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And in that corner… the UConn Huskies

Nov 19, 2009, 5:00 PM EST

It’s tough not to cheer for UConn. After what the school has gone through in the month since Jasper Howard was murdered, the football team has seen games slip from their grasp in every conceivable way possible.

While I’ve tried to watch as much of the Huskies as possible to get ready for this Saturday’s tilt, nobody has seen more UConn football than Russell Blair, a football writer for the school’s Daily Campus. He’s chronicled the football season first-hand and covered the Jasper Howard tragedy as well. I had a chance to exchange emails with Russell the past few days and asked him a few questions that will give us a better clue of what to expect this weekend when the Huskies play their first ever football game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Hope you enjoy…

Inside the Irish: Talking strictly football, how heartbreaking has this season been?
Losing by 2, 2, 3, 4 and 4 points? You’re sitting at 4-5 and you could
just as easily be in the discussion for the Big East title. What is
morale like?

Russell Blair: I don’t think that the fans have given up on the team yet but a loss on
Saturday could cause many fans to lose faith in the season.  A lot of
the local writers picked us to finish 7-5 or 8-4 and that 7-5 mark is a
possibility but we need to get wins over the Irish and USF, two tough
games, to make that happen.  Furthermore, if we fall to 6-6 and Notre
Dame takes the Big East berth in the Gator Bowl we may be fighting for
an at-large bid that might not come.  The hardest thing to deal with is
that it sometimes seems we find ways to lose games that we should be
winning.  The safety in the end zone against UNC, the 81-yard touchdown
with under 40 seconds to go against Rutgers, these are the kind of
inexcusable plays that have cost us games we had a good chance of
winning.  Most people expected UConn to make a bowl this year and if we
don’t make a bowl I think that would be one of the toughest things for
fans and those in the program itself to swallow.

ITI: Let’s talk about the tragedy of Jasper Howard. What has it been like to
be a student at UConn through all of this? We’ve seen how the football
team has tried to battle through this, but how has the student body
reacted?

RB: As terrible a tragedy as the murder of Jasper Howard was I think if
anything, it has brought the student body that much closer together.
 From the candlelight vigils to the way that the students acted at the
first home game following his death against Rutgers I think the
students have bonded together over this common tragedy and have done a
great job reminding the national media that Jasper wasn’t just a
football player but a fellow student as well.  It’s been a month since
the incident and I think most students are well on their way moving on
with their lives but it’s something that nobody here at UConn is ever
going to forget as long as they live.

ITI: Talk a little bit about the quarterback situation. Zach Frazer was the
first quarterback recruit of Charlie Weis. He was a promising get by
head coach Randy Edsall, but hasn’t really lit it up since he got his
chance. What’s the future of the QB position for UConn?

RB: I think Frazer has shown flashes of excellence but he hasn’t really
panned out in the end.  He’s got a cannon for an arm but he often
doesn’t make the best choices as shown by his 7 interceptions to just 4
passing touchdowns.  The QB situation for UConn has been shaky all
season long, Frazer was the starter coming into the season before his
injury and Cody Endres did a fairly good job replacing him and actually
earned the starting job for himself.  Even when Frazer was deemed 100
percent healthy, Endres remained the starter.  Now the shoe is on the
other foot and Endres is out for the year so Frazer got his job back
but maybe not the way he wanted.  I think if Zach has a good
performance over these last three games and leads UConn to a bowl
victory it will be hard to take away the job from him next season.
 However, if his performance continues to be mediocre look for a
three-way competition in the spring between Frazer, Endres and redshirt
freshman Mike Box.

ITI: It looks like the running attack has gotten going and the
Notre Dame defense has done it’s best to make everyone look good. Who
can we expect to torment the Irish will big plays, either on the ground
or in the air?

RB: The Notre Dame rush defense is giving up over 150 yards per game and
UConn has a strong tandem of backs in Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman.
 Todman actually earned back the top spot on the depth chart this week,
partially due to Dixon getting banged up but Todman has also shown
promise and a newfound ability to run hard between the tackles and not
just around the outside.  Look for Todman to try to exploit the Notre
Dame front seven and with UConn’s sturdy offensive line I wouldn’t be
surprised to see him break off another 100-yard rushing game with maybe
a 20-plus yard run somewhere in there.  As for the passing game, the
Huskies’ 10 touchdowns  this season is already double their total from
last year but give credit to Marcus Easley for that.  Easley has 5 TDs
and has shown the ability to make big plays so he will probably be the
guy the Irish have to look for in the passing game.  He has a touchdown
in each of his last five games and has racked up 80 yards at least in
those five contests and I expect him to find gaps in the Notre Dame
secondary.

