Big East Time

The Connecticut football team has reached that transition point that comes every season for programs in major conferences of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The Huskies begin Big East play Saturday at Rutgers – make that undefeated Rutgers, a team that is ranked No. 22 by The Associated Press and No. 21 in the USA Today coaches' poll. UConn defeated Buffalo 24-17 last Saturday at Rentschler Field and closed out the non-conference portion of the schedule at 3-2.

The fact of the matter is that UConn wasn't too far from a 5-0 start this season. The offense sputtered in a loss to North Carolina State and there was a slow start and some costly turnovers against Western Michigan.

So where are the Huskies at this stage of the season? We put that question to coach Paul Pasqualoni Sunday on his conference call with state reporters.

"I think we know more about our team than we did five weeks ago, obviously," Pasqualoni said. "I think we know that we're capable of playing pretty good on defense. But we've got areas that we can continue to improve upon there.

"We didn't know exactly how comfortable or confident [quarterback] Chandler [Whitmer] would be in regard to fitting in. I think we're seeing steady improvement each week in regard to the production and taking care of the ball. I like the fact that we played with urgency in taking care of the ball last week. I think on our special teams units, we're fitting people into roles, which is good."

Are the Huskies ready for conference play? The Huskies have home games remaining against Temple, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Winning a game or two on the road – against Rutgers, Syracuse, USF and Louisville – might determine if this UConn team goes to a bowl game.

"I think that we've used these five nonconference games to develop the team and just try to fit guys into certain job descriptions," Pasqualoni said. "There are good teams in the Big East Conference. Rutgers is obviously a very good team and they're next up, so this will be a big challenge for us."

Looking ahead to Rutgers (4-0), the deciding factor might be who will be able to run the ball. Rutgers ranks first in the nation in rushing defense, but UConn ranks sixth. Both squads are in the top 20 in total defense too. UConn is No. 6 and Rutgers is No. 20.

It might come as a surprise nationally that the Big East has three teams in the USA Today poll. Louisville (5-0) is No. 16, followed by Rutgers at No. 21, and Cincinnati (3-0) at No. 23.

Pasqualoni, a voter in the coaches' poll, said that's the way he had it figured at the start of the season.

"I think they all deserve to be there," he said. "I think we've got very good personnel in our league. We've got very well coached teams. So it's kind of what I expected, to be very honest with you."

UConn linebacker Jory Johnson was named to the Big East weekly honor role. The senior from Mobile, Ala., had a career high 14 tackles in the win over Buffalo. . . . Cincinnati, which recorded a neutral-site victory over Virginia Tech Saturday, swept Big East player of the week honors with quarterback Munchie Legaux (offensive), linebacker Maalik Bomar (defensive) and punter Pat O'Donnell (special teams). . . UConn's game against Temple on Oct. 13 will kickoff at 1 p.m. at Rentschler Field. ESPN3 will stream video of the game online. . . . Defensive end Trevardo Williams has been added to the Senior Bowl watch list, joining Huskies Dwayne Gratz, Ryan Griffin, Jory Johnson, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who were on the list announced in late August.


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