By DESMOND CONNER, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
5:55 PM EST, November 23, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. —
By the looks of things, Saturday's football game will come down to whether the Huskies can keep up.
Will the offense be able to hang with a Louisville team scoring 33 points a game?
Conventional wisdom says no. The Huskies have scored 33 or more points once (37 vs. UMass in the season opener). They've scored 30 points in their last two games combined, and 40 in the last three. UConn, at 17.3, averages a little more than half what the Cardinals do.
Louisville (9-1, 4-1 Big East) will be at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium waiting to unleash on the Huskies (4-6, 1-4) on Senior Day as it eyes the Big East Conference title and seeks to remove the taste of a 19-point loss to Syracuse preceding a bye week. Game time is noon (SNY). UConn needs a win, too, to have any chance at a bowl bid.
"Going down to Louisville, they're coming off a loss, which I think hurts us because they're going to be extra focused, extra ready, looking at that Big East title," UConn tight end Ryan Griffin said.
"It's a loud place, but we've got some seniors and we've got some poise, and hopefully we can come out of there with a win."
The UConn defense knows it must stop Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, create some turnovers, and put the UConn offense in the best position to score. Then, of course, the UConn offense must produce.
"We've been in a lot of tight games, close games," sophomore safety Ty-Meer Brown said. 'We know what's coming up. We're counting on the offense to help the team."
The offense may not have looked more determined to help out than in the 24-17 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 9, the Huskies' last game before their second bye week of the season. UConn jumped out to a 24-0 lead only to sputter the rest of the way, including an interception thrown by Chandler Whitmer in the end zone late when the Huskies were looking to bring the hammer down.
""What we want to do every game is sustain drives and stay on the field, give the defense a break, and finish those drives with points, and that's the same thing we'll try to do this week," said Whitmer.
UConn had 213 yards passing yards and 132 yards rushing against Pitt. The Huskies ran the ball 30 times and threw it 25 times, showing balance. The offensive line, which has had trouble this season, came through, and sophomore Lyle McCombs (29 carries for 125 yards, 1 TD), topped the 100-yard rushing mark for only the second time this season.
The Cardinals are tied for 66th in the country against the run, giving up 161 yards per game. UConn, ranked 115th of 120 schools in rushing, averages 87 yards.
"A lot of guys, we're either young or don't have a lot of experience up front, so just getting more experienced has helped a lot," junior tackle Kevin Friend said. "Just going through the season I think we've been picking up things that help us. Against Pitt, we were able to pick up the [linebackers] and that allowed Lyle a little more room to run."
UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said the Cardinals mix it up defensively and have an athletic defense. If the Huskies can get their rushing attack going against the Cardinals — that's a big if — it could make things interesting, assuming the defense and special teams also play well. The defense did shut out Pitt in the first half and held them to three points in the third quarter before breaking down a bit in the fourth. It will certainly have to avoid that against Bridgewater. The UConn special teams got a punt return touchdown from Nick Williams (80 yards) vs. Pitt, and those sorts of things can be game-changers.
The Cardinals may have the edge in what they are playing for, a conference title. But UConn, too, is fighting for a bowl bid, and given the way the season has gone, that would be a nice reward for the 16 UConn seniors who will play in their final home game, no matter what, Dec. 1 vs. Cincinnati.
"As a football player you have to go into every game as a competitor, no matter what's on the line," said Griffin. " ... A Big East title or a bowl game in Alabama, it's equally important for both teams, and I expect the play to be the same."
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