INJURY UPDATE – Before the South Florida game, interim head coach T.J. Weist was hoping to get receiver Shakim Phillips and cornerback Taylor Mack back into the starting lineup, In fact, both were listed as starters on the two-deep depth chart against the Bulls. But Phillips only managed a couple of plays before his strained hamstring tightened up and Mack, who aggravated his shoulder injury late this week, didn’t even dress.
“Shak … he only played a couple of plays. He struggled,” Weist said Sunday on his post-game conference call. “The leg just didn’t feel good and that was a shame because he had a good week of practice.”
On Mack: “He’s a guy we need in that secondary,” Weist said. “We thought he was going to play but he aggravated that shoulder again. We thought he could play through it but like any injury, we had to wait until game day to see how he felt. It just didn’t happen.”
Receiver/punt returner Brian Lemelle hurt his ribs in the first half against the Bulls and didn’t play after that. Weist said that’s a “wait and see” situation. “I think he’ll be back this week.” The coach said.
And linebacker Ryan Donahue suffered concussion-like symptoms against Michigan and still has to be re-evaluated. “We have to ride that out,” Weist said. “We have to go through all the tests. That’s kind of where it stands right now.”
WELCOME BACK, RUN GAME – Over the opening four games of the season, the UConn rushing attack has been, to put it nicely, terrible. But against South Florida (a 13-10 loss), the Huskies ground game “ground up” the South Florida defense.
Led by a career-high 164 yards rushing from tailback Lyle McCombs, the Huskies finished with 207 yards on the ground, the first time the Huskies had a 200-yard rushing day since September 3, 2011 against Fordham when they totaled 206.
“I think it was the guys playing with more confidence. We changed up some schemes because we did have two weeks (to prepare),” Weist said Sunday. “We were pulling more guards and more tackles and doing some little things that helped the run game. I think Lyle played better. He had more holes, more creases for him to get through and get into the secondary and we were more in the shotgun, which gives the quarterback more chances to become a threat. That’s helps us.”
Ironically, the success comes right on the heels of Mike Foley returning to his old role as offensive line coach after the recent firing of George DeLeone. Over the first four games, the Huskies were averaging just 45.8 yards a game rushing as a team. Getting back to Foley’s straight-forward style allowed the Huskies to more than quadruple their rushing average.
“We were able to get ‘downhill’ (push them backwards) on them a little bit,” guard Steve Greene said after the game. “We opened up some holes and Lyle was able to squeeze through and make some plays for us. It was a little bit more simple, a lot of it was just lining up and beating the man across from you. We ran the ball better but at the end of the day we still came away with a loss.”
McCombs, who’s previous best day was a 152-yard effort against Syracuse on November 5, 2011, got going early with an 11-yard burst on the Huskies’ opening series. Next came a rush for 21 yards and another for 28 yards en route to gaining 83 yards in the first quarter – more than he’d gained in one of the opening four games.
On the first play of the second quarter, McCombs danced through the Bulls defense for a 52-yard touchdown run and finished the first half with 135 yards.
“I had runs early to build my confidence and the offensive line’s confidence and when you get that confidence going early, that’s a key factor,” McCombs said after the game. “We ran the ball with confidence and we were physical.”
But in the second half, McCombs managed just 29 yards.
“I think they were … they came out in the first half and didn’t respect the run,” Greene said. “But as the game progressed they were coming up on it a little more and putting a couple of more guys in the box.”
MAKE THE PLAY – Spencer Parker dropped a sure touchdowns pass. Deshon Foxx dropped two. If any one of those throws had been caught, the Huskies would likely be still celebrating their first win of the season. But they weren’t.
“We had receivers open, the quarterback (Tim Boyle) was throwing the ball to us we just have to make the plays,” said Foxx, who dropped wide-open passes of 40 and 34 yards that would like been touchdowns had he caught them. “We had chances to win the game, next time, we just have to catch them.”
Interim head coach T.J. Weist, who placed a lot of the blame for the loss on his shoulders, knows that his players can’t afford to make these kinds of mistakes during game situations.
“Most of this is about mentality,” Weist said Sunday. “This is all about making the play. You turn on “SportsCenter” all the time and you see guys making plays. On good balls, bad balls. They go up and they make the catch. You want to be a good receiver, you want to help this team, come up with the catch. That starts in practice.”
Said Geremy Davis: “We receivers, we have to lead this offense. We didn’t do a very good job of that. We have to sit down as a unit and make sure we don’t do that again.
“I told them, ‘Whatever mistake you made this game, stay after practice, even if its just five minutes and work on whatever you have to do. ‘ ”
Boyle, who was 15 of 43 for 149 yards in his starting debut at quarterback, knows he has to continue to with the receiving corps and not get upset over the missed opportunities.
“You have to turn the page,” he said. “As a quarterback, obviously, you want them to catch the ball, you can’t catch it for them, you just have to forget it and go onto the next play.”
DECENT DEBUT – There were some overthrows and some under-throws. Some throws on the run and some throws under the gun. And while he only completed 15 passes for 149 yards in his debut, the long-term future of Tim Boyle looks bright indeed.
“I thought Tim stepped up and showed maturity, showed poise, handled the pressure and made some throws and made some good decisions on some of the different looks they gave us,” Weist said. “He put us in a position to win this game. We’ll keep moving forward with him, we’ll get him better and he will get better.
“We have to win and we have to win now. We have to play better football. We just have to execute, that’s all.
“Tim played great,” said right guard Steve Greene after the game. “We had some dropped balls and had some mix-ups in protections and stuff that we have to make sure we get right so he can get comfortable and confident back there.”
And while Boyle admitted that was the somewhat nervous at the start of the game, he had to put that behind him and concentrate at the task at hand – trying to win.
“I didn’t want to think about that (nerves) too much. I just wanted to put my teammates in the best position to make a play,” Boyle said after the game. “If I had thought about that, it might have gotten into my head a little bit. I just wanted to go out there and play. I wanted to come out with my debut and get the W. When it came down to execution, we just didn’t do it as well as USF. We just came up a little short.
“I think I did a good job once I got my feet wet a couple of plays. I was pretty poised, a little calm, taking deep breaths here and there and making sure I was OK. There were points where the ball took off on me, that will get fixed. That’s a rookie mistake.”