Aug 29, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies head coach Paul Pasqualoni during the first half of a game against the Towson Tigers at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
There are plenty of people who know a lot about Connecticut football, but there are a lot more people who know absolutely nothing about Connecticut football. I’m here to help you fill in the blanks, preliminarily, so you can head into Saturday an informed individual (should you choose to surround yourself with Huskies fans). Most everyone already knows it was Edsall’s old team that he left on less than desirable terms, but that storyline really isn’t going to have much bearing on the game. Passion gets you revved up for a couple possessions, maybe a quarter. But after that, it’s all about strategy.
So what do we know about Connecticut?
1.) UConn has already lost to one Maryland team
If you hadn’t heard already, UConn got blown out on the opening day of college football by Towson. Yes, that Towson team a little further up 95, the FCS school. The Huskies were absolutely horrible in that game, and surrendered 33 points (while only scoring 18) as they went down 26-10 early in the fourth quarter. And yes, it’s probably okay to laugh about the fact that they only amassed 290 total yards of offense.
But that doesn’t mean you should take UConn too lightly because…
2.) They’re probably not as bad as that loss makes them appear
Yes, the Huskies lost to Towson at home during the first game of the season, but let’s not forget that the Terrapins almost did the exact same thing last year against William & Mary. A lot of it has to do with overconfidence and looking ahead on the schedule, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that Towson just isn’t that bad at football. No guys, really.
The Tigers have this guy you’ve probably never heard of but likely will in the future named Terrance West. West is one of the best running backs in the nation, he just happens to be playing at an FCS school so no one notices but NFL scouts. Anytime you have a guy who can rush for almost 250 yards in one game against anyone, you have to like your chances to at least remain in games. Last year they did just that against LSU, even though they ended up losing 38-22.
Towson could put a scare into a lot of FBS teams, especially ones ranked outside the top fifty. Connecticut falls deftly into that category, but that doesn’t make them a monstrosity of a team because…
3.) Their coach isn’t a bad coach
Paul Pasqualoni might not be the most liked man in East Hartford after producing only ten wins over the last two season as the Huskies head coach, but he’s still a very respected guy. He coached Syracuse from ’91 – ’04, and finished up there with the highest winning percentage of any modern era coach in Syracuse’ history. A lot of Syracuse alum quietly admit that letting him go was probably a mistake, even if they’ve recently gotten a bit better.
But it’s not easy coaching your hometown team, and Pasqualoni has struggled. Most of it has to do with the Huskies anemic offense, and the Huskies brought in a new offensive coordinator this offseason as a result. It clearly didn’t pay off in week one, but that’s not to say it won’t ever start to pay dividends for…
4.) Lyle McCombs, who may eventually regain the form he had his freshman year
McCombs was the biggest factor in Connecticut’s win against the Terps last year, as he rushed 27 times for 94 yards and a score. McCombs was a juggernaut his freshman year, rushing for 1,151 yards and 7 touchdowns, but that feels like decades ago now after his disappointing sophomore season (860 yards, 6 touchdowns). Most of that has to do with that horrendous offensive line of theirs that never gives their backs much of a hole to run through.
McCombs is a great back who is as shifty as they get and amazingly effective despite his size. Still, he’s pretty much the only weapon that the Huskies have, and until they can figure out how to diversify their options, the entire offense will remain in neutral. If that’s the case, they’ll never figure out how to fix their…
5.) Passing game. Their passing game is terrible.
For six straight seasons now, the Huskies have been one of the worst passing teams in the nation. More interceptions (72) than touchdowns (69) and not eclipsing 190 yards per game through the air. It’s why their run game has such a hard time catching fire, and most of it goes back to their porous offensive line. Against Towson, junior QB Chandler Whitmer was sacked five times while racking up a mere 206 yards on 28 attempts.
Their O-line is basically a giant wrecking ball for Pasqualoni’s plans; it smashes any attempt to have a normal offensive game plan. Whitmer was sacked 33 times last season, and because he has no time to throw, he has to hand it off. But because he always has to hand it off, defenses prep and blitz all day. Until they can patch that offensive line, receivers like Geremy Davis (600+ yards last season) and Shakim Phillips won’t be able to run effective routes and utilize their talent.