Defense is UConn's signature

UConn's Yawin Smallwood (33) sacks UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn in the first quarter of Thursday night's game at Rentschler Field. The UConn defense shut out UMass 37-0.
UConn's Yawin Smallwood (33) sacks UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn in the first quarter of Thursday night's game at Rentschler Field. The UConn defense shut out UMass 37-0.

East Hartford - Yawin Smallwood quietly stepped into an interview room at Rentschler Field on Thursday night, spoke softly and respectively, and looked ready for a GQ photo shoot wearing a black suit and silver bowtie.

It's hard to believe just two hours earlier Smallwood - UConn's physically imposing middle linebacker - was chasing down UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn and planting him into the turf for his first sack of the 2012 season.

"That's completely what UConn football is all about," Smallwood, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound sophomore, said after leading a dominant defensive effort in the Huskies' 37-0 opening-night win over the Minutemen. "We're going to smash 'em, smash 'em, smash 'em, and either they're going to back down or we're going to keep coming at them full speed."

Not only did the defense pitch a shutout, the Huskies never allowed UMass past midfield while limiting the overmatched Minutemen to only three first downs, three rushing yards and 56 total yards.

Was Smallwood aware of those gaudy numbers?

"Yes sir," he said with the hint of smile. "I noticed that."

But he was most pleased with the shutout and UConn's focus and intensity.

"We go into every game playing for it to be a shutout," he said. "We're a stingy defense and that's the mindset we have to have for every single game. ... That's something we've been talking about throughout camp. We're going to come out fast, we're going to come out physical and we're going to play to the last play."

Smallwood is also taking on more of a leadership role, even though he concedes outside linebacker Sio Moore, a senior captain, is UConn's emotional voice on defense.

"I feel like my role is to be the leader of the defense," Smallwood said. "I'm the middle linebacker. I've got to make sure everyone's doing the right thing. What I try to do is play every play as hard as I can. If I'm going hard, my teammates are going to see that and they're going to go hard as well. That's something I take pride in."

Up next will be a bigger test when North Carolina State, which features the talents of quarterback Mike Glennon, who passed for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago, arrives at Rentschler Field. Glennon's totals last season included 264 yards and three TDs in the Wolfpack's 31-24 win over preseason Big East favorite Louisville in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

"Our offense and defense got a lot of confidence from (Thursday's) win," Smallwood said. "We are ready for N.C. State. It's going to be a great challenge."

News and notes

Reserve defensive end Ted Jennings, who suffered a left knee injury during the third quarter Thursday night and did not return, was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on Friday, but coach Paul Pasqualoni said he was "optimistic" the injury wasn't too serious during a conference call earlier on Friday. ... Pasqualoni presented two game balls, one to the entire defense and the other to place-kicker Chad Christen, who was perfect in his debut for the Huskies, making all three of his field goal attempts, including a 47-yarder in the second quarter. ... In an effort to keep his offensive linemen fresh, Pasqualoni rotated seven players into the five spots Thursday, bringing Gus Cruz and Tyler Bullock off the bench.


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