On Saturday, the Huskies travel to Nippert Stadium, a place that UConn has gone 0-6 at since the Bearcats joined the Big East for the 2005 season. The closest game was a memorable one in 2009 on ABC Saturday Night Football with Brent Musburger on the call, as Randy Edsall took a team recovering from the loss of Jasper Howard to Cincinnati and fought for the entire sixty minutes, recovering from a 37-17 3rd quarter deficit only to fall just short, 47-45 against a Bearcats team that went on to an undefeated regular season. Overall, the average score at Nippert has seen Cincy come out on top 36-20, including 37-13 in the last meeting in the venue two years ago.
Last season, it was the Huskies who came out victorious at The Rent, a 20-9 win where UConn pitched a shutout in the second half while limiting the Bearcats to just 2-yards rushing on 22-attempts in the game. Yes, you read that stat correctly. Back is QB Hayden Moore, as is RB Mike Boone for an offense that is under new leadership following the firing of Tommy Tuberville shortly after the conclusion of the 2016 season. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell took over, but the Bearcats have struggled to a 3-8 record, while going just 1-6 in the AAC, with a 17-16 game with Tulane the lone win. The high point was the win over in-state rival Miami (OH), in a dramatic 21-17 come-from-behind victory.
The offensive struggles for the Bearcats in 2017 are a welcome sight for a UConn defense that faced five of the top 12 offenses in the nation over a seven game stretch in UCF, Memphis, SMU, Missouri and USF earlier this season. Cincy averages just under 21-points per game (115th in the nation) and is ranked in the bottom half of all offensive categories including total offense (103rd), passing (75th) and rushing (98th).
It’s a nice matchup to close the year for the Huskies, who are looking to record their fourth win of the season and build some momentum heading into year two under the new staff. On Tuesday, Edsall highlighted some of the key players that will standout on Saturday during his weekly press conference.
“Offensively, Hayden Moore is a good quarterback and he has Mike Boone who is a good running back,” he said. “Kahlil Lewis and Devin Gray are two of the three receivers who have most of their catches and have done a really good job. That center is a really good player for them, [David] Niehaus, so they have the ability to be explosive offensively. They can run the ball, throw the ball, so we are going to have to play good, sound, fundamental defense in order to give ourselves an opportunity.”
“[Cortez] Broughton and [Marquise] Copeland up front are really good players on the defensive line,” Edsall continued. “[Perry] Young and [Jarell] White are two really good linebackers for them and then [Linden] Stephens is a corner who is really good. It just comes down to us executing and doing the things that we are capable of doing and doing it consistently for sixty minutes. If we do that, then we’ll give us an opportunity to win.”
ANTHONY WATKINS WILL MISS FINAL GAME OF HIS CAREER, CAUSING FURTHER MOVEMENT IN SECONDARY
It was announced a few weeks back that redshirt junior safety Anthony Watkins would be honored during senior day in the Huskies home finale against USF. Unfortunately, an injury will cause him to miss the last game of his final season with UConn.
“He’s in concussion protocol and won’t make it back,” Edsall said on Tuesday. “Chris Britton, Jason Thompson and Kyle Buss all practiced today. We’ll get some guys back, hopefully, as long as there are no setbacks during the week, but we expect those guys back as we get ready to go.”
The loss of Watkins means the secondary once again will look younger from a years experience standpoint. True freshman Omar Fortt returns to the lineup and will be backed up by Eddie Hahn, who makes a shift back to the secondary from linebacker this week. Why the move of Hahn?
“Injuries,” Edsall said. “We had to move some guys around just like Tyler had to go back to safety and Omar went into Husky, just because of the injuries. The good thing is that Tyler has played back there before. Do you want to do that? No, but that’s what you’ve got to do to give the team the best opportunity to win this week. Some other guys have to move because if someone gets hurt and goes down, you can’t take a guy from one position and move him there because he hasn’t gotten any reps there during the week, so it’s that time of the year where you have to move the pieces around a little bit to be able to get the things you have to have and in case you do get some injuries. You hope you don’t, but if you do, we’re in the best possible position to handle those injuries.”
The ability to plug certain guys into various positions highlights the versatility of several players in the secondary and hybrid linebackers to rotate through various roles.
“It does speak to their versatility, but there is a difference between playing 6-yards from the line of scrimmage to 10-yards in terms of space and what you’re going to see passing game wise,” Edsall said. “It’s a credit to a guy like Tyler Coyle who has the ability to play down in the box. A lot of times when you have safeties that have that ability, if we’re going to play whether it’s a nickel or dime scheme, they need to be able to go down and play what we call a Husky, that can be interchangeable. Him being back there before, we thought that was a better move to have him back, rather than Omar, who we think is better suited to be closer to the line of scrimmage.”
NOTE: Edsall continued with his comments on Coyle and Fortt, but the recording died out before he finished his response.
