UConn football not thinking about last year's blowout loss to East Carolina

Published on Saturday, 23 September 2017 22:58
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

There probably isn’t an opponent the East Carolina football team is happier to see than UConn. In part for that reason, the Pirates were glad to see the date of their matchup with the Huskies moved up to this weekend.

East Carolina (0-3) has lost seven straight games, dating back to last season. In fact, the Pirates’ only win in their last 13 games came over the Huskies last season in Greenville, North Carolina.

If the Pirates are ever going to snap out of their funk, it’s probably going to be Sunday at Pratt & Whitney Stadium (noon, ESPNU) in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.

The Huskies (1-1), throttled by Virginia 38-18 last week, obviously don’t see it that way. And they are trying hard, they insist, not to think about last season’s 41-3 pummeling at the hands of the Pirates.

“It’s just another game,” UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs insisted this week. “That was a dark time, for sure, but this is just another game. We have to focus on going 1-0 this week.”

Sunday’s game, originally slated for Nov. 4, but moved to accommodate the Hurricane Irma-influenced new schedule, will be UConn’s first Sunday home game since 1939.

Although East Carolina’s record and losing streak trumps the Huskies’ a bit, UConn coach Randy Edsall isn’t about to start doing cartwheels just because his team has won a game this season.

Edsall, who is in his first season back as the Huskies’ head coach after taking over for Bob Diaco in the offseason, says he was surprised how much his team had to improve in certain areas when he took over December.

“There’s been some good things and there’s been some bad things,” Edsall said. “But the one thing I’ll say is they’re starting to get it, starting to understand how hard you have to practice and how much has to go into it in order to win.

“That probably has been the biggest (hurdle) with this team. It’s getting them to understand just how hard it is to win at this level, and the amount of commitment and work it takes from Sunday to Friday to be able to play the game.”

The idea that how a team practices is nearly identical to how a team is likely to play was a foreign concept to some of the Huskies, the new coaches discovered.

“That’s been the biggest surprise to me,” Edsall said.

In past years, the coach admitted, he might allow himself to be frustrated by such a situation. He swears he’s changed his tune slightly and is trying to see the positives in his Huskies and not always focus on the negative.

“I used to be a very impatient guy. But I think age and experience teaches you a few things. I have become a little bit more - if you ask the kids they might tell you something different - patient,” Edsall said.

Having patience for a team’s development doesn’t mean a coach settles for losing or sub-par performances, it seems.

“Patience and urgency are two different things. You still have to have that sense of urgency,” Edsall said.

Well, the Huskies are seemingly urgent to improve their defensive performances. UConn is allowing 536.5 yards per game, including a national-worst 406.5 yards passing.

But many of those yards, and much of the headaches the Huskies’ new 3-3-5 defense has given their fans and coaches, could have been solved with a few key plays.

“Getting off the field,” senior linebacker Junior Joseph said. “If we got off the field on third down, that game last week would have been a lot different.”

Edsall apparently shares that view. He says Virginia’s opening drive, which was the longest drive in school history, was fraught with simple errors by UConn’s defenders.

“In the first drive last week, we blew the same coverage three times, all in conversion downs,” Edsall said. “If we would have just done what we’re supposed to do, we would have been off the field.”

It’s been difficult to judge the progress made by the Pirates, who lost to FCS power James Madison before being throttled by West Virginia and Virginia Tech. Likewise, UConn’s development has been thus far largely unclear as well.

“Have we improved since the season started? Yes, but very, very incrementally from that standpoint,” Edsall said.

East Carolina leads the all-time series against UConn 2-1, but the Huskies won the only previous game between the two here. Arkeel Newsome had 179 yards rushing and 244 all-purpose yards in the 2015 meeting, a 31-13 UConn win.

And as poorly as UConn’s defensive numbers are thus far, East Carolina’s are perhaps worse. The Pirates are allowing 636 yards per game.

UConn hopes it is the first in this group to pull itself up off the proverbial mat.

The problem, Edsall says, is some of the Huskies believe they’re already doing enough to win. The coaches, by contrast, are certain the team has to do more.

“I asked them what they think. And they didn’t give me the right answer,” Edsall said. “In their minds, they think it’s happening. But it’s not in terms of what you want as a coach.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports, UConn on Saturday, 23 September 2017 22:58. Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2017 23:00.