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Keys to the Season: the men in the trenches

Both the offense and defense will hinge on how effective those huge guys in the trenches can be.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

There is nothing worse than rooting for a team that can't score. Doesn't matter the sport - a baseball team that can't hit, a basketball team that can't shoot, a hockey team that can't finish - offense drives interest.

Just like every year in UConn Football history, offensive production is a "maybe" this year. Can they consistently score points? Can they force another team's defense to actually sweat a little? It used to be a quarterback problem.

I admit, like most people I loath the idea of a dual-quarterback setup but I am in full "give Diaco and crew the full benefit of the doubt"-mode right now. If he wants to try out this 51-49 split, so be it. After all, nothing is set in stone. If Cochran or even Whitmer start playing really well, you can keep playing the hot hand, right?

But quarterback is only one part of the equation. This offensive line doesn't appear to be the kind that can keep a QB's head on straight all year long.

I'm not sure how well this offensive line will be able to pass protect or even run block, but I do know that UConn has talent in the backfield and at wide receiver. The offensive line needs to be good enough to let those guys make plays. If they don't we could see (let me know if this sounds familiar) injured quarterbacks, lack of daylight for running backs and an overall impotent offense. We can't afford that this year.

UConn can get some decent play out of the quarterback position if the O-line holds up. Maybe Bob Diaco was sandbagging when he said there weren't many linemen who were fit to play a full season of college football, but he seems like a straight shooter. This will be a key unit to watch in 2014.


Unfortunately, there are similar concerns for the defensive front which is replacing a few key players from last years team. Not much has worked for UConn football the last three years. Yet, the one part of the team that always seemed to show up on Saturdays was the defense.

There is a real question about talent with this team right now, as most of UConn's best players from the past three years are now playing on Sundays, and it's not clear how many quality guys are left to play for UConn. The big problem looks to be on the defensive line, where the Huskies lost underappreciated Shamar Stephen. There is also seemingly a lack of depth. If one or two guys go down, look out.

If the coaching staff's predictions are right, UConn should be able to keep opposing wide receivers in check and perhaps even pick off a few passes. However, no matter how great a secondary is, you have to get pressure up the middle. You have to stop the run and hit/rush the QB. Even mediocre quarterbacks will look like Tom Brady if given an hour to sit back and survey the field.

To me, that makes two seniors - Angelo Pruitt and Reuben Frank - absolutely essential to this year's cause. On most downs, those will be the guys asked to rush from the end. They'll be the ones putting a hurt on the QB. They'll also be the ones determining whether the defense will have to rely on blitzing or can put pressure on without that.

Neither guy is what you'd call a star, however both showed some promise and it's encouraging that each had argueably their best games against Michigan. If the secondary can cover the way we expect, that will give guys like Pruitt and Frank some time to get into the backfield. If they get stuck in the mud, opposing teams' quarterbacks will have their way with UConn  through the air. However, if they can pressure, then it will force some guys to throw before they're ready or on the run. That usually results in something good for the D.

Yes, they need to stop the run and, yes, they can get pressure in other ways besides from defensive end, but I think the success of Frank and Pruitt will help determine how good UConn's defense can be.