NCF Nation: Gary Wilburn

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.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesGeno Smith poses a huge threat to the UConn defense.
"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."

Predictions: Big East Week 5

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
9:00
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Last week was a perfect week here at the Big East blog, but now the real season begins. Conference play tests even the strongest of prognosticators because as every coach likes to remind us -- this league is totally wide open. We'll see how my 27-4 record holds up after Week 5.

No. 16 USF at Pitt, Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN. The Bulls have lost three straight to the Panthers, and six times on Thursday nights. But history is for textbooks. This is a new USF team that is playing with confidence and a quarterback who looks immensely comfortable in the system. Contrast that to Pitt, whose quarterback looks immensely uncomfortable in his system. Until Tino Sunseri gets a hang of this offense, the Panthers are going to have a tough time beating upper echelon teams. Hard to see a breakout game against a solid defense. USF 24, Pitt 17.

Rutgers at Syracuse, Saturday, noon, ESPN3. In the highly anticipated showdown between teams vying to be "New York's team" we find two evenly matched teams. Both have had struggles running the ball. Both have had quarterbacks and receivers with solid seasons to date. I give the edge to Rutgers because I think Mohamed Sanu can take advantage against a banged-up Syracuse defense, and the Scarlet Knights defense has played better than the Orange to date. Rutgers 27, Syracuse 24.

Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio), Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN3. The Bearcats are coming off a big Thursday night win over NC State and now play Miami (Ohio) in the oldest nonconference rivalry in college football. Cincinnati has won five straight in the series and faces a Miami team that is 0-3 under first-year coach Don Treadwell. Isaiah Pead is in line to have a big day against the No. 84 run defense in the country. Cincinnati 35, Miami 17.

Western Michigan at UConn, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Huskies face their second straight MAC opponent when Western Michigan visits. Johnny McEntee was officially given the starting job this week, and coach Paul Pasqualoni is hopeful he will be able to build on a good performance against Buffalo in which he threw the first two touchdown passes of his career. Western Michigan has a good passing game with Alex Carder and receiver Jordan White, so watch for the Broncos to try and pick on Gary Wilburn, starting in place of Blidi Wreh-Wilson. UConn 21, Western Michigan 17.

Marshall at Louisville, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. We get our first glimpse of the Cardinals since they upset in-state rival Kentucky. Expect to see plenty of Teddy Bridgewater, who could be making his first career start if Will Stein is unable to play with a shoulder injury. The inconsistent Louisville offensive line could have its hands full with Vinny Curry, but the Cardinals should be able to run on Marshall and shut down what has been an anemic Herd offense. Louisville 30, Marshall 13.

Bowling Green at No. 22 West Virginia, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Mountaineers aim to bounce back against a Bowling Green team that is vastly improved from a year ago. The big question is whether or not the Falcons can handle Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who have played incredibly well in the past two games. Bet you would not guess this -- Bowling Green actually averages more points than the Mountaineers. Not in this game. West Virginia 38, Bowling Green 17.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

West Virginia is on top the Big East and is back in the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 20. That does not please coach Bill Stewart, Chuck Finder notes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"I don't want to hear anything about" a return to the rankings, Stewart said. "That's where all our trouble started. That's the worst thing that can happen to Mountaineer football right now. I'd tell every pollster, 'Wait until Game 12, and then you can rank us.'"

  • Pat Bostick's numbers might not have been impressive, but the sophomore quarterback proved he was a winner by guiding Pitt to victory at Notre Dame, Paul Zeise writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. LeSean McCoy keeps adding to his legacy, Kevin Gorman says in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  • Juniors Robert McClain and Terry Baltimore and freshman Gary Wilburn will be counted on to replace injured Darius Butler for UConn, Desmond Conner writes in the Hartford Courant. And could Tyler Lorenzen be back after the bye week?
  • Syracuse overcame its fourth-quarter collapses and deserves some adulation, Dave Rahme writes in the Syracuse Post-Standard.
  • The Courier-Journal's Eric Crawford has this line in today's column:
"In its second straight loss to Syracuse, the University of Louisville fell to a program that, if The New York Times is to be believed, is already looking for a new coach. It's hard to believe they wouldn't give U of L's Steve Kragthorpe a call. The past two years, he's attended more Syracuse victories than 95 percent of the Orange fan base."
  • Rutgers has had four recruits back out of commitments this fall. But, as Brendan Prunty writes in The Star-Ledger, that's standard operating procedure.

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