Nov. 29, 2012
When University of Connecticut football coach Paul Pasqualoni talks about this year's senior class he usually starts with the words tough and resilient.
This season the Huskies have embodied those characteristics and on Saturday against Cincinnati they will have an opportunity to send Connecticut's seniors off on a high note. Kickoff is set for 3:30 at Rentschler Field and the game can be seen regionally on ABC and heard on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network.
A win against the Bearcats will make UConn bowl-eligible, something that seemed unlikely a few weeks ago when Connecticut sat at 3-6 with remaining games against the best teams in the BIG EAST.
Led by the seniors, the Huskies have stayed the course this season despite losing four games in a row, and after their overtime upset win last week over No.20 Louisville, Connecticut has a lot to play for Saturday.
"There are guys in this group that I'll miss because of their toughness," Pasqualoni said. "As a coach when you respect players and their toughness that's something that's earned and something that's really special."
Saturday's game will feature Connecticut's top BIG EAST rushing defense against a Bearcats team that averages 211.4 yards on the ground a game. Cincinnati possesses an athletic offensive line and a versatile running back in senior George Winn, who will be a good challenge for UConn's physical defensive front.
"He's very dynamic and he has great speed," Pasqualoni said. "He also has great vision and can find seams in the defense."
Connecticut has already faced formidable running backs this season and that's something redshirt senior linebacker Jory Johnson said will help the Huskies Saturday.
"It's going to be a good challenge but we've seen great rushing offenses all season," Johnson said. "Their back gets downhill really fast but if we play sound like we have all season I think we'll be fine."
Johnson has seen the highs and the lows of Connecticut football the past few seasons and he knows what it takes to be successful. While this season hasn't been perfect, Johnson says it's important for everyone to not get down.
"We've gone through a lot in our career," Johnson said. "The seniors have seen the good and the bad so they can tell the young guys that good things can happen if you keep working."
The Huskies may be without quarterback Chandler Whitmer Saturday, as the redshirt sophomore is still dealing with an injury after being knocked out of the game against Louisville. If Whitmer can't go, redshirt senior quarterback Johnny McEntee will take over an offense that has scored at least 20 points the last two games after failing to do so in any of the previous four games.
Redshirt senior tight end Ryan Griffin has been a big reason for Connecticut's recent offensive success and says he looks forward to the opportunity to end the season on a positive note.
Griffin saw UConn's bowl chances slip away last year after losing their final game to Cincinnati 35-27, and he knows the Huskies are going to do everything they can to win Saturday.
"As a football player you need to keep going till the last whistle and that's what we're going to do," Griffin said.