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Game Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. UConn Huskies; Homecoming Game Highlights Improving Huskies

The 3-4 UConn Huskies travel to Nippert Stadium to play the 3-3 Bearcats.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Game

Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015

Cincinnati, Ohio

4:30 PM ET

CBSSports Network

Meet the Opponent

The 3-4 UConn Huskies are improved from last year's atrocious 2-10 season; that much is apparent. With wins over a very good FBS team in Villanova, Army and AAC bottom-dweller UCF, it may not look much better, but I assure you, they are.

The four losses have been closer than they would have been a year ago and were against some quality teams. The Huskies were tough in a 9-6 loss to #22 Missouri earlier this season, lost 28-18 to Navy and lost by one possession against USF a week ago. UConn's biggest loss of the season came on the road against BYU, in a 30-13 loss.

When introducing UConn, it's only fair to begin with the defense. The Huskies rank 38th in the NCAA, giving 356.6 total yards per game. The rush defense hasn't been great (although their opponents thus far are teams that favor running the ball), giving up 170.1 yards per game on the ground, good enough for No. 71 in the country. UConn is ranked 25th in pass defense, giving up only 186.4 yards per game this season.

Offensively, the Huskies remain a work-in-progress. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has been a solid dual-threat passer, completing 64.4% of his passes for 1,636 yards on the season. His passer rating is 143.1, but he only has seven touchdowns on the season to four interceptions. He has ran the ball 25 times more than the next closest on the team and racked up 252 yards on the season (2.6 yards per carry) with two touchdowns. Arkeel Newsome has 363 rushing yards on the season himself with a 5.1 yard per carry average. Noel Thomas is the primary receiver for the Huskies (33 receptions, 455 yards, one touchdown), although Newsome has 308 receiving yards on 25 catches. Newsome has two receiving touchdowns.

Second-year head coach Bob Diaco has the Huskies playing tough, even if it's taking time to get the wins rolling in.

UConn Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense

The UConn offense is centered around the success of North Carolina State transfer, Shirreffs, whose ability as a dual-threat quarterback gives the Huskies' offense a different dimension. The run game for UConn has struggled to get going, outside of Newsome's 5.1 yards per carry average, and the passing game has been average, ranking No. 64 in the country, with 234.7 yards per game. The Huskies don't concern me in the same way teams like Memphis or BYU have this season, but they aren't as inept as many thought they might be this season. This should be one of the few games this season that doesn't look too bad on paper for the Cincinnati defense.

That Bearcats' defense came out last week and played tough in the opening quarter, but lost momentum, and eventually BYU receivers, as the game went on. With this game being at Nippert Stadium and being the homecoming game, I look for the UC defense to come out firing like they did against Miami (FL) and like they did in the early-going in Provo. Cincinnati's defense has been difficult to watch this season, more often than not, but there are some talented players on that unit that have the capability of making a mark on a game like this. They just have yet to do so this season with far too few impact plays from this defense. This matchup will come down to playing aggressive, maintaining mental focus and flustering Shirreffs. Cincinnati can certainly do it, but if they will remains to be seen.

UConn Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense

The Huskies struggle in rush defense, which is good news for the Bearcats' three-headed monster at running back. Opportunities will be there for Mike Boone, Tion Green and Hosey Williams to grind out yards and I fully expect Tommy Tuberville to have a newfound emphasis on the run game, especially early, after the way the offense fizzled out at BYU with the run game only averaging 2.6 yards per carry.

UConn's passing defense is their strength defensively. Cincinnati's quarterback situation is, once again, a gametime decision. I'm really not sure if there is a right answer for the Bearcats there. I don't expect Tuberville to realistically switch back and forth from Hayden Moore to Gunner Kiel on a week-to-week basis as he claims he might (depending on that week of practice), so my guess is Moore gets the start again. I have no problem with that in terms of how the offense functions with either quarterback behind center. I believe the complete fourth quarter meltdown last week was just that; a meltdown. I personally would start Kiel with confidence, but that's just my preference.

Either way, the Cincinnati receivers present so many challenging matchups that the Cincinnati offense should be able to move the ball through the air. I'm looking at the run game being the emphasis, but we know it will come back to Shaq Washington, Johnny Holton, Chris Moore, Mckale McKay and others in the passing game eventually. I like the Cincinnati offense here.

Special Teams

Cincinnati's Andrew Gantz is 24-for-24 on extra points and 13-for-16 on field goals with a long of 51. Punter Sam Geraci has been solid this season.

UConn's Bobby Puyol is 12-for-15 on extra points this season and 9-for-10 on field goals with a long of 42 yards. Punter Justin Wain is averaging 38.1 yards per punt with a long of 50.

Prediction

Score: Cincinnati 45, UConn 21

Maybe this is an optimistic score for me to predict, but I like Cincinnati's chances of putting up some points on the Huskies. I also think Cincinnati's defense may actually be able to keep this one from turning into another shootout. So much of Cincinnati's season has come down to mistakes, whether turnovers or mental lapses, that if those are just cleaned up, you have a bunch of talented players, headlined by an explosive offense that should allow the defense to play fast and aggressive.

If Cincinnati cuts out those mental errors, then we should be able to see a more complete showing from the Bearcats in front of the home crowd. If not, the frustration may continue. Expect a renewed focus on the run game, but don't think that will take away from the dynamic passing game. I'm hoping we see the intensity on defense that we saw a couple weeks ago in Cincinnati's win over Miami (FL).

UConn isn't the bottom-dweller many expected them to be at the beginning of the season, but Cincinnati should show well in this one.