"We know we have a tremendous challenge against West Virginia. They present a lot of problems, and they're a special team," said Randy Edsall, who is in his eighth year as head coach at Connecticut.
The problems for Connecticut start on defense where they have had trouble stopping the run. With the nation's most potent rushing offense coming to town, Edsall and his coaching staff hope to play their best defense with their offense on the field. The Huskies gameplan is to control the football, and the clock.
"Yeah, you'd like to have ball control, but you have a defense like West Virginia's that's pretty good as well," Edsall points out. "Hopefully we'll be able to put something together, score some points, and not turn the ball over. They present a very difficult challenge from a lot of different standpoints."
Connecticut faces the same problem that everyone else on West Virginia's schedule has had: who do you try to stop first? Running back Steve Slaton is among the nation's best players. Quarterback Patrick White is coming off career day with 247 yards rushing. Receiver Darius Reynaud has emerged as one ot the conference's most explosive playmakers.
Last week, Syracuse keyed on Slaton and he still ended up with 163 yards rushing to go along with White's record day. The $64,000 question for Edsall is, who do you try to stop first? If you find the answer, let him know.
"You take a look at West Virginia and you see how explosive they are," says the Syracuse graduate. "They have two of the top five rushers in the conference with Steve Slaton and Patrick White, and in total offense those guys show up again. Then you go look at all-purpose yards and you have Steve, and Darius, and Pat again. The best way that you can try to not let them beat you is if they're on the sidelines."
When the Huskies do have the ball, they will be led by senior quarterback Matt Bonislawski. The Natrona Heights, Pa. native began last season as the heir apparent to the aforementioned Orlovsky (now with the NFL's Detroit Lions), but suffered a broken collarbone at midseason. Now that he's healthy, he's looking to spark a passing attack that has struggled through the season's first six games.
"Matt has come in and really played very well for us," Edsall says. "He's only had one turnover in three games. He brings a presence to our offense. We've just got to get him to throw with a little more accuracy, but he's come in and taken on a leadership role. He hasn't turned the ball over, and now we just need to work on his accuracy a little more."
The Huskies, like West Virginia, are a run-oriented team. Senior tailback Terry Caulley has finally regained the form he showed in 2003, when he was the nation's leading rusher before blowing out his knee in a game at Virginia Tech. The injury forced him out of action for 23 months, but now that he's finally healthy, the 5'7" 193 pound speedster is playing the best football of his life.
"We envisioned that. He's a lot healthier now than what he's been since he had that severe injury back in 2003," Edsall said of his team captain. "He's a leader, a hard worker, and a young man of great character. We envisioned him having a great year for us, and hopefully he'll continue to stay healthy and put up some of the same numbers that he's been putting up. It's a relief to finally see him as healthy as he's been and hopefully he'll keep it up."
Like his West Virginia counterpart Rich Rodriguez, Edsall takes an old school view when it comes to Friday night games. When asked about it earlier this week, the Glen Rock, Pa. native expressed his honest opinion.
"I don't really like playing games at any other time than Saturday afternoon. I know we have to do it, because of the television and the money, but I would rather not do it. Friday nights is for high school," he said.
"Second, it's during the week and our players are missing class. Coaches are put under so much pressure to graduate kids and things like that, yet we're saying it's ok to go play during the week?" Edsall continued. "Before, we used to play all the games on Saturdays, and kids would miss maybe one or two classes on Friday when you left to go to the game. Now, they're missing more classes to play games during the week. The NCAA wants to talk about the APR and graduating players, but television dictates that we play these games during the week. That hurts the kids and their classroom performance because they have to miss these classes during the week."
While neither head coach is pleased with the timing of the game, it is what it is. Both have a no-nonsense, strap-it-up approach to the game, so expect to see both teams come out with a lot of intensity. Edsall is hoping that his Huskies will give West Virginia their best shot. Rodriguez is hoping his players aren't looking ahead to Louisville.
"We have to be more consistent offensively. We're not as consistent as I'd like to be there. Defensively, we're just giving up way too many big plays," says Edsall.
To Mountaineer fans, that might sound like the perfect storm for a blue and gold blowout. But for Connecticut, no other game would propell their program to the next step like a win over West Virginia. Something's gotta give.