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Spring Game Provides Hope for Weary UConn Football Fans

UConn football scored a touchdown in the first quarter, from there it was all gravy.

Nate Hopkins (11) works his way to the end zone for one of his three touchdowns on the night.
Ian Bethune for The UConn Blog

By all accounts, the second Randy Edsall at UConn is off to a great start. The coaching staff has come together nicely, recruiting seems to be going well and sanity has returned, or dare I say #REStorred, to the program.

While the fan reaction was mixed when Edsall’s hire was announced, most seem to be excited about the upcoming season.

Let me revise that: The CORE fans seem to be excited. The rest of them? They might take a little longer to convince.

At UConn’s annual spring game on Friday, roughly 1,250 people showed up to Pratt & Whitney Stadium to watch the new-look Huskies under their old/new head coach. I’m not trying to say the stadium should be full, but some nearby high schools in the state may out-draw this scrimmage.

To be fair, weather certainly played a factor. It was cold and dreary with a mist falling throughout the game. If it was a nicer day, that number probably would’ve settled around the couple thousand which attended in the last few years.

While Friday Night Lights has a nice ring to it, that may not be the best setup for the Spring game. Saturdays are for college football where people can show up early, tailgate all day, and stumble into the stadium just in time for kickoff. But on a Friday night, people are showing up after work and the event is competing against a lot of different forms of entertainment.

UConn’s solution? Cheap gear for sale.

Ah, the surplus sale. The rare moment where the athletic department sells off old and unused clothing, equipment and uniforms for low prices, with most things ranging between $5-$20.

The sale began at 2 p.m., so me and fellow UConn Blogger Shawn McGrath headed up early to partake. We were one of only a handful of cars in the lot, surrounded mostly by hardcore tailgaters. As we entered, we were treated to the strange sight of people emerging from the stadium with hockey sticks in hand, which they (hopefully) purchased at the surplus sale.

We got in, found some good stuff and headed back to UConn with some new swag. Not long after, we were on the busses heading back to East Hartford for the game itself. Three busloads of students were expected but only one bus filled up despite the bait of free pizza.

If you can’t attract college students with free food, something must be wrong. What could possibly be more compelling to do in Storrs on a Friday night...?

Before the game, we were treated to sideline updates from Joe D’Ambrosio and Dan Orlovsky. While Joe D was great as always, I was pleasantly surprised with Orlovsky. He was a natural with the microphone in his hand, first bringing back some nostalgic memories of the few two seasons at the Rent while also bringing some keen football insight. If he’s done with the NFL, he’d be great in the broadcast booth.

The game started without much fanfare as both the first team offense and defense trotted out to the field.

Oh, that first drive was a sight to behold. The first play happened so quickly that I missed it while looking down. Before I could even collect my thoughts, the team was already up ready for the second play. Incredibly, the offense moved down the field with relative ease. We’ll never truly have an objective assessment from that drive because after watching three years of an offense moving slower than the construction of Yard Goats stadium, it was like watching the Daytona 500.

The drive was capped off by a rarity inside Rentschler Field, or anywhere UConn played “football” last season: a first quarter touchdown.

A buzz swept through the crowd. Every single person in the stands knew how incredible that feat was, having last occurred in the spring game a season ago. Strangers hugged, babies were kissed, and I swear I saw Dan Orlovsky wiping away tears on the sideline.

Okay, maybe not. But it was pretty damn exciting.

The way the spring game was set up, there would be no return kicks, which may sound familiar, but worry not, that’s standard operating procedure for the Spring Game. Edsall made it very clear on Thursday that he intends to use punt returns to the fullest extent he can, with a little help.

Ultimately, the fan turnout was disappointing. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the change from Saturday afternoon to Friday night, or maybe it was the fans sending a message that wins are the only thing that will re-fill the Rent. Fair enough on all accounts.

I don’t want to watch every game come down to the wire with a 13-10 final score or see an outdated offensive philosophy. When the coach’s pants are the most exciting thing about the game, there’s a serious problem. Friday night we learned that won’t be the case.

If the spring game is any indication, start seeing some real football on August 31 when the Huskies open up their season against Holy Cross—hopefully a modern, fun version football the likes of which Husky fans have never seen before.