Looking to avoid 0-7 start, UConn travels to No. 21 Central Florida
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 23:10
T.J. Weist does not like to lose.
Unfortunately for the first-time head coach, he enters his third game in charge of the UConn football team with a 0-2 record.
But even after taking over in the middle of a season for a coach who struggled and even with a freshman quarterback under center playing without his No. 1 wide receiver, T.J. Weist does not like to lose.
“We can’t accept losing under any circumstances,” Weist said. “We can’t because the minute you accept it, it’s going to happen again. So we will never accept it.”
UConn cannot lose the rest of the season if it wants to play in a bowl game, and it certainly cannot lose the next three games if it wants to avoid breaking the school record for the worst start to a football season, meaning the Huskies (0-6, 0-2 American Athletic Conference) must pull a major upset on Saturday in Orlando against No. 21 Central Florida.
The Knights (5-1, 2-0 AAC) are a major topic of discussion in the college football world right now. Having already defeated Penn State on the road and nearly beaten South Carolina, UCF came from behind to defeat No. 8 Louisville in Kentucky last Saturday night. The victory vaulted them into the national rankings for the first time since 2010.
Meanwhile, the reeling Huskies are trying to keep their fans from turning all of their focus towards basketball season. The next football game is Nov. 8 at home against Louisville, coincidentally the night the men’s basketball team opens at the Barclays Center against Maryland.
Every game is a must-win now for UConn; a loss at any point eliminates the Huskies from bowl eligibility, and if UConn loses its next two games, it will match the 1978 team for the worst start in program history. Weist needs his team to right the ship, something he knows they are capable of.
“That’s our goal: to get this thing turned around and give our players confidence, to give this university, this program the confidence that it needs at this point in time,” Weist said. “We feel like if we can do things right – not turn the football over, play solid football, make the plays that we need to make – then we have the talent really to beat any team on our schedule. We just have to put that together.
“So it’s desperately needed. We’ll do everything we can at practice…with great competition, great energy, great focus, enthusiasm. Our players are not down. Our players are excited. Our players are together…They know they’re not an 0-6 team.”
But the record shows that they are indeed 0-6, and to avoid an 0-7 start, UConn will need to stop one of the nation’s most explosive running backs, Storm Johnson.
The name suits Johnson well. UCF’s dynamic back was named the American’s Offensive Player of the Week this week after rushing for 109 yards and one touchdown while catching four passes for 79 yards and another touchdown in the Knights’ 38-35 win over Louisville.
Johnson, a junior, is the nation’s 34th-best rusher at 94 yards per game and is No. 10 in the nation in scoring, averaging 10 points per game.
“Our biggest challenge is tackling him,” Weist said. “He’s a strong, he’s a strong back, an NFL-type power back that can put his foot in the ground and get upfield fast. That’s your biggest challenge. Some backs are smaller and quicker. Some backs are bigger and stronger and not as fast. He’s both.”
Johnson is not UCF’s only offensive weapon, as quarterback Blake Bortles is capable of airing it out at any time. Bortles is third among AAC quarterbacks and 23rd in the nation with 264 passing yards per game and is averaging 272.5 yards of total offense per game, ranking him third in the American and No. 28 in the nation.
The biggest obstacle for Johnson and Bortles will be UConn’s linebackers. Yawin Smallwood ranks third in the nation, second in the American, with 12.8 tackles per game, and teammates Marquise Vann and Jefferson Ashiru have played their way to No. 1 spots on the Huskies’ depth chart.
Without a strong running game to speak of, the story offensively continues to be freshman quarterback Tim Boyle, who threw for 310 yards in last Saturday’s 41-16 loss to Cincinnati, Boyle’s second career start. Still without a touchdown pass, Boyle was effective in the passing game, but managed to get intercepted three times.
“You’re a football player on this team,” Weist said of Boyle. “You’re a player who is a starter who is making decisions for all of us. So it’s not accepted that he throws interceptions. It’s not accepted that you make bad decisions, whether you’re a freshman or not.
“We tell him, ‘You’re not a freshman anymore. You’re a starter. You’re not a freshman. You have taken the role as a starter, the role as a starting quarterback, and you are held responsible for your actions from that standpoint.”
The Huskies are far from perfect, right now about as far away as can be. But when they take the field against the 21st-ranked team in the country at noon on Saturday in the conference’s game of the week on SNY, Weist will not accept anything less.
“We’re not fake,” Weist said. “We’re very demanding of our football players to be perfect.”