Some 800 miles away from where their former team played Saturday, three prominent components of UConn’s offense past waved a different banner at Yale Bowl.
While the winless Huskies were losing their sixth straight in Cincinnati, former UConn quarterback Michael Nebrich, former UConn receiver Tebucky Jones and former UConn offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead conspired to blast Yale, 52-31.
Fordham is now 8-0 for the first time in its football history. The Rams gained 614 yards. Nebrich threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns, all to Sam Ajala, who set a program record for scores and receiving yardage (282).
“One of the reasons we have done so well offensively is we have a good stable of running backs, a solid tight end and three exceptional receivers,” Moorhead said. “You try to stop one aspect of our offense, or one particular player, we can exposure so other aspect of your defense. And what we do changes week-by-week based on what type of system or coverages the opponent may use.”
Just two years ago, all three could have been considered major UConn assets; the strong-armed quarterback who set high school records in Virginia; the speedy playmaker from New Britain and son of a former NFL standout; the offensive coordinator of UConn’s only BCS team in 2010.
On Saturday, their performances just served as what-if examples for the fan base of a fledgling program.
Moorhead, in his second season coaching his alma mater, has transformed the Fordham program, ranked 8th in the FCS, the Football Championship Subdivision.
“It’s been a tremendous ride for us,” Moorhead said. “It’s a testament to the commitment of these young men. They display what we’ve identified as the keys to winning – preparation, effort and execution and no excuses.”
In 2011, he found himself demoted from offensive coordinator to quarterback coach at UConn after Randy Edsall, who hired him in 2009, left for Maryland.
This year he is coaching a record-setting quarterback who he recruited to UConn in 2009 from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Virginia.
Nebrich thought Moorhead reminded him of Jim Poythress, his high school coach. Moorhead loved Nebrich’s competitiveness. And Nebrich broke Virginia state records for all-purpose yards with 4,968.
“Michael is a perfect fit for what we want at the position,” Moorhead said.
Nebrich is healthy after tearing his ACL last year and is running Moorhead’s spread system to perfection with 2,882 yards, 21 TDs. He leads the nation in completion percentage (74.1).
In last week’s 34-12 win over Georgetown, he set a Patriot League record with 20 straight completions to start the contest.
“He can burn you running the ball, he can burn you passing the ball,” Jones said after last week’s game. “You don’t know what he’s going to do.”
Jones had three catches Saturday and leads the Rams with 53 this season.
Nebrich transferred out of UConn in the summer of 2012, feeling he would have a shot at winning the starting job.
“I just wanted a shot to play,” Nebrich said. “I knew Coach Moorhead was going to give me that opportunity. Things didn’t work out for me last year [because of the injury], but once I got back together with Coach, I knew we were going to have a solid team.
“I know it’s not just me out there. But we have been doing great so far.”
At UConn, Nebrich lost a three-way battle for the starting job to Johnny McEntee. Nebrich had played in eight games as a true freshman and passed for 69 yards. Ironically, he was 3 of 8 for 60 yards in UConn’s opening win over Fordham on Sept. 3, 2011.
In 2012, Chandler Whitmer, then a sophomore junior college transfer, was named the No. 1 quarterback heading into the preseason. And the Huskies had just recruited Casey Cochran. And there was a time when UConn even considered Scott McCummings, who ran plays out of the wildcat in 2011.
“The only aspect of UConn that I still wonder about is what would have happened if Coach Edsall had stayed,” Nebrich said. “Maybe we would have been going there [at UConn] what we are doing here now.
“I want UConn to do well; I have a lot of friends there. But I am a Fordham Ram now. Other than that, its not something I think about.”
Moorhead said he feels similar.
“I still have a lot of friends there, people I coached with,” he said. “So much of my focus is here, but I wish them all the best.
“It’s just the nature of the profession. You take opportunities to coach that are in the best interests of your family. We had a great run at UConn and I am proud of the things we did offensively.
“Now we are on to the next chapter and hopefully we can accomplish the same things.
UConn may be looking for another coach after this season, especially if the interim T.J. Weist can’t begin to turn it around soon.
“Me? I am looking forward to playing Bucknell in two weeks,” Moorhead said.