UConn - Rutgers Preview

Coming off a damaging 28-17 loss at Cincinnati, UConn looks to rebound Saturday at friendly Rentschler Field against Rutgers. Both teams are 4-2 overall. UConn is 1-1 in the Big East, while the Scarlet Knights are 2-1. Here are the Huskies' keys to the game:

GIVE ME SHELTER
 
UConn will start its third quarterback in as many weeks because its signal-callers have been taking too much of a pounding. Matt Bonislawski's broken collarbone may not have been the offensive line's fault --- Bones has never learned to back down from a linebacker, and he is paying a 6-8-week penalty --- but D.J. Hernandez should have lasted more than 19 plays against Cincinnati last week before suffering a broken bone in his left (non-throwing) hand. The O-line has to be held accountable for the six sacks and numerous other hits Hernandez absorbed moments after releasing the ball or scrambling for dear life.
 
Hernandez heroically (and futilely) finished out that game, but he is sidelined for the Rutgers game after having surgery Tuesday. In his place is a true freshman, Dennis Brown, who has never been on the field in a college game. Physically, Brown looks like he's still sitting in Geometry class at Miami Central High. That's where the challenge to the offensive line comes in.
 
The front five --- tackles Grant Preston and Craig Berry, guards Immanuel Hutcherson and Matt Applebaum, and center Trey Tonsing, along with tight ends Dan Murray and Steve Brouse --- has to treat today's assignment like the test every high school student endures at some point. You know, the one where you have to carry an egg around for three days and treat it like a baby. You can't lose it, you can't let it get cracked, and you certainly can't hard-boil it. The offensive line must keep its delicate possession upright and untouched.
 
That won't be easy. Rutgers already has amassed 25 sacks this season, good for fourth in the nation. The Scarlet Knights would have to be asleep at the switch not to bring pressure. With stud linemen Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby, Rutgers has the personnel to exploit a weak or unprepared UConn line.
 
TURN ME LOOSE
 
Rutgers has no idea what Brown's strengths are. Sure, its coaches heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another what Brown can do, but does anybody really know?
 
From the standpoint of surprise attacks, UConn's got it all over Rutgers. Can Brown throw accurately? Can he throw on the run? Would he dare run the option? Will he stand in the pocket when Rutgers applies the heat, something Bonislawski was willing to do, but a facet of the game Hernandez needs work at? Is he confident enough to check off a play at the line of scrimmage if he sees a matchup he can exploit?
 
UConn probably has an idea what to expect from Brown. Rutgers can't possibly have a clue. If offensive coordinator Norries Wilson were to get a little fancy, without risking Brown's neck, it could pay off in some points.
 
THROW RUTGERS A ROPE
 
The Scarlet Knights are 4-2, but they're still Rutgers. Something is bound to go wrong at some point. That's the legacy of the football program.
 
This isn't to suggest that Greg Schiano isn't a good coach, or that his team lacks talent. He is and it doesn't. But as UConn has discovered during its three-game winning streak over its New Jersey rival, Rutgers has a way of screwing things up. It could be a botched punt, an ill-advised pass, a poorly timed penalty, or the inability to handle pressure late in a tight game on the road. But it's always there.
 
But UConn has to set the trap. That can be achieved only one way: with strong defense. If it can make life miserable for redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Teel, making his second career start, it should be able to keep the score close enough for discomfort on the Rutgers sideline.
 
There is the chance that Rutgers will hold something like a 28-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, especially if Dennis Brown proves to be in over his head. But if the score is close, the edge goes to the Huskies down the stretch.

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