The Huskies blew a late lead at Rutgers and fell 27-24, then during the bye week lost their starting left guard and quarterback on consecutive days. Redshirt freshman Mike Box was tabbed as the starter at Louisville but was ineffective and the team fell flat. UConn was shutout for the first time in nearly five years. At Tuesday's press conference Edsall spent as much time addressing his critics as he did discussing this week's game.
With their season on the brink, the Huskies are absolutely desperate for a win and as luck would have it, their nemesis is coming to town. Since joining the league in 2004 UConn is 0-6 vs West Virginia, and has lost by an average margin of 23.5 points. Not the best draw when you are in such dire need of a win, but a milestone victory could go a long way towards resurrecting what has been a terribly disappointing 2010 campaign.
West Virginia comes into this one at 5-2 overall and 1-1 in conference. Last week quarterback Geno Smith threw three interceptions and Syracuse upset the then 20th ranked Mountaineers in Morgantown, 19-14. Dating back to last season West Virginia has been performing well below the level college football is used to seeing them at. They are just 7-5 in their last 12 games vs FBS competition, and are 4-3 in their last seven Big East contests. They have been held to 21 points or fewer eight times over that same period of time.
Even with Smith's poor performance last week he's in the midst of a stellar season. He's hitting on 66% of his passes and has thrown 15 touchdowns to just five interceptions. UConn fans everywhere will be delighted to know that Smith is not the typical fleet-footed West Virginia quarterback they are used to seeing. Smith is a big and powerful pocket passer...a welcome sight to the UConn defense, which has historically struggled vs running quarterbacks.
Noel Devine, who seems like he's been at West Virginia forever, is having a modest 2010 season. He was slowed by a toe injury for the better part of a month, but looks to be back at full strength following last week's 24 carry, 122 yard performance. Still, Devine is averaging just 4.9 yards per carry this season. A far cry from the career 6.5 ypc average he came into his senior season with.
Defensively the Mountaineers have been fantastic thus far. Through seven games they've allowed just nine touchdowns, and are allowing a league best (sixth nationally) 13.3 points per game. They also lead the league in total defense at 245.9 yards per game. That's some 56 yards less than the number two team, Syracuse (301.6). They allow just 97.4 yards per game on the ground and a league best 148.4 yards per game through the air. They rank fourth nationally in pass defense behind only TCU, Texas and Nebraska.
Wednesday afternoon we learned that Mike Box has been ruled out of Friday night's game (head). Tuesday he told reporters "I'm ready to go. Our medical staff is just very cautious. They've thrown every test you can throw at me and I've been passing them so far with flying colors. No worries." Later Tuesday afternoon Box practiced with the ones, but the UConn medical staff is choosing to play it cautiously. I think this is actually for the best. Expecting Box to have any sort of success against one of the best defenses in the country would really have been expecting a lot. Maybe Box develops down the road, but for right now, I think Zach Frazer gives this team the best chance to win.
UConn played improved defense last week at Louisville, holding the Cardinals to just one short-field offensive touchdown and four field goals. They still had trouble getting off the field on third down, but it was more of the bend but don't break that we have grown accustomed to seeing over the years. The Huskies simply cannot allow the Big plays this week, because there won't be many scoring opportunities against the vaunted Mountaineer defense. We'll see if UConn, fueled by a raucous Friday night crowd, can spring the upset and get their season jump-started, albeit at Halloween.
Better late than never.