STORRS, Conn. (AP) — There is a sense of urgency surrounding Saturday’s game between Connecticut and South Florida, two Big East teams that are coming off losses in their first conference games.
Connecticut (2-4) is looking to salvage a season that has seen the defending conference co-champions win just one game against an FBS opponent — Buffalo.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni said the team had a good week of practice and the attitude has been positive, despite its record and last week’s 43-16 drubbing at the hands of No. 13 West Virginia.
“They have a sense we have to play better,” Pasqualoni said Thursday, “there has to be better execution and I think they’re working hard toward that and I think they’re working toward it in a very positive manner to get it done.”
South Florida (4-1) opened the season with four consecutive wins, including an upset of Notre Dame on the road. But the Bulls tumbled from the Top 25 after losing 44-17 at Pittsburgh and had a bye week to dissect what went wrong.
“I told the team I don’t mind losing to Pitt as long as we can grow and develop from that loss and we’re a better football team,” coach Skip Holtz said. “To lose to Pitt and not make any progress or learn anything from it and continue going down that path would be a shame.”
The teams have split their previous eight meetings, but Connecticut has won each of the last two in the final minute on field goals by kicker Dave Teggart. He hit a 42-yarder as time expired in 2009 to give the Huskies a 29-27 win, and his 52-yarder with 17 seconds left in last year’s regular-season finale sent UConn to the Fiesta Bowl with a 19-16 victory.
“I don’t think it will be a motivating factor, as far as a revenge factor,” Holtz said. “But I certainly think it will go a long way in helping us understand what we are about to walk into, on the road, at Connecticut.”
The game will feature an intriguing matchup between the Bulls rushing offense, which is averaging a Big East-best 232 yards per game, and the Huskies rushing defense, which is ranked sixth nationally and is holding opponents to under 75 yards per game.
Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes said that doesn’t mean much, because UConn has been giving up an average of 278 yards a game through the air, including 959 in its last two games — 469 to West Virginia and 490 to Western Michigan. South Florida also is averaging 280 passing yards.
“What I really want as a defense is to shut the other offense down, runs, pass, it doesn’t matter, laterals, I don’t care,” Reyes said. “We just want to stop them.”
To do that, UConn will have to contain and put pressure on quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has thrown for 1,294 yards and eight touchdowns, with just one interception. He also has rushed for another 258 yards and three scores.
“Basically, we want to collapse the pocket around him,” Reyes said, “and not give him the ability to escape.”
The Huskies will play their third consecutive game without their best cover corner, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who sprained a knee against Buffalo. But the Bulls may be without receiver A.J. Love, who re-aggravated an ankle injury this week in practice.
UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee said the Huskies know they will be the underdogs, but believe that a win this week could start the snowball rolling in the other direction.
“We have four losses right now, but I think we can still come out with a productive season,” he said. “Looking at the schedule, I think there’s no team that we think we can’t beat. We just have to put it all together on the field.”
The game also marks the return of Holtz to Connecticut, where he was born and where he coached from 1994-98, while the Huskies were still a Division I-AA program.
“It’ll be neat to go up there,” Holtz said. “I’ve not seen the stadium since they built it.”