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Huskies hit the road for first time in search of elusive win

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published September 28. 2013 4:00AM

UConn is winless but certainly not hopeless heading into its first road game today.

The Huskies have gained a renewed confidence from their performance in last Saturday's 24-21 loss to then-No. 15 Michigan. They face Buffalo today in a non-conference game at 3:30 p.m.

"The goal for us to get ready is to improve this week," coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "That's the real focus. We have a long season ahead of us yet. ... It's about us getting better and that's what I'm looking forward to this week.

"When you play well, it's fun. When you don't play well - I'm saying assignments, fundamentals, techniques - when it's not good sound football, then it's not fun. You always have a chance if you know what you're doing and you play good sound fundamental football."

A difficult schedule has been a factor in UConn's worst start since 2001. Towson, Maryland and Michigan are are combined 12-0.

Now the Huskies (0-3) face Buffalo, a team they've beaten eight straight times as full-fledged FBS opponents, including 24-17 last season.

Buffalo (1-2) also has been a victim of a challenging schedule, losing on the road to No. 4 Ohio State (40-20) and No. 23 Baylor (70-13) before breaking through with a home win over Stony Brook (26-23, five overtimes) on Sept. 14.

"Buffalo has a very good football team," Pasqualoni said. "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."

Pasqualoni is particularly impressed with Buffalo's Khalil Mack, who's "as good an outside linebacker as there is in college football."

For the Huskies to avoid a fourth straight loss to open the season for the first time since 1991, they will have to improve in several areas.

They rank 122nd in the country in rushing yards per game (52.0) and 115th in total offense (290.0). They've also consistently stumbled on third down conversions, going 6-for-29 in the last two games. And they've allowed 15 sacks.

"We've got to do a better job all the way around," Pasqualoni said.

It will be interesting to see if UConn can finally be productive running the football playing against a team that's given up 243.3 rushing yards per game.

Defensively, there have been encouraging signs.

UConn limited Michigan to just 97 yards passing despite playing with two redshirt freshmen - Jhavon Williams and Obi Melifonwu - in the secondary. The Huskies had their first sacks of the season (three) and forced four turnovers. Junior safety Ty-Meer Brown returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown.

Redshirt junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood (team-best 43 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) anchors the defense.

"We played pretty well as a defense," Brown said. "It gave us a little confidence and something to build off. ... We're definitely going to carry it into Buffalo."

g.keefe@theday.com

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