Inside Slant - November 4

The last time the Huskies had a bye week, it ended with a starting offensive lineman leaving the team, the starting quarterback getting kicked off the squad, and a 26-0 shellacking at Louisville. What are the odds that the second week off is going to end any better?

One difference is that this time, Connecticut is coming off a victory. Instead of heading into the bye after a 27-24 loss to what had been a struggling Rutgers squad, it's now fresh off the first victory over West Virginia in program history. It's still looking for answers, particularly on offense, but at least there's reason for optimism.

At least, modified optimism. Because part of what has happened in the intervening two weeks is the ratcheting down of expectations.

Connecticut was thought to be a contender to win the Big East title in the preseason, but it's hard to see that happening now. With a 1-2 record in the conference, it would have to win out and get help to take it outright, or even to earn a share.

The next step down is making a bowl game, which would require at least a split of the last four games. All four are against Big East teams, and based on preseason expectations it's a favorable schedule. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have to come to Connecticut, while UConn travels to meet Syracuse and South Florida.

But none of those games are easy. Syracuse was expected to struggle, but is 6-2 through eight games, and South Florida just put up 38 points on the Bearcats. And UConn hasn't put together back-to-back strong games all year, much less four in a row.

So for anything better than a fight to make any bowl game, that will have to be the goal, and the coaching staff needs to figure out how to take what happened against the Mountaineers and make sure UConn does the same thing in every game the rest of the way.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Jordan Todman enters the week off fourth in the country in rushing, averaging 136.3 yards per game. As defenses are keying more on stopping him, however, he's finding yards are harder to come by. In his past two games, he's been held to 80 yards by Louisville and 113 by West Virginia.

--Kendall Reyes moved from defensive end to defensive tackle against West Virginia, and the added speed seemed to add spark to the defense. Odds are good he'll see a lot more time there the rest of the way.

SEASON SUMMARY: This has been just about the most chaotic season in program history. Given the off-field issues capped by Cody Endres' dismissal and the on-field inconsistency, there is never a dull moment for this squad.

LOOKING AHEAD: None of the four games left are easy ones, with home dates against Pitt and Cincinnati and road trips to Syracuse and South Florida. How the team fares in those games will determine which bowl the Huskies go to, or whether the team even qualifies for one in the first place.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We talked about physical toughness, we talked about mental toughness and talked to them about having fun and letting it fly. I thought we played physical. I thought we showed mental toughness. I thought they had fun and they just kind of let it fly and it was good to see." -- Connecticut coach Randy Edsall to the Hartford Courant.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Zach Frazer is back at quarterback, at least until next week. The Notre Dame transfer began the season as the starter and then was demoted to third string, but led the team to victory over West Virginia in the team's last game. He and Mike Box will likely spend the rest of the season battling for the job, but whoever has it will spend a lot of time turning around and handing the ball to Jordan Todman, the nation's fourth-leading rusher, anyway.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The issue with the Huskies defense has been its aggressiveness. When it attacks and plays with fire, it gets the job done, as it did in the victory over West Virginia. But it's spent much of the early season being far too passive, and it is too prone to individual breakdowns to succeed when that happens.

ROSTER REPORT:

--RB Robbie Frey dressed against West Virginia, but barely played. The special teams standout and key reserve will benefit from the extra rest this week.

--QB Mike Box missed the West Virginia game with a concussion, and though he should be healthy enough to play next week, odds are good that Zach Frazer will get the nod based on his performance against WVU.


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