Former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni (left) is 2-3 in his first season since replacing Randy Edsall at Connecticut.
MORGANTOWN - At first glance, the Connecticut team that comes to Mountaineer Field Saturday as West Virginia's Big East opening foe appears nothing like last year's Huskies.That was a team that beat WVU in overtime for its first win in the series, went on to tie for the league championship, played in a BCS bowl game for the first time and was coached by Randy Edsall.This year? Well, the Huskies are 2-3, have beaten only Fordham and Vanderbilt, spent much of the first five weeks trying to find a quarterback and are now coached by Paul Pasqualoni.How quickly things can change.
Here's the thing, though. They haven't changed that much.Yes, there's a new coaching staff and a new way of doing things. But remember, Connecticut appeared just as dysfunctional a year ago heading into its game with West Virginia."We know that last year we struggled in the beginning and started to do better in conference play,'' UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee said. "We all know that and no one is giving up on the season. We're just going to take it game by game."That certainly worked last year when, after seven games and with West Virginia on the horizon, the Huskies were 3-4, having beaten only Texas Southern, Buffalo and Vanderbilt. Those Huskies had lost big on the road at Michigan and, yes, Temple and were coming off losses to Rutgers and Louisville, teams that combined for only two other Big East wins all season.All of that changed when UConn took advantage of four turnovers to beat WVU in overtime and started a five-game win streak. Now, after starting 2-3 and losing sometimes ugly to relative lightweights Vanderbilt, Iowa State and Western Michigan, there seems no reason to panic.So the Huskies aren't."We're disappointed,'' Pasqualoni admitted. "[But] I think that when you get back in here on Sunday and you put the film on, I think it's pretty clear that if we get some things cleared up we're very capable of being a good team.''Indeed, the Huskies have the makings of a more solid group than what they've shown. The offense was hit hard by the loss of running back Jordan Todman, who was the Big East offensive player of the year, as well as a starting quarterback and two linemen, but UConn is seldom very exciting on offense anyway. The defense returned everyone on the front and back ends of its defense and had only to replace the linebackers. Both specialists returned, too.But while UConn ranks eighth in the country against the run, Western Michigan passed for 479 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-31 win. That certainly isn't helped by the absence of standout cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who has a sprained knee and won't play this weekend, either.And the offense, although it seems to have found a replacement for Todman in freshman Lyle McCombs (averaging 100.4 yards per game), ranks 92nd in the country in total offense. Even All-Big East kicker Dave Teggart has struggled, missing four field goals.In other words, UConn's failures have been a true team effort.
"We're not playing complimentary football,'' said Pasqualoni, the former Syracuse coach. "What I mean by that is the offense, the defense and the special teams are not complimenting each other. We've got to protect each other's back. When the defense needs the offense to step up, we have to do that in a timely manner, and vice versa.''There are signs of life, though. McEntee, the junior best known for his "Johnny Mac, Trick Shot Quarterback'' video on YouTube, had his best day in his fifth start, passing for 300 yards and four touchdowns against Western Michigan. The Huskies had a season-high 451 yards of total offense against WMU, but also gave up a season-high 490."I think our offense showed we can perform,'' said McEntee, a junior. "We have a great defense and special teams so when it all starts clicking I think we can win a lot of games."Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org