There probably isnâ€™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 Piratesâ€™ 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, itâ€™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 donâ€™t see it that way. And they are trying hard, they insist, not to think about last seasonâ€™s 41-3 pummeling at the hands of the Pirates.
â€śItâ€™s just another game,â€ť UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs insisted this week. â€śThat was a dark time, for sure, but this is just another game. We have to focus on going 1-0 this week.â€ť
Sundayâ€™s game, originally slated for Nov. 4, but moved to accommodate the Hurricane Irma-influenced new schedule, will be UConnâ€™s first Sunday home game since 1939.
Although East Carolinaâ€™s record and losing streak trumps the Huskiesâ€™ a bit, UConn coach Randy Edsall isnâ€™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 Huskiesâ€™ 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.
â€śThereâ€™s been some good things and thereâ€™s been some bad things,â€ť Edsall said. â€śBut the one thing Iâ€™ll say is theyâ€™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.
â€śThat probably has been the biggest (hurdle) with this team. Itâ€™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.â€ť
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.
â€śThatâ€™s been the biggest surprise to me,â€ť Edsall said.
In past years, the coach admitted, he might allow himself to be frustrated by such a situation. He swears heâ€™s changed his tune slightly and is trying to see the positives in his Huskies and not always focus on the negative.
â€śI 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,â€ť Edsall said.
Having patience for a teamâ€™s development doesnâ€™t mean a coach settles for losing or sub-par performances, it seems.
â€śPatience and urgency are two different things. You still have to have that sense of urgency,â€ť 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 Huskiesâ€™ new 3-3-5 defense has given their fans and coaches, could have been solved with a few key plays.
â€śGetting off the field,â€ť senior linebacker Junior Joseph said. â€śIf we got off the field on third down, that game last week would have been a lot different.â€ť
Edsall apparently shares that view. He says Virginiaâ€™s opening drive, which was the longest drive in school history, was fraught with simple errors by UConnâ€™s defenders.
â€śIn the first drive last week, we blew the same coverage three times, all in conversion downs,â€ť Edsall said. â€śIf we would have just done what weâ€™re supposed to do, we would have been off the field.â€ť
Itâ€™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, UConnâ€™s development has been thus far largely unclear as well.
â€śHave we improved since the season started? Yes, but very, very incrementally from that standpoint,â€ť 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 UConnâ€™s defensive numbers are thus far, East Carolinaâ€™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 theyâ€™re already doing enough to win. The coaches, by contrast, are certain the team has to do more.
â€śI asked them what they think. And they didnâ€™t give me the right answer,â€ť Edsall said. â€śIn their minds, they think itâ€™s happening. But itâ€™s not in terms of what you want as a coach.â€ť