GETTING CLOSER – In his Thursday afternoon pre-game conference call, UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni said that he was “optimistic” that starting right tackle Kevin Friend (ankle) would be able to play on Saturday at Buffalo but that receiver Shakim Phillips (hamstring), linebacker Graham Stewart (ankle) and cornerback Taylor Mack (shoulder) are still “questionable” for the Bulls.
“They’ve all practiced this week,” Pasqualoni said. “If they’re healthy, they’re playing. If they can play, they’re playing. It’s an important game.”
Not wanting to fall to 0-4 on the season and with five of the next seven games on the road, Pasqualoni understands his team needs to play exceptionally well.
“It’s important in many ways,” Pasqualoni said. “It’s our first road game, a lot of young players (making the trip), a very good team we’re playing, very good players on this (Buffalo) team. It’s an important game and we’re going to have to really be ready to play.”
The Huskies could see the return of junior receiver Kamal Abrams, who injured his knee prior to the Towson game and had arthroscopic surgery.
“He’s not far (from coming back),” Pasqualoni said. “He’s one of the guys practicing this week that we’re very close on, so we’ll see how he does today (Thursday). I have him in the questionable category but he’s practiced all week.”
LOOKING TOUGH — With a lot of critics focusing on the lack of success – win wise – that Chandler Whitmer had yet to produce as the starting quarterback for the University of Connecticut football team, head coach Paul Pasqualoni was asked during his Tuesday press conference before the Buffalo game with the state media on what he’d like to see from Whitmer right now and in the immediate future.
“Here’s what I’d like to see,” Pasqualoni said. “I’d like to see the same approach that Chandler took after Geremy’s (touchdown) catch, the one that was replayed and taken back. (Davis made a diving catch of a 39-yard pass in the end zone against Michigan in the first quarter that was ruled a touchdown on the field but overturned by the replay officials).
“You make this great play and they (the referees) rule it’s a no catch and in a game like that, it’s a pretty big play so we come back on the sidelines and Chandler had a great look … we’re calling the next play. They’re replaying this thing and I’m telling myself, ‘Let’s get ready for the next play … here’s what we’re going to do.’
“And he’s got a great look in his eye and he goes back there … we all know what happened, we got to a third down and he makes the play (a 11-yard pass to tight end Spencer Parker for a touchdown) so that type of fire, that type of toughness … to back and go after it … I’d like to see that every single series. He knows it and he’s working on it. That’s what I’d like to see from any quarterback.”
After being sacked 15 times in the first three games and now 48 times in his UConn career, there is no questioning Whitmer’s guts on the football field.
“Chandler’s been a pretty tough kid for us, he really has. Not only physically but he’s been pretty tough mentally too. I just like that energy and the fire he showed there (against Michigan). I thought it was a great example of how you respond.”
GETTING HIS KICKS – Punter Cole Wagner’s three-year career average at UConn heading into the 2013 season was a solid 41.0 yards a punt. But three games into his senior campaign, Wagner’s average is nearly four yards less (37.7) than his career numbers. Pasqualoni was asked is the off-season groin surgery that Wagner had to repair a torn muscle could be the reason for the drop in production.
“I think the problem with a kicker and a punter is you’re only as good as your last kick, regardless of what your ability is, it’s always your last one that you’re evaluated on,” Pasqualoni said. “Like every other position, there are fundamentals and techniques and I think it’s his footwork as he catches the ball. We worked a lot on this on Sunday, you catch the ball … you’ve got to be into your footwork as you catch the ball. You can’t catch the ball and then get into your footwork, so he’s working hard on that right now. I think that’s probably most of it.”
SPIKES TO SCORES — It was a quick, cut route. Drive forward seven or eight strides and cut to the left, toward the goal post. It was a route that tight end Spencer Parker runs all the time in practice. And when he runs the route in practice, quarterback Chandler Whitmer will occasionally throw the ball to him.
But with Michigan leading 7-0 late in the first quarter and the Huskies on the Wolverines 11-yard line, driving for the tying score, Parker never expected the pass to be coming his way.
But that’s exactly what happened. Whitmer checked off both Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx and fired the ball across the middle to Parker, who had beaten the linebacker and gotten in front of the cornerback, for a touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.
“I was set up on the inside, number three receiver, and it was kind of a skinny post route that I ran,” parker said. “And the defense they had, the safeties were wide and I just kind of able to cut inside of him before get on top of me. When I saw it, there was not a chance I was going to drop that ball, in my mind, they were going to have to rip if out of my hands. It was a perfect pass, it me right in the hands and it was awesome.”
Three years ago, Parker was playing volleyball for Division III Lasell (Mass.) College, where he earned first-team All-Great Northeast Athletic Conference honors for the Lasers.
“I thought I was going to stay there at least for volleyball or transfer somewhere else bigger for volleyball,” Parker said. “I never thought anything like this could happen.”
But it did. Parker transferred to UConn and walked-on to the team in 2011. Last season, he earned a letter for his special teams play. This year, he’s already caught a touchdown (and a two-point conversion) pass – and earned a scholarship.
“I was actually down in the training room and he (Pasqualoni) came in,” Parker said. “I usually don’t see him down there he came up to me and told me that they were going to be able to give me a scholarship and shook my hand. It was just awesome. I was so happy. It’s just awesome how it all worked out. I miss volleyball, I could play it for the rest of my life but football, to be able to say that I played football. I chose the right path. Football is the way to go.”
BULLS GROWING UP – After being hammered at Ohio State and blown out at Baylor, Buffalo showed some toughness by hanging on – in five overtimes – to defeat Stony Brook 26-23. What has Bulls head coach Jeff Quinn learned about his team over those first three games?
“It’s always about playing the very best,” Quinn said. “I think our kids learned a lot, I learned a lot about his team and the challenges from Week 1 to Week 2 to Week 3. We demonstrated that we have a veteran group of guys. I sense that we have more guys that are bring more responsible in terms of preparation.
“Ohio State got ahead of us and put some points on he board in the first quarter (the Buckeyes led 23-0) but what I saw was we were able to settle down and we outscored Ohio State in the second, third and fourth quarters 20-17. That showed leadership and the ability of the team to fight. Baylor (a 70-13 loss)? That’s a good football team. They just hung another 70 (points) on Louisiana-Monroe. That was big, big-time football. Our kids kept fighting.
“And against Stony Brook they battled adversity. What I didn’t like was we went into the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead and they tied it up. But we had a refuse to lose attitude. It took us five overtimes but it said a lot.”