ITI: Notre Dame’s season has swooned, and Charlie Weis is now squarely on
the hot seat. Does that take away from the historic nature of this
game? We’ve heard that it’s just another football game, but does coming
to Notre Dame for the first time mean something?

RB: While Notre Dame is nowhere near the powerhouse they were in the late
1980s and early 1990s, this game still does have some sense of
historical implication given that it may be the only time the Huskies
ever travel to South Bend.  Though a series was in the works, albeit
not a true home and home as UConn’s “home” games were at Giants Stadium
and Gillete, those plans have been scrapped and it looks like it’ll be
just a one time deal.  But this won’t be the only big time game for
UConn, signing home and home series with Tennessee and Michigan has
given the Huskies a handful of big time games and while Notre Dame has
a large national following this game will likely not be what it might
have appeared to be when it was initially planned several years ago.
 As for Charlie Weis, the fact that he is fighting for his job and
UConn is fighting for their first win since the loss of Howard only
adds to the emotion of the day.  I expect both teams to leave it all
out on the field and it should be a pretty entertaining football game.

ITI: The Huskies staged a furious rally and nearly caught Cincy. Any
thoughts on the Bearcats and the apple of many Irish fan’s eye, Brian
Kelly?

RB: UConn kept Cincinnati much closer than many people expected, especially
at their own place in Nippert Stadium.  I think that Cincinnati is the
real deal and if they run the table they should have a shot at the BCS
National Championship.  Say what you will about Big East football but I
think that Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and even West Virginia to an extent,
have proven that there are always going to be a few good sides that
come out of what many consider to be the weakest of the BCS
conferences.  The fact that there were no Big East teams in the AP Top
25 to begin the season may have made some of the coaches and players
play with a little chip on their shoulder but the conference has
cemented itself as having teams as good, if not better, than those in
the Big 10, Big 12 or SEC.  I think Brian Kelly is a great coach and
the excitement he brings to his team is unparalleled.  Cincinnati is
trying to keep him around and I know he’s not the first choice for the
Irish but if Notre Dame comes calling I think he’ll have a hard time
saying no.  Losing Brian Kelly would be a big blow for the Big East.
 Take West Virginia for example, losing Rich Rodriguez has hurt them
over the past few seasons.

ITI: Prognosis for Saturday’s game?

RB: This is a tough one, earlier this season when both teams had
higher expectations for the season I would have said Notre Dame would
win big.  I still think Notre Dame is going to win, but I think it’ll
be a closer game.  Losing Jasper Howard is going to hurt us in the
secondary, especially against the likes of Michael Floyd and Golden
Tate.  Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a great kid but he’s a redshirt freshman
and he’s got a lot of work to do to get his game to the level that
Howard was playing at.  Not to mention that Clausen has proven himself
to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country.  UConn’s defense,
which has been their anchor the last few seasons, gave up 47 points to
Cincinnati and I think Notre Dame shouldn’t have trouble finding the
endzone.  I really hope the Huskies win, it would be a big time win for
the program, but I just don’t see it happening.

My prediction:  Notre Dame 35, UConn 24 

Special thanks to Russell for the in-depth analysis, and sparing all of us from my attempt at learning the A to Zs of UConn in a week. For more of Russell’s writing, check out his column at the Daily Campus.

  1. StephenOfTroy - Nov 19, 2009 at 9:12 PM

    Russell Blair said that Brian Kelly “is not the first choice for the Irish.” Well, if he’s not, then who is? (Don’t say “Charlie Weis,” people; I’m being serious here!)

  2. Art Vandelay - Nov 20, 2009 at 4:35 PM

    Vegas oddsmakers have Urban Meyer at 3-2 odds for being head coach at ND come Jan 2010. They usually seem to know what they’re talking about. Just about every game with a 3 pt Vegas spread comes down to a FG doesn’t it?

  3. Joe - Nov 20, 2009 at 7:54 PM

    If Urban Meyer continues to dominate at Florida, he will not leave. Also, his spread offense is made for a QB like Tebow not lead- footed Clausen. Swarbick will bring Weis back for at least one more season. Sorry StephenOfTroy.

