Distance-wise, the toughest trip for UConn football in 2013 is far and away its 1,700-mile journey down to SMU in mid-November.
But, forgive the Huskies if this week’s 420-mile saunter to upstate New York proves to be their most trying, as from last Saturday to this one, they’ll essentially be forced to switch from playing the new Grand Theft Auto V to a scratched GTA 2 disc for Playtation 1.
Or perhaps, trade in their copy of Halo for a box of Scrabble that’s missing each and every vowel.
Maybe you could even say exchange a hearty, classic game of Oregon trail for an actual case of dysentery.
Ok, I jest.
But, regardless of your game/disease comparison, there’s an inevitable drop-off the team will be facing from taking on the Michigan Wolverines to the Buffalo Bulls. In addition, the Huskies will be leaving the amped atmosphere of Rentschler Field (did I just type that?) to play their first road game in the homey UB Stadium, whose seating capacity falls sort of 30,000. How would react? With those facts and that question in mind, here’s the rest of what you need to know right now about Buffalo week.
Hittin’ the Road
Falling right in line with his last few meetings with the press, head coach Paul Pasqualoni today acknowledged the youth of his current team; particularly given the injuries to veteran starters UConn has sustained, which have thrusted inexperienced players into first-team roles. However right now, it isn’t so much the lack of overall experience that’s concerning him, rather certain players' lack of familiarity with playing away from home.
"We have a lot of young players, quite a few first-year players, so I have a little concern for how we’ll travel, we’re going to talk about that."
Buffalo Bulls or Bills?
As expected for any college or NFL coach speaking to the media mid-week, Pasqualoni was effusive in his praise of the new, upcoming opponent. However, he seemed to take it to another level this week with Buffalo, especially their outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
"This guy, Khalil Mack, he's as good an outsider linebacker as there is…Period…..He's really, really good. Everyone struggles to block him," he said.
Mack currently owns 23 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception over his 2013 campaign, which combined with an impressive junior year has NFL draft experts projecting him to become a first-round pick next April. All of his sacks and his turnover came during the Bulls’ 40-20 week one loss at Ohio State. Following their loss to the Buckeyes, Buffalo was blown out 70-13 by Baylor, and then victorious over Stony Brook 26-23 following five overtime periods.
After speaking to Mack's abilities, Pasqualoni continued praising the Bulls, who’ve recently enjoyed the luxury of an off-week, and last season nearly topped the Huskies at The Rent.
"I think their secondary plays well. I think they have settled in on a quarterback who is really a drop back passer…I like their offensive line a great deal. I think the left side is very strong, they're very physical. You watch them on the film against Ohio State and they're blocking the guys from Ohio State. You watch them on the film against Georgia and they're blocking guys from Georgia,"
"This team has had a week to rest up and prepare for us. They have accumulated some very good players. They'll be super ready for us. We've had two hard-fought battles with them in the two years I've been here. I'm anticipating a hard-fought game."
In a manner of speaking, Pasqualoni took a very long, scenic route to arrive at an answer of "no":
"I think their (the team’s) energy was very good off the first game and off the Maryland game it was good, it was really pretty good on Sunday," he said.
"They watch the film, they see the film, they see Michigan made a couple more plays than we did, we made one too many mistakes. They see all that and they know that we can get those things corrected. The goal this week is to improve. We still have a long season ahead of us, in a way we have our season ahead of us. Going into the game I said I wanted people to see a team that knows how to play football, knows how to handle itself and can be physical and be tough. I'm saying the same thing again this week and I'll say it every week. We want to play great football."
Right tackle Kevin Friend, linebacker Graham Stewart, wide receiver Shakim Phillips and cornerback Taylor Mack all participated in the team’s light Sunday practice and received treatment yesterday. Coach P was optimistic in regards to their playing statuses for Saturday.
Coach really likes the phrase "the other side of the pancake".
On the atmosphere of the Michigan game: "That environment at least equaled, and I've been lucky to be in some good environments, but that was as good as it gets. The fans were unbelievable, absolutely."