The Cincinnati Bearcats have a game on Saturday against the UConn Huskies. Who knows more about the Huskies than the folks over at The UConn Blog? Nobody. that’s who. So we took some time to chat with site editor Aman Kidwai to find out a little more about the UC’s next opponent.
DTD: Both of these teams come into this game 0-2 in American Athletic Conference play. Why does UConn need this win more than UC?
AK: Because we haven't beaten Cincinnati since 2010, and it hasn't been very close at all during that stretch. UConn has missed on two opportunities to earn meaningful wins against Navy and Syracuse. This would be a good step in the right direction for a team which is currently drawing a lot of ire from the fanbase.
DTD: Running the ball has been a real struggle for the Huskies in 2016, which ranks last in the AAC and is coming off a 62-yard effort against Houston. What are some reasons for the difficulties?
AK: The offensive line is, simply, not very good. Second, the coaching staff insists on using a very predictable run-first approach from tight formations- the defense knows what's coming.
DTD: The offense in general has struggled as well, especially when it comes to getting into the red zone. What does UConn need to do to start sustaining drives?
AK: UConn needs to spread the field, design multiple ways to get the ball out of Bryant Shirreffs' hands quickly and into the hands of an offensive playmaker, which we actually have a few of. Unfortunately many of them are being criminally underutilized, including running back Arkeel Newsome, and a talented trio of tight ends who could all stand to get a few more touches.
DTD: My condolences on the loss to Houston. I can commiserate. Were there any silver linings you took away from the setback?
AK: Not really.
DTD: One of our writers, Clayton Trutor, named Bob Diaco the most handsome coach in college football before the season started. First, do you agree with that assertion? Secondly, what are your thoughts on the job he has done at the helm this year and overall?
AK: I can't confidently say that Bob Diaco is the handsomest coach in all of college football, since I probably couldn't pick many of them out of a lineup, but he has got to be up there. That said, it's almost as prestigious an honor as being the most attractive guy in the press box, not a lot of competition for the honor.
Overall, I think Diaco is doing a good job. He's bringing in decent talent and has the program moving in the right direction, that much is clear. This year, he is at a crossroads with a team which had some expectations, modest ones, but expectations nonetheless, going into this season. A defensive-minded coach, Diaco has that side of the ball doing alright, but the offense once again lags way behind. Ultimately his success this season, and as head coach of this team, will hinge on his ability to make the offense a productive one.
DTD: Noel Thomas is playing incredibly well this season. What are some reasons for his absolute breakthrough?
AK: For all of the things the offense is doing wrong strategically, the high target rate and usage of Thomas is a welcome sight. At the very least, UConn is getting the ball to its best player in a variety of different ways. He is catching quick passes and gaining a few yards on 1st and 2nd down as a way to stay involved even when the offense is not flying. He's also very capable downfield, and has a great catch radius and ability to pull in just about anything thrown his way.
The scary part is that his numbers could be a lot better, as quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has missed Thomas open downfield a handful of times.
DTD: Who are some other players (offense or defense) that UC should keep its eye on?
AK: Defensively, the front seven is filled with playmakers, interior lineman Foley Fatukasi and hybrid end Luke Carrezola are probably the most disruptive, but the linebacking corps is just a rock-solid group through and through. In the secondary, cornerback Jamar Summers is an interception machine, and safety Obi Melifonwu has been playing very well.
DTD: The UConn defense has not created many turnovers this year after being relatively good at that last season. Dumb luck or something else?
AK: The turnovers are a tough one to diagnose, since there's always some random luck associated with picking up a fumble or getting a pick from a tipped ball, but my best guess is that the big plays allowed by the defense have prevented Diaco's bend-but-don't break strategy from succeeding. Whereas a college offense is more likely to make a mistake when it has to go 12 plays to make it down the field every time, the defense has been failing to prevent big plays.
AK: Lastly, who wins and why?
I think Cincinnati wins. Despite the Bearcats' issues at quarterback, the UConn offense has simply shown very little and without an overhaul in the strategy there, it is expected to keep being a problem.