UConn Offense Must Sustain Drives

NBC Connecticut

It's pretty much the same story we have every week: if the Huskies are going to win, they'll need their offense to step up -- or at the very least, get out of the way while the defense wreaks havoc. The problem, of course, is on the rare occasion when the defense struggles, as happened against Western Michigan and West Virginia in back-to-back games.

Luckily, UConn isn't facing Western Pittsburgh this week -- just regular old Pittsburgh, a team similar to the Huskies in many ways, and one that features a potent running attack instead of a high-powered passing game. (The UConn defense matches up well against the former; against the latter -- not so much.)

The Panthers feature Ray Graham, the nation's second-leading rusher, and Wednesday night, everybody knows he's getting the ball. The Huskies best defense could be their offense. It's not so much a matter of quarterback Johnny McEntee throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns, but just keeping his unit on the field. Because the longer they're out there, the more time Graham and Pitt's offense spends on the bench.

"Johnny is a new QB," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "Defensive coordinators, head coaches feel like he's an inexperienced guy, let's pressure him. I think that's pretty typical. I know for me as a defensive coordinator [if] we've got a new guy you could say let's dial up a couple of these and see how he handles it."

This means that, in addition to McEntee completing the easy, underneath throws when the situation dictates, UConn also has to get its running game going. Lyle McCombs has been a pleasant surprise through seven games. He got off to a strong start until opponents game-planned to slow him when the Huskies' passing game didn't materialize. Once the air attack showed improvements, the running lanes returned for McCombs. As always, it starts with the offensive line, which was in flux earlier in the year but appears to be coming together now.

"We're a unit but it starts up front," sophomore left guard Steve Greene said, according to the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner. "We have to do a better job so the rest of the unit can do a better job. I put it on us to right the ship."

Tackle Kevin Friend added: "We're getting better. But we want to continue. There's been a lot to learn."

Then there's the whole issue of not just learning a new playbook, but knowing it well enough to execute it without hesitation.

"Learning a new offense is tough and having some new guys on the line, we haven't completely jelled," center Moe Petrus said. "The sacks, watching it from the stands and stuff it looks really bad but at the same time some of it is on the protection, some of it's on the scheme. It's not all on the offensive line. Obviously, we don't want to give up any sacks but we're not worried about the pressures Pitt is going to bring after watching the South Florida game because we know we can handle the pressure. We just have to execute better."

The Huskies were 3-4 a year before getting hot, winning the conference and playing in the Fiesta Bowl. Realistically, no one expects history to repeat itself. Then again, no one thought the 2010 squad would do what they did.

For what it's worth: ESPN.com's Big East blogger predicts a Pitt victory, 21-15.

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