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October 11, 2013

Know your opponent: UConn

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TEAM: University of Connecticut

LOCATION: Storrs, Ct.

NICKNAME: Huskies

2013 RECORD 0-4 (0-0 - American)

2012 RECORD: 5-7 (2-4 Big East)

CONFERENCE: American Athletic

HEAD COACH: T.J. Weist (1st year)

KICKOFF: 12:00 PM ET Saturday, October 12 at Rentschler Field - ESPN3.com and AAC Network

The proverbial 800 pound gorilla is off Willie Taggart's back with a 26-20 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats and planted firmly on the shoulders of UConn interim coach T.J. Weist.

Weist, the offensive coordinators for the Huskies, inherited the head coaching job after Paul Pasqualoni was fired September 30.

Weist knows his team is struggling, ranked 121st in the FBS rankings for total offense (sound familiar USF fans?). He's elected to start a true freshman at quarterback, but the offensive line has not been able to run block or pass block.

Still, the Huskies are the last team to beat Louisville - and did so after losing to the Bulls 13-6 last year. The message - anything can happen in college football on any given day.

The offense
Quarterback: After four games of futility - the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater by Weist, who will start true freshman Tim Boyle. Boyle committed to Boston College prior to the coaching change and didn't figure into new coach Steve Addazio's offense. He ended up at home with the Huskies. The Middlefield, Conn. native is the first true freshman starter at UConn since 2001 - when Dan Orlovsky started for the Huskies.

Much like USF, the Huskies have struggled to find a consistent signal caller and have been plagued with turnovers and sacks. Former starter Chandler Whitmer has five touchdowns to six interceptions and has been sacked 19 times. It should be noted that Boyle is a pro-style QB - so mobility will be a big thing with the weak offensive line.

Running game: The running game was an area most Huskie fans had high hopes for. Lyle McCombs has the potential to generate break away speed, but because the Huskies have been playing from behind so much - the running game hasn't really had a chance to matriculate. McCombs ran for over 800 yards last year and has 200 yards on 57 carries and two scores this year.

Offensive Line: Weak - that's how one reporter we talked to called the offensive line. With 19 sacks and very little running game, we can see why. The right side of the line, led by OT Kevin Friend - should be the strong side, but he's been in and out of the line up all year. Friend has yet to finish a game and has battled a leg injury all season. Xavier Hemmingway is his back-up and the true freshman has struggling on pass blocking, and has been beaten badly. The Huskies are not very deep on the line. Friend will go on Saturday - but for how long?

Wide Receivers: With the abysmal QB play, the receivers for the Huskies haven't had a chance to distinguish themselves. Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips (15 catches, 255 yards, 3 touchdowns) has the capability of making things happen, but has been battling a hamstring injury. The two weeks of rest may have helped, but if the line can't block - it's irrelevant if Phillips can go full speed when there's no time to throw the ball. Geremy Davis is the leader offensively for the receivers with 19 catches for 309 yards.

The Defense
Four defensive starters returned at the beginning of the season, and the defensive line was supposed to be the strength of the defense. Two big losses are the corners, with Dwayne Gretz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson are gone to the NFL. Only three sacks in four games is a glaring statistic.

Defensive line: - Jesse Joseph is the anchor at defensive end for the 4-3 defense. He's the key to getting to the outside. Tackles Julian Campenni and Shamar Stephen will be the key up front. The line play for the season has been hit and miss thus far for the Huskies

Linebackers: Yawin Smallwood has the credentials to be one of the best run-stoppers in the country. He flies around the field on every play and is usually around the ball. Supporting him are Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart. Perhaps the strength of the defense, ranked 51st nationally giving up 379 yards per game.

Secondary : With the loss of two NFL corners, the Husky defensive secondary has been suspect. The Huskies have been unable to blitz with the inexperience, with Byron Jones and Taylor Mack still learning the position. Their back-ups are both freshmen.

Special Teams: The only scoring the Huskies did against Buffalo was four field goals from Chad Christen - who has five field goals and five extra points. Christen has had one blocked and his longest is 37 yards. Punter Cole Wagner has been kicking the ball ok - with a 38.7 yard average on 27 punts. The return game has failed to set up the Huskies with any decent field position.

Overview
UConn fired its coach Sept. 30 and started over with Weist, who has no head coaching experience and came to the Huskies from Cincinnati. He knows USF coach Willie Taggart very well - having coached with him at Western Kentucky where both were assistants on the 2002 national champion team. The Huskies need a win about as bad as USF did last week. Like USF, UConn has played incredibly good and incredibly bad all in the same season. As if to set the stage, it was UConn's 32-18 loss to Towson State, an FCS opponent was fodder for the national media for about two days - until the Bulls lost at home to McNeese State. A win by UConn would be a tremendous boost for this program in complete upheaval.



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