UConn vs WV; UConn's Keys to the Game

UConn travels to Morgantown for the first time ever to face 18th-ranked West Virginia in a nationally televised (ESPN2) Big East matchup. The Huskies (4-3, 1-2) have lost two straight, while West Virginia (6-1, 3-0) sits atop the conference standings. If UConn is going to get things turned around before bowl eligibility slips away, it is going to have to play with more discipline and passion than it did in losses to Rutgers and Cincinnati. Here are the three keys to the game for UConn:

PRIDE AND POISE, BOYS

The offensive line has to start with the basics against the Mountaineers and work its way up to more complicated strategy. First rule: Don't move until Trey Tonsing snaps the ball. Next, don't reach out and grab anyone's jersey unless that player is about to unload on Dennis Brown or Terry Caulley or anyone else holding the ball and not sensing imminent danger.

 

It's going to be loud at Milan Puskar Stadium, and a young man can get flustered in such situations, especially when it's third-and-9 and there are 10 Mountaineers breathing fire right across the line of scrimmage, just dying to blitz. If the offensive line doesn't maintain its composure, play with a chip on its shoulder, and protect the skill players trying to run with, or throw, the football, it's going to be a long night.

 

DON'T WORSHIP SLATON

Cincinnati provided a blueprint for running successfully against UConn, and Rutgers smartly noticed how the Bearcats were pinching over into gaps, putting two blockers on one defensive tackle, and creating a hole for the running backs to fly through. Cincinnati and Rutgers both ran for over 200 yards as the Husky linebackers failed to plug the holes in the dam.

 

Given the same opportunity, West Virginia will rush for 300 yards, led by emerging freshman star Steve Slaton, who is every bit as good as Rutgers' Ray Rice. The Mountaineers like having the ball in their hands. Their quarterbacks, Pat White and Adam Bednarik, would rather keep the ball for themselves than pass it to someone else. They're like Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez, only healthier. That means it's up to Danny Lansanah, Ryan Henegan, and James Hargrave to recognize and react. Henegan especially is under the gun, making his first career start in a situation where UConn is crying out for a run-stopper, and West Virginia loves to run the ball. The levee must not break or the Huskies will be swept away.

 

MIX IT UP

Rich Rodriguez is a smart coach. He knows UConn wants to establish a running game of its own, take the air out of the ball, and grind out an impressively boring road win. He also knows it's not going to happen. He'll have his 3-3-5 defense primed to track down Caulley, Cornell Brockington, or Lou Allen and make the Huskies beat his Mountaineers some other way.

 

UConn should be wise to this and use it to its advantage. Let Brown throw the ball. He's good at it. He can throw on the run, which is a nice talent to have these days, when the pocket hasn't always been the safest place to be standing. Brown should make it a point to feed tight ends Dan Murray and Steve Brouse early and often. Set up some wide receiver screens to stretch out the defense. See if Jason Williams still knows how to go deep, like he used to. Give Seth Fogarty a chance to rise to the occasion during his homecoming. Sure, he's still blossoming and may not be ready to be the Huskies' primary possession receiver, but it's worth a shot.

 

Simply handing the ball off to Caulley and hoping he can avoid enough tacklers to turn nothing into something is no way to beat West Virginia. A little imagination and some bold play-calling could go a long way Wednesday night.

 


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