HARTFORD - Connecticut has a lot to replace as it begins the 2009 season, starting with the 2,083 yards that tailback Donald Brown racked up last year before leaving for the NFL.
Brown is among 21 players and 11 starters who are gone from last year’s 8-5 squad that won the International Bowl. Three other Huskies also were chosen in the first two rounds of the NFL draft - including Patriots cornerback Darius Butler - putting UConn just behind college football powerhouse Southern California, which had five players taken.
The Huskies also lost offensive coordinator Rob Ambrose, now head coach at Towson University. He’s been replaced by Joe Moorhead, who brings with him from Akron a no-huddle, spread offense.
“It’s an exciting offense to be a part off,’’ said junior quarterback Zack Frazer. “The tempo, the plays, the ability to make a big play happen; we can do a bit of everything.’’
Last year, the Huskies passed for just 140 yards per game, while relying on Brown for most of the offensive production. They were criticized for being predictable - and boring.
Coach Randy Edsall said the new offense won’t turn the Huskies into a passing juggernaut, but he is looking for some improvement.
“Balance, that’s what we’re going to strive for,’’ he said. “To me, the word is balance.’’
With Brown gone, senior tailback Andre Dixon and sophomore Jordan Todman are expected to split time at tailback. Todman ran for just under 300 yards as Brown’s backup a year ago. Dixon was a second-team All-Big East running back in 2007, when he ran for over 800 yards. But a preseason ankle injury and some off-the-field trouble, including a drunken driving arrest, kept him on the bench most of last season.
“You’ve got to be able to go through the hard times,’’ Dixon said. “Injuries happen, people win jobs, take other people’s jobs, it just happens. The opportunity I have right now is great. And, being that I went through what I went through last year, I think it made me a stronger person.’’
Frazer, a junior transfer from Notre Dame, came out of the spring with the edge over junior Cody Endres at quarterback. Each got to see some action last season, filling in when Tyler Lorenzen was injured, but combined for just two touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
They will be throwing to a young receiving corps. Sophomore Kashif Moore was the team’s leading receiver last season with just 27 catches. Brad Kanuch, who has struggled with injuries, is the only senior in the bunch, which also includes speedster Isiah Moore, and four freshmen, including highly touted recruit Dwayne Difton.
The offensive line is deep, despite losing center Keith Gray to graduation and left tackle Will Beatty to the NFL. Three starters return, and several others have seen significant playing time.
On defense, the Huskies are expected to have one of the top linebacking trios in the nation in juniors Scott Lutrus (106 tackles last season), Greg Lloyd Jr. (56 tackles), and Lawrence Wilson (73 tackles).
The biggest question marks are at defensive end, where projected starter Marcus Campbell was an academic casualty, and in the secondary, where Robert McLain will be counted on at corner to fill the shoes of Butler.
The Huskies have a tougher schedule this year, with nonconference games at Baylor and Notre Dame, and road games in the Big East against West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.
“We’re used to being the underdog,’’ Frazer said. “We like exceeding the low expectations.’’