First Look: Connecticut
Starting the stretch run of the season, East Carolina will travel to Storrs, Ct. for a road conference battle with the Connecticut Huskies. It wouldn’t be completely erroneous to circle this Oct. 30 game as a potential trap game for the Pirates, given their recent struggles in cold weather bouts and their following matchups with South Florida, Central Florida and Cincinnati. Akin to last season’s disastrous loss to Temple, the Huskies represent a team that could be considered inferior on paper, but has the added advantage of knowing how to play in cold, sloppy weather. Also take into account ECU’s pass-heavy offense and it has the recipe to be a game in which fluttered passes and dropped balls become more the norm than the exception. The move to the American Athletic Conference gave the Pirates a chance to perform on a more national stage. But with the new platform came the challenge of playing northern opponents on their turf late in the season. Temple was just one example of it but the loss last season to Cincinnati can be pointed at as well, even though the Pirates played well in that game but failed to figure out the Bearcats’ offense. Since head coach Ruffin McNeill took over the program the Pirates have had a meager 1-5 record in games played north of North Carolina. One thing to consider, however, is that last season’s version of the Huskie was not as good as Temple and Cincinnati. In fact, the Huskies’ 2-10 record put them dead last in the AAC standings and the team’s only FBS win was an upset against UCF on homecoming night. There’s no saying yet what’s in store for this season’s Connecticut team but any team in the conference poses as a challenge and in the right conditions, the Huskies could go from underdog to victor in a flurry. Statistically, last season’s Huskie team failed to stand out in any favorable way. It was outscored by 172 points, outgained by 1,215 yards in addition to being outdone on the field for all but two games. Also take into account that one of the lone bright spots on the young Connecticut team, quarterback Chandler Whitmer, is gone and things look pretty bleak for the Storrs faithful. Whitmer accounted for 1,522 yards through the air and 13 total touchdowns, competing in all 12 games last season. The only returning quarterback with any significant playing time is junior Tim Boyle, who has seen starting action in seven combined games throughout the course of his career. Boyle has the advantage of appearing in nine games a season ago and had one touchdown and three interceptions on 82 passing attempts. He is seemingly the frontrunner to assume the starting role this season. Luckily for second year Huskie coach Bob Diaco, sophomore running back Ron Johnson will be back to hopefully reprise his freshman performance in which he led the team in rushing with 429 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson, like Whitmner, was a light in the darkness for Connecticut last season, mostly because his production came from the role of a true freshman. Defensively, not much went right for the Huskies. Diaco worked his way to the Connecticut job following successful stints as Notre Dames defensive coordinator but even his expertise couldn’t turn around the porous defense that haunted the Huskies last season. Opposing teams averaged 29.8 points per game against the Huskie defense. Connecticut was especially vulnerable in the rushing game, allowing 2,038 yards on the ground and 18 touchdowns. Throw in opponents’ 21 touchdowns through the air and it’s not hard to see why Connecticut struggled so mightily to pick up wins last season. Leading tackler Vann Marquise, who tallied 105 tackles and seven tackles for a loss during his final season, is gone as well as third leading tackler Stewart Graham. The departures of Marquise and Graham leave 199 tackles to be filled elsewhere by the Huskies in addition to 17.5 tackles for a loss. However, easing to transition from last season’s defensive leaders to this season’s will be presumable defensive leader Andrew Adams. The senior cornerback finished last season with 96 total tackles — good for second on the team in addition to a team-high four interceptions. Diaco’s young Huskie team will likely fail to challenge for a conference crown this year, but with the help of the cold Connecticut weather, his team could very well make waves and upset a team unaccustomed to the northern winter.
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