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Forward progress key for UB; UConn is big test for resilient Bulls

Last Saturday's agonizing loss at Ball State was proof that UB's made progress -- just not sufficient progress.

Their comeback from 14 points down showed the Bulls are a resilient bunch -- but not yet accomplished at finishing the job.

That defeat heightens the sense of urgency facing UB once its Mid-American Conference schedule resumes. In the meantime the Bulls have two weeks of nonconference games, beginning with this evening's Homecoming visit by UConn, to work toward becoming a noisemaker in league play.

"I feel confident that our kids are going to respond," UB coach Jeff Quinn said. "And that's what I'm looking for. To see our kids get better, keep improving."

The quest for improvement is in essence what fuels the Bulls against the Huskies and next week at Tennessee. Both games are steps up in competition, the UT game markedly so. In these cases success can't be measured by the outcome alone. The more telling measuring sticks will be:

How UB's front seven holds it together against UConn's running game. The Bulls have been at times excellent in rush defense. They've also been shredded. The Huskies, having struggled in the passing game, are sure to see if they can rip through UB as Pitt did in the second half and Ball State in the first.

"It starts with your run fits," Quinn said. "We need to be more disciplined in our run fits and when we do get to the point of attack certainly we need to do a better job of tackling because we have guys in position. We need to stop people from running the ball, absolutely. And so our defensive coordinator and our entire defensive unit is not pleased with our run defense right now."

*The play of UB's special teams. The Bulls had a crucial extra point blocked last week and they're coverage units haven't been great.

*How quickly the offense adjusts to what UConn shows them. The Bulls were at a loss in the first halves against Pitt and Ball State (a combined 10 points) before hitting their stride after intermission (a combined 35 points).

"These guys are just a classic Big East team," Quinn said. "They're a solid group of guys. They play hard. It's going to take everything we have to measure up."

"Last year we played them competitively," wideout Alex Neutz said. "First half we played strong."

The trend in games against Big East competition has been for UB to hang close before wearing down in the second half. They were tied, 14-14, with the Huskies at the half of last year's 45-21 loss, and in this year's opener trailed Pitt, 7-3, at intermission in a 35-16 defeat.

But UConn (1-2) comes in with its own major issue: who's at quarterback? Redshirt freshman Brian McCummins, junior Johnny McEntee and true frosh Mike Nebrich all have seen time, with the inconsistent McEntee (45 percent completions) handling most of the load. Paul Pasqualoni, UConn's first-year coach, said all three are on call for today.

"The three of them are, like I said before, learning the system," Pasqualoni said this week. "They've each had moments where they've been very good and they've each had moments where they've just flat-out made mistakes. All three of them. I'm not ready to declare who the guy is until one of them really steps up and has [a breakthrough]. I could see it happening, it just hasn't happened yet."

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com