UConn defense starts strong

Only one game has been played, and it was against a program that is in its infancy on the FBS level.

But there were some excellent signs from the UConn defense last week.

The linebacker group played very well, confirming what many thought would be the case with three returning starters. Yawin Smallwood was honored as Big East Defensive Player of the Week after he recorded seven tackles -- including a sack and 3.5 for loss.

The defensive line dominated up front, and the secondary looked vastly improved. And UConn was one of five schools in the entire country to post a shutout. Not only that, the Huskies are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, having given up only 59 yards.

Yes, it is early, but it's still something for the Huskies to be proud of because clearly they have made significant strides.

"We’re a little more experienced," coach Paul Pasqualoni said earlier this week. "At the safety position, we played two freshmen as the year went on [last season] and we didn’t have any experience at the linebacker position. So overall, we have more returning players. We’ve been in the system a full year, they know the system better and they know each other better. That to me is the biggest difference."

Now having said all that, we should know a lot more about this group after a big test this weekend against NC State, which features 3,000-yard passer Mike Glennon.

While Glennon did not get off to the best start last week -- throwing four interceptions in a loss to Tennessee -- the Wolfpack do have a veteran offensive line with four starters returning and depth at running back. Plus, UConn is going to be without tackle Shamar Stephen and top reserve end Teddy Jennings, both out with injuries.

"Losing Teddy is a big deal," Pasqualoni said. "That’s a huge loss for us. Somebody else is going to have to step it up. Tim Willman will come in; he needs to step it up. Elijah Norris played a little bit; he’s going to have to step it up. I thought Ryan Wirth played a solid game for us. I think the younger guys in there, Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni, they’ve got technique to improve on. They gave effort in there and at times they looked OK. They’ve got to step it up as well this week."

That may very well be the key to UConn posting another impressive defensive performance.