By DESMOND CONNER, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
6:12 PM EST, November 26, 2013
STORRS — The UConn defense is starting to show signs of what it once was.
The Huskies held Temple to 101 yards and zero points in the second half of a 28-21 victory at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday.
"We're trying to finish strong," senior defensive end Tim Willman said. "We're trying to make as many plays as we can, whether we need a sack or a fumble, like Yawin [Smallwood] did with the Pick-6 against Temple."
Willman was referring to Smallwood's 59-yard interception return for a late TD to beat the Owls.
Rutgers (5-5, 2-4 American), which has lost four of its past five – the victory being a 23-20 win over Temple on Nov. 2 — comes to Rentschler Field Saturday (noon, ESPNU) in search of one win to qualify for bowl eligibility.
The Huskies, who defeated Rutgers 40-22 at the Rent in 2011, are 1-9, 1-5.
Willman had two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
"Looking back at it I know I probably could have [made more plays] if I did things differently, little technique things ... but hindsight is 20-20," Willman said. "The focus is on the next two games."
The final two games, Rutgers and the finale at home against three-win Memphis Dec. 7, are both winnable, but the Huskies need to turn in efforts like the one in Philadelphia.
"I think it's plain and simple now — guys are sick and tired of losing," Smallwood said. "It hurts to lose, especially when you put in a lot of effort, lot of work, so as a defense we take it upon us. I feel like we've [played our best] in spurts the past couple games but then we'll have a hiccup here or there. Guys are trying to eliminate those hiccups in practice during the week."
Rutgers will start Chas Dodd at quarterback.
Dodd, who is replacing Gary Nova, has beaten UConn before. In 2010, in his first start for an injured Tom Savage, Dodd threw for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 come-from-behind win in Piscataway.
"It doesn't matter which one is in there," UConn coach T.J. Weist said. "We know we have to play fast and physical whichever one is in there."
Junior running back Lyle McCombs walked to midfield before the game Saturday with Smallwood, offensive guard Steve Greene and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen to greet the Temple captains because he is now a captain, too.
Weist quietly made him a captain last week.
"I think Lyle has done a good job of leading the team and I want to make sure we put an emphasis on leadership these last games," Weist said. "Our three captains have done a good job with leadership. ... I just felt that Lyle, from a football standpoint and everything else, he's been a leader for us and every single day he comes out he's motivated. I think our team needs it."
McCombs has rushed for 650 yards and four touchdowns, and has caught 17 passes for 53 yards and another touchdown.
UConn has reportedly shown interest in UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Ball State coach Pete Lembo.
Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com mentioned them as names he's heard are in the mix. The Courant heard names in the mix Tuesday as well. Mazzone is not on the radar. The two other names are, as is Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson, who was first mentioned by Footballscoop.com. Towson coach Rob Ambrose, former assistant at UConn, is also in the mix. Weist has support and will also be in the mix.
Athletic director Warde Manuel has insulated himself when it comes to talk of a coach and said he will not answer questions on the matter until after the season. Manuel said that when he made Weist interim head coach he thought Weist was the best man for the job, and he wouldn't interview coaches during the season. Manuel said in September, when he named Weist, that he wouldn't approach a coach during the season because he wouldn't want an AD doing it to his staff.
Weist is hoping for good news on right tackle Kevin Friend and cornerback Jhavon Williams. Both missed Saturday's game recovering from concussions. …The cigars Weist bought for the staff to smoke after the first win have only been chewed on so far. "Can't find a place to smoke them," Weist said. "Couldn't do it on the plane, can't do it on campus, restaurants. Just been chewing on it so far."
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