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UConn football still a work in progress heading into Memphis game

UConn is making steady progress.

Signs of growth can be seen on game day and in practice, but not always in results.

"Each week, we've improved," quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said.

The Huskies are still searching for consistency in all areas.

After suffering through six straight losing seasons, they're also still learning what it takes to win.

"We've got to teach them how to win, because they don't how to win and they haven't won," coach Randy Edsall said. "We have to learn how to win and we have to earn the wins. That's as big a part as anything.

"As I watch the film each week, I see improvement. But we're playing some pretty good teams and we're going to continue to play some pretty good teams the rest of the year. And so if we want to win, we've got to be a lot more consistent than what we have been."

The Huskies (1-3, 0-2) are not far from having a winning record at this point.

Last week, they were on the verge of a positive result on the road at SMU but made costly mistakes after tying the score at 28-all early in the fourth quarter and lost 49-28.

Then, against East Carolina on Oct. 6, a late missed field goal prevented UConn from extending the game in a 41-38 loss.

Next up: Memphis, which visits Rentschler Field on Friday (7 p.m., ESPN) in an American Athletic Conference game.

The Huskies have hurdles to clear to be successful.

It's frustrating," Shirreffs said. "There's nothing I hate more than losing, so it's tough to look retrospectively at games continuously. But look at the (SMU) game, we've just got to finish. Tied at 28 with a lot of momentum and you've just got to evaluate where that turns and how we can get over that psychological block of finishing.

"... This Friday night, we've just got to finish and we've got to start faster. And when we have the opportunity to make a play maybe to change the swing of momentum or to even get ahead and keep the ball rolling, we need to make that play."

The Huskies are looking to end a seven-game losing streak in conference play. To do so, they'll need to break the troubling pattern of falling into too big of a hole to climb out of in the second half. They've been outscored in the first half 92-31.

They believe they're one breakthrough performance away from turning it around.

"We're right there," senior Brice McAllister said. "Last week we didn't finish like we wanted to, but we're right there. We're definitely going to get one soon."

That won't be easy to do against Memphis (3-1, 0-1).

The preseason pick to win the American Athletic Conference West Division, the Tigers are a tough opponent. One of their wins came against then-No. 25 UCLA (48-45) behind quarterback Riley Ferguson who threw for 398 yards and six touchdowns.

They're coming off a 40-13 loss to Central Florida. It was the first time this season they've been held under 37 points in a game.

Limiting turnovers will be even more important than usual for UConn given opportunistic Memphis already has nine takeaways this season, ranking in the top 30 nationally. Special teams will be put to the test, too, trying to contain redshirt sophomore Tony Pollard who's returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and averages 39.9 yards per return.

"We're going to have our hands full," Edsall said. "Hopefully, we can go out and execute and play better this week and earn ourselves a win."

Tonight's game also is another chance for some young Huskies to have a growth spurt.

Some struggles this season are due to relying on inexperienced players on both sides of the ball.

Communication, which has been a big issue, is improving, according to Edsall.

"We don't have a lot of margin for error so we've got to be sharp and we've got to be exact with what we do," Edsall said. "We're getting much better at that but we still have a lot of work to do.

"... Again, that's who we are. We'll deal with it and we'll continue to get better. The one thing is they're working hard and they're taking to the coaching."

g.keefe@theday.com

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