Sports

American Athletic Conference opponent preview: Connecticut

In the seventh part of a series, we take a look at new football opponents.

Temple is a founding member of The American Athletic Conference. Since the Owls are playing in a new conference with new opponents, The Temple News will be taking a look at the new rivals of the football team and providing some important facts that Temple fans should know about the new conference opponents. Next up: the University of Connecticut Huskies.

Connecticut, which is located in Storrs, Conn., a 236-mile, four-hour drive from Temple, plays its games at Rentschler Field, an 11-year-old stadium that seats 40,000 fans and has also hosted concerts from Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

UConn’s football program began in 1896, but did not fully become a member of Division I-A until 2002. They have an all-time record of 486-510-38 for a .488 winning percentage.

Temple has squared off against UConn eight times before, including seven times since 2001. The Owls hold a 5-3 advantage over the Huskies, having won the last two meetings, including a 17-14 overtime victory last season. One of those wins was a 38-0 romp that was played in 1971, when UConn was not in the top division.

The Huskies have gone 34-29 over the past five seasons. After coaching the team to four straight winning seasons, including a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010, Randy Edsall left to coach the Maryland Terrapins and was replaced by former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni.

Pasqualoni has led his team to back-to-back 5-7 seasons since taking the reigns. The 2012 season was dissapointing, particularly on offense, where the team ranked 118th in the nation in total offense. George DeLeone has since been demoted from offensive coordinator to offensive line coach, and the team returns redshirt junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer, redshirt junior running back Lyle McCombs, the two leading receivers and all five of last year’s starting offensive lineman. That continuity should help the Huskies improve on offense in 2013.

UConn was picked to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason American media poll. If the Huskies want to exceed those expectations, Whitmer will need to improve greatly from 2012. He threw for a respectable 2664 yards with a 57.6 completion percentage, but threw nine touchdowns and 16 interceptions. That was Whitmer’s first year at UConn, and development from the redshirt junior will help his offense improve.

On the other hand, the defense had a very strong 2012, ranking 19th in yards allowed and 20th in points allowed. However, the Huskies lost four players to the NFL Draft, leaving positions that have yet to be filled. They do return redshirt junior Yawin Smallwood, who led the team with 120 tackles in 2012 while adding 4.0 sacks. Returning redshirt senior defensive end Jesse Joseph, the closest thing to a veteran that a college football team could have, will help as well. Joseph, who will turn 25 on Sept. 2, first practiced with the Huskies in the spring of 2008. He began playing in 2009 and has played every year since. He tore his left Achilles tendon early in the 2012 season and was granted an extra year of eligibility. Joseph’s best year was in 2010, when he racked up 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for losses. If he can regain his form from three years ago he will be a huge boost to the UConn defense.

The Huskies have roughly 20 alumni currently in the NFL, including New York Giants offensive tackle William Beatty, Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch and Indianapolis Colts cornerback Darius Butler.

Temple will host UConn at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, Nov. 23 at a time that has yet to be announced.

Evan Cross can be reached at evan.cross@temple.edu or on Twitter @EvanCross.

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