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Piscataway, N.J. - Chandler Whitmer is as frustrated as all the followers of UConn football. The sophomore quarterback knows all the work his teammates have put in to improve the offense, especially the running game.
It just didn't look like anything was improving on Saturday when the Huskies ran into 22nd-ranked Rutgers and absorbed a 19-3 setback in their Big East opener.
"That's the most disappointing thing," said Whitmer, who passed for 191 yards but was picked off four times. "We have things we have to execute better. Everyone knows coach (Paul) Pasqualoni's mentality, and he continues that through us and the way we work all week. It's tough when you don't see it pay off. There are a lot of mental things that go into it and you just have to execute it on the field."
The focus has been to improve the running game, but it was tougher early on when Whitmer and his teammates began the game without top running back Lyle McCombs, who sat for the first quarter for breaking team rules earlier in the week. Playing against a Rutgers team that leads the nation in rush defense, UConn wound up with 53 yards on 28 attempts, led by McCombs with 32 yards on 12 attempts. He came in averaging 90.4 yards per game.
Despite all its offensive woes, which included five turnovers, the Huskies might have pulled off the upset if it had taken advantage of its opportunities.
"It was another winnnable game," Pasqualoni said. "We're not taking advantage of our scoring opportunities. When we get them, we need to cash in."
Shamar Stephen blocked a Rutgers field goal attempt in the second quarter, which led to the Huskies only points, a 19-yard field goal by Chad Christen. It was the first blocked field goal by UConn since 2004.
The Scarlet Knights (5-0, 2-0 Big East) are off to their best start since 2006, and they avenged a bitter loss to the Huskies that ended last regular season and kept Rutgers from sharing the conference title.
Jawan Jamison ran it 28 times and recorded his sixth straight 100-yard game and Gary Nova hooked up with Mark Harrison on a 14-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
Warren put it away with 3:44 left in the fourth when he grabbed a pass down the middle from Chandler Whitmer, and then darted through would-be-tacklers toward the end zone.
"I used to be a quarterback in high school," Warren said. "My offensive instinct kicked in. I caught the ball and I was just, "Fine a hole, find a hole, make a play. I was really good at it in high school so I guess it paid off for me today."
Warren pushed across the goal line with some help from his teammates.
"When you can make teams one dimensional, that's what happens," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "It's like an avalanche."
UConn benched McCombs for the first quarter after he was arrested and charged with second-degree breaching the peace on Friday.
He finished with 32 yards on 12 carries and the Huskies (3-3, 0-1) were held to their worst scoring output since getting shut out by Louisville in the middle of the 2010 season.
"We had a hard time stopping their slotting and angling up front," Pasqualoni said. "Had a hard time finishing our blocks. We have to be able to run the ball better, more efficiently."
McCombs is accused of yelling, pushing and spitting at his girlfriend during an argument outside a dorm in Storrs, Conn
"I just got put in a bad situation," McCombs said. "I could have handled it better, but it is what it is. I apologized for my mistake.
"As far as football goes, I think I'm good. I just have a few things to take care of and it will be wiped away," he said.
Rutgers has won six of the last eight meetings, but lost last year's game 40-22.
"Last year we got blindsided," defensive tackle Scott Vallone, who anchored a defense that held UConn to 53 yards rushing, and 244 yards total.
Linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais were all over UConn's runners, and the Huskies couldn't keep Rutgers blitzes from forcing Whitmer to hurry his throws. Greene also had an interception late in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers chipped away offensively with Jamison running tough against a defense that had only been allowing 74 yards per game on the ground. Nova rarely went downfield but finished 18 for 27 for 157 yards.
The Scarlet Knights' first drive of the second half was the best of the game for either team, an 84-yarder on nine plays, highlighted by Jamison's 28-yard run and capped when Harrison slipped a couple of tacklers and reached into the end zone with 9:09 left to make it 13-3.
Rutgers turned two first-quarter turnovers by UConn into two field goals by Kyle Federico in a span of 3:15.
UConn put together one solid drive in the first half, going 43 yards on 10 plays behind the running of McCombs and backup quarterback Scott McCummings. The drive stalled inside the 5 and Chad Christen kicked a 19-yard field goal to make it 6-3.
"We have to do a better job of capitalizing," McCombs said. "It's nothing they did it's what we did. We didn't get it done."