A Win, But Not Much Excitement

UConn Vs. Buffalo Game

UConn running back Lyle McCombs tries to avoid Buffalo defensive back Cortney Lester during the first half at Rentschler Field Saturday afternoon in East Hartford. Of 26 first-and-10 situations, including the victory formation with 12 seconds left, McCombs ran the ball 22 times. (John Woike, Hartford Courant / September 29, 2012)

EAST HARTFORD — Ho.

Hum.

A win is not to be mocked. A win is not to be scorned. A W is a W is a W, even when you've beaten that opponent eight successive times dating to 2002, even when you've beaten that MAC opponent 12 of the past 13 times.

Having said that: UConn 24, Buffalo 17. Ho. And hum.

UConn had Buffalo down 24-7 with five minutes left in the third quarter Saturday at Rentschler Field. UConn had Buffalo down 17 points after a seven-play, 46-yard touchdown drive started with —shock! — an 18-yard pass play to Nick Williams. UConn should have grasped the momentum to blow the game open.

Instead? Blah. Instead? Yawn. It was the Huskies who almost rocked themselves to sleep. Although coach Paul Pasqualoni would insist it was not the case, the Huskies took their foot off the pedal of success. How the Huskies went from 17 points up at home against an inferior opponent — an opponent missing the fifth-leading rusher in the country — to needing a defensive a stop in the final minute is Exhibit A in how not to finish off a game.

In case fewer people are watching, UConn football has slowly been eroding in popularity the past few years. Some of it is in the school's and Pasqualoni's control. The Huskies have not won two in a row since Randy Edsall in 2010. Some of it is not in UConn's control, like the ever-changing conference structure that left West Virginia winning a 70-63 thriller against Baylor in the Big 12 and, well, WVU's replacement Temple is coming into the Rent in two weeks.

Anybody who claims UConn football isn't lacking excitement, some pop these days isn't telling the truth. When there hasn't been anything close to a sellout through three home games and the announced attendance of 34,666 Saturday looked more like 29,666, well, those seats without fannies do not lie.

"Coach Pasqualoni said it: Great win, but we need to get off this one-win, one-loss roller coaster," running back Lyle McCombs said.

Roller coasters can be fun. This was more like the merry-go-round.

"The first thing that sticks out to me is we didn't turn the ball over," Pasqualoni said.

No, the Huskies didn't turn the ball over, but they did run a serious risk of turning off an awful lot of folks. You play it closer to the vest ahead 17 in the second half. Understood. You play it so close to the vest that you rip your chest hairs off, that's another story.

On the first eight series, the Huskies had 313 yards offense. On their final five series, the Huskies had 29. On the first eight series, Whitmer, who connected with eight different teammates, was 13-for-17 for 216 yards. All sorts of double-digit vertical yardage. In the final 20 minutes he completed two of five both to running backs for 11 yards. During the final five series, Whitmer never threw the ball down field to a wide receiver. OK, it was hard to tell his intent on one, because the pass was batted down.

Whitmer threw only one really bad pass, one that should have been intercepted by linebacker Lee Skinner in the third quarter. And that seemed to scare Pasqualoni and offensive coordinator George DeLeone all the way back to 1928 football.

"We kind of stalled out a little bit," Whitmer said. "That's something we want to improve on. We've got to finish it and put it away."

What happened?

"Maybe a loss in concentration, complacency," Whitmer said. "Maybe we become conscious [of the clock] of that a little early, instead of putting on the pedal."

McCombs was a little more direct, "We got a little comfortable. We need to do a better job finishing games, putting the dagger in their heart, putting up one more score so they don't have any life."

Here's something else to consider. Of 26 first-and-10 situations, including the victory formation with 12 seconds left, McCombs ran the ball 22 times. Here's a scoop. First and 10. Handoff to McCombs. In the first four games, UConn ran the ball 73 percent of the time on first down. On Saturday, it was 85 percent of the time. In fact, 22 of McCombs' 29 carries were on first down.

Can anyone spell predictable?

CHICAGO