UConn football preps for season’s biggest challenge at UCF
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 23:10
Prior to the start of the season, UConn football fans and players alike pointed to a showdown with No. 8 Louisville at Rentschler Field as possibly the biggest game of the season. But now, eight weeks into the college football season, a game in Orlando against UCF could just usurp that title.
In fact, interim head coach T.J. Weist dubbed this Saturday’s contest the “biggest challenge of the year” for the Huskies.
Of course, the Knights look far more daunting after beating Louisville in its own stadium this past week.
The come-from-behind victory last Friday night shot UCF (5-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) into both polls – No. 21 in the AP Poll and No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll – and has thrust it into a tie for first place in the American Athletic Conference standings.
Still, the winless Huskies (0-6, 0-2 American Athletic Conference) feel they have a shot to begin a turnaround.
“We feel like if we can do things right and not turn the football over,” Weist said, “play solid football and make the plays we need to make, we have the talent to beat any team on our schedule. We just have to put that together.”
The Huskies have struggled to turn in a full 60-minute performance this season, however, especially on the road.
In two away games – at Buffalo and at Cincinnati – UConn is 0-2 and has been outscored 82-28.
Despite the fact that this season has strayed far from the original plan and bowl eligibility looks unlikely, Weist says he and his players refuse to give up on the final half of the schedule.
“There’s a selfishness that comes into programs that can happen if you allow it,” Weist said. “If you allow a player or other players allow players to be selfish and go their own way and not focus on the team, that can happen easily in this situation.
“So I’ve had to keep the team together, we’ve had to keep the team together and make sure every player is bought in and every still into us focusing to win the next game…it can’t be like, OK, we win, now everybody’s back in. It can’t be that way.”
For their part, Weist says players have responded well in that regard and have stayed committed to the team concept.
As for the coaches, who are amidst a time of uncertainty – in whether or not they will remain in Storrs beyond this season or whether coaching changes will be made – staying focused has been an easy task.
“It’s our career,” Weist said. “Our careers and our families are in the hands of 18-to-23-year-olds. It’s not just a job for us, it’s not just a game for us. It’s a game for the players – they go to school and they play the game.
“For us, this is getting to work every day and I get a paycheck and I pay bills and if I’m somewhere else, I’ve got to move my family, coaches have to move their family. They’ve got to tell their wife and kids we’re going, we’re getting out of school and you’re going to a new situation and who knows where it’s going to be.”
Simply put, the coaching staff knows it is fighting for its survival over the final six games and will try everything it can to remain intact at UConn, Weist said.
Change in command
Motivation from the coaches and players is far from the only thing necessary for the Huskies to get into the win column. A dose of sober reality is in order as well.
“We have to be honest with ourselves, we have to be straightforward with them,” Weist said. “We have to tell them when they do bad, we have to tell them when they do good. We have to be positive with our team.
“At the same point in time, we have to be brutally honest about how we play on the field because that’s what matters.”
That assessment included Weist’s reflection on his own performance, which has led to a change in the Huskies’ playcalling strategies going forward.
Instead of Weist, who began the season as offensive coordinator, handling the playcalling duties, quarterback coach Shane Day, offensive line coach Mike Foley and running back coach Kermit Buggs will pitching in.
“The truth is, our offense isn’t doing very good,” Weist said. “I’ve been the coordinator since I’ve been here and we’re not very good. I talk about being honest, that’s being honest.”