The Huskies' (9-2, 5-1 Big East) ball control offense and ability to move the football via the run in smaller gains has allowed them to better manage sections of games and, thus, the clock. Connecticut has forced ahead of the majority of opponents, which lets them stay in a comfort zone of running the football first to setup play action. It's a classic style that has served programs well for decades. The problem is that UConn lacks enough big-play weapons to rally from a significant deficit. WVU (9-1, 4-1) doesn't have that concern, but is aware that untimely turnovers could maim its chances to win.
"They have really beaten some teams pretty good," West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "You have to worry about yourself first. You keep doing things fundamentally and execute. They have guys who can make plays. The quarterback is the key to the offense, and we have had trouble with scrambling quarterbacks. The you have those tailbacks and receivers who can make plays. The have playmakers, and we have to be concerned about them but be sure we are doing the right things in terms of us."
The keystone Rodriguez referred to is Tyler Lorenzen, a 6-5, 220-pound junior college transfer who has completed 170 of 293 passes for 12 touchdowns and five interceptions (128.84 pass efficiency). The junior rushed for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Workmanlike tailbacks Donald Brown and Andre Dixon have combined for almost 1,500 yards. They are averaging five yards per carry and have scored 10 times.
"They control the game in two ways, because they are very balanced running and throwing and their defense (is solid)," Rodriguez said. "(Lorenzen) reminds us of (South Florida quarterback Matt) Groethe in terms of taking off and running. He is a big guy. Those are hard to defense. We know that from our guys doing it, and teams telling us that. … You really have to see how much bad luck they have had. They had it in bunches (last year). Usually you don't have that much. It was so much, they were better than a 4-8 team. They have not had that this year, and they have had the same 11 playing on defense and the quarterback play. Once a team starts winning, they get that confidence level."
Lorenzen's scrambling ability has mixed well with Connecticut's newfound outside weapons. Former quarterback D.J. Hernandez voluntarily moved from under center to wideout, and his speed and athleticism immediately boosted the receiving corps. Add three other receivers, all of whom have caught at least 22 passes for 200-plus yards, and the UConn offense is as multiple as it has ever been. The Huskies average 28 points per game, and have outgained opponents by nearly 400 rushing yards, making up a deficit in the passing numbers.
What West Virginia must do, as it did in the 28-23 win over then-No. 22 Cincinnati, is get pressure while also maintaining some containment. Lorenzen isn't as quick or fast as Ben Mauk, but will slip out when the pocket collapses. His gains on those plays have better setup UConn for second and third and shorter situations. A scrambling quarterback isn't typically viewed as a need to a ball control offense, but that ability to keep drives alive with better situations has been a coup.
"We got pressure with three down linemen (against UC)," Rodriguez said. "That's big. We didn't all the time, but two of our sacks, at least, came with three down linemen. (Johnny) Dingle got a sack, and (Keilein) Dykes made a huge play with a sack and recovery. When you can do that, you can do a lot of things in coverage that help you."
On defense, Connecticut has intercepted 21 passes. Like Cincinnati, those turnovers have played considerable roles in games. In UConn's 27-3 loss to the Bearcats it failed to force a turnover. When it has blown team s out, it has picked off passes and recovered five of nine forced fumbles. The Huskies are not a huger pressure team with 27 sacks, 8.5 for 50 yards by end Julius Williams, who was a linebacker last season.
"They have been in zone coverage and they break well on the ball," Rodriguez said. "You don't catch them out of position. They are at the right place at the right time. I have seen the linebackers bait a quarterback one way, then break on the ball."
Rodriguez did say that West Virginia would undergo addition film study with no classes this week. Students have been released for fall/Thanksgiving break. When that happens, the student section is not filled. WVU's athletic department, after speaking with Rodriguez, decided to sell some of the student seating for the game.
"We want to get those stands filled," Rodriguez said. "With the importance of the game, we want it filled. We sold some student sections because the students are not going to be there. From the standpoint of what's at stake, it's easier (to motivate the team). Those guys understand how important this game is. In November, we want to be competing for a championship. We have been fortunate to be there in recent years, and we are here again.
Note: Rodriguez said the staff could not see from film study what the exchange problem was between quarterback Patrick White and center Mike Dent. The duo muffed the ball late in the game against Cincinnati. On White's second fumble, the junior thought he was past the defender, Rodriguez said, and the player got a hand on the ball. "Pat is usually really good, but sometimes it happens," the coach said.