Another week, another shot at that first win. The Hoos head to Storrs, CT this weekend to face the Huskies of the University of Connecticut. Virginia looked much improved against Oregon, but still struggled defensively. UCONN is 1-1 so far this season with a close win over Maine and a close loss to Navy. To learn more about the Huskies, we reached out to our good friends at The UConn Blog. A huge thanks to Aman Kidwai (@TheUConnBlog) for chatting!
STL: Coming off a tough loss against Navy where it looked like the Huskies had a chance at the end. Where is the team (and the fanbase) mentally after a game like that?
UCB: The fanbase is fractured at the moment, to be quite honest. Some are encouraged by the strong performance on the road, particularly after a bad start, and what may have been a breakthrough for the offense. Others think Diaco should be fired for his mismanagement. While it's certainly upsetting to lose in that way, it certainly is no indictment on the direction Diaco is taking the program, though people are taking it as such because of a 4-point loss at Navy... perhaps the backdrop of potential Big 12 expansion has fans all nuts, maybe some just want to see decent football for the first time since the turn of the decade, but for the very least we are dealing with some expectations on this team.
STL: Noel Thomas accounts for 186 of 426 of UConn's receiving yards (44%). What are his biggest strengths and how can he be slowed down?
UCB: What's great about Noel Thomas is that he is incredibly solid and generally does an excellent job of catching anything around him. He's not going to burn you, or win 100% of jump balls thanks to a height advantage or anything like that. He just runs solid routes, catches the ball, and is good at getting yards after the catch.
STL: Your QB leads the team in rushing. Was this expected to be that much of a strength before the season, and what is the state of the running game overall?
UCB: With two really good options at running back, we were hoping quarterback Bryant Shirreffs wouldn't be the leading rusher after two games. My best guess is that defenses have been keying against the run given the style everyone knows UConn likes to play.
STL: Who are some players to know on offense? Defense?
On offense beyond Thomas, there is a large group of candidates who can make a difference. Usually in a game 1-2 end up doing pretty well. That group includes fellow receivers Hergy Mayala and Tyraiq Beals, tight ends Alec Bloom, Tommy Myers, and Tyler Davis, and running backs Arkeel Newsome and.Ron Johnson. Newsome in particular is someone who has gotten off to a slower than expected start after gaining 1300 yards last year as a sophomore.
STL: The Huskies have had two slow starts against both Maine and Navy. What do you attribute that to (and how can Virginia cause it to happen again)?
UCB: I consider them to be independent events. With Maine, a combination of opening game excitement, and getting the best effort possible from the other team while maybe UConn underestimated its opponent. With Navy, it is a complex offense that is very difficult to stop. The only common factor would be that both made multiple big plays on offense in the first half and emphasized stopping the run defensively.
STL: In week one, UConn gave up 269 yards passing to Maine. In week two, the Midshipmen rushed for 235 yards on the ground. What would you consider the biggest strength and weakness of the defense?
UCB: Right now the strength of the UConn defense is the front seven. That is a stout group, despite the 200+ yard performance from Navy, again that pesky triple option with a lot of talent and experience. The weakness right now appears to be the secondary, which has turned in two disappointing performances despite being expected to be a strength with three returning, experienced starters.
STL: Any food/drink recommendations near the stadium for those Wahoos traveling to UConn?
UCB: Sadly, the area right around the stadium does not have many super desirable options, but you are not far away from a bevy of options in the surrounding closeby towns of Glastonbury, Hartford/West Hartford, and the Manchester area.
STL: What is your prediction?
UCB: I think UConn is a much better team than its opening week performance and saw a lot of positives from the second week despite the clear mis-management at the end. Should people's perception of the team really be so different if that ill-fated 1-yard run hits paydirt? At the end of the day, they took a good Navy team to the wire on the road.
With the benefit of the home crowd and strength of the defense, along with the fact that UConn may have found its offensive groove, I like UConn's chances in this one, 20-14.