UConn looks for atonement in Toronto

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Connecticut linebacker Scott Lutrus said he and his teammates started getting excited for bowl season on Dec. 20, when they watched Big East rival South Florida play. It's been nearly two weeks since that game and almost a month since the Huskies last played. UConn is still waiting to play its own bowl.

They haven't watched too much college football since arriving in Toronto earlier this week, though.

"We don't have ESPN up here," Lutrus said. "It's hockey everywhere."

The International Bowl is certainly a different kind of postseason experience, both for its locale and late kickoff. Saturday's game between UConn and Buffalo probably doesn't rank too high on anyone's must-watch list.

It's a big deal for Buffalo, though, which is playing in its first-ever bowl game. The Bulls sold out their entire 10,000 ticket allotment, and the school will celebrate the 1958 team that turned down a postseason bid because of segregation policies.

What's the motivation for UConn? The Huskies have sold only about 3,000 tickets. Fans have been down on this team, which started 5-0 but finished the year 7-5 with an anemic passing attack.

Lutrus said the team is eager to atone for its play down the stretch, which included a 35-13 loss to West Virginia and 34-10 setback against Pittsburgh, both at home. In both games, Connecticut melted down in the second half.

"We had a good first half then made some big mistakes defensively out there," Lutrus said. "We want to make sure this week to come out and show what we can do the whole game."

This is only the third bowl game ever for the Huskies, whose lone postseason win came in 2004 -- before any of the current players were on the active roster. Last year, after tying for the regular-season Big East crown, UConn was humbled, 24-10, by Wake Forest in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

"We have a little bit of a chip on our shoulders from that," Lutrus said. "We want to make sure we get the win this year in our bowl game."

To do so, they'll have to slow down a Buffalo offense that averaged 31.3 points a game. Quarterback Drew Willy passed for over 3,000 yards and had 25 touchdowns against just five interceptions this season. The Bulls also have a 1,300-yard rusher in James Starks and a top-flight receiver in Naaman Roosevelt.

"This might be the most balanced team that we'll see this season," Lutrus said.

UConn has been wildly imbalanced, relying on running back Donald Brown's heroics while being unable to generate much of anything from the passing game. Will the Huskies who take the field in 2009 be better than those who ended 2008 on a disappointing note? It's time, finally, to find out.