WHEN: Saturday, November 27th.
BE MORE SPECIFIC: High Noon Bearcat fans
WHERE: Rentschler Field
THE EVENT: On Monday nights on NBC
THE GAME: (In case you've been in a cave the last few weeks) UC vs. UConn
SERIES: UC leads 5-1
LAST ONE: Bearcats won at Nippert 47-45 11/7/09
Here's this week's dilemma in the ever-confusing Big East. UC is 4-6 and obviously must win out to be considered for a bowl. Connecticut is 6-4 and bowl eligible after three straight wins.
UC needs to beat the Huskies and then gut another win out against Pitt on December 4th to even warrant consideration for the postseason. On the other hand, should the Huskies fall to the Bearcats, they have an equally tough game in Tampa the following weekend with South Florida. A loss to USF, would then put UConn at 6-6.
This just in, while 6-6 might be admirable in UC's case, it doesn't exactly have bowl committees jumping for joy. But, at the rate the Big East is going, the bulk of the league is hovering around that six and seven win mark with no one separating.
The mystery continues....
Connecticut has a 26-0 loss at Louisville on its report card and a a 27-24 loss to Rutgers. The Bearcats beat Louisville 35-27 in an away game and just lit 69 on the toteboard against a Scarlet Knight team who supposedly had a decent defense.
Not so fast (in the words of ESPN mascot-head Lee Corso)!
Since those puzzling defeats, the Huskies have beaten West Virginia in overtime 16-13 and Syracuse 23-6. As many of you sadly remember, both the Mountaineers and Orange plowed the Bearcats and forced numerous mental and physical errors.
And, UConn has defeated Pitt 30-28 (with Pitt being widely held as the league's best team).
As Alice once said in Wonderland, "Things are getting curiouser and curiouser."
Certainly we all hope this week that the old cliche, "curiosity killed the cat", is not true.
Nonetheless, for you 'Cats that are curious....
UC OFFENSE VS. UCONN DEFENSE
If you look at last year's game (which is often great fodder, but not always a great indicator) Zach Collaros threw for 480 yards and UC racked up 711 yards of offense. That would actually be more than the final total of the recent Rutgers rout. However, UC had a 37-17 lead in the third quarter and nearly had a Bengal-like collapse by allowing Connecticut to put on 28-2 scoring run and cut the deficit to two points with five minutes left to play (40-38). Both teams scored again from there for the final 47-45 tally, but it was every bit the track meet that last Saturday's game was.
It appears as if UC's offense has clearly regained a little mojo and some line improvements have allowed Isaiah Pead running space and give Collaros enough time to pick apart opposing secondaries. Realistically though, you're probably not going to do that at Rentschler Field, at least not to the tune of 69 points.
In this case, if you get Pead over the 100 mark and Collaros over 300 yards passing that would be an accomplishment in this road game. You have to figure Randy Edsall (UConn coach) is going to do what he can to stop Armon Binns and DJ Woods, which could free up Marcus Barnett to actually have a statistic or Anthony McClung to show more of his potential. Also, I'm encouraged by the addition of the tight ends to the game plan as throwing to Adrien Robinson and Ben Guidugli just gives you more weapons on an already talented receiving corps.
Hoping to stifle Collaros and company is UConn tackling leader Lawrence Wilson. The redshirt Senior LB is all over the place and somehow was recruited out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama where the leading religion is Crimson Tide. He's complemented by fellow LB Sio Moore who racked up 17 tackles against Syracuse and a Canadian, Jesse Joseph at DE who leads the team with 7.5 sacks. On the bench for UConn is Freshman DT Angelo Pruitt out of North College Hill. I mention that only because it's puzzling to me why a hometown product would choose the Huskies over the Bearcats, but we wish him well.
Again, I believe UC's offensive success hinges on how the offensive line protects Collaros and opens holes for Pead. Pead looks to get tougher and tougher every game and he looks to get stronger as the game goes on (which is a far cry from his freshman year when he once waved to be removed from a game in mop-up time. Also, Collaros was picked off just once against Rutgers and there were no fumbles or significant drops.
