UCONN Football by Mike McGuire
Follow Hartford Courant reporter Desmond Conner and his coverage of UCONN football.

Dec
21

This has been a long and tumultuous season filled with ups and downs, ranging from the struggle of coming back from the murder of cornerback Jasper Howard to losing four consecutive games with the lead in the fourth quarter with only minutes on the clock, to beating Notre Dame in a major fourth quarter upset. UConn has seen it all this season, and now UConn is preparing vigorously for their Jan 2. Papajohns.com Bowl date against South Carolina in Birmingham Alabama.  UConn wants to bring home a bowl victory for all the loyal fans who stuck by UConn this season and supported their team at Rentschler field.

     Some memorable moments this season for the offense were of course Jourdan Todan’s performance in the Notre Dame game in which he went for 130 yards on 26 carries with a TD, not to mention his incredibly 96 yard kick off return for a TD. Todman had a lot to do with UConn’s win over Notre Dame. The UConn victory over Notre Dame was incredibly important as it pushed the momentum forward in order for them to win their next game and advance to a bowl game. According to Desmond Conner, there were quite a few teams this season that put up numbers against UConn but none like Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros who had 480 yards and TD passing, and 75 yards and two TD’s rushing. Cincinnati had 711 yards of total offense and netted nearly 10 yards a play.

     The best defensive performances don’t have as much to report as their offense. Sadly, a major weakness UConn struggled with all season was their defense. It gave up too many numbers especially early and late in games when the score needed to be frozen. Conner notes the most notorious performance by UConn was Linsey Witten’s three sacks against North Carolina. In return Conner notes that there weren’t any “ lights out” performances against UConn either however Louisville’s John Dempsey had 16 tackles and a half sack in a 38 – 25 loss to UConn. This was one of the better however “Touchest to Tackle” this season goes out to Todman. And UConn’s hardest hitters draw a large number of players as Conner states, “You can put Jerome Junior, Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson, Robbie Vaughn, Robert McClain and Greg Lloyd here and be in good shape. Much will be remembered from that double-overtime win at Notre Dame in November. Lloyd’s goal line blast that sent Armando Allen’s helmet flying was a collision for the ages.” UConn’s defense this season had some questionable components but overall got the job done.

     The best coach UConn went up against this season was Brian Kelly and the worst coach this season is Steve Kragthorpe who has never beaten the Huskies in three seasons and was eventually fired at Louisville. Along with the coaches taking a look at the fields UConn played on, one could easily assume that Notre Dame’s was the worst, as the field looked a mess on the November 21st game.  Cincinnati’s field was the best. The best fans we’ve seen this year according to Conner were from West Virginia who were extremely supportive about the Jasper Howard murder when UConn visited.

     The best receiver this season Marcus Easley, a senior, who had 853 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, and the best corner back in absence of Jasper Howard goes out to Robert McClain who had four interceptions this season. Among the many teams UConn played this season, receiver Tim Brown of Rutgers put on the most impressive show rallying five catches for 162 yards and two TD’s including a 81 yard game breaker in the final seconds of the game giving Rutgers the 28-24 win over UConn, one of UConn’s disastrous fourth quarter incidents this season.

     UConn overall had a very emotional and tumultuous season. In spite of their rocky start losing a very important player and beloved teammate, UConn did what they had to do and made it to a bowl game. Following UConn and Desmond Conner this semester has been an absolute pleasure as you really get to feel like you know the team and its players when you follow them. I have met just a handful of UConn football players but covering Desmond and the team this semester has made me feel like I know all of them personally. I look forward to the bowl game and next season. Good Luck Guys

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Dec
14

     It’s the end of the semester, the near end of a football season, and the beginning of NCAA basketball for reporter Desmond Conner. Over the course of this semester, I have followed Desmond Conner’s work with great admiration. His articles and blog relayed amazing coverage on the games and insight into team strategies. His accurate and fair reporting provided college sport fans in Connecticut an amazing outlet for fast ground breaking news on their teams. Conner’s dedication to telling the news and his love for athletics helps drive the UConn fan base further and further each year as his publications continue to bring more fans into Renstchler Field. It was a complete pleasure to be able to speak with Conner following his busy season reporting and my busy season following and reporting his work. The culmination of our work provided a very interesting interview.                                                                                                                                   

