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October 16, 2008

Big East: UConn searching for receiver help

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Anyone, anywhere, anytime could be the new motto for the Connecticut wide receiver corps.

The "anywhere" in the mix could be senior Darius Butler, a starting cornerback who also started at wide receiver in Connecticut's last game against North Carolina.

The "anytime" could be senior D.J. Hernandez, a former quarterback who has been lauded for his blocking since moving to receiver before last season.

The "anyone" could be anyone else who can give Connecticut added weapons in the offense to help out Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher, and make life easier for new starting quarterback Zach Frazer.

The audition is ongoing.

Hernandez is the Huskies' leading receiver with 161 yards, but most of that came when he set career-highs with seven catches for 103 yards against North Carolina. But his greatest impact has been as a downfield blocker for Brown.

"A lot of people get caught up in the only way to contribute as a wide receiver is by catching the ball," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall. "That's not the case and that's not who we are. He's done a good job of being an all-around receiver this year."

If there's a game-breaking threat, Butler would be it. Edsall asked Butler, a four-year starter at cornerback, to contribute in the passing game as well as return kickoffs. In the past four games, Butler has eight catches for 107 and two total touchdowns while also continuing to be one of the Big East's top cornerbacks.

"He's a well-conditioned athlete," Edsall said. "He did a great job over the summer in preparing for what we wanted to get done with him this year. Anyone who is doing what Darius is doing has to be a phenomenal athlete and has to be a well-conditioned athlete."

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    Syracuse at South Florida, noon
    Connecticut at Rutgers, noon
    Pittsburgh at Navy, 3:30 p.m.
    Middle Tennessee at Louisville, 3:30 p.m.
    Pittsburgh at Navy. One of Pittsburgh's low points under Dave Wannstedt came last season against Navy. Wannstedt went for the touchdown rather than a fourth-down chip-shot field goal in overtime in a 48-45 loss at home to the Midshipmen. The decision led to Pitt's fourth consecutive loss at the time. Pitt will look for redemption this week in Annapolis, but Navy has won three in a row, including road wins over Wake Forest and Air Force. Pitt TB LeSean McCoy is starting to heat up.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Rutgers TB Kordell Young. He once was the highly touted backup to Ray Rice, then was supposed to be the replacement for Ray Rice. Midway through his sophomore season, he's finally getting the chance to show why. Young has been hobbled by knee injuries this year but returned last week against Cincinnati to run 22 times for 79 yards and passed for a 17-yard touchdown.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Pitt LB Scott McKillop has recorded at least one tackle for a loss in each game this season. Cincinnati K Jake Rogers has converted 13 consecutive extra points and five consecutive field goals after missing his first two extra points to start the season. UConn's Brown became the first back to reach 1,000 yards this season when he reached the 1,067-yard mark against North Carolina. Pitt has won consecutive Big East road games. Three Big East teams are in the top five in the nation in net punting: No. 1 Cincinnati (43.29 yards), No. 3 West Virginia (41.93) and No. 5 Syracuse (40.15)

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Cincinnati has converted only 4-of-23 third downs in the past three games, including an 0-of-11 performance against Rutgers. Rutgers has not forced a turnover against an FBS (Division I-A) opponent this season. Pitt's Wannstedt is 0-8 against the next four opponents on the schedule Navy, Rutgers, Notre Dame and Louisville. Rutgers QB Mike Teel hasn't thrown an interception in two Big East games, but he is completing only 49 percent of his passes.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "Who would have thought Toledo would go in and beat Michigan, with Rich Rodriguez and all his infamous wisdom, whatever it is there. Who really would have thought that? My point is that you've got to be ready at any time to play. It doesn't matter if Michigan is putting in a new offense or not you would think the talent level would be a little bit different. It showed Toledo played with so much heart and desire and all that."
    USF coach Jim Leavitt, in The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times

    "I would say inexperience showed, but there were a lot of plays left out there. Maybe we gave him a little too much to do because he had such great success against Marshall. He did some good things, but there were times we needed to get into better plays."
    Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly on quarterback Chazz Anderson's performance in last week's 13-10 win over Rutgers

    "In this day and age, everybody is desperate each and every week to win. It's hard to win."
    UConn's Edsall on playing 1-5 Rutgers this week.

