Published September 22. 2012 4:00AM
How quickly can UConn turn the page and put all of the emotion and hoopla surrounding last week's 24-21 win over Maryland and old coach Randy Edsall in its rearview window?
We'll find out today when the Huskies play their second straight non-conference road game, this time against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo (2 p.m., no TV).
But the new coach, Paul Pasqualoni, didn't seem overly concerned about a letdown.
"I think our team has been pretty level-headed," Pasqualoni said earlier in the week. "They've been grounded. I think they understand that each week you start over again and what you did last week you hope you build on it."
Of course it helps that the Huskies (2-1) have plenty of motivation against the Broncos, too. A year ago at Rentschler Field, Western Michigan (1-2) scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and rode a 479-yard, 5 touchdown passing performance by quarterback Alex Carder to stun UConn 38-31.
And Carder, despite breaking in a new set of receivers, is back.
"He's high-energy .. a real good leader," Pasqualoni said. "He's throws it really well. We know that. He threw it for almost 500 yards against us last year. I don't know if there is anything we can give him that he hasn't seen. He has seen a lot."
Carder has already passed for 812 yards and seven touchdowns, completing 79 of 127 passes (62.2 percent) and keeping the Broncos competitive in losses to Big Ten teams Illinois (24-7) and Minnesota (28-23).
But this will be the best defense he's faced to date.
UConn is among the nation's leaders in total defense (third) and sacks (third), and the Huskies rank fifth in passing defense, allowing just 123.0 points per game.
They will also be bolstered by the return of senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who missed the Maryland game with a mild hamstring strain, although senior defensive end Jesse Joseph is done for the season after tearing his left Achilles' tendon. He will be replaced by junior Tim Willman, although true freshman E.J Norris will be part of the rotation.
Offensively, the Huskies continue to struggle under first-year QB Chandler Whitmer, but they did put together a clutch 76-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter last week after Maryland had pulled to within 17-14. Whitmer's backup, Scott McCummings, had his best day of the season running out of the Wildcat formation, but the offense remains a work in progress.
The key, Whitmer said, is being consistent.
"We've got to put drives together … stay ahead of the chains," he said. "We did a pretty good job of that last Saturday. There were a few bumps here and there late in the second half, but we had some nice third-down conversions to keep the chains moving. We have to do a little bit more of that."