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UConn defense a concern heading into AAC football opener

Fixing the defense wasn't high on the list of major repairs while preparing for the football season.

Sure, UConn needed some work, but not a complete overhaul like its sputtering offense required. The Huskies finished right in the middle of the American Athletic Conference pack in scoring defense and ranked fifth in total defense last season.

With an experienced line and veteran linebacker group back, the Huskies figured to be at the very least respectable in that department.

Two games into the regular season, UConn is struggling to stop opponents is it prepares to host East Carolina on Sunday (noon, ESPNU) in its American Athletic Conference opener at Rentscher Field.

The Huskies (1-1) turned in a dreadful defensive performance in last Saturday's 38-18 loss at Virginia. It's clear that they're still adjusting to a new 3-3-5 alignment under defensive coordinator Billy Crocker.

They talked about playing an aggressive style but only have three tackles for loss so far.

They had trouble getting off the field on third down as Virginia converted first downs on seven of 12 attempts. Communication breakdowns led to big plays — three passing touchdowns went for 30 yards or more. They allowed a whopping 626 yards overall.

UConn ranks last in the country in passing defense (406.5 yards per game) and 124th out of 129 FBS teams in total defense (536.5 ypg). An unproven secondary has continually been exposed.

Coach Randy Edsall blames some defensive issues on lack of communication.

"The biggest thing is you've got to communicate, you've got to run to the ball and you've got to know what you're doing," Edsall said. "The first drive last week we blew the same coverage three times on all conversion downs. If we would have just done what we were supposed to do, we would have been off the field."

"Guys have got to communicate and then guys have just got to put their eyes where they belong and just worry about doing your job. That's basically all it is.

"I don't think we've asked guys to do too much. It's just guys have got to really zero in on it. After two weeks and as we continue to go on, we're going to find out even more about guys strengths and weaknesses and what we can do to put them in the best position to be successful because that's our job."

Playing East Carolina could be a potential cure for UConn's ailments.

Few FBS teams have gotten off to a worst start on both sides of the football than the Pirates, who've had lopsided losses to James Madison, West Virginia and nationally-ranked Virginia Tech. They've been outscored 154-51 and allowed at least 600 yards in each game.

East Carolina has dropped seven straight dating back to last season. Their last win came against UConn, 41-3, on Oct. 29. The Huskies already were in a free fall, on their way to a 3-9 record.

"I didn't mention their record to them," Edsall said. "I don't ever mention that. The big thing is we've got to take care of ourselves."

The Huskies will be looking to break a five-game conference losing streak on Sunday. Giving an inspired defensive effort would be a good place to start.

Count on veteran team leader Junior Joseph to do his part. The fifth-year senior linebacker took his share of responsibility for UConn's disappointing defensive play.

"I've just got to get going," Joseph said. "I've just got to get going for my teammates. The first two games, I feel I let them down. The first game I couldn't control getting hurt. But the second game I definitely could have made more plays for my teammates."


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