Iowa State (2-0) at UCONN (1-1)
Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 8 p.m.
Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn.
Here are three keys to watch in Friday's game:
UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni says all three quarterback will be ready to go against Iowa State. That doesn't necessarily mean things have to be status quo. Just because all three are ready to play doesn't mean they have to play. If the coaching staff feels good enough about Johnny McEntee to let him start a third consecutive game, why not take the next step and just say he's the guy? It's getting too far into the season to stay with this three-headed monster. At the very least, script it so that McEntee has the entire first half to get something going. If the offense remains stale, make a change at halftime and let everyone be on the same page. Give freshman Mike Nebrich a fresh start in the third quarter and see what happens. Within that framework, there's still an opportunity for redshirt freshman Scott McCummings to enter the game and run his "Wildcat" package.
But don't create further confusion in the red zone, especially on goal-to-go plays. The Huskies have been horrible in these situations and you've got to blame the coaching staff. It's too difficult to run a new quarterback in from the sideline when the offense is threatening to score. It's a longer run, for one thing. Then the quarterback must get the call, check his wristband for the play, get the offense to the line and call the snap before the play clock runs out.
McEntee's confidence took a major hit in the Vanderbilt loss. It would be great for him to march the Huskies into the end zone on the first possession – then stay in the game. As long as he has corrected his errors from last week, there's no reason to take him out.
NO MORE BIG PLAYS
There is a tremendous load on the defensive unit and it will only increase against an Iowa State team that features a wall of giants across the offensive line and an extremely mobile quarterback in Steel Jantz, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Iowa.
After a shaky start, UConn's defense played well against Vanderbilt. There were two exceptions: A 40-yard TD run by Jerron Seymour and a 42-yard TD pass play from Larry Smith to Chris Boyd. "Those big plays kill you," said Hank Hughes, UConn's defensive line coach. "They can cost you a game."
The Huskies need to be more aggressive and take the hitting to Iowa State. It would be great to see the coaches turn a couple guys loose, just to get into the mind of the Cyclones' quarterback and that big front wall. Kendall Reyes has only six tackles in two games. Free him up to work his magic. We all know what Reyes is capable of doing. His teammates on the line must do their jobs. The other guy is linebacker Sio Moore, who can be an absolute beast doing so many things. Mix up what he is doing, confuse Iowa State, and create some big plays going the other way. Moore is sixth in the nation in sacks per game.
GIVING McCOMBS HELP
The quarterback position isn't the only soap opera on the offensive side of the ball. Will tailback D.J. Shoemate make his first appearance of the season? Is he 100 percent or 92 percent or 96 percent? Will he spend a third straight game pacing the sideline, trying to talk his way onto the field?
The real issue here is taking some pressure off redshirt Lyle McCombs, who is 5-8 and 172 pounds. UConn has 78 rushing plays in two games and McCombs got the call on 51 of those. McCummings, the third QB, is next with 12. The next highest tailback is Jonathan Jean-Louis, who has five attempts for 18 yards.
McCombs and Shoemate bring different attack modes to the Huskies. Why not try some form of alternating them, mixing things up and keep opponents on their toes? If Shoemate isn't healthy, at least give Jean-Louis some carries. McCombs, the 12th leading rusher in the nation, can't shoulder this load by himself – even though he isn't complaining about carries.
Some have said Shoemate runs more like a fullback. If that's true, bring him in on first-and-goal situations and let him plow into the end zone. Sending him into the huddle in those situations makes more sense than switching quarterbacks (but we've already addressed that).