If the above things hold up, look for UC to score 30 points. If UConn's D-line spends as much time in UC's backfield as Pead and Collaros, this is going to be a long, hard day on a field not really conducive to mounting comebacks.
UC DEFENSE VS. UCONN OFFENSE
The Huskies aren't really lights out on offense but they do offer up a familiar face in Junior RB Jordan Todman. He ran all over UC last year and has pretty much ran all over most teams. He had 130 yards and two scores in the win over Syracuse and is pretty much the core of UConn's offense. The top receivers are all Juniors in Isiah Moore, Michael Smith and Kashif Moore, but none offer the big target that UC's Armon Binns does. They do have a big target though at TE in 6-6, 243 pound Ryan Griffin.
Back at QB is redshirt Senior Zach Frazer who's been in and out of the line-up. Since Coach Edsall has dismissed Cody Endres from the team and since redshirt Freshman Michael Box was inconsistent early on, the job is Frazer's to lose again. Frazer's a 6-4, 231 pound body that's had his moments as UC can well remember from last year's contest.
Defensively for the Bearcats, objective #1 is to stop Todman and the running game. UC has done this before with some of the premier backs, but then allowed others to run wild. Then, you have to admit that UC's secondary has been one of the more porous ones in recent memory. Sure, they're young but when one guy (Harrison of Rutgers) torches you repeatedly, you should come up with a solution.
UC will need Brandon Mills and the other defensive linemen to put the pressure on Frazer and Todman to force the Huskies into bad throws. Too much time and you know UConn's offense is going to test the youngsters deep.
WHAT'S THE ANSWER THEN SMARTY PANTS?
Stating the obvious, stop Jordan Todman. He's the lifeblood of the Huskies offense and if he gets over the century mark rushing it won't bode well for the Bearcats. On the other hand, if you cheat on Todman too much, you know Frazer's going to loft a few rainmakers up just because the Bearcats have been scored on as much as basketball's fabled Washington Generals.
Finally, UC got a decent runback last week on a DJ Woods kickoff return, only to have it nullified with a block in the back. Woods also had another decent return but again, DJ takes a lot of risks and that can sometimes get him dinged up You can't over-emphasize how much UC is down in the return game with the injuries to Darrin Williams and Vidal Hazelton.
In the punting and kicking game, P Cole Wagner has a little more leg than Patrick O'Donnell and Junior K Dave Teggart hit three of four on FG's against Syracuse, so on experience alone (and home field advantage) he wins out over Jake Rogers.
Rogers still is pretty reliable on kickoffs and overall has a better leg than UConn kickoff specialist Chad Christian.
WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?
Routinely, the home team holds the advantage on special teams. The upside for UC last week was the lack of fumbles, drops and stupid penalties. A repeat performance at Rentschler Field would be a logical recipe to winning.
The stat of the day is Connecticut is 5-0 this season at Rentschler Field. Clearly in the Big East, holding serve is essential at home. Unfortunately, UC has not done that this season as the back-to-back home losses to USF and Syracuse are haunting them.
The Bearcats have been to Rentschler Field twice, squeaking out a tight 26-23 win on a Kevin Lovell FG with Mark Dantonio in 2006, then getting whacked in 2008's worst loss of the year 40-16.
The field sits on the outskirts of Hartford and for whatever reason it's become one of the tougher places to play.
This game all boils down to momentum.
The Bearcats need to continue theirs and hope for maybe half of their point total last weekend, and they need to stop a team gaining rapid confidence that's ripped off three wins in a row against three pretty decent teams.
Both teams want to finish strong. Connecticut, for a better bowl game, and UC for at least a shot at one.
Another disastrous start to a game wouldn't be wise here. They can't force a three and out then fumble a punt like they did in Morgantown or they can't allow first-play bombs like they did with Rutgers in both halves.
The rally cry's are all ready.
The time is now!
There is no tomorrow!
Just like the old Foreigner song, UC must play as if it's an "Urgent" emergency!!