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UB, UConn? are mirror ?images; Both football programs ?in transition phase

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Success often breeds change for schools outside the major collegiate football conferences. Athletic directors move on to higher-profile jobs. Coaches do likewise. Programs undergo transitions that oft-times make it difficult to sustain the success cultivated by the previous regime. Digressions become commonplace.

The universities of Buffalo and Connecticut have programs familiar with that experience. The two schools renew at noon today at Rentschler Field a non-conference series that reached its apex with a meeting in the 2009 International Bowl.

Since then, UB lost coach Turner Gill to Kansas (he's now at Liberty) and AD Warde Manuel to, yes, UConn. The Huskies saw head coach Randy Edsall leave for Maryland after their 2010 Big East title reaped a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

And change has led to digression.

UB won 13 games Gill's final two seasons in Buffalo and has triumphed in six of 27 games since.

UConn was a steady eight-win program before Edsall's departure but slipped to five victories last season, the program's first under former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni. The Huskies are 2-2, UB 1-2 on this young season.

Last year's meeting, a 17-3 UConn win at UB Stadium, was an ode to defense that should be reprised today. The Huskies' defense ranks near the top nationally in many a statistical category while UB is expected to be without workhorse running back Branden Oliver, the nation's third leading rusher before a leg injury sidelined him for the second half of a 23-7 loss to Kent State 10 days ago.

There's no incentive for UB to risk his recovery in a non-conference game, not with mammoth Mid-American Conference road games at Ohio and Northern Illinois next on the schedule. Oliver was replaced against KSU by junior Brandon Murie and true freshman Devin Campbell.

"Brandon's the next guy in," Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said this week. "I know our team's very confident in him and I feel good about where he's at. He's been a very steady competitor for us. He was our special teams player of the year last year."

An early 24-7 hole forced UConn's offense out of character in last week's 30-24 loss at Western Michigan.

Sophomore quarterback Chandler Whitmer threw 44 times (his season high by 17) and completed 28 for 333 yards and three TDs. He also was sacked six times, one of which forced a fumble that sealed the outcome.

"We didn't do much on our first four possessions and we were down 17-0 so we had to try and fight to get back," Pasqualoni said. "So that dictated throwing the ball more.

"That's going to be a game by game thing, I'd like to feel like that every week we're capable of having good pass production but I can't predict the number of throws. I'd like the passing and running yardage to be balanced. I think we strive to do that but sometimes the score and the situation dictates otherwise."

Lyle McCombs handles the bulk of the running for the Huskies but has yet to produce a 100-yard game. He ran 30 times for 61 yards in last year's meeting at UB Stadium.

If UB can stymie him again it could help open the gate for an upset and only UB's second victory ever against a BCS automatic qualifier school.

"We're very familiar with them," UB linebacker Khalil Mack said. "We know their tendencies. We know what they like to do. But we feel very confident going in there we can match up our guys with their guys and play some hard-nosed football and being able to get some key stops and maybe some turnovers. That's the goal this week, to get some turnovers for our offense."

Bulls quarterback Alex Zordich is looking to rebound from a shockingly ineffective performance against Kent State. Zordich was solid at Georgia, spectacular at times against Morgan State.

What happened next -- 4 for 22 with two interceptions -- mystified.
"This is a team that has a lot of leadership in it, and Zordich is one of our finest," Quinn said. "He took a tremendous amount of responsibility. We were off the mark. We just weren't as accurate."

UB will have to get the passing game going today.

If Oliver's out, they might have to rely on it heavily in a battle of two schools trying to recapture the success of yesteryear.

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com