By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
A week ago, Coach Dana Holgorsen had to do a neat little two-step early in the week to make sure he had his team’s attention, facing a non-conference opponent after exerting all the energy it had against the No. 2, now No. 1 LSU.
This week he will have no such problem.
Big East play begins, his No. 16 Mountaineers are at home and the opponent is Connecticut, a team that beat WVU last year to go to the BCS bowl and a school that has not hidden its desire to jump to the ACC with Pitt and Syracuse.
The latter reason will work to fire up the fan base, which should go far beyond the 46,603 that attended the Bowling Green game in miserable weather conditions. Early reports this week are that it will be warm and sunny for the UConn game.
This is not the UConn that did in the Mountaineers last year. Gone is Randy Edsall, the coach, who moved on to Maryland, where he has his own problems, one of them being wrapped up in a loss to WVU. He was replaced by Paul Pasqualoni, a longtime Syracuse coach who saw the program slip while he was there before it bottomed out under Greg Robinson.
“This is a huge challenge for us,” said Pasqualoni, whose team has gotten off to a shaky 2-3 start, leading New York Daily News columnist Dick “Hoops” Weiss to write that Pasqualoni is already in the hot seat.
The honeymoon is apparently over for Connecticut football coach Paul Pasqualoni, and we are just five games into his first year on the job.
The reaction to the Huskies’ defensive meltdown in a 38-31 loss to Western Michigan Saturday at Rentschler Field that leaves the team 2-3 was a dose of reality their fans could have done without and only further emboldened the program’s biggest booster, Robert Burton, whose name is on the school’s new practice facility.
Burton didn’t like the idea of hiring Pasqualoni, a 62-year-old recycled Syracuse coach, to replace Randy Edsall, who left for Maryland after winning a Big East title.
Burton made headlines last winter when he buried former AD Jeff Hathaway for bringing in Pasqualoni and threatened to pull his $3 million donation because he had no input on the hire. “A couple of people asked me, ‘Would you do it over again?’” Burton, who has since publicly made up with the school, told the Greenwich (Conn.) Times. “The answer is, yes, I would. I felt that as a $7 million (in total) donor I had the right to make a
recommendation, and I did not get that opportunity.”
This may sound familiar to a situation at WVU when Bill Stewart was hired, a situation that eventually caught up with Stewart.
Pasqualoni says he’s not troubled by what was written.
“I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to those type of things. We’re not discouraged about the things going on here. We’re encouraged,” he said.
If he’s encouraged, think how encouraged that other first-year head coach Holgorsen is as his defense is beginning to blossom at a time his offense one week broke the school’s passing records for completions and yardage and the next week recorded the second-greatest rushing total from a back in school history.
Between finding a running back in Dustin Garrison and having the offensive line make huge strides forward, Holgorsen now can begin the push for the Big East crown and a BCS bowl bid.
Garrison, a true freshman who possessed only three career carries going into last week’s game, has really taken the “ball” by the horns, so to speak.
“The last six quarters Dustin has been able to get in there and get on a roll,” Holgorsen said. “The more he’s carried, the better he’s gotten.”
And as for the offensive line, well, Holgorsen says he knows what happened there.
“They’ve allowed themselves to be coached. We knew we had a couple of new starters and two guys who were returning but didn’t go through spring practice because of injuries. Put that with a new system, new coach and new scheme (and it took some time to develop),” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.