Cincinnati faces a UConn team this week that’s undergone more than its fair share of turmoil this season. After losing in embarrassing fashion to FCS Towson 33-18 to open up their season, the Huskies have continued to flounder in recent weeks. It forced the UConn AD to terminate head coach Paul Pasqualoni just a couple of games into his third year and promote offensive coordinator TJ Weist to the interim head coaching role. It was a move that needed to be made after the listless performance the Huskies have put up this year and quite frankly for most of Pasqualoni’s tenure in Storrs.
The actual team itself appears to be putting on a better show since Weist took over but this is still a team reeling from a lack of playmakers and depth. I said it last week and I’ll say it again, if you think the following preview reads like last week’s that’s because it does. UConn is a team built in the same manner as the previous two; stingy defense coupled with a powerful running game. That’s their formula for success but based on the 0-5 start, clearly it’s not working like they had hoped this year.
Let’s breakdown both sides of the football.
The problem with this UConn team, as it has been in the past, is the quarterback play and a lack of playmakers at wide receiver. The Huskies have always been a strong running team built behind a gargantuan offensive line. That’s been their bread-and-butter for damn near a decade now. Game changing runningbacks such as Donald Brown, Jordan Todman, both of which are in the NFL, and now Lyle McCombs have paved the way for the UConn’s offensive attack.
But the other half of the offense, namely the players tasked at stretching the field, has been dismal. This season is no different. Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who won the starting job basically by default, had completed just 55% of his passes and thrown five touchdowns to six interceptions. When Pasqualoni was fired, so too did Whitmer’s tie to the starting QB job. Interim head coach Weist opted to go with true freshman Tim Boyle against South Florida last week. He completed just 35% of his passes for 149 yards and zero touchdowns. Yikes, not exactly the numbers that would get you excited. Clearly there’s a quarterback problem at UConn.
Again this season the Huskies seem to play pretty sound defense. But, like always, the offense just can’t put up enough points. It’s a shame really because the guys on the other side of the football have been very stout in 2013. Statistically UConn’s defense has allowed just 348 yards per game (28th nationally) and an impressive 170 yards per game through the air (9th nationally). But the secondary doesn’t seem to particularly draw its strength from a disruptive defensive line. The Huskies have notched just five sacks this season which leads me to believe that a combination of experience, length, and talented youth are contributing to the performance of the defensive backs.
Another aspect about this unit that’s impressive is their unwillingness to allow the long ball. UConn has given up just 34 plays of 10 yards or more (T-4th nationally) and just 14 plays of 20 yards or more (T-17th nationally). This is a defense that will make you nickle and dime them to win. Additionally, the Huskies do a pretty nice job of getting off the field on third down. Opponents are converting just 36.7% of them into first downs, which ranks UConn 41st in the country. Even though the offense isn’t getting a whole heck of a lot done, the defense is definitely giving them quite a few opportunities to succeed.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION
The Bearcats got an uplifting win over Temple last Friday. They clicked on both sides of the ball for the majority of the game. Penalties were still an issue but I was pleased with at least the gameplan portion of Cincinnati’s performance. But now UC takes on a team more similar to South Florida than Temple, at least from a talent standpoint. Lyle McCombs must be accounted for and Cincinnati must stay patient against UConn’s stingy defense. They don’t allow opposing offenses to go deep on them very often and as such can only be beaten with a short passing game and consistent rushing attack. No matter the means, I think the end result is a Bearcats victory. Sorry to ruin your return to Cincy, Coach Weist.