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UConn football vs. Syracuse Orange: How to watch, by the numbers, what to watch for

A big game for the Huskies under the lights on Saturday night at the Rent.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Louisville at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

KICKOFF: 7 p.m. ET

TV: CBS Sports Network

ANNOUNCERS: Meghan McPeak (play-by-play), Christian Fauria (color analyst), Justin Walters (sideline)

RADIO: UConn IMG Radio Network; Varsity Network App; 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)

RECORDS: UConn (1-1), Syracuse (1-0)

LAST WEEK: UConn picked up its first win under Jim Mora as the beat CCSU, 28-3. Syracuse crushed Louisville, 31-7.

POINT SPREAD: Syracuse -22.5

OVER/UNDER: 49 odds via DraftKings

SERIES HISTORY: The UConn Huskies and Syracuse Orange have met 11 previous times on the gridiron. The Huskies hold a 6-5 advantage with the Orange winning the last three games by a combined score of 121-55.

DEPTH CHART: UConn; Syracuse

PREGAME PRESS CONFERENCE(S): Syracuse coach Dino Babers; UConn head coach Jim Mora; UConn QB Zion Turner


Fun With Numbers

1,051: Number of days between FBS wins for UConn (as of game day)

1,806: Number of days between FBS wins for the Huskies at Rentschler Field (as of game day)

3: ACC teams UConn will play this year (Syracuse, NC State, Boston College)

1: Number of wins by UConn athletics over Syracuse this season. UConn women’s soccer beat the Orange, 6-0, on the road

78: Yards rushing allowed by UConn in win over CCSU, the lowest total since 2016 when the Huskies held Cincinnati to just two yards.

93.8: Grade from Pro Football Focus for Orange QB Garrett Shrader, which was the best Power Five mark in Week 1

313: Rushing yards by Nathan Carter in two games, currently second-best in FBS

23: Tackles by Jackson Mitchell, tied for tops in FBS

240+: UConn has rushed for over 240 yards in its first two games. The Huskies last accomplished the feat in 2018

What to watch for

Two weeks into the 2022 season, UConn football has done everything that the typical fan could ask for in year one of a new coaching regime. Competitive loss to a conference champion, comparable to the team that beat you 45-0 in the first week of 2021? Check. Taking care of an FCS opponent handily for the first time in over a decade? The Huskies did that too, with a 28-3 victory over Central Connecticut.

But Syracuse entering Rentschler Field Saturday night presents an entirely different challenge — or, rather, an opportunity — for UConn football. Despite their new coach not being a “big rivalry guy”, the Orange are one of the Huskies’ most hated opponents, and they enter Rentschler for the first time since 2016, when they took down Bob Diaco’s UConn squad, 31-24.

UConn might have changed coaches twice since that game, but Syracuse’s has remained stable. Dino Babers’ tenure at the Carrier Dome has been a mixed bag: His 30-43 overall record is unremarkable, but he also led Syracuse to their best season in the past 20 years in 2018, going 10-3 and defeating West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl.

His 2022 team is an improvement on paper over the 2021 version that went 5-7, and Babers has an NFL-quality running back to boot in Sean Tucker. Syracuse soundly defeated Louisville in week one of the season 31-7 in a game that many tabbed them to lose, leading to an ever more optimistic outlook on their season.

With UConn off a convincing victory of their own, albeit against an FCS school, here’s a taste of what to expect when the Huskies face off against Syracuse on Saturday night:

When UConn has the ball

Pounding the rock

A unique combination of breaking in a freshman quarterback and the emergence of an electric ball carrier has seen the Huskies develop a distinctive offensive identity over the first two games of the season: Pounding the rock.

Running back Nate Carter has been stellar for UConn in the first two games of the 2022 season, with 313 yards on 7.3 yards per carry and two receptions for 28 yards. The Huskies are averaging 259.5 rushing yards per game on offense to just 145.5 per game passing, and have run 91 rushing attempts to just 56 through the air.

UConn’s offensive line has contributed to a large portion of the running game’s success, especially with the addition of Jake Guidone at center joining guard Christian Haynes to form a pair of maulers inside. The versatile Christopher Fortin has also done the job when called upon in UConn’s heavy offensive sets, lining up as a sixth lineman off tackle to block undersized edge defenders.

They grow up so fast

UConn’s running game figures be a tremendous boost for their freshman quarterback this year, and it already started to pay dividends last week against Central. Zion Turner went 14-22 with 172 yards and two touchdown passes in the first start of his college career. It could have had more had his receivers been more sure-handed in the first half.

Turner has a few things to improve on. Ball security is one of them — Turner had a fumble and an interception in his first game at Rentschler Field. The first, a defensive lineman was in his face before he had a chance to get rid of the ball, but the second was a situation where Turner tried to force a throw into a tight window at the end of the half when the Huskies were in field goal range. The window was there, but Turner would have been better off not taking the risk.

For Turner to continue his path of improvement, the UConn offensive line will have to keep him clean. That’s no easy feat against Mikel Jones and Steve Linton spearheading a pass-rushing unit that had three sacks and 15 quarterback pressures against Louisville.

When Syracuse has the ball

Not the only ones with a ground game

Robert Anae and the Syracuse offense pull no punches in the run game. You’re going to get a steady diet of the read option with running back Sean Tucker and mobile quarterback Garrett Schrader in the backfield. The two combined for 193 yards rushing on 5.2 yards per carry against Louisville, as Syracuse’s offensive distribution looked like a mirror image of the Huskies’ in the season so far: 40 rushing attempts vs. just 19 through the air.

Expect Syracuse to be extremely adept at running the ball, and keep an eye on how the Huskies’ defensive line and outside linebackers can cope. Right now, Jackson Mitchell and (to a lesser extent) Ian Swenson have been mopping up the majority of run plays, but against a duo with as much quality as the Huskies are bound to see on Saturday, a combined effort from the front seven will be needed to slow the Orange down.

Uh oh, Happy learned how to putt

Last week was potentially a hinge moment for quarterback Garrett Schrader and the rest of the Syracuse offense. Schrader had more pass attempts (18) and more passing yards (237) in the week one game against Louisville than in any game in the entirety of the 2021 season. Syracuse didn’t entirely shy away from the run game, but wasn’t afraid to air it out when the situation warranted.

That could potentially spell trouble for a secondary that looked unsteady against Utah State, giving up 281 yards and three touchdowns through the air. The secondary looked better against Central Connecticut, but was aided by an inaccurate quarterback. If UConn’s run defense continues to be stout, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them let Schrader air it out again.