The 2015 football schedule has not been doing Bob Diaco or the UConn Huskies any favors. They opened the season with a tough FCS opponent, then faced two triple-option offenses separated by a road trip to Missouri.
Now, on a short week, the Huskies have jetted off to Utah where a good BYU team awaits them for a game that will kick off late at night according to their body clock.
Through four games, the Huskies have proven themselves to be a much more competitive team than most believed they would be before the season, so there is reason to believe this game will be closer than expected. The Cougars have been hit pretty hard with injuries, and will also be dealing with the disadvantage of a short week, even though it is a home game for them. They are without their starting quarterback, top defensive tackle, and top two running backs, and are vulnerable in a few ways UConn could take advantage of.
For the third time this season, the Huskies are double-digit underdogs. For the second time, they will be dealing with a lengthy road trip and a hostile environment. UConn has yet to win on the road in the Diaco era, but in one road game this season it appeared as though the Huskies have kept their composure.
The mindset of this team has begun to shift and the players definitely believe they should win every week. That belief will go a long way in playing this one to the wire. Expect a resurgent performance from the Husky defense, and if the offense can establish the running game it could be a long night for Cougar faithful.
Prediction: I think UConn will put a scare into BYU, but still fall in this one, 24-18.
How to Watch and Listen
TV: 10:15pm, ESPN2 (Eamon McAnaney, Rocky Boiman)
Radio: WTIC 1080am (Joe D'Ambrosio, Wayne Norman, Kevin Nathan) | WHUS, 91.7FM | www.whus.org
Series History: Last year's meeting, a 35-10 BYU win to open the season, was the first between these two schools. There are no future dates of this series set, but I imagine UConn's scheduling the way it is and BYU being independent that we'll see BYU on the schedule again down the road.
Q&A with Vanquish the Foe
Thanks to Jake Welch for his answers!
1) How has BYU's offense changed with Magnum at QB?
While Mangum has performed admirably for the injured Taysom Hill, there is a definite drop off in terms of running ability. Hill was one of the best rushing quarterbacks in game entering this season and now that defenses don't have the account for Tanner Mangum running the ball, the put their focus elsewhere.
The offense is also a lot more vanilla with Tanner at the helm. He's got a lot of talent and is learning quickly but he is still just months removed from his Mormon mission. With Taysom, offensive coordinator Robert Anae had a senior quarterback who had been in his system for multiple seasons. Now they are starting fresh with a quarterback with a completely different skill set.
2) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the BYU defense?
After getting blasted 31-0 by Michigan it's hard to say that they have any strengths whatsoever but I think that's because Michigan exploited their main weakness which is stopping the run. The Cougars lost starting nose tackle Travis Tuiloma in the opening game against Nebraska and front seven has missed his dominating presence in the middle.
In the last two game opposing teams have been able to run the ball at will again the BYU defense, opening up the passing lanes in the secondary. If BYU is able to slow down the run game they have a talented group of young linebackers in Fred Warner, Sione Takitaki and Harvey Langi. If they have the opportunity to blitz on third and distance they can do some damage.
3) Some of BYU's national rankings in yards and points per game are fairly middling, do you think those are an unfair method of evaluation for BYU given the level of competition it has faced through four games?
There is no question that BYU's schedule in September has been daunting but I don't think that the coaching staff or fan base will lean on that crutch for their offensive inefficiencies. Now when you combine the schedule with the rash of injuries that BYU has experienced on offense then things get tricky. As mentioned BYU has been playing without quarterback Taysom Hill as well as 1st string RB Jamaal Williams, 2nd string RB Algie Brown and now 3rd string RB Adam Hine.
The offense will now have to rely on their group of experienced wide receivers and young quarterback to lead the way. If anything this early schedule will prepare them for the insanity that is the 2016 slate which includes games against Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Boise State and Cincinnati.
4) What happened against Michigan that didn't happen in the other close games? What did Michigan do well?
Michigan came in with a game plan that attacked all of BYU weaknesses. They ran the ball well on offense and came with the physical aggression on
5) Who are the biggest playmakers on offense?
It's probably wide receiver Mitch Jurgens. He's undersized compared to the rest of the towering wide outs but he has sure hands and has the ability to sneak behind the secondary for those deep pass plays that Tanner Mangum has become known for. I would also list Mitch Matthew but he's on my hate last after he folded like a cheap suit against Michigan.
6) What is the mindset of the fanbases after the rollercoaster ride of two hail mary wins, followed by a close loss to a good team, then a blow out? Where are expectations after Hill's injury?
It's interesting because a lot of fans have dismissed the notion that losing Taysom Hill should decrease expectations for the outcome of the season. Since Tanner Mangum has played pretty well in his first few games, fans kept the expectations high and were ultimately disappointing after last week's loss. It's hard to say where most fans at sitting now.
A lot have the understanding that starting a true freshman quarterback is going to be an adjustment but others still expect him to put up Ty Detmer like numbers. I will say that with a certainty that if BYU loses, #FireBronco will be trending in Utah for the next few days.
7) What are fans expecting to see from UConn?
After the shellacking that they experienced last week, I'm not sure what BYU fans are expecting. Many expect to win but I don't think optimism is overflowing. This is Bob Diaco's third time facing the Cougars in three years and he has a defense that plays hard for him. At the beginning of the season this game looked like it would be a nice break from the tough schedule but now not so much.
8) Your prediction?
I'm going to go with BYU 23 UConn 13. The BYU defense has struggled recently but I don't think that UConn has the rushing attack or play makers at WR to really break the game open.