UConn mountain man on trail to Louisville

By Paul Sykes

Darrell the Mountain Man is headed down from Hartford to see his Connecticut football team take on Louisville this Saturday. He may be one of the most fervent football fans I’ve ever met.

I ran into Darrell at a U of L-UConn game in 2005. Several of us made the trek to  Storrs. It was cold and wet that night, we arrived several hours early for the game and set up for tailgating. The charcoal grill was welcome. This bear-sized, bearded man came upon us and welcomed us to Connecticut.

Long white hair flowing, a beard the length of his face. He looked every bit the mountain man. He hung with us until it was time to enter the game, recounting stories of past UConn games.  Michael Bush ran for 120 yards that night and Hunter Cantwell subbed for an ailing Brian Brohm in a 30-20 win for U of L.

I made the trip back to UConn in 2007 with a different group of people. We were terribly late arriving to that contest because of a late start and bumper to bumper traffic. Midway through the third quarter, I feel this thump on my shoulder and Darrell is standing there grinning at me. We talk for a long while. I had a seat open next to me and he took it. Louisville lost that night 21-17, largely the result of a “fair catch” incident.

Darrell came to Louisville in 2008 and brought reinforcements. Several Husky fans  enjoyed Cardinal tailgate hospitality with us.  They had driven straight through from Hartford, slept several hours at a local hotel. I met Darrell’s son that trip, just as big as his 75-year-old Dad and blessed with the same photographic knowledge of Huskies football.

I didn’t make to Storrs last season. Darrell let me know about it. I reiterated the offer to come down and tailgate with us. He doesn’t carry a cell phone, and only uses the computer to keep up with UConn football. He has similar contacts at other Big East schools, estimating that he has attended 250 games on the road. No friends at West Virginia, however. “Those yahoos are the epitome of boorish behavior and no class,” he’ll tell you.

Drive safely if you read this, pal. We’ll have the grill fired up and a beverage waiting when we hook up Saturday morning.

Game Day: Louisville vs. UConn

By Paul Sykes

The University of Louisville football team looks to improve to 500 today with a Noon kickoff against Connecticut in East Hartford.  Louisville (2-3) must overcome the same litany of problems to beat the favored (3-2) Huskies at their homecoming.

  • Third down conversions. The Cards are 91st in the nation at stopping opponents on third down. 42.2%. Hopefully, probable returning linebacker Brandon Heath will equal improvement in this area. UConn is different in offensive philosophy than the Cards previous opponent, Southern Miss, choosing to utilize their strong running game against opponents. The Cards need a few run stoppers to step up.
  • Win the turnover battle. Louisville committed the only turnover in the USM game but still won. It marks the first time in Kragthorpe history at UofL that this has happened. UConn’s defense is solid and will bring the heat on starting Cards QB Adam Froman. Hurried passes could be deadly against the veteran Husky defensive secondary.
  • Play 60 minutes. The Cards haven’t done it yet this year. They must not let UConn dominate the scoreboard and settle into a conservative, clock eating run game. In five games this year, the Cards have flopped three times in the first half and had to scramble in the second to win.
  • Special team success. The Cards could use another Trent Guy game changing return today, if the situation presents itself. They must also reach the end zone on their kickoffs and Guy needs to eliminate the shaky catches on punts if he’s back there for them.

I see it as a close and low scoring affair, with the Cards narrowly losing one to the Huskies 17-14. Sonja is calling for a bigger margin of defeat…27-10.

Petrino Snub Gets Job Done At UConn

By Paul Sykes

He dreamed of playing football at Papa John’s Cardinal stadium, kicking for the red and black. Kickoffs, punts, extra points.  Didn’t matter to Desi Cullen. Louisville was his favorite school and any way he could help was the right ticket for him.

Except Bobby Petrino had no interest. Submitted game tapes went unviewed. Calls from Butler coaches didn’t get returned.  Cullen would wind up in the Big East, but it was at UConn instead of Louisville.

Cullen has been the punter and kickoff specialist for Randy Edsall’s squad the last three years. He did eventually get to punt at Papa John’s last season, rocking the Cards for five punts for an average of 44 yards in a 26-21 UConn win.

Currently, he’s the second leading punter in the Big East, with a 43.4 punting average. 70% of his kickoffs have gone unreturned this year.

He recently told the Hartford Courant:

“I have some great discussions with my grandmother back in Louisville, because she’s so pro-U of L and I’m up here. The great thing is that she’s coming up to watch the game Saturday and it’s homecoming and it’s my senior year so that is really special to me.”

Cullen admits he was “too jacked up” when he first punted against Louisville in 2007 and “wanted everything to go 60 yards … but after I shanked the first one and it went about 20 yards…the coaches told me to calm down and focus.”

Butler coaching assistant and mentor Keith Beisler describes Cullen as “one of those kids that comes along once in a lifetime. Good student, great personality, a team leader and motivator. Why Petrino didn’t grab him up is still a mystery to me…but Desi’s happy at UConn and that’s all you can wish for him.”