Football looks for first win of season
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 00:09
Three games into a 12-game schedule, UConn still sits winless. But when the Huskies make their way into University at Buffalo Stadium Saturday, they will do so with the chance to turn things around.
“We have the right mindset,” running back Lyle McCombs said. “We know that even though we just suffered a tough loss and we are 0-3, we still have everything to accomplish this season.”
That tough loss was a 24-21 edging by No. 15 Michigan, which came from behind in the late stages of the game last week.
And though the Huskies are not keen on moral victories, they are more than happy to recognize the positives that came from taking a Top 20 team down to the wire and the benefits that might have throughout the rest of the season.
Those lasting effects will mean little, however, if UConn cannot rebound and start on a path toward bowl eligibility.
That is where Buffalo (1-2) comes into play.
Though the Bulls have recorded just one win this season – a five-overtime thriller against Stony Brook on Sept. 15 – they too have had the benefit of playing ranked teams; their season-opener involved a date with No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus, which they lost 40-20, before falling 70-13 at No. 23 Baylor the next week.
“It’s always about playing the very best,” Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn said. “And I think our kids have learned a lot – I’ve learned a lot – about this team. You know, the challenge Week 1 to Week 2 to Week 3 really demonstrated to me that we have a veteran group of guys and I sense we have more guys that are being more responsible for what they expect of themselves and each other.”
One of those veteran Bulls is senior linebacker Khalil Mack.
Over the course of his three-plus year career, Mack has forced 11 fumbles and recorded 60.5 tackles for loss, which places him within reach of the NCAA record in both categories – the current records stand at 14 and 75, respectively.
“He’s as good an outside linebacker as there is in Division I football, period,” UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “If this guy doesn’t go in the first round then I’ll be surprised.”
That kind of ability could be trouble for the Huskies, who have struggled to produce on the offensive side of the ball.
UConn’s 290 yards per game ranks 115th in the nation – out of 123 teams – and its 52 yards per game on the ground are 122nd.
The bright spot on offense so far this season has been the passing game, which has averaged 238 yards and has accounted for five of the team’s six touchdowns.
But in order to drop back and pass, quarterback Chandler Whitmer will need time in the pocket, which has been hard to come by over the first three games, in which he has been sacked 15 times.
Protecting Whitmer will get no easier in the Huskies’ first road game of the season, especially considering that right tackle Kevin Friend is once again questionable to play. Should he be unable to go, it would likely be either Xavier Hemingway or Dalton Gifford – both redshirt sophomores with a combined one road game worth of experience – helping to fill the hole.
In fact, considering the number of young players on the squad, hitting the road for the first time could be problematic for the Huskies and had Pasqualoni a bit “concerned” during the week.
“[It’s important] for the young guys to know that the older guys are going to be in their corner,” safety Ty-Meer Brown added, “so they can go out and play with the utmost confidence on the field and don’t hesitate and don’t slow down for anyone.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. The game can be seen online on ESPN3.com.