UConn football's starting freshmen have a lot of growing pains to go through

Published on Sunday, 2 September 2018 21:08
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

EAST HARTFORD - By any measuring stick, the UConn football team is among the youngest in the nation.

The Huskies have just two fifth-year seniors, fewest in the country. And they played 13 freshmen in Thursday night’s 56-17 loss to No. 21 Central Florida.

Most of those Husky newcomers, including the six true freshmen who saw significant action, were on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Kevon Jones, nose tackle Travis Jones, defensive end Jonathan Pace, defensive end Lwal Uguak, and cornerback Keyshawn Paul all had their good and bad moments in their debuts.

But the lows outweighed the highs as a whole, especially considering UCF scored eight touchdowns and was forced to punt by UConn only once all evening.

“They’re a little hurt right now. But the team is keeping them high and that’s all we can do for them,” UConn sophomore safety Omar Fortt said. “Because they’re going to make our team great.”

Fortt was in a similar position last season when he saw significant playing time as a true freshman. He knows a bit about what Paul is going through right now. The 6-foot, 170-pound freshman from Miami was beaten deep on multiple occasions by Knight receivers and also had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on him.

“In this game, you’re going to get got. I just told him to keep his head up,” Fortt said. “It happens. Short-term memory, that’s the best advice I can give him.”

Paul was hardly the only one victimized. Fellow true freshman defensive back Ryan Carroll eventually replaced Paul in the secondary and was greeted with a pass over his head as well.

“They were very fast. The tempo was something you just can’t replicate,” Fortt said, pointing out one of UCF’s clear strengths.

UConn’s defense, among the worst in the nation last season statistically, picked up where it left off, unfortunately.

It allowed Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton to throw for 346 yards and five touchdowns, and the Knights to pile up 652 total yards as a team.

Edsall recognized the speed disparity too.

“One thing with those young kids is they’ve never seen speed like that. We can’t duplicate that speed in practice,” Edsall said.

UConn (0-1) has lost six consecutive games dating back to last season and faces another stern test a week from today at Boise State.

The coaches apparently aren’t too worried about one blowout starting a trend or having young defenders becoming shell-shocked for multiple weeks in a row.

“They’ll be all right. They have to learn somehow. They have to learn,” Edsall said. “I don’t have any doubt in these guys. They’ll bounce back.”

On offense, where UConn has many more experienced players, there were some positive signs. Turnovers in enemy territory thwarted three drives, but quarterback David Pindell’s play, especially his scrambling ability, was an obvious highlight.

“We made some big plays on offense and we pushed the ball a lot. We just have to execute in the red zone and the tight red. That’s the biggest thing,” Pindell said.

Penalties, turnovers and other proverbial mental errors held the Huskies back Thursday, which is one reason Edsall has confidence the season is far from doomed. He sees correctable errors.

“I believe we’ll end up being a good team. But what we have to do is focus and concentrate on those little things and doing those little things correctly all the time,” Edsall said.

NOTES: Sophomore Kevin Mensah didn’t start Thursday, but Edsall indicated Friday that he would likely get the nod next week against Boise State. Mensah carried the ball 20 times for 59 yards against UCF and also caught one pass for 5 yards. Freshman Zavier Scott started and fumbled on his first carry of the season. He finished with three rushes for minus-2 yards as well as five catches for 40 yards. … Edsall had some praise Friday for the performance of linebacker Kevon Jones. The East Hartford High product had nine tackles in his debut. … Boise State opens its season today at Troy. … Former UConn running back Nate Hopkins, who left the program in the opening days of practice last month, is transferring to North Texas. Hopkins is from Flower Mound, Texas, not far from the North Texas campus in Denton.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Sunday, 2 September 2018 21:08. Updated: Sunday, 2 September 2018 21:10.