With their season on the rocks after 2 tough losses in the Big East, the UConn Huskies have an opportunity to jump right back to .500 overall and 1-2 in the conference on Friday night. The catch? West Virginia is coming to town and in the 6 years these 2 teams have matched up, UConn is a whopping 0-6. Not a great omen for a team that is struggling at the moment and is currently starting their 3rd different QB this season, but a home game on a Friday night on national TV (ESPN2) may be just the right recipe for their 1st victory against the West Virginia Mountaineers and their 1st victory in the conference in 2010. Long shot? Perhaps, but if the team comes in with the relaxed, have fun attitude I keep hearing about this week, they have a chance.
Let\’s look at the Huskies\’ opponent for a minute. The Mountaineers began the 2010 season with hopes of a BCS bid and another Big East championship and with the absolute embarrassing play in the conference this season, they sit at 5-2 and 1-1 in the league. Their record is good enough for 3rd in the Big East behind Syracuse and Pitt. Pitt is no surprise to anyone, but Syracuse at 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference? (Check back soon for my full report on the Orangemen) Back to Friday night\’s opponent. The biggest concern if you are a West Virginia fan is their recent play, scoring just 14 points in a losing effort against the Orangemen this past weekend at home. Either it is a sign that Syracuse is that good, or proof that WVU has some glaring weaknesses that were exposed.
What gives me hope for Friday night\’s game are the holes in the play of the WVU QB Geno Smith. On Saturday he threw for 178 yards and 1 TD, while essentially handing the game to Syracuse with 3 interceptions. In their 2 losses this season, Smith threw 3 TDs and 4 INTs and had a completion percentage of 48.3 and 54.1 in each contest. The UConn secondary has 9 INTs this season in their 3 victories and 0 in their 4 losses. An even greater disparity comes with yards allowed, no surprise. DB Blidi Wreh-Wilson is licking his lips as we speak, as he looks to add to his 2 INTs and 1 fumble recovery on the season. Another big indicator of success is yards allowed per game. The UConn defensive unit has allowed 409+ yards per game in their 4 losses and just 287+ yards in their 3 victories. It\’s common sense, but if UConn can take care of the ball and force a few turnovers, they can compete with any team in the Big East, including WVU and their interception-prone QB.
The big issue for me surrounds offensive output. QB Mike Box got thrown into the fire last week in his 1st collegiate start after QB Zach Frazer was benched and QB Cody Endres was suspended indefinitely and Box only attempted 12 passes, 4 completed for just 35 yards before being knocked out of the game. If he plans to be the starter for this club in the future, he needs to settle his nerves and be more intelligent and patient with his decision making. He has the legs to pick up a few yards if nothing is available and if he can use that to his advantage, can be dangerous. UConn is historically a run-first offense, but they have had some of their greatest success this year when Endres was moving around in the pocket and taking some shots mid-field and down-field to WR Michael Smith and WR Kashif Moore. A team must have the balance of a strong running game and short and long passes to open up the defense if they want to be successful. If the opponent\’s defense is looking run, use play-action and put pressure on the opponent down-field.
Personnel has certainly also been an issue for the Huskies in 2010, with LB Scott Lutrus being limited by his stinger and clearly not being the force Randy Edsall had hoped as well as a plethora of RB injuries and the afore mentioned QB issues. It is extremely difficult for a team to gain rhythm and momentum when there is a new face under center seemingly each week and the offense is purely based on timing. Edsall has been taking a lot of heat lately because of the high expectations this season, but many of his players have not been playing up to their abilities and although the coaching staff is partially responsible, they can\’t go out on the field and play for their guys. There has been a lack of leadership, I think partially because there has been a lack of a consistent offensive leader at QB, and without a vocal leader in the locker-room and on the field, the team will never reach the next level. Frazer was supposed to be the leader, but was disappointing both in that respect with his attitude and on the field.
Friday night will be a fun atmosphere at The Rent almost guaranteed. Personally, I think most of the UConn home games should be at night, because their is a more electric feeling and the team seems to be more amped-up. If the Huskies are planning on making a bowl game this season, their turnaround has to start Friday, because their next game only gets bigger and more difficult with another prime-time match-up on ESPN against Pitt on November 11th. This is a tough test and after the butt-kicking shutout last week they endured, it is a gut-check time for this UConn squad.