Typically, UConn is known for their defense and strong running game. Despite a 4-4 record and a slow start to the season, nothing is different about this year's UConn team. Running back Jordan Todman leads the Big East with 136.3 rushing yards a game, and is tied for the conference lead with nine rushing touchdowns.
"He's one of the fastest backs in the country," Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He runs with his pads very low, and that challenges you from a tackling standpoint. He's not one of those upright runners who goes up in there and gives you a clean shot at him. He runs with his pads low which forces you to use really good technique when tackling him."
And for Todman, it's not like other backs in the past. In 2008--Pitt's last trip to Hartford--the defense had to stop Big East leading rusher Donald Brown who was more of a power back with a vicious stiff arm. Todman can hurt the defense as a receiver as well.
"He has really good hands," Wannstedt added. "They'll throw him the ball on a lot of screens and flare passes. He's a complete back. He's not one of those guys that you can really zero-in on and say ‘when he's in the game he's only going to run three plays.' They'll throw it to him as much as it is handed to him."
The X factor for this game, however, is quarterback Zach Frazer. The UConn quarterback situation has been an interesting one all year. Frazer started the first four games of the season which included trips to Michigan and Temple, with home games to Texas Southern and Vanderbilt. The Huskies won the home games, and lost the road games. During those first four starts, Frazer completed 47-of-81 (58.0%) for 553 yards, two touchdown passes and one interception.
"I don't know what happened on the front end when they made the change with Frazer initially," Wannstedt said. "When they had the young quarterback, Michael Box, playing against Louisville on the road he obviously wasn't ready for that situation, and that affected him."
After the win over Buffalo, UConn head coach Randy Edsall went with Cody Endres. Endres started against Pitt last season at Heinz Field, and went on to start the Vanderbilt and Rutgers games. The Huskies scored a big win for the Big East, defeated the SEC's Commodores 40-21, but lost the following week at Rutgers in the season's first Friday night game. Endres completed 21-of-31 passes for 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the win over Vanderbilt. At Rutgers, he completed 17-of-34 passes--again, with one touchdown and one interception.
For a program that's developed a strong reputation for being physical with the football and having a solid offensive line, it's not as if UConn needed a quarterback to win them a game. They just needed someone to manage the game.
On October 20--coming off the bye week, and just three days before the Louisville game--Endres was suspended for the season for a violation of university policies. He will not return to the team next season. Edsall started Box at Louisville, where the Huskies were shutout 26-0. Box completed just 4-of-12 passes for 35 yards and an interception.
The Huskies answered that with a 16-13 upset 11 days ago against West Virginia--a game where Brad Starks opened with a 53-yard touchdown run to start the Mountaineers off with the momentum. Frazer answered the call in returning to the starting lineup, completing 18-of-29 passes for 166 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions.
"Now that Frazer is back in there, he's a good player," Wannstedt added. "He has game experience, can make all the throws and he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. When you look at the quarterbacks that we've faced over the past couple of weeks, he's as experienced and confident as any of them."
As Wannstedt mentioned during his Monday press conference, another thing going for Frazer is the foundation he has around him--a well-disciplined and talented offensive line. The Huskies are the least penalized team in the Big East, averaging just five penalties and less than 40 yards a game. Additionally, the offensive line has allowed one sack for every 24.9 passing attempts this season.
Pitt will counter with two of the Big East's pass rush specialists in Jabaal Sheard (nine sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss) and Brandon Lindsey (eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss). Greg Romeus may also return to the lineup, but his status is questionable.
Sheard--despite being double- and sometimes triple-teamed at times this season, says getting to Frazer may be the biggest challenge he's had all year.
"His pocket presence is there," Sheard said. "I'm not sure how many sacks he gave up. The games I watched, he hasn't really been getting sacked. He's playing well. We're going to need our secondary to make plays. Hopefully Greg plays this week and Brandon (Lindsey) can continue to step up, and Myles (Caragein) and (Chas Alecxih), we can continue to get pressure to help with our secondary."