     Conner began by telling me how he ended up in sports writing. He had a background in athletics, and he also loved to read and write. Conner stated, “I
 wanted to be a professional athlete, a football player. When I  [Conner] learned 
that wasn’t going to happen, this was the next best thing for me.” In order for sports writing to reach audiences, there needs to be passion behind it. This in my opinion is what makes Conner’s articles so powerful. He has a deeper connection to his work and the industry than just a job. With articles so powerful and coverage that draws such a big audience, my next question was, “What strategies or techniques do you use when writing coverage on a 
game?” Conner’s advice was incredibly helpful. His insight provided an outline for what I tried to accomplish in my own blog this semester. Conner stated, “Look for a trend that plays a role in the outcome of a game. It tells a much better story than just using numbers. If you can tell a story of 
why the numbers look the way they do, then you’re onto something that 
might hold someone’s attention.” While writing about Conner’s coverage and my own coverage on UConn football, I tried to highlight some aspect of the game that set it aside from others.  Conner stressed the importance of capturing the reader’s attention.  An issue I struggled with while attempting to cover UConn football was when writing my blog I often wondered how much stats I should report and how much of my own view I should put into the article. Conner shed some helpful light on my problem by explaining that, “Well, your opinion really shouldn’t find your way into a story unless you’re a columnist. I used to write columns. I don’t anymore. I’m a beat 
guy now so much of what I write has to be supported by stats and
figures, but you’re being lazy if stats and figures are all you use to
 make your point in a story. They’re important but shouldn’t be overused.” This advice I found particularly helpful as I think a great sports writer understands the balance between stats and figures and uses them in a way that doesn’t appear lazy but in a way that moves the story forward in a productive manner.

     This particular season was a rough season for the UConn Huskies not only because of some devastating loses that took place in the fourth quarter with UConn in the lead but also because of the murder of UConn cornerback Jasper Howard. One question that came to mind is that when something like this happens to a sports team that you cover the beat for, what does the journalist do in this situation? I asked Conner how has the Jasper Howard murder this season affected the way you
covered UConn Football? 
What I did not know was that Conner knew Jasper very well. He responded, “It hasn’t affected the way I cover the team at all. I certainly feel for 
the coaches and players but it was important for me to be professional. Maintaining your professionalism, no matter what the situation, is the key to 
be an objective reporter and more than anything that’s what I want to be
 considered.” In regards to Jasper’s death, Conner commented, “I became emotional myself at times because I knew Jasper
 very well. It was a real challenge and at times, it still is, but I 
think I’ve been fair and balanced in covering the team ever since.” Conner’s coverage of UConn football has been extremely fair. He did not let the death of Jasper Howard steal the headlines or overshadow the Huskies. 

Conner not only writes for the Hartford Courant, but he also has his own blog, and he now writes for Fox 61.  Newspapers have been merging with television stations more often to stay alive. Conner is a big believer in reporters being multimedia savvy in order to stay alive in the business of journalism. When asked how has the change in the newspaper business affected the way you cover
sports or has it not affected you at all?
 Conner replied, “It’s affected me quite a bit. For example at our paper being multimedia 
savvy is the big thing. It was just writing for the newspaper. Now it’s
writing for the newspaper, the blog and television. There are days when
 I have to address all three. It’s quite a demand on your time, but it’s
 the way to survival in our world right now.”  Not only does the addition of new media add larger job descriptions for reporters like Conner, but it also makes a hectic and stressful job even more aggressive.  Conner says that his turn around time after a Saturday 8pm game are somewhere between 75-90 minutes. That is not a lot of time to tell a story and tell it well, which puts added pressure onto the journalist.                                                                                                                           

     Adapting to forms of new media such as blogs and social networking sites seem to be the future of journalism at least until newspapers find a way to charge the viewer of their web pages for their access to content.  Conner believes that the future of sports coverage lies within the reporter’s ability to be multimedia savvy in order to stay employed. The future of newspapers in this difficult time seems to lie within the reporters ability to adapt and evolve into ways of spreading their stories in different outlets other than print journalism.

