Nov. 27, 2012
STORRS, Conn. - The University of Connecticut football team looks to remain in the running for bowl eligibility when it hosts Cincinnati at 3:30 on Saturday. The game will be broadcast regionally on ABC and can be heard on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network at 1080 WTIC-AM.
The Huskies are 5-6 on the season, having beaten No. 19 Louisville on the road, 23-20, in triple overtime, and 2-4 in the BIG EAST. The Bearcats enter at 8-3 overall and 4-2 in the league, following its win over USF at home last Friday.
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Head coach Paul Pasqualoni held his weekly press conference Monday morning. Below are quotes from coach Pasqualoni and select student-athletes.
Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni
"Chandler Whitmer is doing pretty good. We're going to limit his work today. He's being evaluated each day and we're certainly optimistic. As we work through the week, Chandler will be day-to-day. Obviously, this is a very tough team we're facing here; Cincinnati. They're a very physical team. Up front on defense, their defensive line plays very physical. They play a lot like we do up front. Their secondary plays well; the guys up front have accumulated a lot of sacks. They don't give up a lot of points. They give up about 17 points a game, which is a big statistic. From an offensive standpoint, they're averaging 30 points per game. They run the ball extremely well. [George] Winn; we've seen a lot of good backs this year; this is probably the best back we'll see this year. He's very dynamic; he's tough; he's god great speed and he's got great vision and makes cuts. Obviously, they've switched quarterbacks and they've got Brendon Kay in there. He's played pretty solid football. He's a big strong guy; has got a good arm and is very dangerous running the ball."
What kind of changes has Cincinnati made from Munchie Legaux at QB to Brendon Kay?
"They're running the same offense that revolves around getting the ball to Winn; getting the ball to the athletic receivers that they have. Kay can do all of those things. Kay is the guy that they're playing right now, so we've got to be ready for everything."
How are you splitting the QB reps in practice this week?
"We're going to cut Chandler's [reps] down today. As we start today, Johnny [McEntee] will get reps and of course Scott [McCummings] will get reps. Those guys will be working today."
When do you plan to make a decision on who will start?
"As we go through the week, we've got plenty of time. Chandler has been through all of this stuff over-and-over again. We're just going to work through it, see how it goes and we'll make a decision as we work through the week."
How do you feel McEntee handled coming off the bench?
"I thought [both quarterbacks] could have played a little better to be honest with you. Johnny new his stuff and played well. He has handled everything terrifically. Johnny is a team guy and is interested in doing whatever is in the best interest of the team."
What will you miss most about this senior class?
"This team is resilient. This group of seniors is tough; they persevere; they keep coming back. There is excellent leadership in the group. Guys like Ryan Wirth, when this is over, I'll miss because of their toughness."
How crucial was it for the senior class to buy into this team's system?
"This group has been a terrific group; they're as cooperative as they could possibly be. They've bought in since the first day; they work hard, regardless of the circumstances. They're doing it off the field; in the classroom. They work hard every day, from the time they get up."
What have been the key factors to the improvement in the run-game?
"It's both [the blocking and Lyle McCombs]. I would say this; it may have been more of Lyle running hard last week. He was really getting some yards at times that were tough to get. Having said that; the tight ends have been really consistent with their blocking. The offensive line is getting better and better at what they're doing. I think it's a product of both. Two games ago, against Pittsburgh, it might have more the offensive line."
How well has Blidi Wreh-Wilson played this season and last Saturday?
"He's played at a very high consistent level. He is a very dependable corner, which is a pre-requisite for the position. Let's face it, the corner is one-on-one out there a lot of times. He's played at a high level and made that play at the end to win the game [at Louisville]; gave us a chance to kick the field goal. He's really played well."
Redshirt-Senior DT Ryan Wirth
How pumped are you for Saturday?
"Oh I'm pumped. I'm excited beyond words. Nothing would make me happier than to go out there and kick some butt and have one more game."
Your dad was a Division III college player that inspired you to get into football. How emotional will Saturday's game be for you and your family?
"It'll be emotional for both of us. From the beginning I wanted to play this game to make him proud. Even before I knew how much I loved It, I did it for him. As I played, I began to love it. I think the love of the game for both of us will be something special. Hopefully down the line another little one will be able to watch and play. It'll be cool. It's always great to have him there. For this last game, it's even more special to have my whole family there. I want to win this game in front of all of them and go out on a good note."
Outside of you guys and this team, nobody thought this was going to happen. How have you put yourselves in this position to make a bowl?
"I let everybody know that they did a good job staying within the team and believing in each other. Knowing that we have each other's backs and knowing that all that matters is what we do inside this (practice) facility. We responded well. We kept practicing. We kept fighting. Good things happened because of that."
What are you going to miss most here?
"I'm going to miss all the guys. I'm going to miss the structure. You begin to love the structure. You do this for five years and being told where to go isn't such a bad thing. It really helps you with your life. I'm going to miss coach Pasqualoni. I couldn't say anything more about him and coach Hughes. Where they've taken my game and where they've taken me as a man. I give a lot of the credit to them. I'll be a Pasqualoni supporter for the next 10 years. He's a great guy, a great coach and a real man. He really is."
What would you say to the fans before this last home game at Rentschler?
"I appreciate your support. I appreciate you coming out to support us. Come out on Saturday. We're going to give you one last big game at the Rent before we go onto our bowl game. It's going to be entertaining.
Redshirt-Senior WR Nick Williams
How much of a validation for this program is it to be in the position you are in now, one win and you go to a bowl game?
"I think it's a big deal. We'd rather be 12-0 than 6-6 but coming from where we were being 3-6, now we're 5-6 and have an opportunity to go 6-6 and become bowl eligible. I think that's a testament to the team and our toughness. It's very easy to throw in the towel when you're 3-6 and you've three of the best teams in the league coming in. You would have gone home early for Christmas and everybody's frustrated, but for us to stick with it and beat two of the better teams in the league and have the opportunity to win our last game at home on senior day, I'm proud to be part of that."
If you don't win Saturday then the two games you just won aren't really important. How much pressure are you putting on yourself with how big this game is for the team?
"Even if we don't win Saturday, the two games we've won would still be important because we did everything up until that point that we had to do with our backs against the wall in basically a lose or go home situation. We did win. We beat Louisville at Louisville. That's something we can be proud of. It would be a let down for us to turn it around the way we did and get that far and not be bowl eligible. We're going to do everything we can to prepare and get ready for this week. We have a great team in Cincinnati coming in here this week. They are 8-3. Always one of the better teams in the league. Our hands are full. We're looking forward to the opportunity."
How did you avoid that situation of just packing it in, what did you do to keep it all together?
"I think it was just the culture of our team. We've lost some tight games. Three plays here and there and it goes the other way. We lost in overtime. We lost 10-7. I think we lost a few games that were very winnable games. We knew that and didn't doubt our ability. We doubted our execution a few times earlier in the year. The seniors and coaches and culture of the team is to keep working hard. We just kept showing up on Saturday and playing hard and hoped that the results would show in our favor and it has the last couple of games."
"There was no Friday Night Lights type moment that went on. People on the outside world think that happens, but none of that. I wish I could tell you that there was."
On the leadership of the seniors:
"I think the older guys on the team are usually the ones playing. In practice, they set the tone on how hard everybody's going. They set the tone in meetings with body language and how much film you are watching and just your overall approach. A good team prides itself on not changing the approach whether you are winning or losing. The process stays the same. We were true to that even though we were 3-6 at the time. We came to work, we showed up to practice and to the meetings. The last two games have gone our way. Now we put ourselves in position to go to a bowl game with a win."