Back in August, as preseason camp was being held at Connecticut, coach Paul Pasqualoni started bragging about this year's marketing poster for the UConn football team. He pointed to the seniors pictured on that poster and said, "You want to be in the foxhole with those 16 guys, I promise you."
Now it is October. The Huskies aren't having the season they had hoped to have. UConn is 3-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big East heading into Friday night's game (8 p.m., ESPN, UConn IMG Sports Radio Network) at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse (2-4, 1-1).
With the Huskies on a two-game losing streak and a bye week ahead, the season has reached a critical point. And Pasqualoni is pointing to his seniors again.
"They've been in the deep end of the pool," he said earlier this week. "They've had to face adversity. We're looking at them to be at the front of the line and to practice with a great sense of urgency and a great sense of motivation. It's all about performance. We're looking for them to have the best performances of their career."
With that in mind, that is where we will start with three things to watch from the Huskies this week:
Will the seniors respond?
"It's our job to step up and get things going," defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. "It's hard to shake off a loss, but you've got to go on and focus on the next job. This is a short week so you've got to get your mind clear." Linebacker Sio Moore said it's a matter of sustaining from the first quarter to the fourth. "This team is made of guys who have been through everything. We've been here since 2008. We know how to rally together. We're a family. We won't turn our back on each other. We're going to put that together this week."
Can kicker Chad Christen bounce back?
Christen went through the worst day of his career last Saturday. He missed four field goals (one was blocked) as the Huskies blew a 14-0 lead and lost to Temple 17-14. Maybe the best news for Christen is that the game is inside. No rain. No wind. "It will be like kicking indoors [at the Shenkman Training Center]," Pasqualoni said. "Chad is going to work hard this week. We're going to get a few more kicks in with him. I'm confident that he's going to bounce back and do well."
Will Pasqualoni be cheered by Dome fans?
The UConn coach won 107 games and four Big East titles as head coach at Syracuse from 1991-04. He was run out of town after a 6-6 record in 2004 but coach Doug Marrone (19-24 at SU) may have a hotter seat at SU than Pasqualoni does right now at UConn. It will be interesting to see the reception Pasqualoni receives in his first visit back to the Carrier Dome since 2004. He has been downplaying the homecoming. ?"It's a Big East Conference game. That's where I've focused my energy. We're just getting ready to play the game. [Syracuse] has played a tough schedule and they're playing tough football.
"I met my wife there. And my kids were born there. But I spent 18 years going from my office to the house. I couldn't even tell you where things are in Syracuse. Not proud of that. Don't ask me for directions. I can't help you."
That's what he told the Connecticut media. Then he got on the Big East coaches' conference call Monday and said, "This is business. We're not going up to Central New York to pick apples and ride on the hay wagon. My focus and all I can see is getting ready to play this game."
It turns out Pasqualoni has experience picking apples. A clipping from the Sept. 18, 2001, Sarasota Herald-Tribune proves that.
Read the clipping here.
If the Huskies best Syracuse, perhaps UConn should stay over and have a team hayride Saturday. I know a great orchard in Chittenango, just a few miles from the Dome. My late father-in-law planted the apple trees there before he got tired of winter in Upstate New York and moved to Florida.
|Great apple picking in Chittenango, N.Y. (KEN DAVIS)|
And I could give Pasqualoni directions.