This weekend Tulane faces a surprisingly tough test at home against UConn. This is the second consecutive year that the Huskies pay a visit to Yulman Stadium. Last year the Green Wave beat UConn 12-3 in a game many thought turned the game of football back 80 years.
What does this year have in store?
To learn more about the Huskies, read what Aman Kidwai of The UConn Blog had to say about them.
TM: Last year's game was "low scoring" to say the least. In a game where the teams combined for 15 points, Tulane scored 12 of them. Give me a few reasons why UConn should be able to score more than three points this year.
AK: UConn has a different, better quarterback – one that is a dual-threat – and a clearer offensive identity. The line is a bit better, and a few playmakers have emerged as well in running back Arkeel Newsome, wide receiver Noel Thomas, and Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom – two big, athletic tight ends who can block and catch. Freshman receiver Tyraiq Beals has earned a starting role and gives the offense an added dynamic as a shifty speedster.
TM: I don't know what to make of UConn. The Huskies opened up with two ugly wins over Villanova and Army and then lost five of their last six before beating East Carolina last Friday. What portion of the schedule taught you the most about UConn so far? Was it the inconsistency early or the Huskies' ability to bounce back like they did last week?
AK: The whole season really tells a very interesting, back-and-forth story. The Villanova and Army wins were more comfortable than the scores might indicate – both teams scored touchdowns late in the fourth quarter against soft defenses to dent a two-score lead. A 3-point loss to Missouri on the road is an impressive result and UConn was tied in the fourth quarter with BYU, so even that loss gave us something to feel positive about.
UCF is really bad, still UConn did a good job taking care of business there. Putting up 528 yards of offense but only managing 20 points in a loss to USF really deflated the fans spirits, but we learned the offense can move the ball, and just needs to do a better job of putting points on the board.
Unfortunately the next week Cincinnati beat the crap out of UConn, but they are just clearly a much better team. UConn's offensive performance in that game was alarmingly bad given how many points Cincinnati was usually allowing, and the defense had posted two straight sub-optimal outings (gave up a lot of big plays in loss to USF). The East Carolina game washed away a lot of the stink of those two weeks, though, especially with how comprehensive the beating of the Pirates was.
TM: UConn's strength is obviously its defense, more specifically its defensive backs. Correct me if I'm wrong. What has allowed Jamar Summers (5 INTs) and Jhavon Williams (3 INTs, 4 PBUs), who are both underclassmen, to develop so well?
AK: Defense yes, secondary no. If we are looking at the season as a whole, UConn's strength lies in the front seven, especially on the defensive line where Folorunso Fatukasi and Julian Campenni are really able to move people and create space for linebackers Graham Stewart, Junior Joseph, Marquise Vann, Matt Walsh and rush end Luke Carrezola to make tackles all over the field.
The corners and safeties have made interceptions, but in games against BYU, Cincinnati and USF they were too generous. They have been improving across the season and are quite good, but I wouldn't say the secondary is the strength of the defense.
TM: Other than scoring more points than them, what does Tulane need to do to beat the Huskies?
AK: Tulane's biggest strength (defensive line) will be going against a UConn offensive line that is not great, despite definitely being improved from last year. If they can shut down UConn's running game, force obvious passing situations, and then pressure the crap out of Bryant Shirreffs in those situations, you'll stop the UConn offense. Containing the rushing attack means also neutralizing Shirreffs and his ability to run.
Offensively, attacking the edge with quick passes, options, outside runs and mixing it up with a few attempts downfield would be my recommendation. Find ways to make big plays against Diaco's "bend but don't break" defense.
TM: Prediction for the game?
AK: I think Tulane is a better team than its 2-6 record. But, for many of the same reasons, I think UConn is better than its 4-5 record. This should be a relatively close game with two defensive-minded teams, I like UConn to win 17-13.