Thursday, September 15, 2011
What to watch in the Big East: Week 3
By Andrea Adelson
Here are 10 storylines to watch in the Big East this week:
1. Proving time. The Big East went 4-4 last week and has a chance to make the nation notice in Week 3 with five games against teams from automatic qualifying conferences. Four of those games are on the road, and all four teams are underdogs. So the Big East will need to pull off some upsets in order to call this weekend a success. Is it up to the task?
2. More consistency. A similar theme has emerged with nearly every team in the Big East. USF is the only team that really has put together a complete game. Everybody else has had lapses on offense and defense. That cannot happen this week when Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse and Louisville hit the road. To pull off an upset, consistent play on both sides of the ball is key. That starts up front, a problem area through two weeks for most teams in the league.
3. Fast start. Another key to winning on the road -- getting off to a fast start. West Virginia has struggled with this in two games. So has Syracuse. In the case of Louisville, the Cardinals are 1-5 under Charlie Strong when trailing at halftime. Getting into a good rhythm early and putting points on the board not only gives your team confidence, it helps take the crowd out of the game. Every coach will preach the need for a fast start. Now the Big East teams have to go out and make it happen.
4. UConn and its (lack of) offense. The Huskies have not scored an offensive touchdown against an AQ team since last November, a streak of three straight games. Can that be broken at home Friday night? Everyone is still uncertain about what will happen at quarterback, so the best bet might be on the ground, where Lyle McCombs has two straight 100-yard games and UConn fans are waiting on D.J. Shoemate to be completely healthy. Of course, UConn has to hang on to the football to score. Four turnovers last week were a killer.
Tino Sunseri says the Pitt offense is very close to jelling.
5. Tino Sunseri. Pitt coach Todd Graham has made it clear that he expects his quarterback to play better than he has in the new hurry-up offense. Sunseri says the offense is inches away from clicking the way it needs to. They are going to have to close that gap on the road against an Iowa team no doubt eager to make up for an overtime loss to Iowa State last week. Sunseri has to get rid of the ball faster, and he also has to be more accurate with his passes. If that happens, the Panthers will have the threat of the pass to complement their ground game and that will make them a much tougher team to beat.
6. West Virginia run game. The Mountaineers have struggled running the ball, in part because of shaky offensive line play, and in part because they have inexperienced freshmen playing running back. Coach Dana Holgorsen has made it a point of emphasis to get this part of the offense going because he does not want to become too one-dimensional. Maryland gave up 172 yards on the ground to Miami in Week 1, so this could be the right time for everything to get jump-started on the ground against the Terps.
7. Louisville bounce back? The Cardinals dropped a disappointing game to FIU last week and now have to try to bounce back against Kentucky, a team that has beaten them four straight times. A loss here, and Louisville goes to 1-2 on the season going into a bye week. There has to be an added sense of urgency in this one to erase what happened last week and finally beat the Wildcats. A tough task awaits.
8. Syracuse defense. The Orange already faced a tough task at USC. But now they have to do it without starting defensive end Chandler Jones, one of the most experienced players on the team. The defense has been up and down in two games this season and a big reason why is because of all the inexperienced players who have played. How will they fare on the road against what is supposed to be a decent offense?
9. USF run game. The Bulls are expected to have no problems against FCS Florida A&M, but you can expect they will try to keep fine-tuning the run game. Darrell Scott showed some good things last week against Ball State. His high-hurdling is fun to watch when he gets it right, but coach Skip Holtz would rather he stop doing that.
10. Cincinnati pressure. The Bearcats are not going to face as big a test against Akron as they did last week against Tennessee. But they can still work on generating more of a pass rush, which was nonexistent against the Vols. That is one point coach Butch Jones made this week. Getting a pass rush will help take the pressure off a secondary that proved last week it needs some help.