USF v. UConn: Battle among friends
USF and UConn both started the season with four-game losing streaks.
But while UConn had a bye week after a 41-12 drubbing at the hands of the Buffalo Bulls in late September, the university fired veteran coach Paul Pasqualoni.
Waiting in the wings was his offensive assistant, T.J. Weist, who UConn named interim head coach.
When USF offensive coordinator Walt Wells arrived at practice Oct. 1, he said he fired off a few congratulatory texts to Weist, a coaching colleague for 10 years.
But that isn’t the end of the connection between Weist and the USF staff.
Wells worked with Weist at Western Kentucky from 2003-09 along with USF coach Willie Taggart. Current USF special teams coach Stu Holt also joined Taggart, Wells and Weist at WKU from 2004-09 and 2011-12.
When they weren’t coaching, they were still having fun together.
“We had some pretty competitive ping pong and basketball games,” Taggart said Monday on the American Athletic Conference coaches’ teleconference.
But after opening kickoff Saturday at noon in Connecticut, the coaches will be playing a more serious game on the field.
With the built-in familiarity among coaching staffs, both USF and UConn aren’t expecting any big surprises.
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Weist said on the call. “We’ve worked together for a long time. We’ve worked closely together in the past, both being coordinators. Families are close and everything. It’s going to be a good game. We know each other’s mentality.”
Wells said he expects UConn’s defensive structure to be the same because Weist kept the defensive coordinator. Wells and USF junior running back Michael Pierre both said the Huskies’ standout players include UConn junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood.
“He runs really well to the ball sideline-to-sideline,” Pierre said. “They have two good defensive tackles too.”
Wells said UConn sophomore Julian Campenni and senior Shamar Stephen are strong players who “eat up blocks.” Smallwood was a first-team Big East selection last year and has 55 tackles in four games so far.
After the hamstring injury to senior running back Marcus Shaw last week, Wells said he wouldn’t be opposed to using a three-headed rushing attack with Pierre, sophomore Willie Davis and freshman Darius Tice against the UConn defensive front.
As far as the USF defense, it will contend with UConn redshirt freshman quarterback Tim Boyle, who gets his first start after the Huskies decided to bench junior Chandler Whitmer.
Senior defensive end Julius Forte said USF isn’t concerned there isn’t any college game film of Boyle.
“We read their linemen,” he said. “We play off of what their linemen do. If we beat the linemen and get to the quarterback, it doesn’t matter what his resume is.”
USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said his players’ knowledge of the scheme continues to grow, evidenced by the use of defensive linemen in coverage to confuse opposing offenses.
“You don’t worry (about a quarterback who doesn’t have game film),” Bresnahan said. “You worry about what you can control. If we do what we’re capable of, hopefully we present problems for any team.”
USF will look to go into their second bye week of the season on a two-game winning streak, following Saturday’s game at UConn. USF hasn’t won two games in a row since early last September.