Published January 13, 2015
Connecticut is winless after three games for the first time in a dozen years, has the worst rushing offense in the bowl subdivision, and might be without its top receiver and a key offensive lineman for another week.
So why all the optimism as the Huskies hit the road for the first time this season to play at Buffalo (1-2) on Saturday?
"We have a long season ahead of us yet," coach Paul Pasqualoni said on Tuesday. "In many ways we have our season ahead of us."
UConn is 0-3, but all three losses have come out of conference and all have come at the hands of teams who haven't lost to anyone else either. Towson (now ranked No. 2 in the FCS), Maryland and Michigan are a combined 12-0.
UConn's next two opponents, Buffalo and South Florida, are a combined 1-5.
"We take into consideration who we are playing," defensive end Angelo Pruitt said. "We know that 0-3 doesn't reflect who we are as a team. It doesn't reflect our work ethic."
The Huskies also are taking solace in the fact that they led No. 18 Michigan for much of their game last Saturday night before falling 24-21 to the Wolverines, giving up just 289 yards.
"It is a confidence builder knowing that we can compete and be able to play with the best teams in the nation," said junior safety Ty-Meer Brown, who returned a fumble 34 yards that put the Huskies up by two touchdowns in the second half. "So we just need to build on what we already have."
Brown and the rest of the Huskies understand that the next step needs to be winning a game, making the first road trip of the season a crucial one.
To accomplish that, UConn has to find an answer in the running game.
The Huskies are averaging just 52 yards a game on the ground, or 1.8 yards per carry. Tailback Lyle McCombs, who ran for 1,151 yards as a freshman, and led the team with 860 yards last season, has just 167 this season. But that is more than four times more than anyone else on the team.
"We know at the end of the day that we haven't gotten the job done and there are some things we need to work on," McCombs said. "We've just got to keep practicing and keep getting better and hopefully this running game will explode the way it should for the games to come."
The passing game is putting up an average of 238 yards a game. Combined, UConn's offense is ranked 117th among the nation's 123 FBS teams.
Leading receiver Shakim Phillips, who missed the Michigan game with a hamstring injury after putting up 178 yards against Maryland, said he is hopeful he can play Saturday. Senior lineman Kevin Friend (ankle) also is questionable.
Pasqualoni said his biggest goal is for UConn to show some improvement this week. He said that means focusing not on the big picture of wins and losses, but on doing all the little things right, and letting the winning take care of itself.
"When you play good, it's fun," he said. "When you don't play well — and I'm saying assignment fundamentals, techniques — when it's not sound football, then it's not."