Eleven days after the defense stifled the high-powered South Florida offense, the same issues that have plagued UConn all season were on display against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. By the time it was over, the Panthers had outscored the Huskies, 35-20, dropping them to 3-5 (1-2 in the Big East).
A year ago, UConn was 3-4 before turning things around, winning the conference and earning a BCS Bowl bid. There won't be any such magic in 2011, not until the Huskies can find a way to regularly put points on the board, which means more consistency from the offensive line, the wide receivers and tight ends and, obviously, the quarterback. (There might not be much depth at running back, but Lyle McCombs has been a pleasant surprise all year, including his 124-yard rushing effort against Pitt.)
Against the Panthers, which entered the game with the same record as the Huskies, UConn's passing game was virtually nonexistent. This isn't something new, although quarterback Johnny McEntee had showed glimpses of progress in recent weeks. He was sacked six times on Wednesday night, many the result of either plays that took too long to develop or McEntee holding the ball too long as the pocket collapsed around him.
He ended the evening 17 of 32 for 193 yards with two touchdowns, one on a busted coverage, the other in garbage time, long after the game had been decided.
Coming into the game, the biggest concern facing the UConn defense was Pitt running back Ray Graham, the nation's second-leading rusher. Graham left the game with a knee injury on the Panthers' first drive and that turned out to be the worst thing that could've happened to the Huskies. Pitt then did what Western Michigan and West Virginia did in recent weeks: attacked UConn through the air, and it wasn't pretty.
Tino Sunseri, who had a solid 2010 season, had struggled for much of 2011. So much so that Pitt's passing offense ranked 96th in the country heading into the UConn game.
"We've had very inconsistent play at that position and that's caused us to do some things and I've really made some decisions that I wouldn't normally make," Pitt head coach Todd Graham said last week. "Tino, by far and away, has the biggest grasp of what we're doing offensively from his experience in the spring and in the fall. And we've got to get it out of him."
Mission accomplished. Sunseri was 29 of 42 for 419 yards and two touchdowns and the UConn defense was, well, defenseless to stop him. It was the fourth-best single-game passing performance in Pitt history. Not bad for a guy not even guaranteed to start and who also plays for a program that produced Dan Marino.
UConn, meanwhile, remains an enigma, but we knew coming into the season that there was much to be decided. A lot of that is due to their youth and inexperience, the only question is, when does that no longer become an excuse? We're now eight games into the schedule. The progress has come in fits and starts, but the Huskies will need more than that if they want to avoid blowouts.