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Game Preview: UConn Huskies at Cincinnati Bearcats

It’s the sequel to the dreariest game of 2016.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

One of the worst football games I have ever had the privilege unfortunate task of watching was when the Cincinnati Bearcats played the UConn Huskies last season. The Huskies won the contest, with the Bearcats amassing all of 317 yards, including two on the ground. (That is not a typo).

Those two teams are now going to meet up yet again. Its like I went and saw “Suicide Squad” and then had to go see “Suicide Squad 2” just one year later. At least give me a few years to forget how ruddy awful the first one was.

Neither squad has really improved since last year, although both have new head coaches. UC, of course, is now led by Luke Fickell, who has had a rough go in his inaugural season. The Bearcats are 3-8 overall and just 1-6 in league play. They have to win in this season finale to match last year’s 4-8 mark.

On the other side, UConn got rid of Bob Diaco and brought back old friend Randy Edsall, who has not exactly rekindled the bowl contending UConn of 10 years ago. The Huskies, who went to four-straight bowl games from 2007 to 2010 under Edsall, are just 3-8, although they do have two wins in conference play somehow.

Offensive Outlook

There’s no way UC is only going to rush for two yards again. Its just not possible. While leading rusher Gerrid Doaks will likely sit out once again with a shoulder injury, Mike Boone and Michael Warren II should be able to find enough room to squeak out respectable yardage. UConn is allowing 4.95 yards per carry and just gave up 330 rushing yards to Boston College. Plus, it will be without leading tackler Junior Joseph for the first half, as he serves a suspension for a targeting penalty.

This will be Boone’s last collegiate game sadly, and although he has not had a spectacular year, he should be given plenty of work as a sendoff. He has rushed for at least 55 yards in three of the last four games so he has at least gotten back to solid status. It is also the end of the line for Devin Gray, who had a fantastic junior season, but has been limited in 2017. He has only 439 yards on 27 receptions. Kahlil Lewis, who had a 75-yard touchdown last time out, has a chance to finish a decent season on a high note by adding to his team-highs in receptions (55), yards (612) and touchdowns (five).

To help ensure success from the running game and build some confidence for next year, UC could use a strong game from Hayden Moore. The quarterback did throw for 315 yards against UConn last year, but he was pretty awful against East Carolina. He completed only 15-of-28 pass attempts for 187 yards and an interception, which largely outweighed his three touchdown passes. Fickell has stuck with his guy for pretty much all of the season, but this might be a game in which Ross Trail gets some playing time.

Defensive Outlook

Surprisingly, for a UConn team, there is offensive punch to be found. The Huskies rank 68th in the country in offensive S&P+ and just 127th on defense. However, the unit has taken a step back since quarterback Bryant Shirreffs was lost for the season due to a concussion. He threw for 2,287 yards and 14 touchdowns on 65.8 percent passing in nine games before David Pindell took over. Pindell has completed only 52.8 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 104.3. That’s not great.

Pindell does have weapons he can use, however, with Hergy Mayala (39 receptions, 584 yards, 6 TDs), Quayvon Skanes (34 receptions, 301 yards, TD), Aaron McLean (27 receptions, 414 yards, 2 TDs) and do-it-all running back Arkeel Newsome 797 total yards) all relatively dangerous threats in the passing game. Kevin Mensah (537 yards, 4 TDs), Nate Hopkins (305 yards, 7 TDs) and Newsome also give the Huskies solid choices when they run the ball.

UC does not have the defensive talent to stop all those playmakers, so making life difficult for Pindell will be critical. If that makes me sound like a broken record, well I’m sorry, but the Bearcats could fix at least a few of their defensive issues with any semblance of a pass rush. They are last in the American Athletic Conference in sacks (10). The good news is UConn has allowed more sacks than any team in the league (33).

Prediction Time!

This is a largely meaningless game. Fickell is not going to get fired no matter the outcome, and UConn’s coaching staff is probably safe as well. In addition, neither team is playing for a bowl game, so once this chapter ends, it will be time to close the book on 2017. UC is playing at home and UConn has plenty of weaknesses. The Bearcats just have to exploit a couple to win.

Cincinnati 24 UConn 21