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UConn-Missouri Preview: No. 22 Tigers Will Be Tested When Huskies Visit Columbia

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In the first meeting between these two programs, UConn makes a visit to Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri to face a nationally ranked power from the SEC.

Apparently Missouri week is all about finding very serious pictures of their team.
Apparently Missouri week is all about finding very serious pictures of their team.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Another week passed with no changes on the depth chart as Bob Diaco and UConn begin preparation for Missouri.

There is a good chance the Tigers are the strongest opponent on UConn's schedule. Currently ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll, Missouri sits at 2-0 after wins over Southeast Missouri (FCS) and a close win on the road over Arkansas State, a team expected to be a contender in the Sun Belt, 27-20.

In what is the final non-conference game on its schedule, Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel will be counting on a strong and experienced offensive line to help establish the running game in the absence of the Tigers' leading rusher from last year, Russell Hansbrough. They have some other playmakers at the skill positions, but the UConn defense will not be easy to conquer. If Arkansas State was able to keep Missouri's offense (relatively) in check, UConn could have a chance to as well.

Quarterback Maty Mauk is a dual threat under center, rushing for 546 yards last year. He will be facing a UConn defense that has performed well against two challenging (albeit disadvantaged) opponents. UConn defensive tackle Julian Campenni will be up against Missouri center Evan Boehm in a marquee matchup to watch. The overall battle in trenches while the Tigers have the ball will be of interest.

The Huskies' defense might be without senior captain Marquise Vann this weekend, as he is still recovering from an injury sustained Saturday. Diaco said Vann is currently "day-to-day." Linebacker Matt Walsh, who started last week in a special defense built to stop Army's triple option, will get the start if Vann is out. Walsh would ostensibly start in the "triple option" defense next week against Navy, so this may be the start of him overtaking Vann for the starting job, which he had been pushing Vann for across the offseason.

Where Missouri is a real threat is on the defensive side. Against Arkansas State, the Tigers' defense recorded 15 tackles for loss (TFL) and intercepted three passes. Bob Diaco expressed great respect for the Missouri defensive line in his press conference Tuesday, calling them "awesome, big, strong and fast." UConn's offensive line, which has had its breakdowns despite solid overall performances, will have its hands full against that group.

The Missouri secondary is also talented and experienced, and could have a chance to make a lot of plays if its defensive line is wreaking havoc in the pass rush, as it is known to do. Missouri led the SEC in sacks last year and has the sixth-most sacks in the country across the past two years.

Missouri's offense might struggle, which is where the Huskies will have a chance to make a difference if they can force turnovers and stall drives. Offensively, UConn will need to limit turnovers and find ways to keep the Tigers' aggressive defense guessing. Schematically and with the personnel at the skill positions, the offense is well-suited to do so, but execution issues on the offensive line may prevent them from being effective.

UConn needs the offensive line to meet the tough task of neutralizing the Missouri defensive line. The big boys up front don't need to be dominant, just give the offense enough time to run a variety of plays. Defensively, if they can prevent the Tigers' running game from getting going, and contain Mauk's playmaking ability, the Huskies can at least keep it a low-scoring affair and have a chance.

Though few are giving the Huskies a chance to win, the coaches and players are optimistic they can compete. The 2-0 start, no matter who it was against, came in promising fashion and has offered great hope and encouragement for an improved team. The players understand and appreciate the importance of the opportunity they will have to showcase the program in what will be the feature game on ESPN at noon.