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UConn opens Big East season at West Virginia today

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni is fond of using the term "deep end of the pool" when talking about playing certain teams.

The Huskies are about to find themselves in the deepest waters of the year.

Awaiting UConn in its first Big East Conference game this season will be a hostile crowd in Morgantown as the Huskies take on No. 16 West Virginia (noon, SNY), a team whose only loss came at home to top-ranked LSU.

On top of that, the Mountaineers (4-1) will surely feel some extra motivation after losing to UConn for the first time in history last season, as the Huskies defeated West Virginia 16-13 in overtime, the first of five straight wins that propelled them to their second Big East title in four years and the first BCS bowl bid in program history.

"Without having to use a whole bunch of motivational tactics this week, our guys' game last year against UConn didn't turn out the way they wanted it to," first-year West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "(UConn) went to a BCS bowl. Our guys wanted that to happen last year and that will provide some motivation."

When UConn played the Mountaineers a year ago, it was a game under .500, coming off a disastrous loss to Louisville and trying to find out just what its identity was. This year, the Huskies (2-3) are in the same boat.

"We were in a very similar situation last year coming off Louisville," junior receiver/returner Nick Williams said. "Since we were in that situation, people around here aren't panicking, they aren't nervous."

The Mountaineers are arguably the most skilled offensive team UConn will face this season. Quarterback Geno Smith has thrown for 1,709 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions and is seventh in the nation in total offense. Freshman running back Dustin Garrison ran for 291 yards - the most by an FBS player in a single game this season - in a 55-10 win over Bowling Green last week.

Sitting at 2-3, UConn could easily be 5-0. Its offense has been surprisingly efficient, and its defense has been solid overall (30th in the country), although susceptible to the big play. The problem the Huskies have had is consistency. When the offense is good, the defense gives up too many big plays, and vice versa.

"Our record might not look like it, but I think we're a good team," said quarterback Johnny McEntee, who threw for a career-high 300 yards and four touchdowns in last week's loss to Western Michigan. "Nobody's giving up on the season."

Today's game also marks the start of UConn's toughest stretch of the season. After West Virginia, the Huskies host South Florida and then travel to Pittsburgh. Those three teams are a combined 11-4 and are generally considered the top three teams in the Big East.

"We've done some good things," Pasqualoni said. "We just have to do them in a more timely manner. We're capable of being a good team, we really are. It's on us to play better and execute. If we do those things, we're totally capable of winning any game we play."

UConn linebacker Sio Moore said part of UConn's problem has been trying to do too much.

"When you try to do too much, try and create plays and play out of your game, things happen, penalties, missed tackles, whatever it may be," he said. "I'm going to do anything I can to help this team win and make sure I do more of it this week."

o.poole@theday.com

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