In many ways, Saturday’s game against the University of Buffalo could be more difficult for Connecticut than its 24-21 loss to Michigan last week.
An energy will probably be missing from the stadium. Instead of over 40,000 fans rooting on the Huskies, there will probably be a crowd of around 20,000 to 24,000 hostile fans in the stands of UB Stadium. And the fans are away from the field thanks to an state-of-the-art track that surrounds the UB field. There will be no national television audience outside those watching on their computers, laptops and portable devices on ESPN3.
Fans will be treated to a pre-game tailgate performance from singer Randy Houser, part of an incentive by Buffalo to get fans to the game.
The Huskies (0-3) will have to look from within to find their first victory of the season in their final non-conference game of the season. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Buffalo (1-2) is coming off its first win of the season over Stony Brook, 26-23 in a school-record five overtime periods two weeks ago at UB Stadium.
“In this game I think you have to understand there are no entitlements,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “You’re not entitled to anything.”
That includes a win over Buffalo. The Huskies have owned this series, winning 16 of 20 games, including four wins in the last six years. UConn prevailed a year ago, 24-17 but the Bulls are looking to win their second straight game.
“Everything you get in this game, you earn.” Pasqualoni said. “You’re going to earn every yard, every point, and every win at this level of football. It’s life. When it gets right down to it, this game is a lot like life. Life is tough. You get up and go to work every day.”
Defensively, the Huskies will be looking to build on their performance of a week ago. Linebacker Yarwin Smallwood had 13 tackles against the Wolverines – his third straight game with over 13 tackles. Smallwood also had a sack and forced a fumble. The Huskies helped Michigan to just 289 yards of offense and forced three turnovers.
“I think their confidence is, if we consistently do what we’re supposed to do and execute, we have a chance to really play good defense,” Pasqualoni said.
He is convinced that his defense isn’t far from being much better. “I think we just didn’t play very well against Towson, and against Maryland we really didn’t play bad. We didn’t tackle very well and we gave them that touchdown because we flat out missed the tackle on a blitz when had the guy cold stone done and we missed him. The next three points we gave up on a blown coverage. We played great red zone defense, they went with their two point play to try and get in the end zone and we stopped that,” he said.
“Against Maryland, really in the first half we kind of gave up ten points. The kids come in and see it on the film and think, What if we had made that tackle? What if we had not blown that coverage? They wouldn’t have had any points at halftime. Then we come back against Michigan, and I think they had seven points in the first half, that’s pretty good.”
But the UConn offense struggled against Michigan – as it has most of this season. The lack of a running game hampered the offense again. The Huskies gained just 47 yards on 25 carries against Big Blue. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer completed 16-of-32 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns but he was sacked four times and threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter to helped Michigan turn the tide.
It will have to be better to beat Buffalo and get the season turned around.
“Well, we have to improve everywhere,” Pasqualoni said. “We have to improve the run game, we’ll go through blocking their fronts and blocking their blitzes on first and second down. Plays we’re going to run, protections we’re going to use, the routes and play actions. We’ll do the same thing on the other side of the ball defending against what they’ll do. You do the same thing you do every week and hope you come up with a good plan and execute it.”
Lyle McCombs is UConn’s leading rusher with 167 yards and a touchdown through three games. Deshon Foxx is next with 37 yards in three games.
UConn hopes to get wide receiver Shakim Phillips (15 receptions, 255 yards, 3 TDs) back after he missed the Michigan game with a hamstring pull. He was injured on a long 75-yard TD pass against Maryland. Whitmer also hopes to get Geremy Davis (14-206) and Deshon Foxx (9-114) more involved as well.
Buffalo got waxed by Ohio State, 40-20, and Baylor, 70-13 in its first two games – on the road. The Bulls have averaged 323 yards of offense this season but allowed 560 yards themselves. QB Joe Licata has completed 56-of-95 passes for 592 yards, four TDs and three interceptions. Running back Anthone Taylor is the leading rusher with 165 yards and two TDs.
Wide receiver Alex Neutz (25-338, 3 TDs) earned All-MAC (Mid American Conference) honors last fall while linebacker Khalil Mack has 23 tackles and 2½ sacks in just three games.
“Khalil Mack — he’s as good an outsider linebacker as there is in college football. Period,” Pasqualoni said. “If this guy doesn’t go in the first round (of the 2014 NFL Draft) I’d be surprised. I’d take him in the first round. He’s really, really good. Everyone struggles to block him. I think their secondary plays well.”
NOTES: This is UConn’s first road game of the season. The Huskies play three of the next four games on the road. After this game, UConn will have a week off before hosting South Florida on Oct. 12 at Rentschler Field. … The Huskies held Michigan to under 100 yards passing last week – the first time they’ve held an opponent under 100 yards through the air since 2008. … UConn field goal kicker Chad Christen had made 10 straight field goals before missing a 46-yard attempt in the third quarter of the loss to Michigan.