Many thanks to Kevin Meacham over at TheUConnBlog for participating in our pre-bowl question and answer session. Also, a personal thanks to Gamecock Man for allowing me to conduct the bowl game installment of the Q&A series. My responses to Kevin's questions here. Kevin's responses after the jump.
1.) Alright, let’s start by getting the "Cock" jokes out of the way. Give me your best one, and we’ll move on. Points will be awarded for originality but not much else.
South Carolina is already my favorite football opponent ever, for this reason. I'm not much of a comedian, but here we go:
"I hear South Carolina leads the nation in recovering fumbles. Makes sense to me. If you ever see balls on the ground, you know a Cock can't be far behind."
Thank you, I'll be here all week!
In addition, I feel like South Carolina fans/students/alumni ought to have a special handshake they call the "Cock Slap", but maybe that's just me.
2.) As you might imagine, South Carolina fans aren’t too familiar with the UConn football program. In order to provide some perspective, enlighten us with the greatest moments in Husky football; past and present.
As you can tell by looking at our site the last month or so, we're very much a basketball school. So asking about our historical football moments is like asking Bruce Willis about all his great rock 'n' roll hits.
That being said, here's a brief historical primer for South Carolina fans:
UConn began playing football in 1896, but was very much a regional program for 90 percent of its history. Our schedules were typically filled with teams like Rhode Island, UMass, Yale and other current Division I-AA teams. We weren't very good most years. Our biggest win in that era was probably the school's first-ever victory over Yale (in 1965).
Then in the late '90s, UConn decided to move the program up to I-A (at the gentle prodding of the Big East, of which UConn was a founding member). With generous financial support from the state legislature, UConn's facilities transformed almost instantly from locker rooms in trailers and a 15,000-seat high school-level stadium, to a 40,000-seat jewel (albeit off-campus) and one of the finest football training centers in America.
UConn became a Division I-A team in 2000, moved into Rentschler Field in East Hartford in 2003 and joined the Big East in 2004.
Since then we've had a number of big wins and memorable moments (to us at least). There was the 2004 Motor City Bowl win over Toledo, which seemed like a bigger deal because it came in the same calendar year as the men's and women's dual national basketball championships. There was the 2007 victory over then-No. 10 South Florida, the school's first win over a ranked team (and the first time UConn fans had ever stormed the field at the Rent).
As a sidenote, you may hear at some point this week that UConn won the Big East co-championship in 2007. We even have a banner and everything, although the more sunny UConn fans ignore that, in the last game of the season which decided the Big East's BCS bid, UConn lost 66-21 to Pat White-led West Virginia.
Earlier this year, UConn got a nice recruiting tool when four players were taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, including last year's NCAA rushing leader Donald Brown. This season, we had a landmark win against Notre Dame which had a whole lot of extenuating circumstances and context surrounding it. Suffice it to say, it was a huge deal for us to go on national TV and beat a 6-6 Notre Dame team. So as you can see, we're kind of newbies to this whole 'big-time football' thing.
3.) Tell us about your offense. What kind of formations can South Carolina expect to see? What are the strongest phases of your game? Who are your playmakers?
You're going to see a mix of pro-set, I-formation, and 3-receiver sets. Once in a while UConn will go crazy and add a fourth receiver, which frightens and confuses us.
UConn has been known for years as a run-first team, and for about six years, they've had NFL-caliber running backs getting it done. This year they have one draft prospect (Andre Dixon, a senior) and one fringe NFL prospect (Jordan Todman, a sophomore), and they've done a pretty good job replacing the production of Brown, who carried UConn's then-pitiful offense with more than 2,000 yards last year. Todman's at 1,200+ yards, Dixon's at just short of 1,000. They'll be used interchangeably, depending on the need: Todman's a speedy, shifty back, while Dixon is a powerhouse with enough speed to get by.
If UConn's going to win this game, they're going to have to run the ball well and set up short-yardage situations on 2nd and 3rd downs. Compared to past UConn teams, the '09 offense is positively New Orleans Saints-like in terms of making big plays. But the Huskies are going to be successful by churning out long drives and wearing the opponents down with a tough running game.
I say 'compared to past teams' because this year, head coach Randy Edsall has found an offensive coordinator who understands that one is allowed to propel the ball forward with one's arm in a "pass-ing" motion, which has not only made the team easier on the eyes, but also more effective.
The quarterback, Zach Frazer (1354 yds, 54.3 comp %, 9 TD, 9 INT) , is a four-star recruit who transferred from Notre Dame during the 2007 season. He has a cannon for an arm and as he's gotten more reps (he started the season as the starter, then got hurt, then became the backup, then moved back to starter after sophomore Cody Endres got injured), he's learned how to throw with a little touch and increased accuracy. Oddly enough, he and Endres have thrown for the exact same amount of yards.
The receiving corps is a little bare, although Marcus Easley (44 rec, 853 yds, 8 TD), a senior and a former walk-on, has turned into quite a player this year. He went from being a non-entity to a possible NFL draft pick in about 6 months.
4.) UConn currently sits at 7-5 with those five losses coming by a combined 15 points. Does this season feel like "the one that got away" or is it setting up to be a springboard to even greater things in 2010? Follow up: what’s the mindset of UConn fans coming into this game?
I'm already on record predicting that next year is the year when UConn wins the Big East. Way back in September, I said that a winning season would be a solid accomplishment against a fairly difficult schedule, and I also went 10-2 in predicting UConn's games before the season started. (Insert shameless thumbs-up gesture here.)
The fact that UConn went 7-5 and was basically five plays away from being 12-0 just makes me even that much more anxious for spring football and next season to get here. So yeah, while most of those five losses were agonizing (particularly the Rutgers loss), I think the team ended up about where it should have.
As for most UConn fans, I think they were (rightly) going to give Edsall and co. a pass for this season after what happened with Jasper Howard (our starting cornerback who was murdered after an on-campus party in October). The fact that the team still competed in every game and won its final three games in rousing fashion has led us as a whole to love Edsall even more, I think.
5.) How do you expect this game to go down? What’s your score prediction?
I like South Carolina. I've seen y'all a few times this year, and while I respect Spurrier and the SEC, I think these are two evenly matched teams.
UConn's pass defense is suspect, and Stephen Garcia seems to be coming on strong lately. On the other hand, I'm very confident in UConn's offensive line and running game (which will set up the obligatory long play-action pass that works once a game for us). I think it will be a relatively high-scoring affair. If UConn's bend-don't-break defense can remain unbroken (and it rarely has for most of the second half of the season), and we can hold USC to some field goals, I think we'll take the victory.
Homer-tastic prediction: UConn 44, South Carolina -5.
Realistic prediction: UConn 31, South Carolina 26
Best of luck to you on 1/2. And thanks for not taking Jim Calhoun from us earlier this decade.