Ahead of UConn's clash with No. 22 Missouri Saturday (noon, ESPN), Rock M Nation's football writer Jack Peglow spoke to The UConn Blog to provide his insight into the Huskies' third opponent of the season.
The UConn Blog: What did the Missouri fanbase think when a home-and-home with UConn was scheduled?
Jack: When Missouri made the move to the SEC, it brought about an awkward gap in the team's scheduling. The athletic department was forced to fill several newly-created open dates on relatively short notice. With that in mind, I think many Mizzou fans were happy to see the Tigers schedule an opponent as well-known nationally as UConn. Sure, they don't carry the same weight in football as they do in basketball, but the Huskies are a much better team than the programs some of Missouri's SEC counterparts are playing (and sometimes struggling with *coughAuburncough*).
TUCB: Has that sentiment changed at all since?
Jack: Not that I've noticed. When Missouri scheduled UConn, they knew what they were getting into. The program was taking the first steps of a rebuild that wouldn't be anywhere near its completion by the time the Huskies made the trip to Columbia. Seeing them at 2-0 right now is a nice bonus, but I wouldn't say that it's made the game any more or less attractive to Tiger fans.
TUCB: What was Arkansas State able to do so well that helped keep things close in your game last weekend?
Jack: Is "Play defense against Missouri's offense" a sufficient answer here? Probably not. Expanding on that: they made a young group of receivers look like a young group of receivers. The Arkansas State defensive line was also able to get some pressure on Maty Mauk thanks to an offensive line that seemingly only wanted to block every two or three plays. If that unit continues to have trouble gelling, UConn's front may be able to find some success.
TUCB: How big of a loss is running back Russell Hansbrough?
Jack: It is a huge loss for the offense. Starting in his place will be Ish Witter, a running back who—to this point—seems to have sworn off breaking tackles and suffered a concussion against Arkansas State. He'll be backed up by Tyler Hunt, Morgan Steward and Chase Abbington. Hunt is a senior walk-on who seems to still be bothered by a fall groin injury, Steward has a lingering hip issue and hasn't seen many carries yet, and Abbington just got to Columbia, like, a month ago. Needless to say, things are going really well for the position group that Missouri fans were probably the least worried about going into the season.
TUCB: What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of this team on each side of the ball?
Jack: The receivers have a high ceiling; we just aren't quite sure if they can reach it this season. That's really the biggest strength on the offensive side of the ball. Unless I'm allowed to count things not spontaneously combusting as a strength, because that's definitely something I'm happy about.
Defensively, things are quite different. The line was probably the biggest question mark heading into the season, but they've impressed so far. Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski is a master d-line chef, and he's already getting some nice returns from Charles Harris, Marcel Frazier and company. Kentrell Brothers is playing at an All-American level, leading the nation in tackles through the first two weeks. To top it off, the secondary is fast, aggressive, and athletic as hell. I know it may seem off, but the defense's biggest weakness is the offense not being able to hold on to the ball.
TUCB: How would you describe the style of play offensively and defensively?
Jack: Missouri's offense is a toddler trying not to run into too many sharp objects as it waddles around the house, and the defense is a buzz-saw attached to the end of a baseball bat. They're aggressive as hell, and new defensive coordinator Barry Odom is all about leveraging risk to put pressure on the opposing offense. He'll blitz just about everyone, from just about every angle on the field.
TUCB: Do you have any advice for UConn fans who may be making the trip to Faurot Field for the game?
Huskies making the pilgrimage to Columbia should definitely check out the downtown area before and after the game. Booches will give you some of the best little burgers you can eat with a nice side of attitude. Shakespeare's gets a lot of hype as well, so that's certainly worth your time. If you're looking for a tailgate to stop by, head over to the corner of Lot K closest to Memorial Stadium and ask for the Peglow's. Tell them Jack sent you, they'll give you the hookup.
TUCB: What can you tell us about quarterback Matt Mauk?
Jack: Mauk has a firm hold of the starting position. In a game that was close for its duration, he was on the field for every offensive snap but one. That said, he's still a bit more inconsistent than most Missouri fans would like. He's good for one or two "WHAT THE HELL?" passes per game, and those usually result in a bad interception. On the positive side, he's absolute nails when he needs to be. If Mizzou needs to make a drive at the end of the game to seal off a win or mount a comeback, he is most definitely the quarterback I want on the field.