With the first game of the 2014 season already upon us, the hope was to provide a great start with a remarkable history between the two teams that we could dissect and analyze in the remaining hours. Unfortunately, due to the lack of significant games played between the schools, that didn't happen. In fact the BYU Cougars and the Connecticut Huskies have never played each other in football. So we went to the next best thing, the two teams playing common opponents in the last few years. Again we struck out and ended with a total of zero. We finally decided that the only way this would work is to go desperate and use the record of the basketball teams in head to head competition. We finally found a game!!! And when we realized that BYU lost to them in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, we decided to leave this section blank for the week. So ignore what you read, or just go on with your life.
Most think that this game is a cake walk to start the season. Of course the Cougars aren't playing Alabama but it is still a road game on the east coast. BYU has seemed to struggle with season openers and with a few personnel losses, the Cougars could be in for a closer game than anticipated. The expectation is still a win, but BYU will need to play team ball in order to win and the offense must play better than they did in their losses last year.
Year two of the "Go Fast, Go Hard" offense should yield much better results than last year. Coach Anae has said on a number of occasions that the Cougars are much further along in their offense than a year ago when they were still trying to fit all the pieces together. A year of experience and a year of studying the playbook can only help Taysom Hill and company. Last year the Cougars looked lost in their opener against Virginia and can ill afford to do so with UConn.
With the first game of the season comes the realization that the Cougars are relatively healthy as they head to the east coast. With a limited number of injuries the Cougars have been able to practice together and work on some timing issues. This has resulted in an increased number of big plays from almost every position on the team. If this can translate into game play, the Huskies should be extremely worried.
The most glaring negatives leading up to the first game of the season are the missing players. First the suspension of Jamaal Williams came out on the first day of camp that the media could attend. This is a big blow as Williams is such a big part of the Cougars offense. He will most likely be replaced by committee with the logical replacements being Algernon Brown, Adam Hine, and Paul Lasike, although Nate Carter has received a number of reps in practice as well.
The next hit came when it was announced that Nick Kurtz was out 6-8 weeks (later changed to five) with a stress fracture in his foot. Nick has been a monster in spring and fall camp, but will now have to wait for his first action until a few games into the year. Within days of this news it was announced by Devon Blackmon that he would be missing the first game as well due to rule infractions. Following on the heels of the Kurtz news, this took on even more importance as Blackmon could have stepped in to solidify the receivers during the absence of Kurtz. Not only would it have helped the team with another speedy receiver, but it would have given him game time experience before having to step in at Texas.
BYU Offensive Line vs UCONN Defensive Line:
As has been well documented and reiterated over the off-season, the BYU offensive line struggled mightily last year. They had their moments (see Texas, Houston) but struggled on the whole. The coaches insist that this isn't the case this year and that fans will see a much different result starting with week one. Phil Steele has bought into this as well as he ranked the O-line as one of the strongest in the country (who knew blue kool-aid existed outside Utah?) and will surprise a lot of people.
On the other side of the ball the Huskies are rebuilding their front seven so an enormous amount of pressure will be on the line to present some form of pass rush. This is much easier said than done, since the key pass rushers from a year ago are no longer Huskies. If the defensive line can't get pressure on Hill, it will be a long day for the Huskies.
BYU Receivers vs UCONN Secondary:
The Cougars are breaking in a new group of receivers and although talented, they have yet to show what they can do in a BYU offense. Mitch Mathews and Ross Apo are the leading returning receivers and they are both coming off injuries. Yet BYU has much more size and speed, as a unit, than at any other time in recent history. The way this unit plays could decide the outcome of the game so look to have a couple of guys step up and show their A game.
UConn returns a number of secondary players that can make a difference. Due to a number of factors, the Huskies used numerous players last year to the tune of nine secondary players having double digit tackles. This could bode well for them based on young players gaining experience, but it also means someone needs to step up. Look for sophomore safety Obi Melifonwu to possibly play this role as he led the secondary in tackles with 54.5 as a freshman.
The Keys to Watch
When BYU has the ball: Watch for the Cougars to take advantage of the unproven front seven of the Huskies. If the Cougars can make the Huskies play man-to-man on the receivers, the Cougars have a good chance of making plays through the air based on their size. Watch for Hill to pass while on the move. During fall camp his accuracy looks to have improved but he is much better when rolling out or on the run. Not only are his passes more accurate, but the receivers find themselves making plays over and around the defenders. UConn will try and keep Hill in the pocket, which may be an impossible task, and will try to force the Cougars to beat them through the air. In order to do this the front seven must stick to their assignments and not bite on the moves that Hill will inevitably put on them.
When UConn has the ball: Watch for the Huskies to rely heavily on the returning starters at running back and receiver, as their offensive line is only returning one starter. Last year the Huskies were a pass heavy team and so don't expect that to change much as the strengths lie with the receivers. BYU will try and get a pass rush going so that the receivers are negated and the Cougars will use the linebackers as a key to putting pressure on Casey Cochran. The question for the Cougars is the defensive line and if they can open gaps for the linebackers and help stuff the run, Cochran and his offense will struggle to put drives together.
The University of Connecticut was established in 1881 after Charles and Augustus Storrs gave the state 170 acres of farmland and enough barns to establish an agricultural school. They started off with three faculty members and 12 students as a school for boys in September of 1881. It later opened classes to women in 1891 and in 1914 the school started offering four year degrees as the Connecticut Agricultural College. It wasn't until 1939 that the school officially became the University of Connecticut. For a complete history of the school you can visit here.
The Huskies and Cougars will next meet in Provo on October 31st, 2015 in LaVell Edwards Stadium. This will be the second of their two contracted games.
East Hartford, Connecticut: High 50's-low 60's with 20% chance of rain.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 5:00 pm MDT
Where: Rentschler Field - East Hartford, CT
Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
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