     Conner’s blog is known for its popularity and accuracy in collegiate sports. If you’re a devoted UConn fan in Connecticut you certainly have read Dez’s blog. A major issue in surviving the change in newspapers and reporting the news is how a reporter covers stories in their blog and how they cover stories that are published in print.  Conner explains this as the following, “I’m more relaxed on the blog than I am in the newspaper. The paper is 
still a straightforward, give you the information right away type of deal. That’s especially true today with paper size shrinking by the week. I’m much more conversational on the blog because it seems like the
 outlet where you can be free with how and what you write without any 
real constraints.”

     Talking with Desmond Conner and following his work this semester has been an incredible learning experience. I now have a much clearer idea of how sports writing works and a deeper appreciation for this niche in journalism. It was fantastic to finally talk to the reporter I have been following and admiring all semester. I look forward to reading Conner’s coverage of UConn basketball this winter and encourage all UConn sports fans to get into reading Dez’s blog and articles. Sports can be enjoyed so much more when you are educated about them, and everyone should educate himself or herself through Dez’s work.

Dec
07

UConn needed a win to be eligible for the bowl and Saturday they proved they were up to the job. It wasn’t easy though with inclement weather and a tough opposing team. Fortunately, Uconn was blessed to be playing at home at Rentschler Field.  All season UConn has been haunted with fourth quarter situations and this week proved to be no exception. With 8:05 minutes left in the game, South Florida was up by one.  UConn had to win this game, continuing their momentum from the incredible Notre Dame upset.

     South Florida dominated in the first half with 186 yards to the Huskies 146. This did not stop the searing spirits at Rentschler Field rallying the Huskies. The win against Notre Dame started a fire among UConn fans that even a bad first half couldn’t put it. The Bulls had the ball for 20:11 yet they only scored one touchdown.  By the end of the first half, the Huskies came back with a 6-point lead.  The defense did what they had to do to stop Daniel’s throwing arm.  Easley had a great start with five catches, 106 yards and one touchdown in the first half, but the Bulls didn’t let the lead bother them.  They came right back when they started to put the ball in the air.  Despite the blustery cold weather, there was no problem with passing for both of the quarterbacks.

     UConn’s defense played tough but the offense did a great job too.  With only 4:03 left in the game the offense went for 59 yards and 11 plays but the attempt at a two-point conversion failed.  With only a little over four minutes to play, UConn was right back in a familiar position.  The defense had to put the pressure on.   Then with 40 seconds left, the Bulls were ahead 27-26 but the Huskies got themselves all the way to the 25-yard line. This time UConn stayed strong and did not fold under pressure with little time on the clock in the fourth like we have seen so many times this season. Field goal kicker Taggart came through in the clutch kicking the field goal and giving the Huskies the win with a score of 29-27.

     The fans at Rentschler Field were certainly happy on this wintry Saturday evening.  So, what is in store for the Huskies now?  They should hear by Sunday or Monday on a bowl bid.  Last year UConn played in the International Bowl in Toronto, Ontario against Buffalo. The big question now is which bowl will UConn end up in?

