UConn's improved offensive line opening eyes, holes
Storrs — In a season of frequent changes, they've remained a constant.
The same five Huskies — redshirt junior Matt Peart and sophomore Ryan Van Demark at tackle, redshirt sophomores Cam DeGeorge and Nino Leone at guard and redshirt senior Ryan Crozier at center — have started all seven games on the offensive line. It's a noteworthy accomplishment when you consider only two other teammates can claim that starting streak this season.
What has changed for them in recent weeks, for the better, is their mentality.
They've finally embraced the physical mindset that coach Randy Edsall has been preaching to them.
The result was UConn rushing for a season-high 322 yards in 38-30 loss at nationally ranked South Florida on Saturday night in Tampa.
"That was the best game from an offensive line standpoint, where we came off the ball and were more physical than we had been," Edsall said Tuesday. "We had guys working double teams and getting to the next level and really executing the things that we needed to get done. Now we've got to continue.
"I thought Matt Peart played his best game. ... And we need him to just keep getting better and better and Ryan Crozier and all those guys. Now we've just got to get them to continue to do that week in and week out. And you do it because you do it in practice."
So what was the difference from the offensive line's point of view?
"Just the mentality that we've got to dominate the line of scrimmage every single play," Peart said. "We just have to come out and say that I'm going to physically dominate the guy across from me. You pretty much win games by rushing the ball, so we focused on that and really came out with a physical attitude last week."
With big holes consistently open in front of them, senior quarterback David Pindell, healthier than he's been in weeks, and sophomore running back Kevin Mensah both busted over the 100-yard mark and scored two touchdowns apiece. Pindell broke through with a career-best 197 yards and Mensah fought his way to 120 yards.
It is the second time this season that UConn has had both players break the 100-yard barrier, making the Huskies one of eight FBS programs to accomplish that feat in multiple games this season.
Mensah gave credit to the improved offensive line.
"They've always been good," Mensah said. "It's just we've been facing hard teams and we're young. But now they're starting to realize what they can do and they're starting to be more aggressive. They've always been aggressive, but now they're starting to put it together. You can see the holes opening and everything."
The bye week prior to the South Florida game helped the Huskies regroup. The offensive linemen talked as a group and renewed their commitment and focus.
They followed offensive line coach Frank Giufre's advice to give themselves a grade for each performance and look for ways to improve.
"Guys really took it upon themselves to really do that and find little tweaks here and there that we need to work on," Peart said. "We came back last week and we were ready to fly off the ball. We got closer together over the bye week. We met up when we could. We lifted together and kind of got back to that brotherhood."
The brotherhood showed during one particular play on Saturday. When Pindell took a hard hit from a South Florida player who was flagged for a penalty, his offensive linemen rushed to his defense and voiced their displeasure.
"We're the biggest guys on the field and our job is to protect the quarterback and anyone in the backfield," Peart said. "When our quarterback gets hit like that, of course, it's on us to go there and protect him."
The sign of team unity pleased Edsall.
"I thought that was great," Edsall said. "I thought they did a good job of doing what they needed to do but showing restraint. ... I was kind of proud of that. That showed me something. As a coach, you're always looking for those little signs."
UConn (1-6) will play its first home game in about a month Saturday, hosting UMass (2-6) in a nonconference contest at noon at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
News and notes
• Backup quarterback Marvin Washington, who wasn't allowed to travel with the Huskies last weekend due to disciplinary reasons, practiced on Tuesday. "As of today, he will," Edsall said when asked if Washington would be in uniform on Saturday. ... Wide receiver Quayvon Skanes will be out for about three weeks with a shoulder injury. ... Each Husky is assigned an ideal weight that they should play at. Weigh-ins happen on Friday and Sunday. "It's taken 18 months to get it right, because on Sunday when they all weighed in it was the first time that we've ever had nobody that was overweight," Edsall said.