After an abysmal start to the season, including losses to Western Michigan and Temple, the Huskies have turned things around these past two games, getting wins over Syracuse and the Big East champion Louisville Cardinals. They have done this by way of their balanced offense, led by quarterback Chandler Whitmer. Whitmer, a transfer from Illinois, struggled early in the year but has put things together as the season progressed. His 2,400 passing yards and eight touchdowns lead the Huskies and provide a dangerous weapon through the air. The knock on Whitmer seems to be his decision making. Although completing passes at almost a 60% clip, Chandler has thrown 15 interceptions, good for a nearly 2:1 interception to touchdown pass ratio. The Huskies also boast some talent in the backfield in sophomore halfback Lyle McCombs. The 5-8 speedster from Staten Island has rushed for 800 yards and five touchdowns on the season, while averaging nearly four yards per rush. On the outside, UConn has a situation similar to Bearcat fans, they employ a deep wide receiver core with no real number one option. UConn's number one and number five receiver statistically have between 28 and 39 receptions each. Unlike USF last week, UC will have to focus on both the run and pass options when facing this Huskies offense.
The UConn defense is riding a wave of confidence following an upset win over Louisville last weekend, and the UC offense will have their hands full on Saturday. The Huskies are led on defense by linebacker Yawin Smallwood. The redshirt sophomore is leading the team in tackles with 111 while totaling 15 tackles for loss and four sacks. Smallwood is a terror in the second level and UC would be smart to keep running the ball away from number 33 in blue. Along the defensive line, UConn boasts one of the most feared pass rushers in the Big East, Trevardo Williams. The senior from Bridgeport has tallied 11.5 sacks to go along with 43 tackles on the season. The Cincinnati offensive line play has been solid to date, but Williams might be the most talented defensive lineman the Bearcats have faced all season. Shutting him down will be key in allowing the Bearcats offense to have success in the passing game.
How UC can win
Use the USF game plan. At this point, everyone in the Big East knows Cincinnati is a rushing team. George Winn is one of, if not THE, best running back in the Big East. The Bearcats offense runs through Winn, and strong games from the senior back usually indicate a solid performance from the team overall. With that being said, Cincinnati did a great job of mixing and matching their offense against USF last Friday. They still relied on the run, but mixed in some first down passing plays to keep the Bulls offense off balance. Against UConn, I expect much of the same. You can't just focus on the run entirely, especially when the Huskies have probably spent all week in practice gearing up to stop the run. Mixing in some of those first and second down throws force UConn's defense to drop back into a more traditional pass coverage, opening up running lanes for Winn and Ralph Abernathy IV to exploit. It should be a great game, and I expect the Bearcats offense to remain as balanced as possible while still emphasizing the run.
This game will come down to turnovers. Whichever team is able to limit their offensive mistakes will come out victorious. However, both UConn and Cincinnati have had trouble holding onto the ball this season, so offensive execution will be even more important in this game. However, I believe Cincinnati has the more talented offense, and a defense that has been playing well lately, and I believe the combination of George Winn and tight end Travis Kelce will be too much for the UConn defense to handle.