SYRACUSE AT CONNECTICUT
Time – Saturday, September 24th, 1:00pm, Rentschler Field
TV/Radio – CBS Sports Network, 99.5FM WTKW
Series – Connecticut leads 6-1 (Streak: Syracuse 1)
Last meeting – 2012, Syracuse won 40-10
Coaches: Syracuse – Dino Babers (1st season, 1-2); Connecticut – Bob Diaco (3rd season, 10-18)
Bouncing Back – Syracuse has lost two in a row, and is looking to get their season back on track. A win at Connecticut would be a nice start. This game is a test of the Orange's resolve and mental toughness after two lopsided losses.
Something to Prove – Connecticut may be 2-1, but their opponents are not exactly murderers row with victories over FCS Maine and 0-3 Virginia. With a power five foe coming to town, this is the Huskies chance to prove their early wins were a reflection of the positive direction of the program rather than the result of facing weak opponents.
Strength vs Strength, Weakness vs Weakness – The strongest unit on the Orange is undoubtedly the offense, while the defense is the clear weakness. The opposite is true for UConn. Saturday's matchup puts a strong Syracuse offense against a very good Huskies' defense. It also pits a Syracuse defense that has been porous against a UConn offense that has struggled to score.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Shirreffs vs Orange Defense
Bryant Shirreffs is the man that makes the UConn offense go. He leads the team in passing and rushing. Despite attempting only 73 passes on the season, Shirreffs is completing over 70% of his attempts. He has only thrown one interception, and has the ability to make plays with his feet. He will test a Syracuse defense that has struggled mightily in the last two weeks and is missing key contributors in the secondary. If Shirreffs can have similar success to Lamar Jackson and Quinton Flowers, it will be a long day for the Orange. But if Syracuse can keep Shirreffs in the pocket and limit his effectiveness, the Orange will be in a great position to pull off the road victory.
Orange wins if …
They Stay Out of Their Own Way – If Syracuse plays to their capabilities and limits their mistakes, this is a very winnable game. That means avoiding critical penalties, taking care of the football and limiting drops. If they do those things, the defense should be able to make enough stops to give the offense an opportunity to score in bunches.
Huskies Win if …
They Shut Down the Syracuse Offense – UConn wins this game if they can keep the Orange off of the scoreboard. Let's face it, they do not have the offense to win a shootout with Syracuse. But if their defense, which has been strong under head coach Bob Diaco, is able to frustrate the Orange offense, they will be in prime position to improve to 3-1 on the season.
WR Amba Etta-Tawo – Etta-Tawo was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list this week due to his hot start to the 2016 season. He has developed instant chemistry with quarterback Eric Dungey, and has emerged as the top receiving option in a potent passing attack. Can UConn match up with his combination of size and speed?
Something to Prove
Syracuse Defensive – It has been a rough two week stretch for the Orange defensive unit, and this is their chance to bounce back. The UConn offense has struggled this season and does not have the same caliber athletes that Louisville and South Florida possess. If the Syracuse defense is going to take a step forward, this is a perfect game to do that.
Looking to Build
RB Dontae Strickland – Strickland had a career game against USF, rushing for over 120 yards as the Orange ground attack was effective for the first time this season. Can he put together back to back strong performances?
Freshman to Watch
KR/PR Sean Riley – A speedy, shifty returner, Riley is dangerous with the ball in his hands. A big play on special teams could turn momentum for the Orange.
Opposing Players to Watch
QB Bryant Shirreffs - The UConn signal caller is the team's leading passer and rusher. He runs on designed runs, scrambles and keeps plays alive in the pocket. If the Huskies' offense is going to get on track, it starts with Shirreffs.
RB Arkeel Newsome - Newsome is a quick, slippery scat-back type who could cause the Syracuse defense problems. Especially since the Orange have struggled with tackling this season. The good news for the Orange? Newsome is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
WR Noel Thomas - A 6-foot-1 target, Thomas leads UConn with 26 catches for 277 yards and a touchdown. No other player on the roster has more than 7 catches or 100 yards receiving. He is the clear top target, has size, speed and can make plays down the field. He will test the Orange secondary.
S Obi Melifonwu - The brother of Orange commit Ifeatu Melifonwu, Obi leads Connecticut in tackles with 25 on the young season. He has great size, loves to play in the box near the line of scrimmage and is a strong tackler.
DE Luke Carrezola - Carrezola leads the team in tackles for loss with four. He isn't the fastest guy in the world or the most athletic, but he has solid instincts and seems to always be in the right position. Keep an eye on him off the edge.
LB Vontae Diggs - Diggs is a smart linebacker who loves to play in the opponents backfield. He is second on the team in tackles for loss with two, is comfortable in coverage and moves well sideline to sideline.