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UC-UConn preview

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In the Brian Kelly era at UC, there have been only a few times where the Bearcats played just an awful game they had no business winning. The Pitt game from 2007 springs to mind immediately, and even though, the final score was pretty close (a 24-17 decision), UC clearly wasn't ready to play that day. As a result, the Bearcats were pretty terrible.

 

Maybe last year's 20-7 Orange Bowl loss to Virginia Tech can be grouped into this category as well, but I attribute that more to poor execution than a negative mindset. I think, though, last year's 40-16 disaster at Connecticut is the worst I've ever seen a Brian Kelly-led UC team play.

 

Quarterback Tony Pike, who had just returned after missing two games with his broken arm, got knocked out midway through the game. Though the Bearcats took a 13-10 lead into halftime - I had forgotten they actually were winning the game halfway through - the Huskies scored 30 points in the final 30 minutes to dominate the game.

 

"That's definitely in the back of our minds," redshirt freshman Drew Frey said. "To get handled that easily last year is definitely going to stick in our hearts a little bit and its going to be one of the drivers for the game."

         

Still, it's only two horribly-played games in Kelly's 36-game reign. To me, that's a pretty impressive stat, and I wondered why that is. Why don't the Bearcats seem to have many off-days where they suffer through a blowout loss? Happens to everybody, right? Well, with the Bearcats the past three seasons, it happens almost never.

 

"We really prepare well week in and week out," quarterback Zach Collaros said. "With the strength program, everybody is well conditioned. And it's the play-calling. Coach Kelly doesn't let things go south. He really has a great grasp of what's going on out there and how to keep us in games."

 

Which brings us to tonight's game vs. the Huskies. Kelly has said all week how UConn's 4-4 record is misleading. And he's right, considering that those four losses have been by a mere 13 points.

 

"We're not making it up when we say they're a 4-4 team that could be 8-0," Kelly said. "Clearly, they're a very good football team that hasn't finished games off. We'll have to play very well to get a win."

 

UConn quarterback Cody Endres - who replaced an injured Zach Frazer in the North Carolina game after Frazer went out with an injury and started the next six games - underwent season-ending shoulder surgery this week. That means Frazer (a 48.3 completion percentage for 554 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions this year) will get the nod tonight.

 

But perhaps the biggest challenge for the Bearcats defense is UConn's running game. Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman have combined to gain 1,367 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Dixon, who's third in the Big East and 36th in the country with 87.9 rushing yards per game, is the elusive back, while Todman is more physical. Compare those two players to Jacob Ramsey and Isaiah Pead, and you get a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Huskies offense.

 

"They're committed to running the football," Kelly said. "These are Big East backs. This is what you'd expect from them."

 

--Brian Kelly said today on ESPN that Pike has been cleared medically to play but that Collaros would make his third-straight start. He said Pike might play in the right situation. Will he or won't he? I have no idea. I've given up trying to guess what it all means. But if you're UC, it sounds like it's good news either way. If another week of rest for Pike allows him to be closer to 100 percent for next Friday's game vs. West Virginia, I think you'd play Collaros today, and if he plays well enough to give the Bearcats a comfortable lead, you keep him in the game.

 

--We were talking to Frey on Tuesday, and somebody asked him if he grimaced at the word "freshman," especially considering, because of his two redshirt years, he's in the middle of his third rookie season.

 

"No, in that time period, I've learned the system," Frey said. "I feel I can take a little more of a leadership role even though I have the title of a 'freshman.' It works well, because I have quite a few years left to play but I can rally the troops if I have to.

 

"I tell my parents that I don't want to grow up. I want to stay here as long as I can. To be given the term 'freshman,' that doesn't hinder me at all. I actually like it."

 

--<b>Prediction:</b> Well, I'm 8-0 in getting these predictions correct, so I think it'd be foolish to try to pick against UC today. With Collaros riding high, I think the Bearcats get the job done. Say, UC 27, UConn 17

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