Friday, December 6, 2013
UConn, Memphis put an end to disappointing seasons
STORRS, Conn. -- There will be a lot of goodbyes Saturday when UConn hosts Memphis in the final game of what has been a disappointing season for both programs.
It will be the last college game for 29 seniors, 14 from UConn (2-9, 2-5 American Athletic Conference) and 15 from Memphis (3-8, 1-6).
But It also likely will be the final game at Connecticut for much of that program's coaching staff. Interim coach T.J. Weist has led the Huskies to two straight wins, but is still just 2-5 since taking the reins from Paul Pasqualoni after UConn's 0-4 start.
"For the players, it's a season, for us it's our careers," Weist said. "It's not easy. It's never easy. But I commend them for working hard, for staying together, for being aggressive with their players."
"A coach can easily give up, just like a player can on the season," he added. "Our guys have not done that. They've worked hard."
Weist said he has not been given any indication on when a decision will be made about his future, or who will coach the team next season. Athletic director Warde Manuel has called a news conference for an hour before kickoff to discuss the search for a new coach.
Linebacker Yawin Smallwood said the players are pulling for Weist.
"All the players around here, they love Coach Weist," Smallwood said. "He's done a great job. He's a players' coach. He does whatever it takes for us to win."
For some Memphis players, the season may already be over. Coach Justin Fuente, in his second season with the Tigers, said this week he wants make sure that he's only taking deserving players on the road trip after a disappointing loss last week at home against Temple.
"I think it's important that we play better. I want to finish strong," he said. "This game presents a unique set of challenges -- coming off some disappointment and playing on the road and playing in a different climate than we're used to against a group of people we've never met. We're going to take a group of guys that are ready to meet that challenge."
Here are five things to note as Memphis visits Connecticut.
HEADING NORTH: This will be just the third game Memphis has ever played in the Northeast. The other two were at Army in 1985 and 2000. The Tigers also have played only one other game this far north. For those who want to check a GPS, East Hartford is at 41.7614 degrees latitude, while Detroit, where the Tigers played in the 2005 Motor City Bowl, is at 42.3314. The forecast calls for some overnight rain or snow and temperatures Saturday in the 30s.
STREAKING: Connecticut, which began the season with nine straight losses is looking to put three wins together for the first time since closing the 2010 regular season with five straight victories before losing in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma. The Huskies haven't finished a season with three consecutive wins since 2000. Memphis has lost two straight.
HARD TO RUN: On paper, it would appear the running games for both teams might have a tough time Saturday. Memphis ranks 17th in the nation against the run, giving up just 120 yards per game. UConn is averaging just over 85 yards on the ground. But, the Husky defense has given up 141 yards per game on the ground and Memphis has run for an average of just 144.
SMALLWOOD'S FUTURE: Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood hasn't said whether he plans to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. But the 6-foot-4 junior is in his fourth year at UConn, having redshirted as a freshman, and is on track to graduate in the spring. He is among national leaders with 111 tackles. He also has two sacks and an interception, which he returned for the winning touchdown two weeks ago against Temple. "You know, it's been a dream of mine to play in the NFL but it's a huge step," he said this week. "I've just got to make sure it's the right time for me and I'm prepared to make that jump."
Memphis (3-8, 1-6) was the Senior Day opponent at Louisville two weeks ago, dropping a 24-17 decision to the then No. 21-ranked Cardinals. Temple spoiled the Tigers' Senior Day with a 41-21 win last week in the Liberty Bowl.
MILESTONE: Memphis redshirt freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch is already ranked 12th on the school's single-season passing list, with 1,887 yards. If he gets 113 against UConn, he would become just the 10th quarterback in school history to pass for 2,000 yards in a season and just the second freshman.