When athletic director Warde Manuel asked tight ends coach Mike Foley to take over as offensive line coach, he jumped at the opportunity.
After all, he had done it for the better part of eight seasons at UConn, only moving to tight ends under Paul Pasqualoni in the 2011-2012 seasons. He worked closely with tight ends Ryan Griffin, now a member of the Houston Texans, and John Delahunt, who is with the Hamilton Tigercats in the Canadian Football League.
Foley had a good, short run at tight ends coach. He previously was successful as offensive line coach when UConn was known for its running game. But Pasqualoni and George DeLeone decided to go with a zone blocking scheme, which is more of a finesse style. It wasn't working.
Foley likes his guys to be more physical: Line up and hit the guy in front of you and keep hitting him.
"The biggest thing I tried to do [is] let the guys know we were going to be physical and we were going to get after people in the run game," Foley said.
When Pasqualoni and DeLeone were fired Sept. 30, Foley met with the linemen.
The Huskies were averaging a nation-low 45.8 yards rushing and had allowed 20 sacks.
"He comes in and he goes, 'We're going to make this simpler,'" senior left tackle Jimmy Bennett said. 'We're going to make it so you're not going up to the line confused. ... You're going be able to be physical and be aggressive and understand the game plan a lot more. You're going to be able to hit them in the mouth.' He came in like, 'We've been playing a little soft and I'm going to try to get you guys to be more physical and we're going to hit the sled every day this week.'
"We hit the sled every day. When DeLeone took over, we did not touch the sled. It was just his coaching style, nothing against him. He's a good coach, knew what he was doing. I guess guys have a little more of an inkling for being physical and not being such a brainiac. ... Come off the ball and hit somebody in the mouth."
In the first game since Foley took over, junior running back Lyle McCombs rushed for a career-high 164 yards in the 13-10 loss to South Florida Saturday at Rentschler Field.
The Huskies blew the dust off a sweep that was in the playbook, emphasized it more and had some success with that as well as an inside run the staff tweaked. It was McCombs' first 100-yard performance in five games and 135 of his total came in the first half. In the second half he carried the ball the same number of times, 10, but rushed for only 29 yards.
"I think we came out trying to run the ball and they obviously adjusted," senior right tackle Kevin Friend said. "We really didn't have success like we did in the first half, and then we were kind of playing their game. They tied it up and we were throwing the ball more in the second half."
There was the issue of the strip sack on freshman quarterback Tim Boyle, which was picked up by Aaron Lynch, who ran 44 yards for the Bulls' only touchdown. It was the second time the Huskies have been strip-sacked this season, the Buffalo game being the first. Bennett was beaten on both. Against South Florida, it wasn't totally Bennett's fault. Boyle was 12 yards deep instead of 9 deep.
"Yeah, well, you can say what you want about what happened, but my guy got past me and made the play," Bennett said.
And that's the point. One half does not make a game, so it was back to work this week for Foley and the line. The Huskies will play the most physical team in the conference Saturday in Cincinnati, with Central Florida and Louisville on the schedule after that, a rough stretch for an 0-5 UConn team.
"The only pressure I have is the pressure I put on myself," Foley said. "I want us to do well and to continue to improve each week and get better. When Warde asked me to take the offensive line over, I was more than happy to do that."
"I think it's important these guys have unit integrity, a one-for-all, all- for-one type mentality," Foley said. ... "They have to understand that if they do their job and do it well, they've got backs running for all kinds of yards, you got quarterbacks who have plenty of time, and he's throwing for all kinds of yards. They'll get their due, but they have to develop that mentality and have a pride."