SENIORS FINAL GAME IN A CONNECTICUT UNIFORM
For several Huskies, Saturday will be the final time they ever play the game of football competitive again. It’s a thought Edsall shared with the team at practice on Tuesday, using it as further motivation to have proper preparation for the game on Saturday.
“I talked to them today after practice and I just said to the whole team, for some of these guys, this is the last time they are ever going to play the game of football on Saturday, they may never put a uniform on again,” he said. “So what they need to make sure they are doing is everything possible to prepare themselves to walk off the field victorious, so the last game they ever played, they can say they won. Everyone else needs to do their part to help those seniors and other guys, to give them the opportunity to do that, that’s what you hope for. It’s the reality of it, there it is, it’s the last time they will put a uniform on.”
Edsall added a little more fuel to the fire.
“I told them too, this is the last time they are going to put the Connecticut uniform on,” he said. “If that doesn’t give them enough incentive and enough pride to go out and give it everything they have and prepare the right way this week, then they’ve been stealing from the university for the last five years. What this university has done for them and the opportunity that its given them, make sure you go out and show how thankful you are for that opportunity and give it everything that you have.”
FATUKASI & NEWSOME INVITED TO POSTSEASON ALL-STAR GAMES
On Tuesday, head coach Randy Edsall shared that earlier in the week, multiple seniors had been invited to postseason all-star games. First up, DT Foley Fatukasi was invited to the East-West Shrine game, while RB Arkeel Newsome had earned an invite to the Tropical Bowl in Daytona Beach.
“Foley has done some really good things this year and when he just goes and comes off the ball and attacks the center, he’s pretty good,” Edsall said. “He gets himself into trouble when he starts to freelance a little bit, tries to swim and do some of those things. I would say that his play has been inconsistent. It’s been good when he does the things we’ve asked him to do, but when he hasn’t done those things, he hasn’t been the kind of player that he really could be. That’s been our challenge and Coach Dottin-Carter’s challenge is to get him to do that all the time. Now he can knock the center back and that’s one of the things that we want him to do and when he does that and comes off, uses his hands and all those things, he’s good at that. When he tries to do some other things, then he’s not as functioning and as good as he can be. That’s going to be his challenge moving forward, doing the things that people ask him to do. If he gets an opportunity, he’s going to have to do that because if he doesn’t, people won’t keep him around.”
GILMARTIN WILL START IN JUNIOR JOSEPH’S FIRST HALF ABSENCE
Any time adversity strikes one player, it opens up an opportunity for another. Such is the case with redshirt freshman LB Ryan Gilmartin, who will start and play the entire first half with senior Junior Joseph sitting out the first two quarters following a targeting call that saw him ejected in the second half against Boston College at Fenway Park.
“One thing that I saw, he does has some physicalness to him,” Edsall said of Gilmartin on Tuesday “I think he felt a little bit sorry for himself at the beginning of the year, maybe he should’ve been doing a little bit more, but I think then he said I’m just going to do it and you could see him start to progress and get better. It’s going to be interesting to watch him play on Saturday. It’s his opportunity to go in for a half and show what he can do leading into next year. He needs to take advantage of that opportunity that’s presented to him and we’ll evaluate it and go from there. He has the strength, he’s a strong kid and he’s got a good sense of things, but now how is he really going to react when he’s there under the spotlight. I hope he does well, I want him to do well. Now that he’s got the opportunity, just go play, have fun, take advantage of it, read your keys and play fast.”
Gilmartin got on the field in the second half at Fenway and Edsall liked what he saw from the Weddington, NC native.
“I thought he did some good things,” Edsall said. “He went in, did the things that we asked him to do. Now are you going to do that this week, or are you going to try to go out and make plays and not do your job? That’s all we need him to do, go out there, do you job, be physical and if you do that then the productivity should show up on film.”
WHAT EDSALL WANTS TO SEE FROM QB DAVID PINDELL IN THE FINALE
Saturday is a final opportunity for JUCO transfer David Pindell, in his fourth start of the season, a third of a college football year, to put on tape how he’s progressed at this level in one season. This is an important game, specifically as the page gets turned to 2018 immediately after the final whistle blows this week, to leave a strong impression to try to separate himself from some of the younger talent on the roster. Two redshirt freshmen, Marvin Washington and Jordan McAfee, will be joined by Steve Krajewski, a commit from Colquitt County High School in Georgia, who is currently leading his team into the quarterfinals of the Georgia AAAAAAA State Playoffs this coming Friday. Those three will have the disadvantage of not playing in a game at this level in live game action and Pindell has a chance to add to his resume on Saturday. Edsall highlighted a few things he wants to see from Pindell this week.
“For David, just don’t turn the ball over,” he said. “Make the right reads, be more aggressive with all the things that he’s doing and just constantly get back there and drive the ball. If he can get better fundamentally and take a step in that direction, then I’ll be pleased with that.”
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