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UConn football vs. Illinois Fighting Illini: How to watch, by the numbers, what to watch for

After holding on for a win last week, the Huskies host a Big Ten opponent at PAWSARF on Saturday.

Big Ten Football Media Days Getty Images

KICKOFF: 3:30 p.m. ET

TV: CBS Sports Network

ANNOUNCERS: Dave Ryan (play-by-play), Corey Chavous (color analyst)

RADIO: UConn IMG Radio Network; TuneIn; 97.9 ESPN Hartford, WINE 940 AM, WGCH 1490 AM, WICC 600 AM, WAVZ 1300 AM, WATR 1320 AM WILI 1400 AM and 95.3 FM

ANNOUNCERS: Mike Crispino (play-by-play), Wayne Norman (color analyst), Adam Giardino (sideline), Bob Joyce (pregame host)

RECORDS: UConn (1-0); Illinois (1-0)

POINT SPREAD: Illinois -21.5


SERIES HISTORY: This will be the first-ever meeting between UConn and Illinois on the gridiron.

Pregame Coverage

Preseason Opponent Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Edsall Presser Notebook: Ardell Brown and Caleb Thomas expected to play, o-line leaves room for improvement

Q&A Preview with The Champaign Room

Fun With Numbers

4,376 (as of game day): The number of days since Illinois last won a non-conference road game. Their previous victory came when they beat Syracuse, 41-20, on September 15, 2007.

2015: A UConn defense has not held back-to-back opponents under 21 points since 2015, when they defeated Tulane 7-3 and Houston 20-17 to clinch the program’s most recent bowl appearance.

1,267: Receiving yards last season at Seton Hill University for Huskies wide receiver Ardell Brown, who will make his FBS debut against the Illini.

48.3: Average punt distance in yards for UConn sophomore Luke Magliozzi, the 10th best mark in the country.

4: Illini running backs with at least 35 rushing yards against Akron last week - Mike Epstein, RaVon Bonner, Reggie Corbin and Brandon Peters. Three of them - Bonner, Corbin and Peters - each had one touchdown.

5: National championships in football for Illinois, most recently in 1951.

What to watch for

Ardell Brown’s debut

After missing the Wagner game due to an undisclosed injury, Ardell Brown will make his UConn debut this weekend at Rentschler Field. Brown was a standout at Division II Seton Hill University, hauling in 81 catches for 1,267 yards last season, tops in his conference. He’s expected to be the Huskies’ top receiver this season, and it will be interesting to see if true freshman Matt Drayton (five receptions, 51 yards against Wagner) will maintain his target share with Brown in the lineup.

Ground and pound

Both teams want to establish the run early and often. While Illinois might not have a standout back, six running backs had at least 25 yards in the win against Akron as the Illini racked up 207 rushing yards. Star running back Reggie Corbin failed to gain a huge amount of footing, only carrying the ball six times, but should see his touches increase after a season-ending injury to lead back Mike Epstein.

UConn will likely heavily rely on Art Thompkins and Kevin Mensah to take a good chunk of pressure off of quarterback Mike Beaudry, but could face a challenge from an experienced Illinois front seven that allowed just 64 rushing yards in Week 1.

Defensive test

Yes, the UConn defense looked better against Wagner, surrendering just 14 points (the pick-six wasn’t on the defense). But the Seahawks were a mediocre-at-best FCS team last year and don’t project to be any better this season. Now, with an FBS opponent coming to town, can defensive coordinator Lou Spanos’ unit keep trending upward against the Illini? Illinois’ offense is no joke, especially after hanging 42 points and over 400 yards of offense against Akron, the 69th-ranked defense in SP+. UConn is ranked 92nd.