UConn football had another disappointing year, but there were some areas of improvement in 2019. After a rash of transfers departing from the program, let’s take stock of what UConn has on the roster for next year to see if continued improvement in 2020 will be possible.
Here’s what exactly will head coach Randy Edsall have to work with offensively:
After being named starter for the season opener, it was pretty much all downhill for Mike Beaudry. Freshman Jack Zergiotis took his job in mid-October, but he didn’t exactly lock it down. His numbers — 57 percent completion, 6.9 yards per pass attempt, and 9 touchdowns to 11 interceptions — don’t jump off the page, and he played frenetic, haphazard games characterized by big misses and frequent turnovers.
His backup, Steven Krajewski, returns with slightly-better numbers: 63.2% completion, 7.7 yards per attempt and 292 total yards in four appearances. His mistakes were more understated than Zergiotis’, but he also was responsible for fewer explosive plays, even in garbage time.
Also joining the fray will be North Carolina State transfer Micah Leon, who sat out the 2018 season with a shoulder injury. At one point during the offseason, Edsall said Leon would’ve been the starter, but as of right now Edsall does not seem to have any favorites, and all three of Leon, Zergiotis, and Krajewski could be the opening day starter in 2020.
Kevin Mensah will return to go for his third-straight 1000-yard rushing season, and he’ll get more than enough carries to help him get there. Besides him, the backfield cupboard is looking pretty bare: Redshirt freshman Dante Black is transferring, as is redshirt sophomore Zavier Scott. Former walk-on Donevin O’Reilly will graduate, along with transfer Art Thompkins.
UConn will rely on redshirt freshmen Khyon Gillespie, Dominico Moncion and Lavarey Banton, who have combined for two total carries in their young careers, to make bigger contributions — They all have big shoes to fill, replacing Thompkins, one of the more explosive running backs to put on the UConn uniform in a while.
This unit will be Mensah and then most likely Gillespie vying for a larger role within the offense.
UConn’s receiving corps remained the least-harmed by the transfer bug this offseason. Cam Ross was the breakout star of 2019, leading the team in receiving yards. He’ll be back, fitting easily into that starting slot receiver spot, along with freshmen Matt Drayton, Heron Maurisseau and Elijah Jeffries, and sophomore Cameron Hairston.
None of them put up mind-blowing yardage numbers in 2019, but there’s evidence that both Maurisseau and Hairston could step up as key cogs in UConn’s offense in 2020. Maurisseau’s case is more on the eye-test side, as he showed bursts of speed and got the ball on quite a few jet sweeps throughout the season (he’s the one player that Frank Giufre has managed to use creatively in his tenure).
Hairston’s case is similar, and standing 6’2”, he has the chance to be an elite deep threat for the Huskies going forward, averaging 21 yards per reception, by far the best mark on the team. Drayton should fill out the starting lineup out wide, his 21 receptions ranks second among returners and he has some of the best hands on the team.
Former track star Elijah Jeffries has the chance to round out the starting receivers. His impressive measurables at 6’4” and 207 lbs are hard to ignore, but he only hauled in 11 catches in 2019.
At tight end, Jay Rose emerged as one of Zergiotis’ favorite targets late in the year, with 27 receptions through ten games. Going into 2020, with the transfer of his biggest competition, Jayce Medlock, Rose will remain the steady hand in UConn’s offense.
Rose was targeted mostly on short passes, so his 261 total receiving yards don’t jump off the page, but his 6’3’, 248 lb. frame make him a safe option for whoever the Huskies’ starting quarterback ends up being.
On the other end of the spectrum, UConn’s offensive line suffered the biggest transfer casualties. Matt Peart was already leaving as a redshirt senior, but also joining him out the door are [deep breath] Cam DeGeorge, Nino Leone and Stanley Hubbard, three projected starters, along with Robert Holmes and Noel Brouse, two capable backups.
That leaves two remaining starters, guard Christian Haynes and left tackle Ryan Van Demark. Dylan Nedrowski was expected to start in place of the departing Peart. Obviously, this leaves the Huskies’ offense in a precarious position as a unit entering 2020. There are two junior college transfers who signed in December who could also see time.
The offensive line is the driver of the entire unit, and continuity is the driver of offensive line productivity. For UConn, that continuity disappeared in about a week. UConn does have a stalwart in Kevin Mensah, some intriguing young talent at the quarterback and wide receiver positions, but transfers may have handicapped the unit even before spring practice starts.