  4. StephenOfTroy - Nov 20, 2009 at 11:09 PM

    Art and Joe, thanks for weighing in.
    Art, any idea what Intrade has to say? I usually find their views intriguing, especially so during Election ’08.
    Joe, I’m curious why you think that Swarbrick isn’t going to fire Weis. If he’s going to keep him, then why is he waiting until “a week after the final game” to tell everyone that? Seems to me that the cloud of controversy surrounding ND’s program would blow over if the AD just came out right now and and confirmed that Weis is and will be the coach, period. Saying that you’ll make an announcement after the season sounds a LOT like you’re going to fire the guy, in my view. Curious to hear your reasoning, or your inside information, etc. Thanks.

  5. Art Vandelay - Nov 20, 2009 at 11:17 PM

    @SOT: I don’t believe Intrade opines re: sports.

  6. Art Vandelay - Nov 20, 2009 at 11:46 PM

    First choice for the Irish should be Terry Tate Office Linebacker (see You Tube). This guy could whip any organization into shape.

  7. Len - Nov 21, 2009 at 8:27 AM

    I think the talk of Urban Meyer coming to Notre Dame is rediculous.For those whom think he will please give a list of Pro/cons for him to leave his successful program in Florida were he has already won 2 championships and may be on his way to 3.I think the cons will outweigh the pros.

  8. robertg - Nov 21, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    1. take a look at und.com, click on football fridays, and watch the notre dame student athletes who also play football and notre dame’s student body at friday night’s pep rally.
    2. there is only the confidence of a team and school that has been shafted out of 4 wins so this season by dishonest officiating crews.
    3. even if another crooked officiating crew(this one from the big east conference) cheats this notre dame team out of yet another win, no notre dame student athlete will accept that as a real loss.
    4. charlie and his staff will still be back next season and for the forseeable future.
    5. the only desperation will be with the proprietors of crooked college sports enterprises and with any dishonest officials who show up at the notre dame/uconn game when we take all of their material assets in the civil courts.
    6. notre dame is simply not going to climb into the sewers with the schools that cheat the public and their own student athletes by fielding teams of full time football players with zero academic or moral obligations.
    7. if any notre dame fan or alumus wants notre dame to take that direction, find another football team to root for.
    GO IRISH!!!

  9. mrrandolph - Nov 21, 2009 at 9:37 AM

    Urban Meyer
    Pro: He can recruit. Look at the recruiting job he did at Bowling Green and Utah.
    He has stated that ND is his dream job.
    He has already won 2 Championships and maybe a third.
    He is named after a Pope so you know atleast his family is Catholic.
    Con: He want be within a hour and a half of 80-90% of his roster.
    The Weather. November, December, January in Florida short sleeves and light jackets. South Bend – button and wrap up.
    And, folks saying that lead foot Clausen couldn’t run Urban’s offense like Tebow is correct. But, Chris Leak couldn’t either and Urban won his first title with Leak. And, maybe Urban would use Dayne the way he used Tebow his first year.

  10. mrrandolph - Nov 21, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    In the famous word of Bear Bryant when asked why he left a successful Texas A&M program to come to Alabama who were the doormats of the SEC 4-24-2 the previous 3 years.
    He simply said “Mama Called”.
    Bear played on Alabama’s 1934 Nat’l Championship team under Frank Thomas (ND 1920-22 Who Rockne called the smartest player I ever had)
    If ND is truly Urban’s dream job, he will accept the challenge.
    And, also remember, the talent gap has really closed compared to when Urban was first pursued.

  11. Larry - Nov 21, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    Take a hike Goofy !

  12. Larry - Nov 21, 2009 at 10:43 AM

    Dick Jauron

  13. robertg - Nov 21, 2009 at 11:04 AM

    1. urban meyer already had an opportunity to coach at notre dame.
    2. however,notre dame refused to accept meyer’s conditions that notre dame lower notre dame’s academic and character standards and create a school within notre dame for full time football players with zero academic obligations which is exactly what florida already had operating for urban, along with gator alumni connections with the sec conference and officials.
    3. urban really needed and used those crooked sec officials this season to rescue his 2 loss florida team and lead certain naieve members of the public to fall for the con that unfeated florida and alabama(another 2 loss team) will be meeting in the sec conference playoff game to determine which team plays in the bcs championship and the other going to another big payoff bcs game.
    3. urban meyer simply is not qualified to be notre dame’s head coach and urban knows that very well.
    4. we have not heard of or seen the take a hike Goofy defense tried in any real court trial, but we encourgage you to come in and try it.
    5. make certain that you have made prior bail arrangements when you are held in contempt of court. some judges will just laugh at your defense, as we certainly will, but others are more inclined to have you arrested on the spot by the armed bailiffs and hauled off to jail.
    GO IRISH!!!

