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UConn football notes: Williams remains a big-play threat

Storrs — Big plays have been few and far between for the UConn football team this season.

Since he first stepped foot on campus, Paul Pasqualoni has tried to find ways to get Nick Williams onto the field in an effort to get the nation's leading kick returner from a season ago the ball, and more opportunities to make big plays.

In Saturday's 17-3 win over Buffalo, Williams provided the team with a pair of big plays, a 64-yard catch and run that set up the Huskies' first touchdown just before the half, and a 49-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

"A couple of years ago, the demographics of football changed," Pasqualoni said. "When you really look at it, the average (yards) per completion went down and the percentage of completion went up. I credit that to Wes Welker when he went up to New England. All of a sudden, these short passes in the slot, they were en vogue. Now it seems like there's hope and opportunity for the Nick Williams' of the world."

Williams is a 5-foot-10-inch, 185-pound Welker clone from New Jersey who has established himself as a big-play guy for UConn, something its offense desperately needs.

"They're not the biggest guys. They're pretty feisty, they change direction real good, they catch the ball and they make plays," Pasqualoni said of Williams and his ilk. "They have better play speed than they have 40-yard dash speed. You get them out on the field, and they do what Nick did."

Wreh-Wilson out

Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson has a sprained MCL and will not play against Western Michigan on Saturday. He's likely out at least a couple of weeks, and Gary Wilburn will start in his place.

Wreh-Wilson is a redshirt junior captain who is third on the team with 24 tackles. Wilburn, a fifth-year senior, started two games last season.

"Gary is one of the best athletes we have on the team," Pasqualoni said of the 5-foot-11, 197-pound Wilburn. "I'm not sure Gary couldn't play offense and defense. This is an opportunity for him to step up."

Wreh-Wilson injured his knee late in the first half against Buffalo after running into teammate Ty-Meer Brown trying to break up a long pass play.

"I think I bring another dimension of athleticism," Wilburn said. "After I got my feet wet, I played a little better. Preparation is the most important aspect of the game for me this week."

Shoemate still healing

Senior running back D.J. Shoemate didn't get a single carry against Buffalo, although he did have a key third-down catch on UConn's final touchdown drive. He has just eight carries this season, all coming in the loss to Iowa State, a game in which he also lost a key fumble.

"He's still in the process of getting 100 percent healthy," Pasqualoni said.

Lyle McCombs ran for 61 yards against Buffalo, but it took him 30 carries to get it.

Redshirt sophomore running back Martin Hyppolite has also been cleared to play after missing the first four games with a knee injury.

o.poole@theday.com

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