Run game woes: Tuesday presser

Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni looks on during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland in College Park, Md., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. Connecticut won 24-21. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

John F. Silver

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni isn’t about to abandon the run game, the offensive scheme, or any of his offensive players.

The Huskies are 3-3, 0-1 in the conference and face Temple on Saturday. At the halfway point of the season the Huskies have made one change on the offensive line, the insertion of Tyler Bullock as a starter.  Any thoughts of a radical change in offense or personnel isn’t going to happen with Pasqualoni and the Huskies. The top players are playing, the goal this week heading into Temple is to have them play better.

The Huskies running game is ranked 112 in the nation. It’s offense is ranked 110th. The turnover margin, after a -3 against Rutgers, is ranked in a 6-way tie for 109th in the nation. The offense isn’t good, hasn’t been good, but Pasqualoni and Co.  are not talking like any dramatic changes are coming with scheme or personnel.

Here’s Pasqualoni on the offense and what ails it.  He isn’t laying it all on the offensive line.

 “We are working really hard at the run game. Sometimes, when you look at big picture and start to do the statistical thing, there are more people involved than the offensive line. It’s tight ends, it’s fullbacks, wide receivers making the blocks on support guys safeties and corners.  I think it would be unfair to say that it is the whole issue of us not as running  well as on the offensive line.”

“We have a first year player at the center position — starting Tyler Bullock now — Jimmy Bennett(left tackle)  is back and has half the season under his belt. He hasn’t played in a while and he is getting  better.  (Backup guard) Gus Cruz is getting in and out of there, it’s a work in progress, I like the way they are working and their attitude is good.”

” I am optimistic each week that we are going to go out there and run the ball and we are going to run it well. We are doing game plan now and we will give our best effort.”
On the problems in the run game:
“I understand it,” Pasqualoni said. “My point to you guys (media), in no way am I discouraged by it. We got three guys that we are playing who didn’t play last year much, and we are seeing very good teams. Just last week, the team we played last week (Rutgers) so happens to be a very good team. I wished we beat a couple of things and beat them off the ball more. We will go back out and start things this week. I am optimistic that we can be a team that can run the ball. I am going to keep going with it. I understand where we are, certainly.”
For all the talk about the play-calling, scheming and talent surrounding the Huskies, the problem lies in the lack of a running game, which the offensive linemen said to man was execution. I touched on it in my Monday column at the JI — Nowhere to run — , but if UConn can’t get that running game going it’s not going to turn around. I went through the stats on Sunday and on 18 first down plays through three quarters —  excluding a 15-yard roughing penalty —  the Huskies gained 19 yards.You want to see how difficult it is to play a football game second and long all day?
“That’s tough. You would like to be ahead of the chains and with third and shorts and second and shorts and then you get some momentum,” quarterback Chandler Whitmer said.  “Third and long, (the defense) knows you are passing, the line has to pass block, and the rush is coming and there are a lot of things that go with that.”
That’s what happened to UConn last Saturday, and it’s been the problem of the season. UConn cant run or gain yards on the ground in first down. That’s what the program was built on, and, it remains difficult to fathom. They ran it last year well enough and lost long-time starers Mo Petrus at center and Mike Ryan at left tackle. The line has never clicked this year.
UConn isn’t going to radically change anything right now. It’s stay the course, and play better.
“The coaches are way smarter than us and know what they are doing,” Whitmer said. “We have to go out on the field and make the plays and do it to the best of our abilities. “
Here’s running back Lyle McCombs on being 3-3.
“You just have to stay positive. It’s a test of our character at this point,” McCombs said. “We don’t give up. We’re gonna keep pushing through it, keep pushing through it, and see where it gets us in the end.”

There are not a lot of options for Pasqualoni. Bullock replaces Mateas at center, but that was just housekeeping as he has already made two starts. After the top 7 lineman, there doesn’t seem to be a legitimate option and I am not sure changing any of the skill position players would help.  They need to block and play clean on offense. That’s what UConn needs more than anything.

  “It’s a roller coaster,” defensive back Blidi Wreh-Wilson said.  We need to have a game where all three phases click collectively. We need to go out there an have a game where we execute well.  We know what we are capable of doing. We need to take a game to another level. When we do things at a high level, we are a very good football team.”

The Huskies have talked a lot about winnable games. UConn could be 6-0 with better play and a few breaks. But, they aren’t they are 3-3 and have to live in reality.
“We have to have a sound game and when a chance comes to make a play, make it,” Wreh-Wilson said. “We can’t keep on doing the ‘what if?’ What if we would have beat NC State? What if we would have beat (Rutgers)?. We can’t keep doing that. We have to eliminate that.”
The Huskies don’t want to have a ‘What if?” on Saturday. They want something else that starts with a W — win.
Here are some news and notes from Tuesday’s press conference.
* Pasqualoni talked a bit about the early days of his head coaching career when Temple coach Steve Addazio was on his staff at Temple. Pasqualoni was head coach at Western Connecticut and Addazio, an assistant. Addazio, of course, went on to become one of the top high school coaches in the Northeast when he led Cheshire to record wins i from 1988-94 and had a string of 34 straight wins. Addazio was an assistant under Pasqualoni again in Syracuse before he went on to Notre Dame and Indiana before he became Urban Meyer’s right hand man at Florida. Addazio is a Farmington native and graduated from Central Connecticut State University in New Britain where he played on the offensive line.
“We had a bunch of young coaches there. We had great guys,” Pasqualoni said of his Western years. ” Steven was there, Frank Leonard (Temple assistant) was there…We had a lot of guys. We did everything ourselves, the whole deal. It was a great way to develop, to learn and appreciate.  All the guys there appreciate being in I-A football right now. They don’t have to water grass, paint fields and do the laundry and pass out the towels. They don’t have to do the things you have to do in a small college atmosphere.”
* Whitmer talked a bit about his interceptions. He has 4 TDs, 10 INTs and while some are desperation throws, he doesn’t like to see the number. It hurts.  He watched all the gory details of Saturday’s 19-3 loss to Rutgers on the bus ride home.
“You have to swallow your pride,” Whitmer said. “In sports, you are going to make mistakes. You have to man up and accept those mistakes and try not and make them again. That’s the only way you can improve.”

“All of (the interceptions) bother me. I wanna pride myself on taking care of the football and all the picks and you are not taking care of the football. The last one is throwing it up there at the end of the game, but it is still an interception. There are still bad decisions I had and not force things and try to make plays that are not there.”
So what happened on the first interception, a key play that led to Rutgers’ first three points?
“I was late,” Whitmer said. “I looked out to Griff (tight end Ryan Griffin), they took Griff away, I could have hit it in the honey hole but the corner got depth because there was no flat control and I forced it. That was one of my worst decisions of the day. And, I wasn’t happy with that.”
* The move of Bullock to center isn’t a big surprise. This wil be his third start of the season and a mere formality on the depth chart, that has a penchant of being not accurate.  Here’s Pasqualoni on the Bullock.
” Last spring and last year we thought(Bullock) would have the skill set for center. He’s a stout guy in there; He snaps the ball and is pretty quick,” Pasqualoni said. “He’s a pretty good communicator. He sees things pretty good. He’s developing in there and I am pleased with the progress he’s playing. That’s why he has moved up and playing.”
That’s it for now. Gotta pay the bills.