    "The (triple-option) offense that they run is obviously different than anything we'll see all year. So the extra time that we've had off, we put it to good use."
    Pitt's Wannstedt, whose team faces Navy after an off week. "We got out of here with a win, but you'd never know it from our fans. Everybody wants us to score 50 points."
    West Virginia K/P Pat McAfee, in The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y., after a 17-6 victory over Syracuse.

  • ETC.
  • West Virginia backup QB Jarrett Brown (right throwing shoulder) was injured in the win over Syracuse. Brown was 14-of-20 with 52 yards in his first start of the season. Starting QB Pat White (concussion) is "fine," coach Bill Stewart said. USF LB Brouce Mompremier (neck) returned to practice this week and worked with the first-team defense. Cincinnati may get healthy at quarterback soon. Tony Pike (broken arm) will start to participate in seven-on-seven drills this week and will be evaluated for Cincinnati's next game at Connecticut on Oct. 25. Dustin Grutza (broken leg), who started the opener, could be available for the West Virginia game Nov. 8. Pitt LB Shane Murray (knee) could face knee surgery after an MRI. He has played sparingly the past three games.

  • BIG EAST MIDSEASON REPORT
  • BEST GAME: USF 37, Kansas 34, Sept. 12. USF QB Matt Grothe and Kansas counterpart Todd Reesing went back and forth. Bulls DE George Selvie had a dominant second half, and USF won on an unlikely field goal from Maikon Bonani, a true freshman who learned he was the starting kicker two days before the game.

    BEST REMAINING GAME: USF at West Virginia, Dec. 6. Six Big East teams all but Rutgers and Syracuse legitimately can say they have a shot at the conference title, so almost every remaining game matters. Even if this regular-season finale doesn't decide a trip to the BCS, it's still White vs. Grothe in White's final home game.

    BEST PLAYER: Connecticut RB Donald Brown. He shared carries with Andre Dixon last season but won't give up the ball this season. He powered the Huskies to a 5-0 start and leads the country in rushing with 177.8 yards per game. He also has 12 rushing touchdowns.

    BEST FRESHMAN: Louisville RB Victor Anderson, Louisville. The Cardinals have put a new emphasis on the running game this season, and Anderson gives them a home-run threat. He has rushed for 502 yards and accounted for six touchdowns, three from more than 25 yards.

    BEST COACHING JOB: Cincinnati's Brian Kelly. A 52-26 loss at Oklahoma is the only blemish in the Bearcats' record, which isn't quite as embarrassing as losing to Navy, Bowling Green, East Carolina or Akron, which other Big East teams have done. Kelly is 5-1 despite losing his first three quarterbacks Ben Mauk, Dustin Grutza and Tony Pike.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Rutgers QB Mike Teel. Not having star TB Ray Rice hurts, but this was supposed to be the season Teel a senior came into his own. Instead, he threw seven interceptions in the first four games and the Scarlet Knights have started 1-5.

    MOST SURPRISING UNIT: Louisville front seven. New coordinator Ron English has turned the unit around after an embarrassing 2007. His starting linebackers hadn't played a down of Division I football before this season, but Louisville is ninth in the nation in run defense.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING UNIT: West Virginia offensive backfield. Remember when you could count on West Virginia to score 30 points nearly every game? Not anymore. Maybe the players and new coaches aren't on the same page. Maybe the Mountaineers miss Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt more than they expected. Maybe teams have simply figured out how to defend them. No matter the reason, West Virginia is sixth in the Big East in scoring.

    COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT: Syracuse's Greg Robinson. This seat is scalding. Alumni and boosters are tired of losing at an alarming rate (the Orange is 8-35 under Robinson). There are few signs of a turnaround on the horizon, and a top coaching candidate former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin is in a position to field phone calls.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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