Before the season, most thought UConn would be traveling to Columbia, Missouri in Week 3 for an expected thrashing at the hands of the Missouri Tigers.
On the morning of game day, after two successful outings and a chance to study this Missouri team, it is evident the Huskies have a puncher's chance.
UConn will need a stellar day from its defense. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk will be their main offensive threat, as he can make plays with his arm and his legs. The Huskies are well-prepared to face such a quarterback having defended Villanova's John Robertson. While the Missouri offensive line is experienced, they have had their breakdowns. UConn's defensive front should be able to disrupt a lot of plays in the backfield. The Tigers will be without their top running back and leading playmaker, Russell Hansbrough, so the focus will need to be on stopping Maty Mauk, and ideally forcing him to throw (interceptions).
This will be the first big test for UConn's secondary, which did a good job of shutting down Villanova's passing attack but didn't need to do much against Army. Missouri's skill position players are talented, but the wide receivers have been dropping passes. If the Huskies can shut down the Tigers' passing game, it will be a good sign for the defense.
Bryant Shirreffs and the UConn offense will be running a lot of counters, misdirection, motion and such to force Missouri's aggressive front seven to read and react rather than attack. The Huskies have shown a balanced offensive attack so far through two games. Obviously, the gameplan for today will be to get the run game going with Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome. If that goes well, the Huskies can take their shots deep in the passing game in search of big plays. While there is no doubt Shirreffs can run this offense and execute at a high level, he'll need to be especially good at improvising today because there will be a lot of presure on him when he throws.
Which brings us to the offensive line- UConn's primary weakness for the better part of five years. The line has shown significant improvement from last year, but still allowed Villanova and Army's defenses to get through at times. Shirreffs hasn't been sacked much, but that's because he's been able to run the ball well when the protection breaks down. He may not have as easy of a time doing so today.
Expect UConn to cover the spread today, which is currently hovering around 21 depending on your source. This game has all the makings of a low-scoring defensive battle, which bodes well for UConn's chances.
Prediction: UConn has come a long way, and the possibility for an upset is definitely more present than previously thought, but the Missouri defense is stifling and will probably force the Huskies into a few sub-optimal situations. It'll be closer than expected, but I think Missouri takes the win, 23-14.
This is the Open Thread. Enjoy the game!