Game Preview: Connecticut Not Living Up to Preseason Hype
By JIM ELLIOTT
MORGANTOWN – The UConn football website has a ”highlight” video of last week’s 26-0 loss to Louisville.
Featured on that video, which lasts only a minute and 38 seconds, was six plays – a first down passing, two first downs rushing, a 36-yard kickoff return, a sack, and a tackle for a loss.
There was nothing left on the cutting room floor.
(Somehow, those wonder workers on the WVU site managed a video that lasted 2:59 on the Syracuse loss).
Back to the Huskies, it was a sad day in a series of them for the team the Associated Press selected as the Big East’s winner this season, as they dropped to 3-4 overall, and 0-2 in league play. The Huskies’ victories have come against Texas Southern, Vanderbilt, and Buffalo – three teams whose combined records are 8-13. Then there is, of course, the very real fact that Connecticut has never beaten West Virginia, something that, in light of last week’s loss to a Syracuse team it had beaten eight straight times, was largely ignored this week by the West Virginia players and coaches.
The Syracuse loss was ultimately pinned on a lack of preparation and focus.
”I think we were beaten between the ears from the shoulders up,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said.
You’d like to think that won’t happen again, particularly against a Connecticut team that is truly reeling, though it should be pointed out the Louisville defense has made a marked turnaround under new coach Charlie Strong and has two shutouts in its last three games.
”Syracuse definitely showed us last week that you need to be ready every week,” linebacker J.T. Thomas said. ”In college, every week is a playoff game. You need to win all of them if you end up where you (want) to. Everything is not in our hands now. We’re going to need a little help to accomplish our goals.”
In the wake of the Syracuse disaster, Stewart said they may look at a few changes when they possess the ball.
”We may run a little bit more in the offense, and (QB) Geno (Smith) is certainly talented,” Stewart said. ”You love to have a running quarterback, which certainly adds to the staple, but we need to run the ball a little bit better and hopefully we can do that. We’ll get things worked out and resolved.”
Looking at the Huskies, there have been some positives mixed in with all the negatives. Junior Jordan Todman is the fifth-leading rusher in the nation at 140.17 yards and 15th in all-purpose rushing.
”He is a real dynamic back,” WVU nose tackle Chris Neild said. ”He makes a lot of cuts, he makes a lot of moves. He’s quick. If we stop their run, we have a chance to win.”
Lawrence Wilson is tied for 10th in the nation and is first in the league with 11.14 tackles per game while Taylor Mack is tied for 33rd in the country and third in the Big East in punt returns.
Jesse Joseph is tied for 33rd in the nation and fourth in the league in sacks with 0.75 per game.
But the negatives have been too many to count, a loss to Temple among them.
The quarterback situation is a mess, as starting QB Cody Endres was dismissed from the team a week ago, meaning redshirt freshman Michael Box made his first career start against Louisville.
It did not go well.
He was 4 of 12 for 35 yards with an interception before suffering an undisclosed injury that will keep him from this game as well, Edsall said Wednesday.
Senior Zach Frazer will start instead.
It’s no secret, the Mountaineers didn’t handle the blitz well last week against Syracuse, as Smith was continually flushed from the pocket, hurried, and sacked five times.
He expects to see more, particularly from the Huskies, who did so much blitzing during last season’s game, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen famously tried to rip to shreds the laminated pages he was calling plays from and formulating new ones at halftime on scratch paper.
”I’m pretty sure everyone will (blitz),” said Smith, who admitted he probably simply held onto the ball too long sometimes against the Orange. ”They probably saw that how affects us, because it was effective for Syracuse, but we’ll be prepared for it.”