NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — UConn and Iowa State don’t often get to bask in the national football spotlight.
Both want to make the most of the opportunity under the Friday night lights, when the defending Big East co-champion Huskies (1-1) play host to the Cyclones (2-0).
UConn (1-1) is trying rebound from a disappointing 24-21 road loss at Vanderbilt, a game in which the Huskies gave up a fourth quarter lead when quarterback Johnny McEntee threw an interception that was returned 50-yards for a touchdown, then lost the game on a late field goal.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni said the short turnaround might be just what the Huskies need.
“I was a basketball coach at one point, too,” he said. “When you lost a game on Tuesday, you came right back on Friday and played again, so you didn’t have a lot of time to wallow in pity, feel sorry for yourself. So we don’t have any time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves this week.”
Iowa State (2-0) has the opposite concern. The Cyclones are coming off an emotional 44-41 win against rival Iowa in three overtimes.
“We’ve just got to come out and try not to have a hangover in this game,” Cyclones wide receiver Josh Lenz said, “and come out and execute right away.”
The game will match a Cyclones offense that put up 473 yards against the Hawkeyes against a Connecticut defense that’s giving up only 214 yards a game. UConn has allowed opponents to complete just 47 percent of their passes, has eight sacks and three interceptions.
“I don’t think we’re going into anything saying the defense needs to put the team on our back or anything like that,” said UConn linebacker Sio Moore, who had 3 1/2 sacks against the Commodores and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. “We expect to make big plays and we expect help the team win in whichever capacity we can. Our thing is we get out there and we’re about running to the ball and hitting people in the mouth, solving problems with aggression.”
The defense may have to score again for the Huskies to win. UConn’s offense managed just 193 yards last week with no offensive touchdowns. Tailback Lyle McCombs, who started the first two games while senior D.J. Shoemate sat with an ankle injury, accounted for 118 of those yards. Both are expected to play Friday.
UConn also hasn’t settled on a quarterback.
McEntee, who started the first two games, is hoping to bounce back after fumbling and throwing three interceptions last Saturday. But Pasqualoni has not committed to giving the junior walk-on the start. Freshman Mike Nebrich has been pushing McEntee for the job. Red-shirt freshman Scott McCummings also will see action, running a change-of-pace option-style package.
Pasqualoni said all three likely will play and it doesn’t matter to him who starts.
“They’ve got to produce, that’s the bottom line – production,” he said. “Just good sound fundamentals, a great awareness, consistent reads, knowing what he’s doing … we’re looking for all of them to do the same thing.”
First-year Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz has been doing just that for the Cyclones. He threw four touchdown passes and converted several third-and-long and fourth-down situations against Iowa.
“He’s demonstrated the qualities that we were looking for in naming our starting quarterback,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “He’s thrown the ball accurately. He’s created plays with his feet. And he’s made good decisions on the football field.”
Rhoads said he’s sure this will be the first trip to the state of Connecticut for many of his players. But the coach is very familiar with the state, the stadium, and Big East football. He served as the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 2000 to 2007, and said the Big East’s reputation as a weak football conference is undeserved.
“I’ve always felt that was unjust,” he said. “I always felt the bowl record of the Big East conference in the time that I spent there proved that. It is high quality football with great coaching and plenty of talent.”
Iowa State has a special place in UConn football history. The Huskies beat the Cyclones in their only other meeting, 37-20 on November 23, 2002, as UConn was making the transition to Division I. It was Connecticut’s first win against a bowl-bound opponent.
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