Week 8 - Oct. 24, 2015 - Time: TBA - Nippert Stadium
Connecticut Huskies at Cincinnati Bearcats
Who Are They?
UConn isn't exactly a foreign opponent, having seen them before in the old Big East and then again in the American Athletic Conference. However, they have found much more success on the basketball court than on the football field over the last... well... ever. Last season was no different for UConn as coach Bob Diaco had his first crack at a turnaround. Alas, it wasn't (and won't be) a quick-fix for the Huskies program and UConn finished 2-10 (1-7) with their lone conference win coming in a game where UCF gifted them four interceptions.
The other win?
A three-point win over Stony Brook.
The Huskies are coming off a season where the offense was bad, failing to move the ball throw the air and on the ground. Unable to do either, you can see where a season can sort of fall apart. The quarterback position is getting some stability although the primary returning player is likely sitting the bench this season. Tim Boyle only threw for 335 yards, threw one touchdown and three interceptions to go along with a 52.4% completion percentage as he played sparingly behind last season's starter Chandler Whitmer. There are rumblings that Bryant Shirreffs, a dual-threat NC State transfer, will be the starter for the Huskies and could be a player who makes some plays this season. Top returning rusher is Ron Johnson, who averaged 3.8 yards per carry, ran for 429 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. He has some talent. Nearly 900 yards receiving are gone from last year's team with last season's third leading receiver, Noel Thomas, the top returning wideout. That said, it is expected that Thomas will be a factor this season as a junior.
Defensively, the Huskies are better, but perhaps they are viewed in that light, in part, because of how bad the offense is. The rush defense is solid, but doesn't match the quality of a team like Temple. The defensive line and linebackers have some experience and size to impact the game in the trenches, but they aren't necessarily overwhelming. Senior backers Marquise Vann and Graham Stewart are the top returning linebackers, racking up 105 tackles and 94 tackles a year ago, respectively. As a team, they struggled to rush the passer and, in return, struggled in the secondary to force turnovers or really stop anyone consistently. Think of "bend, don't break" with this team a year ago.
Why Should We Worry?
UConn is a conference opponent, and while I don't think they are a particularly frightening one, they do have a level of familiarity with Cincinnati that lets them prepare differently. Additionally, there isn't a doubt in my mind that Sherriffs will be the starting quarterback this season for UConn simply because the Huskies struggle to move the ball and dual-threat quarterbacks have a way of making the ball move. Think of it as the high school "put your best athlete at quarterback" strategy. Dual-threat quarterbacks can make for unpredictable offenses and with a good defensive performance for UConn, which isn't out of the question given their experience on that side of the ball, they could push better teams throughout the year. Cincinnati? I'm not sure about that... but if the Bearcats have a scenario to fear it's that one.
And Why We Shouldn't...
It's too easy to point to Gunner Kiel and that offense every time, so let's look at another deciding factor here. The Cincinnati defense. UConn will enter this game with maybe one win on the season, the week before, at home against South Florida. If the Huskies are to accomplish that, they will need to run the ball effectively behind their offensive line that is better than many would assume. A strong run game with a dual-threat passer just screams ball control. Ball control offenses can break the rhythm of the most explosive passing attacks. While I don't think UConn has the personel to shut out the Bearcats, I do think Cincinnati's defense will step up in a big way. For the Bearcats, this game will come on the heels of their trip to Provo, Utah to face off with BYU (more on that game later) and the Cincinnati defense will be ready to shut down the young Huskies offense at Nippert in front of a home crowd that will either be rowdy following a big road win, or fuming following a tough loss. Either way, the Huskies will get the extreme and with the Bearcats defense shutting down the UConn run game, I think the offense won't need to be relied on as much as in other games. The Cincinnati offense will score, but the Cincinnati defense has enough talent to be the difference maker in this matchup.
Let's be honest, there aren't many games on Cincinnati's schedule that they can't/shouldn't win and we are only on #11. Of course, the Bearcats should win this one. In the grand scheme of the 2015 campaign, Cincinnati's home date with UConn figures to be one of the easiest because of UConn's youth and inability to move the ball offensively. Their defense isn't good enough to shut down the Bearcats offensively and, once again, the perceived defensive weakness for Cincinnati will shine through given the home field atmosphere and inexperience they are matching up with. This game could fall into "trap game" category, but I just don't think UConn is at a point in their rebuild where they can take down the Bearcats at Nippert unless Cincinnati throws the game away like UCF did a year ago.