UConn football ready for furious finish

Storrs - The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the UConn football team.

Not only did the Huskies refresh themselves and start getting healthier heading into the season's final three-game stretch, the Big East standings only further clouded themselves, leaving UConn in a position - albeit a difficult one - to actually win the conference title.

While UConn rested last week, Cincinnati lost to West Virginia, Pittsburgh beat Louisville and South Florida beat Syracuse, leaving six of the eight teams within a game and a half of each other.

The Huskies (4-5, 2-2) have home games against Louisville (3-2 in the Big East) and Rutgers (3-2) before finishing up at current league leader Cincinnati (3-1). West Virginia and Pittsburgh are also 3-2 in the league.

Bottom line: If UConn wins its final three games it can do no worse than tie for the Big East title.

"I think the guys all know the conference standings without me saying it," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "Things couldn't have worked out any better for us in the league."

UConn began the season with a new coach, two new coordinators with new systems and a new quarterback. They lost their starting tailback (D.J. Shoemate) to a season-ending injury and had their season-opener pushed back two days because of a hurricane.

When the season began, they lost a starting cornerback (Blidi Wreh-Wilson) and left tackle (Jimmy Bennett), and had a 170-pound feature back (Lyle McCombs) in an offense that was shuffling three quarterbacks in and out.

Now, things have settled somewhat and they could conceivably win the Big East.

"We're still growing," defensive tackle Kendall Reyes said. "There are growing pains with a new system. That's with any program. We've gone through the pains, but we've also grown."

Pasqualoni said he used the bye week to work on some basics and fundamentals, while also stressing his players' academic responsibilities.

"The way we've been able to organize those days has worked out for us," he said. "This isn't like pro football where you go home and lay on the sofa or go shopping for the day. I think when you have these days at this level, there are a lot of things you can get done outside of football as well. I think we've used the days pretty well."

UConn is in the middle of a three-game homestand, and has won both of its league games at home.

"When we play at Rentschler, it feels like we have an extra guy on the field," Reyes said.

The Huskies seem to have put their early-season habit of losing fourth-quarter leads behind them.

"We lost some games by very few points," Pasqualoni said. "You'd love to have won those games. I think we've competed every week. We've gone out and fought hard. We've tried to get better and I think we have done those things. I'm not going to sit here today and evaluate the season. We'll get into that when the season's over. I just want to keep competing and getting better."

Injury update

Pasqualoni said a decision on Wreh-Wilson will be made later in the week, perhaps not before game time. Wreh-Wilson has missed the last five games with a knee injury and Pasqualoni has been cautious with amount of reps he has gotten in practice.

"It will be hard to make a decision until the end of the week," Pasqualoni said.

o.poole@theday.com

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