Nov
30

The audio recording that I listened to by Ainseley and Baron was absolutely fascinating. I only wish that I could have been there to see it in person rather than in class. Both gentlemen seem to be extremely educated and moral. Their respect for ethics and values inside of the newspaper’s newsroom is one to be applauded. I thought it was a great way to start off the Q&A by giving some background information on the Globe. I did not know that this was not the first time the Globe had experienced financial difficulties just as it had in 1873. This piece of background history was a great way to begin a discussion with these two journalists.                                                                               

     I thought the distinction that Ainseley makes about the publisher being about business and the editor being about the news was honest. He did not try to hide anything and was very upfront about what his job entails such as worrying about growing financially, circulation, production, and advertising. He did say that he had great respect for the newsroom and the journalists in it. The most fascinating thing in this segment that he said, however, is that he does not get involved when the news is being created but rather will critique the overall end product. I think this is an extremely important and wise decision as later on in the interview we see from Baron how journalists feel about non-journalists overstepping the boundaries when it comes to journalists’ work.                                                                                                                

     Ainseley is self-aware that while he does have a love for newspapers, he is more of a businessman than a journalist, and I think this is a very important quality for a publisher to have. This is probably among one of the many reasons Baron and Ainseley work so well side by side.  Baron showed his integrity and conviction to his craft when referring to the outside consultants that came in to see if the newspaper could be run more efficiently. He did not like them being there and working closely with the journalists. Baron says, “ Consultants don’t understand what it takes to be a journalist when they take judgment on what they do”. This line is very important as it draws the distinction between the one bold line to the now blurry one we see today between businessmen and journalists. Newspaper journalism is becoming more of a business game than ever and keeping consultants who aren’t journalists out of newsrooms is a good idea because they do have the power to change things and their change might not be for the better.                                                                                                                                                                   

     I thought the relationship between Baron and Ainseley speaks to the success of the Boston Globe especially under critical times. It’s much easier to get things accomplished and done the right way when you have collaborative support upstairs. Ainseley’s self-awareness that there is a natural tension to business and news is what makes him such a strong publisher. He doesn’t try to play both sides of the fence; instead, he accepts that the relationship has tensions and works with it in a collaborative manner with Baron in order to get things done and keep the Globe alive. This Q&A was incredibly insightful and really showed how important relationships with colleagues are to newsrooms.

Nov
30

Randy Edsall could only feel like superman after UConn’s incredible victory over Notre Dame on Saturday.  The Huskies went up against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that ended in a 33-30 victory after double overtime.  Edsall said after the game, “I’m just so proud of those kids over in the locker room and those assistant coaches.  We persevered today and ended up just making a couple plays at the end that we hadn’t been able to make in some of our earlier games.”

     Since the death of their teammate, Jasper Howard, the Huskies had been trying to get a win for Howard and today they were able to do just that.  “It feels good” said Kashif Moore.  On a touchdown pass from Zach Frazer, Moore was able to score the first points in the first overtime. Desmond Conner writes, “The players came out of the locker room and they were all wearing blue No. 6 jerseys in honor of their slain teammate. Edsall said, “We’re just thankful that we were able to finally put together a win so now we can take the game ball and send it down to the Howard family”.  Edsall believed, “The little No. 6 was looking down on us today.” This sense of team unity and pride quite possible was the extra push that drove the Huskies to victory.

    The Huskies did not have an easy win in a game that not many expected to turn out a UConn victory. Big props go out to the offensive line.  Conner writes, “Sophomore Jordan Todman rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown pass on 26 carries and Andre Dixon ran for 114 yards on 20 carries, including a 40-yard run in the second overtime to win it.”  Dixon said, “It’s a great feeling after all the games where we came up close and didn’t finish the game.” UConn has struggled all season in finishing. They’ve had so many fourth quarter leads that turned sour for them. This was huge. This win makes up for all the others in many people’s eyes. The Huskies did not give up with seconds on the clock; instead, they fought harder.   Nothing, however, can be taken away from the awesome play of the Fighting Irish.  Notre Dame’s quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, had a great game going 30 of 45 for 329 yards and two touchdown passes. Golden Tate and Michael Floyd also stepped in and did what they had to do to get the Irish into overtime.  Tate had 9 catches, 123 yards and a touchdown and Floyd had a total of 8 catches, 104 yards, and one touchdown.

