Preview: Rutgers-UConn

The season is on the ropes in Piscataway, and one of the best running backs in the Big East comes calling this weekend when Connecticut (5-1, 1-0 Big East) visits Rutgers (1-5, 0-2). Will the Huskies spoil RU's homecoming, or can the Knights turn it around on Saturday? Let's investigate.

TIME/TV

The game is scheduled for noon Eastern Time at Rutgers Stadium. ESPNU will broadcast the game live, the third of four games scheduled on the ESPN family of networks this season. Dave Armstrong and Larry Coker are the play-by-play team, with Melissa Knowles providing sideline coverage.


SCOUTING UCONN

This year's version of the Huskies looks very similar to last year, especially how certain games are breaking. Some evidence: they fought off a scrappy Temple team early and erased a double-digit second-half deficit against Louisville to win both contests. UConn started 5-0 before losing on the road to an Atlantic Coast Conference team, this time a 38-12 defeat at the hands of North Carolina on Oct. 4. Last year, those results led to a share of the Big East title for head coach Randy Edsall's team. Is history repeating itself?

OFFENSE

This is the first time this season and the first of two straight weeks that Rutgers faces a power running team. Fresno State employed some power rushing in the opener, but the Bulldogs substituted backs regularly, whereas UConn and Pittsburgh rely on a bruising feature back to get the job done on the ground. The Huskies have had great success running the ball against Rutgers the last two years, racking up 444 yards total on the ground. UConn is a run-first team.

Junior running back Donald Brown is the nation's leading rusher with an average of 177.8 yards per game. He already has more than 1,000 yards on the year and has reached the end zone 12 times. The New Jersey native has eclipsed the 200-yard mark twice this season and has rushed for at least 146 yards and one touchdown in each contest this season. In loss at North Carolina, Brown managed 161 yards and one score on 33 carries. In two games against Rutgers, Brown has totaled 353 yards on 52 carries (6.79 yards per rush) and three touchdowns.

The Huskies lost starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen to a foot injury during a 26-21 victory against Louisville Sept. 26. Zach Frazer took over in the second half of the Louisville game and started against North Carolina Oct. 4. He has completed 32 of 59 passes for 300 yards and one touchdown to three interceptions. UNC roughed up Frazer and was constantly in the sophomore's face, though the Tar Heels only sacked him once. One of Frazer's three picks against the Heels went for a 23-yard touchdown return, and another set up UNC on the Connecticut 15-yard line.

DEFENSE

UConn boasts a solid defense that for the most past has been able to keep opposing offenses in check most of this season, but Louisville racked up 508 total yards on the Huskies in their Sept. 26 meeting. North Carolina only managed 263 total offensive yards, but the Tar Heels scored twice on special teams and once on defense and only ran 49 offensive plays compared with UConn's 84.

This 4-3 defense is your classic "bend-but-don't break" model. Rutgers fans will recall that the Scarlet Knights piled up 511 total yards (343 passing) and 29 first downs and still came up on the short end of a 38-19 pasting. The Huskies are stingy allowing opponents to score, ranking 29th nationally in scoring defense (18.2 points per game). While UConn's last three opponents - North Carolina, Louisville and Baylor - have scored a combined 87 points against Connecticut, Rutgers averages a paltry 17.5 points per game on offense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

UConn had its worst special teams outing of the season in the loss the UNC. The Tar Heels blocked three UConn punts, including one in the end zone for a touchdown. There were obvious breakdowns that Rutgers will look to exploit but UConn will likely correct in this game. Rutgers has blocked two punts this year, with both leading to touchdowns.

UConn place kicker Tony Ciaravino has made six straight field goal attempts after a horrid 2-for-five start in the Temple game on Sept. 6.

HEAD TO HEAD

Rutgers leads the all-time series 18-9, but the teams are 2-2 since UConn joined the Big East. Rutgers won the last meeting at Rutgers Stadium, 24-13, in the first Sunday night game in school history. Last year UConn returned the favor with a 38-19 victory in East Hartford.

TRENDS/NOTES

Donald Brown was held to 63 yards rushing in the first half against North Carolina, the first time this season he didn't run for at least 100 yards by halftime. . . . UConn coach Randy Edsall is in his 10th season in Storrs, with a 55-56 record. Edsall guided the Huskies from Division I-AA to I-A and eventually the Big East. . . . Including Brown, eight UConn players hail from New Jersey.

The Scarlet Knights have won four consecutive homecoming games. . . . . This is the third of four scheduled games on the ESPN family of networks this season. . . . Freshman wide receiver Marcus Cooper is the only player on Rutgers' roster from Connecticut. . . . This is the 43 rd consecutive televised game for RU. That streak will end next week, but you can catch the RU-Pittsburgh tilt on ESPN360.com. . . . True freshman Art Forst made his first collegiate start last week when he lined up at right guard. Forst is expected to start at the position again this week.

WEATHER

It should be a great day for football. The National Weather Service calls for mostly sunny skies with a high in the mid 50s. Enjoy the tailgate, and bring a red jacket.


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