September 18, 2008

Big East: Brown, UConn look to make move

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At some points last season, Connecticut running back Donald Brown tried to do too much. Now, he is simply doing everything.

Brown could make a case as the league's most valuable player three weeks into the season. He has rushed for 566 yards and eight touchdowns, and no Big East player is within 353 yards or 35 carries of him.

Without Brown, there's no telling where Connecticut would be at this point. It's safe to say UConn probably wouldn't be one of the league's two 3-0 teams.

Brown and Andre Dixon combined to rush for more than 1,600 yards last season, but Dixon has been limited to one carry this season because of an ankle injury. Normally reliable quarterback Tyler Lorenzen is off to a slow start, with four interceptions in the first three games.

Brown, though, has been a rock. In a rain-soaked win over Temple, he rushed for 214 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Last week against Virginia, he rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

It's clear Brown, a junior, is back to his freshman form. He emerged over the second half of that season to rush for nearly 900 yards in five starts.

As a sophomore, Brown suffered an ankle injury and Dixon passed him on the depth chart. The two combined for 1,649 yards and 11 touchdowns, but Brown had unfinished business.

"Maybe he tried to put a little too much pressure on himself a year ago and thinking that he had to make a big play every time he touched the ball," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. "Now he's back to working hard and doing what he can do. He's running better than how he did as a freshman. He's somebody we hope can stay healthy."

The Huskies might need Brown to be the workhorse a little longer. Dixon is week-to-week with a sprained ankle.

Now that he's not thinking about being the do-everything back, he could be just that.

"I out-thought myself," Brown told the Hartford Courant. "I wasn't going off instinct. I was worrying about ripping off the big play and hitting the home run every time I got the ball. I wasn't the best player I could be. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but everything is coming. It's naturally just flowing."

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • West Virginia at Colorado. Is it panic time in Morgantown? Maybe not yet, but it will be if the Mountaineers don't have a good showing in Boulder. The Mountaineers are hoping for a new look and a new result against a quality opponent. Coach Bill Stewart says RB Noel Devine (32 touches in two games) needs his hands on the ball more, to the tune of 18-20 carries and five to seven catches. The defense may have a new look with LB Reed Williams, who is recovering from surgeries on both shoulders.

    THE SCHEDULE
    Wednesday
    Thursday
    West Virginia at Colorado, 8:30 p.m.
    Friday
    Baylor at Connecticut, 8 p.m.
    Saturday
    Iowa at Pittsburgh, noon
    Northeastern at Syracuse, 3:30 p.m.
    Rutgers at Navy, 3:30 p.m.
    South Florida at Florida International, 5 p.m.
    Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
  • BEST MATCHUP II
  • Iowa-Pittsburgh perhaps isn't the best matchup, but one of the most important. Neither team made a bowl last season. It's a safe bet at least one will this season. If neither makes a bowl game, the coaches will feel the heat. Neither team has shown it can defeat a quality opponent. Their four combined wins are over Buffalo, Maine, Florida International and Iowa State. LeSean McCoy must figure out a way to run against a Hawkeyes defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown this season.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Cincinnati QB Tony Pike. First Ben Mauk, now Dustin Grutza. Cincinnati's quarterback position can't seem to catch a break. Pike takes over this week against Miami University after Grutza broke his right leg in the loss to Oklahoma. Grutza could be out as few as five weeks, but Cincinnati is preparing as if he is out for the season. Pike, who is 6 feet 6, has thrown 38 career passes. He has a strong arm but lacks mobility. Coach Brian Kelly says the offense won't change.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • USF QB Matt Grothe has topped 300 yards of offense in each of the past two games. Grothe led the Bulls to a victory over Kansas last Friday despite a 20-3 second-quarter deficit. It was the biggest come-from-behind victory in school history. … UConn's Lorenzen was 13-for-15 for 124 yards and a touchdown against Virginia. … Rutgers LB Ryan D'Imperio has 21 tackles in two games. … Redshirt freshman SS Kevyn Scott led Syracuse in tackles with eight against Penn State in his first career start.

  • WHO'S NOT

  • Rutgers QB Mike Teel has thrown five interceptions and one touchdown pass. … USF is minus-four in turnover margin. … Since defeating Louisville 38-35 last season, Syracuse has won just once in it past 11 games, beating Buffalo in '07. … Pitt plays the Big Ten's Iowa this week but has defeated just one Big Ten team since 1993 (Penn State in 2000). The Panthers are 1-9 against the Big Ten during that span.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "It brought a lot of people back down to earth. I don't know how many, but (there were) a few walking around with their nose stuck up in the air. It leveled them out." – West Virginia quarterback Pat White on the loss to East Carolina, in the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette.

    "We're back to the drawing board. We're not as far off as it possibly appears." – Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, whose team is 0-2 and has lost by a combined 68-19.

    "I think Mike is fine. As odd as it (sounds), that was Mike's best bad game of his career. He kept calm, he kept fighting, he didn't get discouraged. Every quarterback has tough games, but I think Mike really turned the corner." – Schiano on senior QB Mike Teel.

    "If he can touch the ball 18 to 20 times out of the backfield, five to seven times on flare passes and things, that's what we want out of the little guy. He's strong enough and durable enough to do that. We've got to get him into rhythm. We've got to get him in the flow." – West Virginia's Stewart on Devine.

  • ETC.
  • The Big East will face three Big 12 teams this week; the matchups are Wednesday (Kansas State lost 38-29 at Louisville), Thursday and Friday. Prior to the Louisville victory, each league had one win against the other this season: USF defeated Kansas 37-34 and Oklahoma defeated Cincinnati 52-26. … Pitt LB Shane Murray (knee) expects to return against Iowa. … Cincinnati is unclear who will kick this week. Brandon Yingling has not been able to practice because of an illness. Jake Rogers, who lost the job to Yingling, recently had his wisdom teeth removed. … Connecticut starting G Alex LaMagdelaine (shoulder) is out for the season. … Louisville WR Scott Long (broken foot) could start practicing next week…. Rutgers RB Kordell Young (knee) did not play against North Carolina and may not play against Navy. … Cam Dantley will remain Syracuse's starting quarterback ahead of last season's starter, Andrew Robinson. … Syracuse RB Delone Carter (hamstring) could miss this week's game against Northeastern. … USF RBs Mike Ford and Benjamin Williams have been limited because of ankle injuries.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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