UConn has lost four consecutive games and fallen into the Big East Conference basement, a spot the Huskies don't even share with any other team. It's lonely at the bottom and a loss Friday night to Pittsburgh (8 p.m., Rentschler Field, ESPN, UConn IMG Sports Radio Network) officially would end the dream of returning to a bowl game this season.
Under Football Bowl Subdivision rules, the Huskies (3-6 overall, 0-4 Big East) need three more wins to become bowl eligible. That means they need to run the table, beating Pitt Friday, Louisville (on the road Nov. 24), and Cincinnati (home on Dec. 1). That's a tall task considering Louisville is undefeated overall, Cincinnati has only one conference loss and Pitt (4-5, 1-3) almost upset Notre Dame last weekend.
It all starts with scoring points, something the Huskies have really struggled to do in Big East play. UConn is dead last in the conference in scoring offense, averaging 16.6 points in nine games and that drops to 8.25 in conference games.
Blame it on the running game. You've heard that all season. So let's start there with our three things to watch:
1. UConn's scoring problem: Coach Paul Pasqualoni says, "If we can get the run game going, especially running it a little bit better in the red zone, we could have more production in that area. We need to come up with some runs that will really help us in the play action game; make them commit more people and be a little bit worried about blitzing. I think it will help that. The points [in Big East games] are from a lack of consistent production. For me, it starts with the running game."
2. Pitt's offense: The Panthers have two of the top offensive weapons in the Big East. Senior running back Ray Graham has 794 yards and is closing in on the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Last season he was the nation's second-leading rusher through seven games (134.14 average) but a right knee injury suffered against UConn ended his season. Graham finished with 958 yards. Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri has completed 70 percent of his passes in the past seven games for 1,846 yards (263.7 per game). In that time he has thrown 12 touchdowns with only one interception in that period. He ranks 15th nationally and second in the Big East in pass efficiency. Sunseri has an active streak of 172 pass attempts without being picked off. Of course, UConn counters with defensive end Trevardo Williams, who leads the Big East with 8.5 sacks, and linebacker Yawin Smallwood, the Big East leader in tackles for loss (13).
3. Turnovers: The Huskies have been quite the charitable organization this season. Their turnover margin of minus-11 is tied for last in the Big East with USF but their 21 lost turnovers is the worst in the conference, as is UConn's 13 interceptions lost. Here's the really bad news for the Huskies: Pitt is tied for third nationally and first in the Big East with fewest turnovers lost. The Panthers have only given away seven turnovers (two interceptions and five fumbles) this season.