A new era in Connecticut football begins Saturday at Rentschler Field. After losing the first four games of the season, the winless Huskies search for their initial victory of the season when they host South Florida at noon on SNY and on your favorite non-television device on ESPN3.
There will be a new coach roaming the UConn sidelines in interim coach T.J. Weist, who takes over for Paul Pasqualoni, who was let go two weeks ago following a less-than-inspiring loss to Buffalo. And Weist will have a new quarterback under the helm, true freshman Tim Boyle, who lead Xavier in Middletown to the last two Class LL state championships.
UConn (0-4, 0-0 AAC) will also be making its American Athletic Conference debut facing a Bulls team (1-4, 1-0 AAC) that won its American debut a week ago with a 26-20 victory over Cincinnati on the road.
It won’t be easy for a UConn squad that has struggled offensively. Its running game is one of the worst in the country and Chandler Whitmer threw six interceptions in four games, which is one reason he’ll be watching Boyle run the offense on Saturday night.
South Florida has an opportunistic defense that carried the Bulls to the win last week. S Nate Godwin returned a blocked field goal 75 yards for a touchdown while teammate DeDe Lattimore returned a fumble 10 yards for a touchdown. The Bulls led the Bears to just 110 yards on the ground and forced four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles). South Florida had a season-high tackles for losses in the game. In five games, the Bulls have forced 12 turnovers and have scored six defensive touchdowns.
“I know they’re very athletic, very well coached again,” Weist said. “Turnovers had been critical for them in the first four games. I think they got better. I think they put it together. [Against Cincinnati] they had a good game plan. They schemed well, they went out and executed and took advantage of the opportunities and the turnovers they had.”
South Florida has started three quarterbacks this season with Steven Bench, a transfer from Penn State, starting the last two games for the Bulls. But Bench left the Cincinnati game with an injury.
Boyle becomes the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Huskies since Shelton’s Dan Orlovsky started for UConn against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 6, 2001 – a 19-0 win for the Huskies. It was the first of 43 straight starts for Orlovsky.
“He’s responded well,” Weist said of Boyle. “He’s shown a maturity that we saw in him since coming out of high school and have been seeing with him since he stepped on campus. Every day he knows he’s got to get better.
“From an experience standpoint, he gets more mature every day, like any young man does. He’s shown good pocket presence, a good grasp intelligence of the game plan, of the things we want to do,” Weist said.
It would be unfair to put all of the pressure on Boyle. The offensive line, which has allowed 20 sacks for losses of 151 yards, has to play better. UConn has to run the ball better. They’re averaging an anemic 45.8 yards a game on the ground, ranked 123rd in the nation. They had just 27 yards in the 41-12 loss to Buffalo a week ago.
NOTES: Weist is looking to become just the second UConn coach since 1923 to win his first game as head coach at UConn. Pasqualoni beat Fordham in his debut contest in 2011 with a 35-3 win over Fordham. The last UConn coach to do that was Sumner Dole in 1923 with a 13-0 win over Trinity College. … South Florida kicker Marvin Kloss was named the AAC special teams player of week after hitting four field goals and 2 extra points in a 26-20 win over Cincinnati. … UConn WR Geremy Davis has 19 catches for 308 yards while WR Shakim Phillips has 15 catches for 255 yards and 3 TDs. … LB Yawin Smallwood leads the UConn defensive unit with 55 tackles in four games.