CH-CH-CHA CHANGES – Tyler Bullock has replaced Tyler Samra at right guard. Marquise Vann has replaced Ryan Donahue at linebacker. Lyle McCombs has replaced Brian Lemelle at punt and kick returner. Jhavon Williams is playing in place of Taylor Mack at cornerback and Shakim Phillips is back starting at wide receiver.
Interim coach T.J. Weist said after Saturday’s loss at Cincinnati that there would be competition and change in the Huskies lineup and he wasn’t kidding.
Vann started his second game after Donahue suffered concussion-like symptoms against Michigan and “really stepped up” according to Weist in his Tuesday gathering with the media at the Burton Family Football Complex to talk about the upcoming game at Central Florida.
Vann recorded four tackles against the Bearcats and returned a fumble recovery 40 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s stepped up and preformed well in two games,” Weist said. “He’s consistent. He’s always been a very consistent player for us. We’re still going to play Ryan and there’s still, honestly, going to be a competition between the two. Just like I did with the wide receivers, when you’re 0 and 6, it’s a competition every day.”
For the season, Vann has 11 tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. Donahue, who played last week but did not record a tackle, has 20 tackles and a pass breakup this season.
“Ryan’s a heck of a player, Marquise is a heck of a player, so it’s going to be a competition and whoever starts when the game time comes, we’ll see,” Weist said. “It’s going to be a very heated competition between Ryan and Marquise and how much playing time they get.”
McCombs had five kickoff returns for 91 yards against the Bearcats and one punt return for 19 yards. For the season, the junior is averaging 18.8 yards on kickoff returns and 4.3 yards on punt returns.
“As a punt returner, I think Lyle’s stepped up and been very consistent,” Weist said. “Lyle’s a player that’s always excited. He’s always pumped up. I never have to worry about him not being into it. As a punt returner and kick returner, you have to want to do that. You have to want to sit back there as a punt returner and watch 11 guys come at you and try to make them all miss. He’s competitive. Brian’s still a young player. He’s been banged up with his ribs, he’s still banged up right now, he’s not 100 percent but he’s playing. But we felt that this was the best decision to put him (McCombs) there.”
Bullock is starting in place of Samra, who last week replaced Gus Cruz, who’s battling cardiac issues. It was Samra who was beaten by his man near the goal line, resulting in a two-yard loss on a first-and-goal play from the Cincinnati two and then was called for a five-yard false start penalty on the next play, forcing the Huskies to eventually kick a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown.
“Tyler Samra came in and had a fairly good game,” Weist said. “Tyler Bullock coming back (he had been suspended for two games) played a considerable amount. He was still rusty from missing two weeks of practice, so I think if Tyler (Bullock) would have been there earlier in the week he probably would have been in a position to start and I think that’s the direction we’re going right now.”
SHAK IS BACK – He might not have been 100 percent but the return of receiver Shakim Phillips to the UConn lineup was certainly welcome.
“He played 54 plays. He played well, he had some catches,” Weist said. “I don’t think he was full speed so he wasn’t as big of a weapon as we would have liked but I think he’ll improve this week and get back to full speed now that he’s got his confidence back in game situations.”
Phillips injured his hamstring late in the Michigan game, scoring on a 75-yard TD catch and run and has spent the past month working on getting the leg healed. The hamstring tightened up after just six plays against South Florida but Phillips was able to play the whole game against Cincinnati and not suffer any ill effects.
“That was his biggest fear,” Weist said. “When you come back, how fast can you run? How long can you run? Can you hold out? Is that thing going to be injured again? All those things. So he built his confidence in playing and I think he’ll be faster and better this week.”
INJURY UPDATE – Right guard Gus Cruz will not play until the cause of his shortness of breath/cardiac issue can be resolved, according to Weist.
“Gus … we’re still evaluating him. He’s got a cardiac issue, he’s still going through tests that will keep him out this week,” the coach said. “It’s still week to week with him to see how he responds to the tests and the prognosis and the treatment that will have for him. We’re still working on that.”
In addition, linebacker Graham Stewart (high ankle sprain) and cornerback Taylor Mack (shoulder stinger) continue to try and work themselves back into the lineup.
“For those guys (Stewart/Mack), they were close last week and hopefully this week, they’ll be closer,” Weist said. “They’re still questionable because they haven’t really gotten out there and practiced. Graham ran last week but the more he ran instead of getting better it got a little more worse for him. He’s got to get to the point where when he starts running and it gets better and better.
“Same thing with Taylor, we’ve just got to get him out there. With a nerve issue around his neck and his shoulder, you don’t mess with that. It’s got to be a point where he gets out there and he says, ‘When I hit it, it feels good.’ But we’re not going to take any chances with that.”