      Some rethinking needed to be done by the Huskies in the second half of the game. But a lot of credit to the turning point of this game goes out to the defensive line who stepped up and played some of the most aggressive Huskie football we’ve seen all season. Kendall Reyes who sacked Clausen said, ‘The first half we were still trying to figure them out but in the second half, I just said I’m going for it.  They were big dudes, but a little moxie can fix that.”  UConn came back in the third quarter to tie the game 17-17.

     The Huskies started the first overtime and Moore, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Saturday, made the score to give the Huskies the lead.  The Irish didn’t quit though.  Clausen passed to Floyd for a touchdown pass.  The Irish led the second overtime with a 30-27 lead but Dixon ended the game with the winning score.  Dixon said, “I think this is the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium get in all my time playing college football.  It’s a great win.”

     So, what’s in store for the Huskies now?  It is off to Syracuse next Saturday.  The Huskies are at 5-5 and need one more win for bowl eligibility.  They need to keep the momentum going. Come on Huskies!

 

Nov
16

UConn’s Defense

While UConn has had a difficult season with four of their five losses when UConn was leading in the fourth quarter, the question comes into play, what can UConn do to win their remaining three games? With this being a bi-week, UConn has time to prepare for their November 21st game against Notre Dame. The biggest area of improvement that UConn needs to focus on is their defense. Desmond Conner says that UConn needs to work specifically on their line and put more pressure onto the quarterback. He mentions that while Jesse Joseph and Trevado Williams are talented, they are freshmen and they make mistakes. Conner mentions that UConn’s secret weapon against Notre Dame will most likely be Lindsey Witten, a senior who started the season in good shape with sacks, holding the position of fourth in the country with 1.17 sacks per game, after holding the top two spots most of the year. Witten has had a bit of slump recently, not sacking like he was earlier in the season. His intensity will be key in a Saturday victory against Notre Dame.

UConn’s linebackers Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson have been playing well, along with linebacker Greg Lloyd. While these guys haven’t had a bad season, they could still be doing a better job of getting to the quarterback. Conner says, “Lloyd isn’t missing any tackles. He’s been a great finisher but has been exposed in pass coverage.” The issue here is these guys could be doing a lot more to get to the quarterback, and I’m sure that will be worked out this week in practice. That brings us to UConn’s biggest problem, the problem that has haunted the team all year. The secondary. The main concern with UConn’s defense is it is set up like a prevent defense, even though Randy Edsall swears that “ He has never seen a prevent defense since he’s been at UConn.” Conner states that “ Whatever it is, it provides too much cushion for receivers to make plays.” This holds the responsibility for the big plays, long yardage, and long touchdown receptions we have watched UConn struggle with the entire season. The receiving yardage against UConn has been despicable with some receivers going for over 100+ yards with numerous touchdowns. Jasper Howard, the UConn cornerback who was murdered earlier this season, was a very good one-on-one defender according to Conner. This would explain opposing quarterbacks isolating that wound and capitalizing on it. Freshmen Blidi Wreth Wilson currently holds that position. In previous weeks it seems that quarterbacks can smell the inexperience in the safety position and have chosen to go long to that corner more often than usual. Conner states that what works so well with UConn this season is that “Despite the close losses and untimely porous play, the Huskies have shown great pride and fight. As they continue to struggle with inexperience, they must not lose those things.” UConn needs to work on having the more mature experienced players step up and help some of the younger players on the team fit better into their positions. Hopefully, this week off and practice will bring a game against Notre Dame that doesn’t end up with a UConn lead in the fourth quarter turning abruptly into a loss.

