UConn looks to bounce back at Baylor
September, 15, 2009
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall preaches to his players that once they walk off the field after a game, it's time to turn the page.
That was a little bit easier said than done on Saturday. The Huskies led North Carolina 10-0 in the fourth quarter, only to lose 12-10 on a late safety. That kind of disappointment isn't so quickly erased.
"It sticks with you a little bit, to lose to a ranked team like that at home," defensive back Robert McClain said. "But we have to bounce back and get ready for another high-powered offense."
UConn doesn't have a lot of time to feel sorry for itself or lament its lost chance for a breakthrough victory. That's because this Saturday's game at Baylor (1-0) is fast approaching.
The Bears opened with a win at Wake Forest and were a trendy offseason pick as a Big 12 sleeper. The Huskies know just how good Baylor and sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin are. Last year, Griffin threw for three touchdowns and ran another one in as UConn barely held on for a 31-28 win at home.
Griffin, a track star in his spare time, had his coming-out party during that game on national TV.
"I was definitely surprised by how fast he was," linebacker Lawrence Wilson said. "I had no idea a quarterback would be that fast. I've never played against anybody faster than him, especially at quarterback. So we know what we are in for this year."
Defense hasn't been a problem so far for the Huskies, who have surrendered just 26 offensive points through two games. The pass rush, led by Lindsey Witten's six sacks, has been ferocious while the secondary has proved it's one of the best in the Big East with three interceptions. The only concerning stat is that 20 of those 28 points have been scored in the fourth quarter.
"We're focusing this week on finishing each practice, because we're trying to eliminate those scores in the fourth quarter," McClain said. "It's not conditioning. It's just mistakes and mental errors, things we didn't do in the first three quarters."
One can only wonder, though, how much the UConn offense is hurting its counterpart. Edsall hired offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to install a new hurry-up attack this year, but so far it's mostly just making sure the defense has to hurry back onto the field.
Through two games, the Huskies are averaging just 16.5 points per game, which is more than eight points off of last year's average. The offseason was dedicated to improving last season's anemic passing game, but instead things have gotten worse. UConn is completing just 50 percent of its throws while averaging 125.5 passing yards per game, which ranks 116th out of 120 FBS team. Last year, it averaged 139.7 passing yards per game.
"Any time you make a transition, the biggest thing is it's a matter of executing a little bit better," Edsall said. "We had some things there this weekend that didn't hit, but they were there.
"We understand, and especially I understand, that we need to throw the ball, and we're going to throw the ball. We're still sorting out who's going to be in there at wide receiver and which guys we can depend upon in pass situations. We're a work in progress with a lot of young guys."
The Huskies will likely have to play much better offensively to have a shot of winning on the road in Big 12 land. The North Carolina loss was painful, but it becomes even more damaging if UConn starts out 1-2. Then the team would have to go at least 4-3 in the Big East just to have a winning regular-season record.
"This game is huge for our confidence," Wilson said. "I'm sure everyone is pretty down about the (North Carolina) loss because it was pretty bad. But getting this one would be a big confidence boost for us."