College football season is back at last. The last time we saw the UConn football team, they were crashing and burning in an epic fashion, though it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as that description would imply.
Bob Diaco got canned and, in his place, the Huskies brought in new-old head coach Randy Edsall. Now, the prevailing attitude around the state and campus is predominantly: “Well, there’s no way they can get any worse, right?”
That road to incremental improvement begins at Rentschler Field on Thursday against the Holy Cross Crusaders, a member of the Patriot League in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Holy Cross is led by veteran head coach Tom Gilmore, who has had a middling 14 years with the Crusaders, posting a 70-76 all-time record as coach, 19-38 over the past five years. Holy Cross might be one of the hardest FCS jobs in the country, as it’s a small private school in Worcester, Massachusetts, making it pretty hard to recruit new talent.
Nevertheless, the Crusaders’ offense was the lone highlight of their 4-7 campaign in 2016, but even that sputtered out with the injury of third year starting quarterback Peter Pujals.
Before Pujals’ injury, the Crusaders were riding high on offense, averaging 480 yards per game of total offense, but they came back down to earth in the seven games afterward, averaging only 393 yards per game. Pujals will be returning on offense this year along with three other fifth-year seniors: running back Gabe Guild and offensive linemen James Murray and Nick Piker.
The defensive side of the ball was a different story. The Crusaders let up an abysmal 6.0 yards per play in 2016, good for sixth in the seven-team Patriot and 94th in the FCS and had five games where they let up 35 or more points.
The Crusaders do have some bright spots on that side of the ball this year, returning six starters from 2016, including All-Patriot League linebacker Nick McBeath, but it’ll still be an uphill battle trying to rehabilitate the broken defense from last year.
Holy Cross’s offense could help them give UConn more of a fight than they expect, especially if Pujals picks up where he left off in 2016, but the Crusaders’ subpar defense could provide first-year starting quarterback David Pindell and star running back Arkeel Newsome an avenue to showcase their skills in front of the Huskies’ home crowd.
Luke Swanson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.