The Connecticut Huskies head to Atlanta like a Great New England Hope, confident after knocking out a couple of tomato cans, but wondering how those tuneups will prepare them for a main event.
The bruisers from Storrs feasted on Buffalo and Div. 1-AA Liberty like Butterbean on a buffet, outscoring the outmatched by a combined 97-0.
Some might argue that there's little to learn from wins so lopsided. Pretty much anybody can pound the Hooters Institute of Hot Wing Technology, or whip Jerry Falwell State. Still, that's an awful lot of points and two shutouts.
The Huskies have two tailbacks each around 2,000 rushing yards for his career. They have a fourth-year quarterback, big linemen, fast receivers and defensive backs. They are a contender to win the Big East, for what that's worth these days.
And they have head coach Randy Edsall, remembered fondly here as the defensive boss in 1998 for George O'Leary's 10-2 Gator Bowl champs. Edsall's master plan is at least a year ahead of schedule, to create a serious Div. 1-A football program at a basketball school.
The Huskies have good players. Tech has better ones, but the Jackets will need to button their chin straps. A fired-up, focused Yellow Jacket team should handle Connecticut without too much trouble. A sloppy one looking ahead to Virginia Tech could wake up Sunday feeling as bruised and embarrassed as Mike Tyson after the Buster Douglas fight.
Where they're coming from: As we said, 2-0, 97-0, against nobody. All their other stats this year are similarly gaudy. Total offense per game: 511 (9th in Div 1-A). Total defense: 143 yards per game (2nd). Scoring defense: Zero (tied for first, duh). In Edsall's seventh year, the Huskies are coming off 9-3 and 8-4 seasons, whomping Toledo 39-10 in last December's Motor City Bowl. They have played a lot of patsies, but in the last two years they have also beaten Wake Forest, Duke and Pittsburgh. Tech beat UConn 30-10 in Atlanta last year in a game that was not as close as the score. Tech leads the series 2-0, including a 2002 victory in Connecticut.
Huskies to watch: Quarterback Matt Bonislawski, a redshirt junior, backed up current Detroit Lion Dan Orlovsky for the past two years. Bonislawski has excelled as a starter so far, and is ranked 22nd nationally in passing efficiency, with 4 touchdown throws and one interception. He is a much better runner than Orlovsky, averaging nearly 50 yards per game in 2005 with one TD, but he does not have as strong an arm. Junior tailback Cornell Brockington (6-0, 203), led the Big East in rushing last year but is third on the team in 2005 with 66.5 yards per game. He bounced back from a poor opener with 115 yards and three touchdowns against Liberty. The other top back is tiny speedburner Terry Caulley (5-7, 187), a junior who was the nation's leading rusher through four games in 2003, before an injury sidelined him. Caulley redshirted last year, and came bac k for 100 yards against Buffalo. Freshman Lou Allen is averaging over 6 yards per carry, getting extensive work in the Liberty blowout. On defense, senior defensive tackle Deon McPhee (6-1, 283) anchors the front, while senior DE Shawn Mayne (6-3, 239), leads the team with two sacks. Punt returner Larry Taylor averages over 17 yards per return
Who's hurt: Connecticut defensive tackle Afa Anoai, first cousin of Tech DT Joe Anoai, is still recovering from a knee injury, dangit, so no "Wild Samoans" tag team action (their daddies wrestled under that nom de ring in the WWF). Tech DE Eric Henderson is nursing a sore ankle and may not play. Guard Nate McManus left the UNC game with a concussion, but will likely start.
Xs and Os: Connecticut runs a balanced attack on offense featuring short passes spread around to all the receivers and backs. Expect Bonislawski to try to find his tight end and wide receivers in the short and middle seams of Tech's zone, to open up the field for runs by Brockington and Caulley. If everyone is covered, Bonislawski is liable to take off running himself. On defense, the Huskies play an aggressive 4-3, similar to Tech's if not quite so blitz-crazy as Jon Tenuta's D.
Key matchups: Freshman strong safety Danny Lansanah has played extremely well for the Huskies, with 13 tackles (three for loss) and a sack, but he and fellow freshman corner Darius Butler are entering a whole new world against Tech's much taller, faster receivers. If Tech's offensive line pass-blocks as well as in their first two games, quarterback Reggie Ball is likely to shred the Connecticut secondary with throws to either Calvin Johnson or Damarius Bilbo, depending on who draws the double-team. While plugging the run, Tech's linebackers can't lose track of junior tight end Dan Murray. Murray has UConn's two longest catches of the year, of 22 and 25 yards, and eight touchdown receptions for his career.