SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Nearly eight years after Syracuse fired him, Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni returns to the Carrier Dome as the enemy on Friday night when he leads his Huskies against the Orange.
But who has time for reunion talk? Both teams simply need a 'W.'
UConn (3-4, 0-2 Big East) desperately needs a conference victory and a loss for Syracuse (2-4, 1-1) would make reaching a bowl game a daunting task. The Orange would have to win four of its last five games, which include Louisville at home and Cincinnati and Missouri on the road.
Both teams are coming off tough losses. Temple spoiled UConn's homecoming last week with a 17-14 overtime win thanks to four missed field goals by Huskies kicker Chad Christen. Syracuse was victimized by four turnovers and a crucial blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown in a 23-15 setback at nationally ranked Rutgers.
So, to no one's surprise, Pasqualoni's emotions and the hype surrounding the reunion are the furthest thing from his mind these days.
"To tell you the truth, I haven't thought about it a great deal," said Pasqualoni, who won 107 games in 14 years at Syracuse but had more than his fair share of critics in his final seasons with the Orange, "other than it's a big game in our conference and it's a big game for us."
The Orange have only been to one bowl under coach Doug Marrone.
"Winning this game would make us 2-1 (in the Big East), which is huge," said Orange center Macky MacPherson, whose grandfather, Dick, coached the Orange in the 1980s and hired Pasqualoni as an assistant in 1987. "(Pasqualoni on the other sideline) is not something I'm thinking about. It's not something I'm focused on. I'm focused on doing my job to the best of my ability.
"Come after the game, I'll go over and say hi, win, lose, or draw. But right now, I'm focused on winning the game, and I'm sure that's what Coach P. would tell you."
The Huskies have won the last five games in the series, including 28-21 at home last fall in Pasqualoni's first year.
"I'm sure he wants to take care of us like he did last year," Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib said.
Connecticut will present a stiff challenge. The UConn unit, led by linebacker Yawin Smallwood (11 tackles for loss among his 75 stops) and defensive end Trevardo Williams (7.5 sacks), is ranked sixth nationally in total defense (261 yards per game), eighth in pass defense (161.6 ypg), and 13th in rushing defense (99.4 ypg).
"Playing a team like UConn, they're going to take advantage if you turn the ball over," MacPherson said. "Turning the ball over is something that we're not going to accept this week, and we need our defense to create some turnovers, too, so we can get the turnover margin back on our side."
That's been an Orange roadblock. Syracuse has allowed 10 more turnovers than it's gained, one of the worst marks in the nation. Although the Syracuse defense has been superb the past two games — it held Pitt star Ray Graham to 57 yards on 24 carries and Rutgers standout Jawan Jamison to 64 yards on 28 carries — the players know they need to create more mistakes by their opponents.
"That's the No. 1 thing. Got to get that turnover ratio shifted," Orange nose tackle Jay Bromley said. "Whenever the ball's on the ground, it's ours. It has to be ours."
Despite the presence of Pasqualoni, nobody is thinking about anything but winning.
"Friday night we have to get the ball rolling," UConn defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. "We have five more games. We still have a chance to do something good."
That's the feeling on the other side, too.
"This half of the season is going to make or break us," Nassib said. "You can't do anything about the first half now."