, scary speed. That's right, the kind of speed and pursuit that could disrupt quality opponents all season long.

With one minute and 49 seconds left in the first half, UMass took over on its own 17-yard line. At that point the Minutemen had run 18 offensive plays for 5 total yards and no first downs. They went three and out more times than the Mets on a good night.

"It was a great performance by the whole defense," middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood said.

Smallwood brought the big wood on this night. The guy was running around like a rabid dog. First pass of the game by Mike Wegzyn, Smallwood got a hand on the ball. On the third possession, he sacked Wegzyn for an eight-yard loss. Through three quarters he had five unassisted tackles. Smallwood was ready for this one.

"I've been ready since summer started," Smallwood said. "Last year [5-7] wasn't an experience we liked."

Sio Moore had five tackles. Trevardo Williams, who had 12 ½ sacks last season, pulled Wegzyn down from behind for another sack in the second half.

Granted, this was on special teams, but the speed Taylor Mack showed in the third quarter to block a Jeff Strait punt that allowed the pride of Berlin — Max DeLorenzo — to recover in the end zone for a 27-0 lead … that was lightning.

"We have fast guys all over the field," Smallwood said. "Trevardo is big, strong and fast. We've got corners and linebackers who can all move. I feel like that's great for the scheme [defensive coordinator Don Brown] brought in for us. We're going to apply a lot of pressure. We're going to make teams game-plan around us. We're not going to game plan around them."

Smallwood made plays last year. He made 94 tackles, in fact. His emergence is no shock. Yet it's also clear he wants much more of himself.

"I feel like this is my defense," Smallwood said. "I'm the middle linebacker. This is my defense. I've got to take control of that. I can't say I'm a sophomore and let these things happen. I've got to go out there and be responsible for everybody and make sure everybody get checks and go hard."

We'll have to see how the first weekend plays out around the country, but 59 yards allowed on 47 plays — 1.3 yards per play — could put UConn atop the nation's defensive list. As it stands, UMass was shut out for the first time in a span of 199 games. It never got farther than its own 38-yard line.

Welcome to the FBS, guys.

"Defensively, we played really, really well," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We hit expectations on defense. To be perfectly honest, special teams exceeded my expectations a little bit.

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