Jersey Boys Pumped Up

STORRS – Ryan Wirth stopped short of providing actual bulletin board material for the Rutgers locker room, but no one needed to be a mind reader to understand how motivated Connecticut's defensive end is for Saturday's game at No. 22 Rutgers.

Wirth is from Medford, N.J., and like several of his UConn teammates who are from the Garden State, he grew up wanting to play football for the Scarlet Knights. But he says the scholarship offer from Rutgers didn't come until after he had one in hand from UConn.

"The next week they came in the door with an offer," Wirth said Tuesday. "That's the place I wanted to go to at first. I'm glad I landed here.

"I have the same story as everybody else. I guess I wasn't good enough for them. But I am happy where I ended up."

Make no mistake about it – Rutgers (4-0) vs. UConn (3-2) is a rivalry game. Wirth is one of 12 Huskies from New Jersey and even though the history on the field is relatively short in the Big East Conference, there are strong feelings for those UConn players with ties – and others who just want to help the cause against a top Big East opponent.

"I wouldn't say it's just another game; it's Rutgers," said offensive tackle Adam Masters, a native of Bethesda, Md., who handled his own homecoming situation Sept. 15 when the Huskies traveled to Maryland. "It's always a physical, tough game. I think it's something that we're all looking forward to. Most importantly, it's the start of conference play. We have to crank it up a couple notches in practice and do whatever it takes to get this win on Saturday."

Wirth, wide receiver Nick Williams, and cornerback Dwayne Gratz are UConn starters from New Jersey who could have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Gratz will be playing in his hometown of Piscataway and Tuesday he said this is personal.

"Rutgers didn't offer until I had committed to UConn," Gratz said. "I couldn't respect that and I hated them for that. I wanted to go to Rutgers."

Gratz said he would use that for motivation. Since Wirth had virtually the same experience, it's obvious he will be pumped up as well, but when the game starts he knows it can be about personal experiences.

"It's very important for us New Jersey kids to come out and win at Rutgers," Wirth said. "But we can't let it be a distraction."

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni was 12-2 against Rutgers when he coached at Syracuse. He added another victory last season in his first season at UConn and it didn't take long for him to notice the intense emotions.

"I'm only going on my second year but I can see that through the recent history in the Big East that this has become a rivalry," Pasqualoni said Tuesday at his weekly press gathering. "I think you have that environment when the games are close and they're hard-fought games. I guess that's what makes them exciting; makes it a rivalry. The geography makes a whole lot of sense as well."

There have been close games, wild games, and results that became truly unforgettable. Last season, Lyle McCombs and Scott McCummings each ran for two touchdowns as UConn defeated Rutgers 40-22 at Rentschler Field. That blocked the path for the first BCS bowl game appearance ever by Rutgers.

Will the Scarlet Knights be out for a little revenge for last year?

"It's really a complete non-factor," said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, a Rutgers assistant last season who replaced Greg Schiano after Schiano left for the NFL. "There's a lot of things that have happened since that game last year. We had a bowl prep, a bowl game, a spring practice, a summer program, a training camp and four games since then. We've got different players on the field and they have some different players. We've got a completely different coaching staff. I don't think there's any carryover one way or the other from last year's game."

Regardless of the emotional factors, Pasqualoni knows Rutgers will be a tough place for the Huskies to emerge victorious.

"It makes it hard on the offense," he said. "I'd be surprised if [High Point Solutions Stadium] is not packed. I've been there a lot. The stands are kind of close to the field and it makes it loud, so it's hard on the offense. We're going to have some silent counts. I've been down there when it's very windy and that has been a factor. With those conditions, you're just not as familiar or as comfortable as we are at Rentschler Field."


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