With a monumental shift in the UConn athletic department that has sent basketball fans over the moon and left football supporters gazing into a murky future, it’s easy to forget that we have the 2019 football season to look forward to.
The Huskies ended 2018 with a 1-11 record, one of the worst seasons in school history, featuring one of the worst defenses in college football history. Whether they’re trying to impress conferences or potential future membership or just have more fans in the stands, the Huskies would do well to try to improve on that mark.
For a team as dreadful as the Huskies were last year, special teams was a surprising highlight. It’s the first position group to feature in our six-part series previewing each position group that UConn football has to offer in 2019.
There’s one reason, and one reason only, that I’m including special teams as its own category in these season previews, and that’s punter Luke Magliozzi. The ex-plumber was one of the two best players on the team last year. He hails from Prokick in Australia, the latest in a line of 75 scholarship athletes they’ve cranked out, featuring Seahawks punter Michael Dickson.
Magliozzi ranked 20thin the country in punting efficiency and averaged nearly 43 yards per punt, powering UConn to 25th in the nation in gross punting yards. A 24-year-old freshman last year, Magliozzi has a few more years in a UConn uniform, and his return will go a long way towards winning the field position battle.
Magliozzi was just one of the motors behind the No. 37 special teams unit in the country (according to S&P+). Unfortunately, he’s the only one staying at UConn. Michael Tarbutt, the Huskies’ long-bomb kicker, has transferred to Minnesota, taking with him a major part of the 38th-ranked unit in field goal efficiency. Although he went just 17-27 on field goal attempts in his career, he hit five of eight from over 40 yards, showing promise from range.
Tarbutt’s departure leaves it up to three youngsters to potentially fill his shoes. Noah Iden, from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, figures to be the most likely replacement. He took advantage of the new redshirt rule last year, playing in four games as a freshman but retaining four years of eligibility.
Iden took 20 kickoffs with just six touchbacks, so the power might not be there yet, but he also didn’t take any snaps during kickoffs or extra points this year. That honor went all to freshman Clayton Harris, who made just 5 of 8 extra point attempts in the two games where Tarbutt was out with injury.
Help is on the way, however: Sean Young, a graduate transfer from Florida International, will push Iden for that starting spot, at least on kickoffs. Young had a 81.4 touchback percentage last year, good enough for eighth in the nation.
The second departure that threatens to put a dent in UConn’s special teams performance is kick returner Keyion Dixon, who transferred to FCS Eastern Kentucky, taking his 23 returns for 452 yards with him. Defensive back Tyler Coyle will likely slot into his place, a year after he took 13 kick returns for an average of 22.7 yards.
The Huskies’ special teams units are just an appetizer for a theme you’ll see this year in UConn football: regression to the mean. Their special teams and offense will likely decline due to a handful of key departures, and if the defense somehow gets worse, they’ll be in a massive heap of trouble.