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Huskies quickly turn page to No. 14 Michigan

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published September 18. 2013 4:00AM

Storrs — Senior Kevin Friend discovered something more painful than a sprained ankle.

Watching his UConn football teammates struggle without him on the field.

Friend went to the sideline after suffering the injury in the third series of Saturday's 32-21 loss to Maryland.

"It was terrible," Friend said Tuesday. "I was so psyched for the game. My adrenalin was rushing and I was doing pretty good. (It happened) early in the first quarter, too.

"I was so frustrated. I felt awful watching my team knowing that they need me out there. It's disappointing."

Without its starting right tackle, UConn's running attack was virtually non-existent. The Huskies had just 34 net yards on 33 carries. They need to be significantly better in that department to compete with No. 14 Michigan (3-0) on Saturday (8 p.m., Chs. 6, 8) at Rentschler Field.

UConn's problems run much deeper than just missing Friend, who sat out the season opener against Towson with a concussion. A veteran offensive line has underperformed so far in both the running and passing game. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer has been sacked 11 times.

In two games, the Huskies (0-2) are averaging just 54.5 rushing yards and 1.8 yards per carry. Leading rusher Lyle McCombs has earned 129 yards on 36 carries. Eighteen of his attempts have gone for two yards or less.

"We need a couple of these runs to come out of there, that's really what we need," coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "It's a combination of the guys up front, including the tight ends and receivers, finishing their blocks and it's a combination of Lyle, at times, hitting the hole a little better … and not trying to do too much.

"It's a work in progress. We're going to keep grinding it out. I'm optimistic that we're going to get our share of runs that come out of there for more than what we're getting."

Pasqualoni would prefer a more balanced attack, but the Huskies have played from behind in both games, forcing them to lean heavily on the pass.

On the bright side, junior Shakim Phillips has emerged as an explosive receiver, having a career day against Maryland (10 catches, 178 yards). He leads the team in catches (15), receiving yards (255) and touchdowns (three).

"I had a good game, but we still need to win," Phillips said. "It doesn't matter about personal stats until that 'W' is up there."

Unfortunately for the Huskies, Phillips suffered a hamstring injury during his 75-yard touchdown catch and run in the fourth quarter. He expects to play against the Wolverines.

"It feels a lot better than it did Saturday," Phillips said. "I'm doing rehab three times a day trying to get back as fast as possible."

Pasqualoni said Friend, Phillips and starting linebacker Graham Stewart (ankle) are questionable for Saturday.

"We'd like to play this game 100 percent healthy," Pasqualoni said. "I don't know if we're going to have a chance to do that. Coming off a disappointing loss against Maryland, it's good to have a game this week.

"We've got to rise up and get ready to play this game and put our best foot forward and give it every ounce of effort and energy that we have."

The Huskies are trying to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2001.

News and notes

The game is already sold out, even with the addition of 2,200 temporary seats. It will be the biggest UConn football crowd in the Rent's history. ... The Huskies are hoping to make a good impression on a national television audience. "I want them to see just a good solid football team that knows how to play," Pasqualoni said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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