Posted: 1:57 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, 2013
By Bryan M. Vance
Buffalo (1-2) retakes the field after a week off to host the UConn Huskies (0-3), formerly of the Big East. Both teams have struggled so far this season, but have, at times, shown hope as well. Statistically, both the Bulls and the Huskies are near the bottom of the FBS in several categories, including points scored. Rather than do a traditional game preview of two struggling teams, we turned to our friends over at the aptly named blog, The UConn Blog, to give us some info on the opposition. Andrew Callahan, one of The UConn Blog's editors was nice enough to answer our questions.
Hustle Belt:UConn is off to a rocky 0-3 start including a 33-18 loss to Towson. What's the state of the fan base right now, and what has been the Huskies biggest problem so far this season?
Andrew Callahan:The state of the fan base is actually up from that loss, given the team nearly knocked off Michigan with a rousing defensive performance. It's not good, but there are still faint signs of hope for the season. Meanwhile, the Huskies' biggest struggles have been offensive inconsistency across all fornts, but particularly the offensive line.
HB:Last week the Huskies played Michigan pretty tough, did they show signs of hope, or was it more of a case of UM making mistakes?
AC: It was a combination of both. Devin Gardner played his worst game as a Wolverine quarterback, but the Huskies defensive gameplan was very good. There were certainly signs of life, even from an injured inconsistent offense. Now, Buffalo becomes a big game because of the defense's demonstrated improvement and potential returns of wide receiver Shakim Phillips and right tackle Kevin Friend on the other side of the ball.
HB:Junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer has struggled somewhat in the first three games. What has been his biggest issue and what should Buffalo fans expect from him this week?
AC: Whitmer's biggest issue initially was pocket presence, as he took off too early from a lot of pockets. That's since been calmed down, and now its a matter of consistency with accuracy and getting rid of the ball quickly. He's a pocket passer with decent mobility, who can do damage to a defense when in rhythm. Whitmer doesn't have the strongest arm, but last game he dropped in a beautiful 40-yard throw to his second wide receiver Geremy Davis. His best throws often come on intermediate routes, particularly skinny posts.
HB:One of the Huskies biggest problems this season has been the lack of a running game. Has that been a case of facing some tough teams in the first three weeks, or are there deeper issues with UConn's offense?
AC: The fronts UConn has faced this year have all been very athletic, which I do think has given them some problems. But, the biggest issue has been syncing good runs with good blocks. For the most part, the Huskies haven't been getting enough push up front with their five, which is partly due to an injury to their best run blocker, Friend. Meanwhile, starting running back Lyle McCombs oddly struggled with his vision against Maryland, then wasn't provided enough room to run against Michigan. The running attack should improve, as the numbers right now are just ghastly, and team is working hard to get its ground game going.
HB:Besides Whitmer, who are some names to look out for this weekend on offense?
AC: Certainly McCombs and the wide receivers Phillips and Davis.
HB:What about on defense?
AC: Middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood (#33) will be a high NFL draft pick if he declares next year. Others to watch for are defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (#59), cornerback Byron Jones (#16) and safety Ty-Meer Brown (#15).
HB:Defensively the Huskies are allowing nearly 400 yards per game, and nearly 30 points per game. What has been the issue on defense, and what can Buffalo's offense expect to see on Saturday?
AC: The most glaring issue against Towson and Maryland was largely fixed against Michigan, and that was outside run contain. Meanwhile, the Huskies don't have many pass rushers who can consistently win one-on-one matchups and this has hurt them in their pass defense. Overall, you can expect a stout, attacking unit that's very strong up the middle and will alternate between 4-3 Over and 3-4 fronts (but with the same base 4-3 personnel in there). UConn's favorite coverage's thus far have been Cover 1 and Quarters. The Huskies will blitz on occasion and when they do, its usually been with star linebacker Smallwood.