As is tradition, we’ve gotten together with our opponent’s SB Nation blog to bring you the inside scoop. This week we’ve got The UConn Blog breaking down the Huskies. Make sure to check out our answers to their questions over at TUCB, as well!
STL: Big headline up y'all's way this offseason was the return of Randy Edsall, who had guided UConn through its best years previously but also left the Huskies twisting in the wind when he left for Maryland. How has the fanbase viewed the decision? Is there any difference between how people feel about Edsall's ability to upgrade UConn's prospects on the field, and how people feel about Edsall's ethics/morals/previous conduct?
TUCB: On average, the fanbase was lukewarm on the decision initially, moreso for the lack of excitement factor than the crappy way in which he left for Maryland. To fans who were over his departure, the idea of bringing in a pretty traditional coach in terms of style and substance did not seem to match the ambitions or needs of the program in current state. It seemed like another safe hire a la Paul Pasqualoni after Edsall left. Most were willing to give Edsall a chance given that he was the only person to succeed with UConn at the FBS level and that the program had reached a horrifying nadir by the end of last season.
That sentiment shifted to overwhelmingly positive once the coordinator hires were announced. Rhett Lashlee coming from Auburn for the same job felt like a huge win from a scheme and prestige perspective, in stark contrast to any of UConn's recent OCs. It also represented an evolution of Randy Edsall's offensive strategy, which was a traditional run-first pro-style in his first stint that we were concerned he would want to employ upon his return. Defensive coordinator Billy Crocker led the top-ranked defense in FCS at Villanova with his aggressive 3-3-5 scheme, which was also pretty exciting given the team returned a lot of defensive talent.
Lastly, Edsall and his staff picked up some big wins on the 2017 recruiting trail despite being short on time and is off to a great start for the class of 2018 as well. For those reasons, fans were excited about the direction of the program at the start of the season, which is pretty impressive considering where things were at the end of 2016.
STL: Game one against FCS Holy Cross was a little more interesting than most FBS schools would have wanted. The Crusaders had a six-point lead heading into the fourth before UConn rallied with a 13-point burst to snatch victory back from the jaws of defeat. What was the problem for the first 45 minutes, and what changed to go right in the final 15?
TUCB: A problem for the full 60 was that the Holy Cross offense was able to find space in the passing game and pick apart the Husky secondary. Even though Holy Cross was shut out in the 2nd half, they were still moving the ball at a decent clip and only didn't score due to missed field goals and deep territory 4th down attempts.
The change which made the difference in the game was at quarterback, where Bryant Shirreffs efficiently led the offense downfield for multiple scoring drives.
STL: Looks like there's a little bit of a quarterback controversy brewing. Junior David Pindell got the nod to run Rhett Lashlee's offense at first, but fifth-year senior Bryant Shirreffs is listed as the starter for the UVA game. Which do you have more faith in, and who fits the new offensive system better?
TUCB: Right now Bryant Shirreffs is the one I have more faith in, as the offense was significantly better with him under center. Pindell probably is a better system fit as one of two QBs recruited by the new staff, and probably also has a higher ceiling, but Shirreffs has a higher floor and that makes him the better bet at quarterback at this point in the season.
STL: The defense forced two fumbles—recovering one—and recorded two sacks against Holy Cross, but otherwise got kinda sliced and diced through the air. Who are guys in the defensive secondary who need to step up moving forward? And how much responsibility for a porous pass defense would you put on the front seven instead?
TUCB: I'd say the front six got pressure, and the issues were mostly on the secondary, which has a lot of youth and inexperience. Corners Jamar Summers and Tre Bell are experienced seniors but the rest of the three starting positions are all currently working with a rotational committee. There was some movement on the depth chart which clarified things, but right now there are 3-5 people, mostly freshmen and sophomores, UConn is counting on to step up and make this year's secondary work.
STL: UConn had an unexpected bye week due to Hurricane Irma, as the Huskies' game against USF got canceled (after first being rescheduled). Any reports on how the team used the time off? What's one thing you're looking for them to have improved from two weeks ago?
TUCB: I hope once the game got cancelled hopefully they took the opportunity to get a head start on prepping for UVA in a game which is a huge opportunity for the program. Another key for the Huskies was giving linebackers Junior Joseph and Vontae Diggs time to heal up from injuries. The main areas which need improving are the secondary and offensive line cohesion.
STL: The money guys are favoring Virginia in this one, most by double digits. That's unfamiliar territory for Cavaliers fans, and we're pretty nervous about blowing it. Give us one reason UConn will pull the upset, and one reason why UVA will cover.
TUCB: UConn can pull off the upset because it will be a low-scoring affair and one or two mistakes or big plays, on special teams or otherwise, can make the difference. UVA will cover if they manage to also pick apart the UConn secondary and the Husky offense stalls as it is known to do. My prediction is that UConn covers the spread but UVA gets the win.