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UConn vs. Pittsburgh Game Week

Lyle McCombs breaks a tackle against USF.

Oct. 21, 2011

STORRS, Conn. - UConn football heads to Pittsburgh for a BIG EAST showdown on ESPN next Wednesday night.  The two teams take the field with identical 3-4 overall records and 1-1 conference records.  The Huskies are fresh off a 16-10 Homecoming victory over South Florida, while the Panthers are coming off back-to-back losses to Rutgers and Utah.

Wednesday's game will be televised live on ESPN starting at 8:00 pm.  Live game audio can also be heard on the WTIC-UConn Radio Network.

For a look at UConn's weekly media release CLICK HERE.

Head coach Paul Pasqualoni held his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon, below are quotes from the coach and selected student-athletes.

Paul Pasqualoni, Head Coach

Opening Statement:
"We had a hard-fought game last week.  I thought that the defense played very well.  I would like to have the offense score more points.  South Florida's defense was very good.  We had the ball for nine more minutes than they did.  We made some very key third downs, especially the last (third down) of the game.  It was a good win for us and I'm looking forward to getting back on a routine schedule in preparation for the Pittsburgh game.  Obviously, it's a Wednesday game so it throws off what we do during the course of a normal week.  Part of this is getting our body clock and game clock in order and getting prepared to play a very good Pitt team on Wednesday night at 8:00."

What adjustments are made for a mid-week game?
"We had a normal Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and we gave (the team) Wednesday off.  We got together Thursday and did some work.  Today officially starts our week.  I guess you would say, today is the first practice day of the week."



How do you perceive the USF win today as opposed to Saturday?
"There are certainly parts of it that look very good.  There are some things we've got to be able to clean up.  Overall, the thing that stood out is the effort the kid's gave and how hard they fought and how determined they were to finish the second half of the fourth quarter, which has gotten away from us several times this year.  I thought that there was clear evidence that we were trying to take care of the ball.  That was very encouraging.  We ran the ball efficiently at times.  It's hard to control the ball unless you can run it.  The plus nine minutes (in time of possession) and keeping their offense on the sideline was a big part of that win.  It might not be glamorous, but it looked pretty good on the film."

Can you coach a team to "finish" games?
"We try to create that tempo and competitiveness in practice.  We're always talking about finishing every period, finishing every drill and finishing practice.  Not just finishing it, but finishing with some execution and attention to detail."

How will you address getting pressure on the Pittsburgh quarterback?
"The first part is to put them in situations where (Pittsburgh) has to throw the ball.  With their tailback, Ray Graham, that is going to be quite a challenge.  We'll have a chance to rush the passer and disrupt the offense, but we've got to get them in those kinds of situations."

What have you seen on Ray Graham through your preparation?
"I think what he does well, besides the speed, is his explosiveness.  He has the ability to put the ball in the end zone from 70 yards away.  Some guys are going to get past the second level of the defense, but they're not going to get the ball all the way down the field.  If this guy gets past the second level of the defense, there is a chance the ball is going all the way to the end zone, regardless of the field position when the ball was snapped.  The other thing that I admire about the guy is that he can make multiple people miss on one play.  He's got 30 catches for over 200 yards, so he's not only their most productive back, but he's also the second leading receiver on the team."

How do you address the challenges of the offensive line?
"I thought that last week, the offensive line played a pretty physical game against South Florida.  I think they executed very well and there were some good things to see on the film.  Hopefully, we are settling in with who we have there.  I think (the lineup) is established now and we need to continue to build on the urgency that they played with against South Florida.  We need to continue to build on the urgency and the detail and absolutely go out and finish every play."

What have you seen as the biggest factor to the number of sacks taken in recent weeks?
"I think because (Johnny McEntee) is a new quarterback, defensive coordinators and head coaches feel like because he is an inexperienced guy they want to see if he can handle the pressure.  I think that's pretty typical.  South Florida came in with a couple of new pressures and once we saw them, we got them straightened out on the sideline and at halftime.  After that we were fine.  Sometimes you have to see those (blitzes) once or twice to figure it out."

How does the defense's mindset change from playing very mobile QBs the last two weeks?
"Certainly, if we can gain control of the run game and force them to throw the ball and drop back, the containment of the quarterback will help us.  Tino can get outside the pocket and run for the first down.  He's not quite as elusive as (USF quarterback) B.J. Daniels, but he's very capable of pulling the ball down and breaking a tackle to make a first down."

