Take the Connecticut Huskies and their last two games for example. UConn has been on the road the past two weeks. With just 223 yards total offense on Sept. 15, the Huskies won at Maryland 24-21. But last Saturday at Western Michigan, UConn rolled up 425 yards of offense – including an unexpected 333 through the air – and lost 30-24.
“I’ve been very frustrated [in the early season] with our offensive play because I know what we’re capable of and we shot ourselves in the foot multiple times, on multiple drives, and in multiple games,” senior wide receiver Nick Williams. “We probably put up 100 or 200 more yards in this game. In my mind, we could have been doing that the first three. It has been frustrating, but I think we had some positives we can build on from that [loss at Western Michigan].”
The UConn (2-2) offense remains a work in progress heading into Saturday’s game against Buffalo (1-2) at Rentschler Field (noon, SNY). But a 17-point second half last Saturday that gave the Huskies a chance to win the game after falling behind by 17 has given the Huskies some optimism.
Running back Lyle McCombs had his best day of the season with 119 yards rushing. Receiver Geremy Davis caught nine passes for 123 yards. And quarterback Chandler Whitmer, the focus of some frustration by UConn fans, was 28 of 44 for 333 yards and three passing touchdowns.
UConn’s challenge against an inferior Buffalo team will be to maintain that offensive progress. The improvement must continue because Big East play begins Oct. 6 at No. 23 Rutgers.
“It’s awfully important,” coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “Every week we’re striving to play a complimentary game; everybody doing their job, focused on their job. There would be nothing greater that we could do this week than to go out and play a real good team game; offense, defense, special teams against a team that is going to come in there and play awfully hard.”
Going into that Western Michigan game, Whitmer was one of two quarterbacks nationally in the Football Bowl Subdivision without a TD pass. Those good numbers could have been greater for Whitmer but he had at least two or three passes that were well thrown but not caught.
Whitmer was visibly excited when he connected with tight end Ryan Griffin for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 2:36 left in the first half. In some ways, that seemed to loosen up UConn’s offense.
“He was always capable of throwing a touchdown pass; but things happen,” Davis said.
Williams said the receivers already had confidence in Whitmer and that first TD didn’t change a thing. He pointed out Whitmer, a junior college transfer, still only has four games under his belt at the top level of college football.
“He’s maturing and he’s developing,” Williams said. “One day, he’s going to be a good quarterback – and he is right now. I think people are starting to see that. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. He’s very critical of himself, and very critical of the offense. That is just helping us get better.
“And he knows he can throw a touchdown pass every game. He’s done it his whole life. I just think it was a little weight off his shoulders.”
Whitmer keeps it all very low key.
“It’s exciting anytime you get a touchdown,” Whitmer said. “To finally get that first elusive touchdown pass, it was good. We just continue to execute each play and that’s what came as the result. It helps my confidence a little bit, but you just have to play each play.”??
Whitmer understands the difference between winning and losing – despite the yardage – involves the turnover battle “and that’s something we’ve got to continue to work on.” He threw an interception in the end zone and the game’s most important play in Kalamazoo was the strip sack and fumble that linebacker Desmond Bozeman ran back for a 53-yard touchdown.
The interception, on a pass intended for Williams, was a case of miscommunication that arose when WMU disguised its coverage. Whitmer threw the ball before Williams was expecting it. And the Huskies didn’t pick up a blitz on the fumble – as Whitmer was looking for a big pass play. Whitmer never saw it coming.
“It’s a devastating play because it’s a huge swing in points,” Whitmer said. “There’s a lot of things I’ve been trying to work on, including ball security. Some of that comes with looking off defenders and not necessarily letting them know where you are going with the ball. I just want to continue to improve on all those aspects.”