After losing to Navy and incurring two straight losses, UConn will need to rebound quickly.
The Huskies (2-2, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) head to Provo, Utah this week for a Friday-night matchup with BYU (10:15 p.m., ESPN2). This schedule is not doing Bob Diaco and the Huskies any favors. They'll have one less day to rest, plan and prepare for a strong opposition.
Right now the Huskies are 18-point underdogs according to Vegas Insiders.
In his press conference Monday, Diaco noted the challenging start to the season for BYU. It would be hard to argue any team has scheduled a tougher first four weeks of the season than Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars, who started at Nebraska and against Boise State, winning both in miraculous fashion, and then travelled to UCLA in Week 3, falling 24-23. While their most recent effort, a 31-0 thrashing at the hands of Michigan, may make the BYU appear more beatable, it still competed with tough teams earlier in the season and took care of UConn with ease in last year's season opener.
But this is clearly a different UConn team than the one which kicked off Bob Diaco's tenure with the Huskies. In that game, Casey Cochran and Chandler Whitmer were co-starters at quarterback and Geremy Davis was UConn's top receiving threat as the Huskies kicked off what would be a two-win season.
Today, the Huskies have already matched their win total from last year, have a fanbase thinking that a bowl game is possible, more than before, at least, and have demonstrated that they can give any (normal) college football team a hard-fought 60 minutes.
Diaco and his staff will be happy to begin normal preparation for the defense and to build on it with each passing week. BYU is vulnerable with injuries across their roster, most notably at quarterback where Tanner Magnum has been playing in place of the injured Taysom Hill.
UConn missed an opportunity to make a national statement against Navy, but the Huskies will have a chance to redeem themselves Friday night. Diaco and multiple players mentioned how they remember the feeling of getting crushed by BYU last season.
Senior linebacker and captain Marquise Vann made his way back to the practice field for the first time in a few weeks Monday. His return will be a welcome addition to a UConn defense which had performed well in his absence. With the defense expected to return to form this week, UConn's offensive performance should be a deciding factor in this game.
Arkeel Newsome started at running back last week, taking most of the touches out of the backfield, while co-starter Ron Johnson did not register a carry. Diaco stated that because the team fell behind, Arkeel's skillset was more valued and implied that Ron Johnson's deficiencies as a pass-blocker and catcher kept him from getting more time late in the game. Johnson should see more touches this week.
UConn is still looking for a consistent secondary threat to emerge in the passing game. So far this season Tommy Myers, Thomas Lucas and Tyraiq Beals have taken turns looking like they may fill that role. I suspect across the season we will see more of the freshman Beals and his classmate Hergy Mayala. The offense likes using the short passing game like handoffs, and the best playmakers in those situations have been Beals and Arkeel Newsome so far. Mayala could be a factor in that way as well.
Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has performed well through four games so far, but we also know a few of his limitations. His accuracy needs work and just this week it felt like he started pulling his eyes down a little early. The protection in front of him has been decent, so hopefully he can do a better job of finding his receivers this week in what should be a more balanced UConn attack across the game.
This is UConn's final non-conference game of the season. Next week they travel to Orlando for the highly anticipated #conFLiCT.