Happy almost anniversary?
As you’ll hazily recall, the last time UConn won a football game was nearly one year ago against these very Louisville Cardinals. Around Thanksgiving 2012, the Huskies rolled into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, played a hideous football game and skipped town with a stunning 23-20 victory. Star Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was held to under 57 percent passing, while Lyle McCombs ran for 133 yards on the day.
Oh, how times have changed.
Currently, McCombs is averaging 66.7 yards per contest, and Bridgewater is no longer just a star; He’s a surefire NFL lottery pick. Meanwhile, you know about the disappearance of that defense. Those three facts, amongst the many others that pertain to the present day, are what will determine Friday’s outcome. Last season's win matters not.
“Last year's game doesn't mean anything because it's last year,” said interim coach T.J. Weist. “It's nice that they won, but that wasn't this year. It sure gives you confidence, but it's going to be a whole new game Friday night… We've looked at last year's film, but we're not focusing on it. We're starting over this Friday night.”
The last time these two teams met in East Hartford was two years ago, on Nov. 19th, 2011. The Cardinals took control early in the second half en route to an eventual 34-20 win. Bridgewater and co. led 28-10 entering the final minute of play and held nearly a 2:1 edge in time of possession.
A look at Louisville
Similar to the Huskies, these Cardinals are coming off a bye week that was largely spent focusing on how to heal from a loss to no. 21 UCF. Ten days ago, Louisville did pin USF easily 34-3, but six days prior to that, they let a 21-point lead slip to the Knights at home. UCF quarterback Blake Bortles finished a gamewinning drive with less than a minute remaining in his team’s 38-35 win back on Oct. 18th. The defeat was the Cardinals’ first of the season, after they handedly beat the likes of Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, FIU, Kentucky, Temple and Rutgers.
Offensively, everything starts with Bridgewater. He’s a master decision maker who possesses excellent accuracy to nearly every area of the field. This season, the Cardinal signal caller has completed almost 74 percent of his passes for 2,577 yards, 23 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
What impresses Weist most about the quarterback, and likewise the entire Louisville team, is his efficiency.
“Just look at their overall efficiency as an offense. They're number one in third down efficiency and offense. You don't do that without having a quarterback that's smart, that makes good decisions, that's athletic, all that. They're passing efficiency - they're second in the country… He's a very sound, fundamental quarterback that makes good decisions and that's efficient."
West continued to say that he is familiar with Cardinals’ offensive style, which employs a lot of shifts and motions pre-snap. Louisville likes to spread its weapons out to generate favorable one-on-one matchups against ill-equipped defenders.
Defensively, the UConn coach was very impressed with their pass rush. He touted defensive ends Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin as some of the best in the country, given that the pair has combined for over 12 sacks in just seven games. He mentioned that unit does bring pressure from lots of other areas on the field, but not typically in an all-out fashion.
Bye week highlights
Execution and physicality.
Those were the two areas of primary focus for the Huskies during their past bye week. After reviewing the film, Weist admitted that UConn has done a poor job of controlling the line of scrimmage, particularly against UCF. Thus, he scheduled three long practices to shore up their physicality up front and in all phases of the game.
“We had three good practices, three physical practices, long practices,” he said. “Obviously worked on fundamentals. It was more about our mentality and our physical and our finish and everything. We're working on our players' confidence, not just an assignment with technique, but big things. You've got to play physical."
The Huskies missed 12 tackles in their first 30-plus minutes against the Knights and rushed for little yardage outside of McCombs’ early 57-yard scamper. These two stats, and the fact that UCF’s average starting field position stood at around midfield, all pointed towards a need for more physical play.
Cochran moves to no. 2 spot
2013’s original starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer was nowhere to be found Monday upon the release of the team’s latest official depth. According to Weist, he sustained an injury to his hand in practice and could not function under center. As a result, sophomore Casey Cochran will step in to take the back-up duties against Louisville.
In limited time this season, Cochran has completed 11 of 19 passes for 117 yards, a touchdown and one interception.
Senior cornerback Taylor Mack is probable for Friday. He has missed all action since the early stages of the Michigan game with a shoulder injury.
Linebacker Marquise Vann remains ahead of Ryan Donohue on the depth chart along with Yawin Smallwood and Jefferson Ashiru.
ESPN2's live coverage will begin at 8:30 p.m. with Carter Blackburn on for play-by-play and Danny Kanell as the color commentator.
The Rentschler Field gates will open at 6:30 p.m. Friday night, so fans can watch the end of the men’s basketball opener against Maryland live on the videoboard.