  14. robertg - Nov 21, 2009 at 12:32 PM

    1. for anyone who still has any doubt whatsover about eric hansen and his colleagues being paid shills writing and posting online fraudulent information about charlie and his staff and notre dame football in return for monetary payments from notre dame’s enemies on the recruiting trails, watch the video and audio of the friday pep rally at notre dame at und.com and then read online and print out eric hansen’s description of the pep rally in the south bend tribune entitled “Notre Dame football: Minimal pep present during final Irish football rally”.
    2. to be blunt, as we always have been with and about eric hansen and his colleagues ever since eric hansen and some of his associates at the south bend tribune decided to supplement their salaries by taking payoffs from people associated with usc and other rivals of notre dame in the recruiting wars, eric hansen’s description of the pep rally is intentionally fraudulent and intended to drive recruits and their families and student athletes and coaches away from notre dame.
    3. during prior seasons, before charlie and his staff and notre dame’s student athletes realized what eric hansen and his associates were really up to at notre dame, eric hansen and his associates actually caused dissention within the notre dame team and were actually responsible for causing a number of fine notre dame student athletes to transfer to other schools. in each case, eric and his associates got big bonuses from notre dame’s enemies.
    4. why do we bother looking at and printing out the articles posted online by eric hansen and others?
    5. eric hansen and his associates are among the persons with whom we will not settle out of court for any amounts of money.
    6. we will take all of their material possessions after very public jury trials.
    7. after all, we have warned them on numerous occasions,at 1st very politely and in public comments in the south bend tribune until they started blocking all comments which disagreed with their false propaganda, but eric hansen and certain others(some were wise enough to leave the south bend tribune and have given us testimony and other evidence) kept on trying to destroy notre dame football with fraudulent articles posted on the internet in return for pay by notre dame’s enemies.
    8. do we blame the owners of the south bend tribune? no. after all, they have been conned just like some members of the public and some notre dame fans.
    9. however, we expect the owners of the south bend tribune to fire eric hansen and bob wieneke and al lesar immediately and to assign to us the civil causes of action that the south bend tribune has against each of them.
    GO IRISH!!!

  15. mrrandolph - Nov 21, 2009 at 2:45 PM

    I thought the story was that ND was a couple of days or weeks late. I thought Urban accepted the Florida job before Kevin White approached him. Afterall, ND already had a head coach and it had been their history to honor contracts and just not renew them.
    Ex: Gerry Faust
    Bob Davie

  16. StephenOfTroy - Nov 22, 2009 at 1:04 AM

    Art: WAY TO GO on the Terry Tate selection! That guy is hilarious!
    “You can’t be tippy-toein’ up in this humpty-bumpty!”
    “It’s intimidation….MIND GAMES!”
    “You know you need a cover on your TPS report, DOUG!”
    I just about died laughing the first time I saw any of those clips. They should have an ongoing special with Terry Tate.
    You’re on the cusp of making up for talking about my Dad and HelenOfTroy, Art.

  17. StephenOfTroy - Nov 22, 2009 at 1:13 AM

    robertg: You seem to be wasting a lot of time. I mean a LOT of time.
    No, I’m not talking about your pathetic meandering nonsense about how everyone but ND cheats.
    I mean, you are wasting a lot of time with your (nonexistent) “very public jury trials” that will (NEVER) take away everyone’s “material possessions.”
    Why not simply use your vast (imaginary) contacts with the powers that be to get the Lord to take away the firstborn sons of everyone involved with the (all in your empty head) conspiracy of crooked college sports enterprises?
    Oh, and have you succeeded in getting France knocked out of the World Cup due to the handball goal that wasn’t called yet? Methinks that if you cannot do anything about an OBVIOUS instance of cheating in the world’s most popular sport, in a game that had dramatic consequences, then you’re never ever in your life going to get the NAVY loss turned magically into an ND win. Just my two cents. You may now return to your regularly-scheduled lunacy.

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