What can you say about the play of Lyle McCombs?
"Sometimes I wish we could get (Lyle McCombs) a break every now and then because he's taking a lot of hits in there.  He's a tough guy.  What I love about him is that he's a little guy that can stay out there and loves to stay out there.  He's not looking over to the side saying, `get me a rest coach'.  He's a good back with good vision.  He can make you miss and is willing to block in pass protection.  I think that he's doing well."

#77 Kevin Friend, RS Sophomore, Offensive Tackle

How was the transition from position to position on the offensive line been for you this year?
"Going back to right tackle from the left side wasn't too bad.  Going to left guard was more difficult.  It's a whole different position.  It's different foot work and a different stance.  I think I did a good job preparing for the switch though."

How does playing guard change the way you pick up blitzes compared to playing tackle?
"You are in a totally different position on the line.  You have to be ready for different types of rushes.  You have to train your eyes to see the different blitzes from the inside when you are at guard."

You were a big time wrestler in high school, how did that help you on the offensive line?
"Wrestling is all about hand-eye coordination.  In wrestling, it's all about who's quickest at getting their hands on the opponent.  I see D-ends rush at me and shoot their hands out and I know how to handle them right away.  I know how to hold them back and get leverage.  That's what the offensive line is all about."

#6 Kashif Moore, RS Senior, Wide Receiver

Last year against Pittsburgh was quite the game right?
"Yeah last year was a big game.  It must have been real exciting for the fans.  It was real close.  I like those exciting games too."

How did the USF game set you up for this week?
"That win gave us some momentum coming into a big road game at Pitt.  We can go on the road now with some good feelings.  This should be a loud crowd, lots of fans.  It's a big game."

What challenges does Pittsburgh present?
"They have some pretty athletic defensive backs.  Pitts has a solid D-line.  I feel like they always have that good defensive line.  They pride themselves on that.  They really get after it on defense."

How has the offense been coming along now?
"We've been working real hard at practice.  We are comfortable now with Johnny and Lyle back there.  Now, we can stay together as a unit each week and just get to work."

The team has finished strong in the league the past few years, why is that? Is it preparation or conditioning?
"I think it's all about the mentality of the coaches.  They make sure we finish everything strong.  It's a little bit of both though. We work real hard, so we are always ready to go out there."

#18 Johnny McEntee, RS Junior, Quarterback

What is the offense doing differently in practice this week to try to get more production?
"Last week, USF did some things I don't think we were ready for.  They had some packages we didn't expect.  We need to be prepared to pick up the blitzes this week against Pitt, wherever they come from."

You didn't get an offensive touchdown and you were hit hard all game, you still won though.  What does that say?
"It was definitely a confidence booster.  The defense made it real easy for the offense. We had great position.  We just had to manage the game and not turn it over.  It gave us some confidence to win those types of games."

You don't want to look ahead, but after this game, you have three at home.
"Yeah I mean, we are completely focused on Pittsburgh.  But really, winning this game would get us rolling to keep it going at home.  We win this one and then can get a winning streak going.  It's a really big game."

You were hit hard during the USF game.  What do you do during the game to try and solve those problems?
"We meet as a unit after every series on the sidelines with the coaching staff.  We try to make the adjustments during the game and move some guys around to have better protection.  We have to deal with the pressure though and still perform.  Last week, we moved some of the backs around to pick up extra guys that offensive line couldn't get to."

#69 Steve Greene, RS Sophomore, Offensive Lineman

On cohesiveness of offensive line:
"We are comfortable together, the five of us.  It all comes down to communication and making sure that every one is on the same page every play."

On team's confidence after the USF win:
"I feel very confident.  USF was a big win for us.  That's a good win.  To be able to get that win was huge."

#33 Yawin Smallwood, RS Freshman, Linebacker

On middle linebackers responsibility in the team's system:
"You just have to make sure to do your job.  Don't try to do the job of the `Will' or `Sam' linebacker.  You've got to punch your gap and get the linemen off of you."

What has been the most difficult part of the position?
"I felt the game speed was the biggest challenge at first.  Once I got to college there were a lot bigger guys so you get tired.  The plays are so quick you've got to get the calls in and get the signals down.  That was pretty tough for a while.  My coaches have been doing a great job going over it with me in practice and I've gotten the hang of it."