After the biggest win of the season, a homecoming upset of South Florida, the Huskies had the week off to regroup for the final half of the schedule, all Big East get-togethers. Ten days ago, the season seemed lost. Now UConn is 3-4 (1-1 in the conference) and if last year showed us anything, there's plenty of football to be played. First up: visiting Pittsburgh this Wednesday in a nationally televised game.
Through seven games, the defense has been the Huskies' most consistent unit, although Western Michigan and West Virginia put up back-to-back 400-plus-yard passing performances against them during the team's recent two-game losing streak.
The offense has been hit or miss for most of the season, much of that having to do with he inexperience at quarterback. Johnny McEntee was finally named the starter earlier this month, and he's shown progress, though not to the point where we'd feel comfortable with him leading a late game-winning drive. But that's not entirely McEntee's fault; the offensive line has been far from steady.
Against South Florida, the o-line allowed seven sacks, though McEntee and offensive coordinator George DeLeone weren't without blame. McEntee because he held the ball too long in the pocket, DeLeone for dialing up play-action passes when South Florida's front seven was quick enough to consistently beat the Huskies' pass-blockers.
Head coach Paul Pasqualoni agrees that the offense as a whole is responsible.
“One thing that’s happened to us between West Virginia and South Florida was, maybe because Johnny’s a new quarterback, defensive coordinators, head coaches feel like, ‘Well, he’s an inexperienced quarterback. Let’s pressure him, see how they handle the pressure,’ ” Pasqualoni said Friday, via the Norwich Bulletin. “West Virginia hadn’t shown much of a certain type of pressure that they brought. … Same thing with South Florida; they came in with a couple new pressures. But once we saw them and we got them straightened out on the sideline and in the locker room at halftime, we were fine."
Also worth considering: the offensive line has only played together for three weeks. Coming into the season, the unit was considered a strength, but injuries and poor play resulted in a reshuffling of names and positions and the results have been mixed. (The Bulletin's Joe Perez documents the changes so far: All-Big East right tackle Mike Ryan moved to left tackle, Steve Greene replaced the injured Jimmy Bennett at left guard, Kevin Friend moved from left tackle to right tackle and Adam Masters from right tackle to right guard.)
Things won't get any easier on Wednesday; the Panthers are ranked 15th in the country in sacks. But the Huskies feel like they're getting better each week.
“The sacks, watching from the stands it looks really bad, but at the same time some of it’s on the protections, some of it is on the scheme,” UConn center Mo Petrus said, according to the Bulletin. “It’s not all on the offensive line. We don’t want to give up any sacks. We’re not worried about the pressure that Pitt’s going to bring after watching the South Florida game. We know we can handle the pressure, we just have to execute properly.”
It's pretty simple, really; if the Huskies execute, they win. If they don't, it can get ugly, fast.