Work in Progress

Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni has a long list of areas that need improvement as the Huskies shuffle off to Buffalo in quest of their second victory of the football season. An improved running game is near the top of that list – if not the No. 1 priority.

"We have to run the ball," Pasqualoni said this week.

UConn's defense has played well enough for the Huskies to be 3-0. Sure, there have been some big plays given up. But the Huskies lost to Vanderbilt 24-21 and to Iowa State 24-20 and this week's Big East rankings offer an extremely telling story. UConn ranks first in the conference in total defense. The Huskies are seventh out of eight spots in total offense.

The Huskies have rushed for an average of 135.7 yards per game, but were held to 112 yards against Iowa State last week. Tailback Lyle McCombs led the way with 46 yards on 18 carries. D.J. Shoemate, playing for the first time this season, had 28 yards on eight carries but also had a costly fumble in the third quarter.

That's not good enough.

Pasqualoni talked this week about the "growing pains" this team has endured. Both the offense and the defense have been required to learn a new system and a new playbook under the new coaching staff. The Huskies continue their three-quarterback experiment, which may or may not come to a head in this game.

And even though there is depth on an offensive line anchored by senior center Moe Petrus, Pasqualoni has been looking under the hood since camp in August and moving parts around. For the Iowa State game, Mike Ryan moved from left tackle to right tackle, Kevin Friend went from right tackle to left guard, and Jimmy Bennett moved into the starting spot at left tackle.

"Even though Mike Ryan has played a lot of football, it's hard to take a guy from the left and move him right in one week and expect everything to be perfect," Pasqualoni said.

It was the same for Friend. Pasqualoni calls Bennett the prototypical left tackle but he must sharpen his tools, especially in pass protection and run blocking. Pasqualoni said changing positions on the line requires work on footwork, learning angles taken on blocks, and working with new teammates on combination blocks. It all makes it hard to work together.

"If you are playing a good team, it's hard to do in a week," Pasqualoni said. "I think it was an accumulation of things [against Iowa State]."

Petrus remains a constant for the Huskies. But as a senior captain, an experienced center, and a leader on the offense, he carries a big burden on his shoulders.

"Some of the guys might have had trouble with their footwork," said Petrus, who will make his 43rd consecutive start for the Huskies against Buffalo (1-2). "It's really hard to move from tackle to guard and even left tackle to right. It kind of changes everything for you.

"You are so used to hearing your plays and assignments in one direction. And now you have to really think about it going the other direction. It maybe puts you a step behind. But I'm confident in their abilities. They'll practice and be OK."

Working with a game clock and a play clock makes it difficult to discuss corrections on the field. But when the offense comes off the field, all the players huddle on the sideline to work through the problems.

"For the most part the guys know the mistakes they made and they know how to get it corrected," Petrus said. "You don't want to make the same mistake twice. But we'll get it together."


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