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Football Notebook: Huskies focus on season finale amid future uncertainties

Sports Editor

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 23:12

Less than two weeks ago, the UConn football team was not inspiring many people.

The Huskies were 0-9, off to the worst start in program history, letting the 1977 team and its 0-8 start off the hook. They were on their third starting quarterback during a season that started with a drudging at the hands of a Football Championship Subdivision side. Soon enough, the head coach was fired and the first-year offensive coordinator was calling the shots.

Athletic Director Warde Manuel said at that point that for T.J. Weist to get the job permanently, he needed to win.

That is the nature of the coaching business. If a coach is not winning, he will be replaced. But Weist was given the difficult task of guiding UConn through its toughest stretch of the year. After his debut against South Florida, the Huskies traveled to Central Florida and Cincinnati before hosting Louisville.

The Louisville game was on Nov. 8, the day the men’s basketball team began its regular season, so Kevin Ollie’s group was 1-0 by the time Weist’s team began the game that sent them to 0-8, 0-4 since he took charge.

But since that night, something has changed. Over the past three games, UConn has played its best football, led by starting quarterback No. 3, Casey Cochran.

More importantly, the Huskies are 2-1 in that stretch.

Losing is never easy on a team, and at 0-9, UConn could easily have thrown in the towel on this season.

But the Huskies have a motto: “All in.” Through the struggles of this season, the Huskies have always kept the same attitude, the never back down, all-in mentality. So for UConn, winning did not change the mentality of the team.

“It’s more about us doing the same things and getting results,” Weist said. “I think they’ve worked hard; they have worked hard. They’ve been together. I keep saying that word, but it’s the same fundamentals to win football games that they’ve always won. There’s just always more excuses when you lose. It’s not a revelation that we won the game, it’s not something that’s out of character. We just made plays.”

“When you’re losing games, a lot of guys is down,” said junior linebacker and team captain Yawin Smallwood, “but once you start winning games, you start seeing the swagger come back out of guys. Guys are playing with more sense of confidence. When we’re losing games, it’s tough to do that.”

Earlier this season, UConn was in a similar situation to USC. The Trojans fired head coach Lane Kiffin after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 28, the same day UConn was on the wrong end of a 42-12 blowout against Buffalo, which resulted in the firing of Paul Pasqualoni on Sept. 30.

The difference between UConn and USC at the time was that UConn was 0-4 while USC’s loss dropped the Trojans to 3-2. But both programs turned to an interim coach that would fight for the permanent coaching gig – Weist at UConn and Eddie Orgeron at Southern Cal.

On Monday, USC made headlines across the United States, when the 7-5, bowl-bound Trojans, who improved under Orgeron and even defeated Stanford on Nov. 16, decided to announce the hiring of Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian. As a result, Orgeron resigned, refusing to coach the team’s bowl game.

Weist’s future is unknown. He could be in the running for head coach, up against about 100 other candidates, according to the rumors across the Internet. But what separates UConn from USC is the fact that Manuel and his staff are not going to let the uncertainty of the head coaching position distract the program from its main objective, which is to win one last time on Saturday, when the Huskies host Memphis on Senior Day, the final game of the 2013 season.

“I think the biggest thing is just us trying to focus on the last game,” Cochran said. “Everyone’s done a good job at not worrying about the things that we can’t control because we can’t control who they’re gonna hire. We can’t control when it’s going to happen or anything like that.

“I think throughout the season, especially towards the end, we’ve done a good job at just being a team together and not worrying about things that we can’t control and worrying about the game at hand, and I think the last two weeks we’ve done that, and we need to continue to do that this week.”

 

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