It is the big question for UConn this week: If the Huskies had a hard time slowing down the Western Michigan passing game last week, how will they slow down West Virginia this week?
In their 38-31 loss, UConn gave up 479 yards passing and allowed three receivers to hit 100 yards. West Virginia has the No. 6 pass offense in the country behind Geno Smith, who has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards already this season.
"We didn't play well enough pass defense last week," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "So we will try as best we can to tighten up coverage this week, and hopefully do a better job rushing the passer and putting a little more pressure. Alex [Carder] got the ball off very quick, Geno is an exceptional passer, his receivers are excellent. They have a heck of a crew of receivers with vertical speed and athleticism. We're going to have to vary the coverages we play and be able to change the look and hopefully be able to get some pressure on the quarterback."
UConn was able to get three sacks and eight tackles for loss against the Broncos, but the Huskies collapsed in the fourth quarter. After taking a 24-17 lead, they allowed Western Michigan to go on a nine-play, 80-yard drive to tie the score. Western Michigan followed that up with a seven-play, 62-yard drive to take the lead. Then the Broncos hit a 41-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 to go to win it.
Carder went 13-of-15 with three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
The biggest problem for UConn was playing without cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, a team captain and one of the best players on the defense. Wreh-Wilson is out with a knee injury. His replacement, Gary Wilburn, was on the coverage on several of the touchdown passes. But the Huskies were not making any excuses.
"He's one of our captains for a reason," defensive tackle Kendall Reyes said. "He's obviously an impact player we have on our defense, but we all made mistakes, so we all have to clean it up. This is a team game. We all just have to get ready for our next opponent."
West Virginia has had three players go over 100 yards in a game once this season as well, against Maryland. In Smith, the Huskies find a player who is progressing well in the new offense. "He definitely seems a lot more comfortable back there," Reyes said.
Trying to make him uncomfortable is a huge key to this game. UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown runs an aggressive defense -- his team has 16 sacks already -- and the strength of the group is up front. Reyes has picked up where he left off last season and that front needs to help the back end out.
But in all three losses, UConn has had defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter. Is it because they have had to prop up an offense that has struggled until last week? Or because players simply have been in the wrong positions?
"With each game we’re so close," linebacker Sio Moore said. "Each game we’ve lost, there’s been one drive where it’s been due to one ball not being batted down, one tackle not being made, one call not being executed right. It’s those little things we see that make us frustrated and lets us know we need to finish. If we finish, the outcomes will be highly different. These three losses -- we could be sitting here 5-0. It’s about finishing, making sure we do that this week."