DATE OF CONTEST: Saturday Night Live
VENUE: Nippert Stadium
SEAT TIME: 8 p.m. on ABC (kickoff whenever Musberger and Herbstreit finish the intro)
THE SERIES: UC leads 4-1
THE LAST ONE: Connecticut with a big 4th quarter to win 40-16
I have to say, I'm a little surprised that the main Saturday night game is this one against Connecticut, but if you look at the schedule you can see why. UC's next two home games after this one are both Friday games (11/13 vs. West Virginia and 11/27 vs. Illinois). So, if the ABC cameras were ever going to capture "The Nipp" with the Bearcats on a roll--it was now.
This would have all the makings of the proverbial "trap game" but there is the small fact that last year's loss to UConn was probably the worst defeat Brian Kelly's had. If not, it's close.
We all know the Orange Bowl was a stinker against Virginia Tech, and the first year losses to Pitt and Louisville were bothersome, but the game at UConn is still pretty fresh in BK's memory.
While Tony Pike wasn't on, he did lead the Bearcats to a 13-10 lead over the Huskies at halftime. However, Pike was nicked up so Chazz Anderson had to come in. The tide turned in the third quarter with UConn taking a 20-16 lead, but UC still was certainly in the game.
Even in the fourth quarter, with less than six minutes to go the Bearcats trailed by just a touchdown. But, then things went downhill quick as the Huskies went up 26-16 at the 5:47 mark and 33-16 at the 1:55 mark. After Anderson was picked off shortly after that, UConn had a 40-16 win that looked like a blowout, but was mostly based on the last few minutes of the game.
The Bearcats were held to a paltry 30 yards rushing in that game and Brian Kelly has since made it known that he maybe should've done a better job on the ground instead of chucking it play after play.
Based on current personnel, I would guess that strategy would change a bit Saturday night. Brian Kelly's never going to "run it up the gut" 40 times a game, but UC should be able to gain more than 30 yards on the ground by the first quarter alone.
Based on his early week comments, it's obvious that last year's loss sticks in Kelly's craw (wherever that may be). If anything, the tape of last year's debacle in Hartford should give BK enough motivation to get his guys fired up.
Oh yeah...and ABC's going to be there showing the Bearcats and Huskies as the main college football game on the network that day. I suppose that might fire up a young college football player too.
UConn is to be saluted for the courage they've played with since the unfortunate death of defensive back Jasper Howard. They have been close in several games and last week's loss to Rutgers in the final seconds was a crying shame. However, UConn historically has not played well here and I don't believe this is the week where that turns around.
UC's offense vs. UConn defense
Again this week there's the QB issue of Tony Pike and Zach Collaros. Pike is back at practice and taking reps and probably could play. If he's totally healthy, Brian Kelly has said Pike is the starter. However, it realistically is tough to pull a guy that's thrown for seven TD's in the last two games as a starter. Plus, there's the fact that I believe Collaros is a tougher match-up for the Huskies. Starting Collaros is also a way to pump up the running game which was essentially non-existent in last year's game at Rentschler Field. Coach Kelly doesn't routinely call me on personnel decisions, but I'd probably roll with Collaros and then try to get Pike some reps to get him ready for West Virginia on the 13th. Having just written that, I'd be shocked to see it come down that way. Either way, UConn can be torched through the air (as Tim Brown and Tom Savage of Rutgers found last week) and both Pike and Collaros are capable of accomplishing that. The Huskies do have two "stud" LB's in Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus who can bring a team issues in a standard offense trying to run the ball. Again though, this is far from a standard offense at UC.
NOD: Bearcats have too many pairs of cleats ready, willing and able to cross that magical line into the notorious "land of six".
UConn offense vs. UC defense
The previous starting QB for the Huskies, Cody Endres, is out with a shoulder injury. Endres led UConn to the win last year despite unimpressive throwing stats of 18-42. But, Endres had Donald Brown (now of the NFL Colts) running for 150 yards. Sadly, there's no Brown in the backfield for the Huskies come Saturday. Zach Frazer is now the UConn QB and he did throw for 333 yards last week, but he's also susceptible to "the pick" as three of his tosses went to the Scarlet Knights. If UC's ever-improving defensive line can't get to Frazer in the backfield, the also improving secondary might be able to haul in some throws from "the other Zach". This defense took a beating in Hartford a year ago, and don't think that hasn't been emphasized a time or two this week in preparation for this home showcase on ABC.
NOD: Even though Bob Diaco wasn't on staff last season, the rest of the guys undoubtedly have been giving UC's defenders an "ear full" all week. It was a winnable game that slipped away and I'm sure BK and company will have the 'Cats all jazzed up over that.
Sophomore tailback Robbie Frey is quite a weapon for UConn on kickoff returns rumbling 100 yards and 50 yards in a couple vs. Rutgers. On the other hand, the Huskies gave up a kickoff return and Mardy Gilyard and Darrin Williams are surely aware of that. Desi Cullen is probably a more accomplished punter than Jake Rogers. In the kicking-for-points department I'd call Dave Teggart even with Rogers--you just never know what you're going to get.
NOD: When things are this even, you have to go with home field advantage in the "Friendly Confines of The Nipp".
Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks
Nippert Stadium is not used to an ABC "Prime Time" atmosphere. The students are going to be geeked up, the coaches will be geeked up, the players will be geeked up...heck, the geeks will even be geeked up. Connecticut's played some tough opponents close, but I believe this situation Saturday is incredibly slanted in favor of UC and it would be utterly disappointing if they didn't capitalize on it.
Brian Kelly knows this and he also knows how butt-ugly last year's game in Hartford was. ABC and ESPN are one in the same. ESPN is located IN CONNECTICUT. You can bet your cable or satellite dish that CONNECTICUT will be focused on and that loss last year will be highlighted. I assure you, Brian Kelly is still not happy about that 40-16 game and I wouldn't be surprised to see him "amp up" the offense to see if he can put 40 up himself in front of a national audience. Plus, the way the BCS works, this is an excellent vehicle to: a) get attention from the rest of the world; and b) make a statement.