Pasqualoni’s goal: Maintain success

After a nice run, Huskies start over

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / August 30, 2011

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The bar has been set high at the University of Connecticut as a result of four straight seasons with at least eight wins, culminating with last season’s BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl.

Now the challenge will be to continue that success. The Huskies will have to do it without coach Randy Edsall, who left for the University of Maryland, and talented running back Jordan Todman, who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers.

Replacing Edsall is former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni, who brought longtime friend and assistant George DeLeone as his offensive coordinator and former UMass coach Don Brown as defensive coordinator.

Pasqualoni will have some heavy lifting to do to keep the Huskies as a force in the Big East. Many preseason projections had them as low as seventh in the eight-team conference.

Pasqualoni’s coaching philosophy won’t change.

“This isn’t any different than the freshman team at Cheshire [Conn.] High School, the Dallas Cowboys, or the UConn Huskies,’’ he said. “You go as hard as you can as long as you can and you don’t get tired.’’

If the Huskies are to remain an elite team rather than an also-ran, Brown’s defense, which returns nine starters, will be the key.

Brown already has made an impression on the Huskies.

“When he first came in and we were in the defensive room . . . he’s like, ‘Gentlemen, I’d like to congratulate you on your recent success defensively, you are a good squad. I know you had your way of doing things,’ ’’ said cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson. “Then his head flopped around and he yelled, ‘But I have my way of doing things. We aren’t going to let people dictate. We are going to attack, attack, attack.’ ’’

Offensively, DeLeone might have a similar philosophy, but the question of who is going to do the attacking has been the key question of training camp.

Pasqualoni must decide which of his three quarterbacks he feels most comfortable with for the season opener Thursday night against Fordham. A fourth option, sophomore Mike Box, the only one with collegiate experience, announced last week he was going to transfer.

“They have all done good things,’’ said Pasqualoni, referring to junior Johnny McEntee, redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, and freshman Michael Nebrich. “Certainly there’s things they need to do better. They are making this a very fierce competition.’’

Pasqualoni did not discount opening the season with a rotation.

Another key to the offense is tailback D.J. Shoemate, who transferred from Southern Cal last season, but quickly fell out of favor with Edsall and never established himself. Pasqualoni said he will give him another chance.

“He’s an older guy,’’ Pasqualoni said of the 5-foot-11-inch, 219-pound Shoemate, who fumbled early in last season’s opener against Michigan, which landed him in Edsall’s doghouse. “He clearly understands what he has to do to play. He’s been very focused. He’s doing an excellent job of taking care of the ball. He’s done very well with his assignments and has rarely made a mistake.’’

Make no mistake, the Huskies will make errors this season. Just how many and how quickly Pasqualoni and his staff can correct them will be the key. Pasqualoni, 62, said he’s enjoying being back in the college game after spending the last six seasons in the NFL, working with the Cowboys and Dolphins.

“They’re all competing,’’ Pasqualoni said, when asked about the battles being waged at QB, on the offensive line, wide receiver, and tailback. “We are moving guys in and out and trying to find the best combination and who the best guys are going to be.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at