Nov
09

     Halloween wasn’t just a day of haunts for children but a day that will haunt UConn football for sometime to come. UConn played (6-2) Rutgers on Saturday, October 31. The Scarlet Knights managed to steal the win once again from UConn as a result of a fourth quarter meltdown. Desmond Conner reports that it was Rutger’s Tim Brown who “silenced the place with an 81-yard catch and run with 22 seconds.” Conner writes,” On a day when the Huskies (4-4, 1-3) and their faithful honored the memory of Howard, it was Brown, who lived two houses away from him in Miami, who stole the show and the game.” Brown caught for 162 yards with a 37 yard TD. UConn also made the same mistake the previous week against West Virginia allowing Rutgers to score a touchdown on the opening kick off. These opening touchdown kick off’s need to end as they set the opponent up with incredible momentum from the get go. Nothing pumps a team up more than a 98 yard kick off return for a touchdown fifteen seconds after the game begins.

     UConn’s struggle with their fourth quarter meltdowns was broken Saturday night when UConn took on No. 4 Cincinnati in front of a sellout crowd of 35,100. UConn went into this game being a 16.5-point underdog and came out giving Cincinnati a run for their money. Cincinnati still claimed the win but not without a long hard battle with the Huskies. Conner reports, “Despite scoring 35 points in the second half, UConn fell short Saturday night in what would have been perhaps the greatest comeback in team history.” UConn’s Jourdan Todman rushed for 162 yards with a career high four TD’s. The explosive second half by UConn left Nippert Stadium silent with fear. The UConn that played during that second quarter is a football team that realized the potential they have.

Oct
31

 After losing the Hartford Whalers and being promised the Patriots only to see them taken away, Connecticut has been left a state without a home team. Sure we could go watch the Wolf pack or the Rock Cats but the absence of a professional sports team has left the capital of ESPN desiring a team to root for. Rentschler Field, the originally planned home for the Patriots when Robert Kraft announced their plan to move to Connecticut, has now become the home to UConn football and thousands of fans each week during the fall. When approaching Rentshler Field on a home game for UConn, expect to see a vast array of tents covering the parking lot all the way off into the horizon. Fans tailgate, cooking and drinking and showing support to their team. Quite Possibly Connecticut has found a home team in collegiate sports.

     Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant writes his beat and blog covering UConn football. His analysis on the games and players provides the fans a greater insight to what happens on the field and off. Throughout my blog I will be following Desmond Conner’s coverage of UCONN football and how his work is not only important to Connecticut sport fans but to the industry of journalism as well.

     UConn football has been prominent in the headlines this season. The recent notoriety isn’t for a reason to celebrate, but for a reason to mourn. On October 17th 2009, UConn cornerback Jasper “Jazz” Howard was stabbed outside of a school sponsored dance and passed away. He was there celebrating the team’s 21-17 victory of Louisville. The entire team attended his funeral in Miami and many of Jazz’s teammates have shared their thoughts about Jazz with the press.                                                                                  

     UConn’s first game after losing one of their family members took place on October 24th against West Virginia. This was a very emotional game for UConn and they were playing for the memory of Jasper Howard. Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant described the game as “The Huskies had No. 22 West Virginia right where they wanted but couldn’t handle the pressure.” An opening kick off returned for a touchdown by West Virginia would have shaken up most teams but UConn held their ground and answered back quickly. Dave Teggart, field goal kicker for UConn, missed two field goals that he shouldn’t have; a six points that would’ve changed the final score of the game a 28-24 UConn loss into a win. In the past six meetings with West Virginia, UConn has lost all six. Randy Edsall is quoted in Conner’s article on October 25th saying,  “I just wanted it so bad for these players, for Jasper, for his family … we just came up a little bit short.” UConn played their hearts out and came up with some big plays. Wide receiver Marcus Easley had five catches for 157 yards including an 88-yard touch down. It was the UConn defense that fell short against West Virginia giving up 178 yards to West Virginia’s Noel Devine and a touch down. Jock Sanders caught for 81 yards and quarterback Jarrett Brown went for 153 yards and a touchdown.

     Jasper “Jazz” Howard would have been proud of how UConn played against West Virginia regardless of the score. It will be interesting to see how UConn plays against Rutgers this Saturday at home. Linebacker Scott Lutrus will be returning to the field. Hopefully fewer mistakes will be made and a tighter defensive will prevail.

Sep
17

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