It's the first week of the season and the Cougars look to start this season off on the right foot as they travel back east to face Connecticut. We were able to catch up with Aman Kidwai, writer for The UConn Blog, and get his insight on this week's game.
VANQUISH THE FOE: First year head coach Bob Diaco is coming from Notre Dame where he had great success with the Irish defense, including a couple of victories over BYU. What changes has he made since arriving in Storrs?
Aman Kidwai - The UConn Blog: There have been many changes since Bob Diaco took over. The most notable being the players' strength, conditioning and nutrition programs. Over the off-season most players were reporting better health, adding muscle where necessary and dropping fat to improve quickness. Diaco appears to have turned around the culture and placed a great focus on eliminating mental mistakes and the bad habits which lead to losing. He gives a hell of an interview and seems to at least have earned cautious optimism from the fan base as a whole.
Schematically, the offense should be run heavy, which isn't much of a change from UConn teams of year's past. Defensively, Diaco favors a 3-4 but this year, after inheriting a roster built to field the 4-3, it may be more of a hybrid style.
VANQUISH THE FOE: The Huskies are returning some key skill players on offense, including wide receiver Geremy Davis and a solid core of running backs. With all of this talent, what is expected of QB Casey Cochran as he starts the season under center?
Aman: Casey Cochran was named the starter last week but Coach Diaco has said that redshirt senior Chandler Whitmer, last year's Week 1 starter, will be a key backup and that it will be "closer to 51-49" than anything else. We'll see.
At any rate the quarterback will be expected to do a very good job handing the ball off to running backs, often, and then be dangerous enough as a passing threat if we can establish the run. Nobody's asking Cochran, a redshirt sophomore, or Whitmer to go out there and win games for us. I do believe Cochran has the potential to develop into that kind of player, just not this year.
VANQUISH THE FOE: The UConn defense has typically been the strength of this football team. Who will be the key players on that side of the ball this season?
Aman: In the secondary, Obi Melifonwu is a guy you will want to keep an eye on. He is a hard-hitting safety who made plays all over the field last year as a freshman. Byron Jones, a senior cornerback, is another one to watch. He has the size and athleticism to be a force at corner.
In the front seven, lookout for junior Linebacker Jefferson Ashiru, who had a very productive outing against Michigan, who started the last 10 games of the season and finished with eight tackles for loss. Another linebacker, Florida transfer Graham Stewart, was a 4-star recruit who had a solid 2013 and should benefit from Bob Diaco's new scheme.
VANQUISH THE FOE: BYU quarterback Taysom Hill quite literally got former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz fired last season. How does Diaco plan on stopping the dual-threat quarterback?
Aman: I would guess he plans on using a rotating set of edge defenders to keep Taysom Hill contained. With a few of BYU's key playmakers unavailable, UConn needs to keep the ball out of Hill's hands and force him to look at third and fourth options. The Huskies front seven will need to be up for the challenge.
VANQUISH THE FOE: There isn't a whole lot of history between these two football teams. And when I say not a whole lot, I mean none whatsoever. What is the general perception of having team like BYU on the schedule?
Aman: I would say the perception is a good one. BYU is a solid program with a relatively recent National Championship and Heisman Trophy winner. They haven't been at that level recently, but still are a good challenge for our program. I expect to see a lot of BYU in the coming years and I'm okay with that.
VANQUISH THE FOE: If UConn hopes to beat BYU on Friday, what must they do to make that happen?
Aman: The recipe for an upset consists of winning the turnover battle, controlling possession (especially against an offense like yours), and making a few big plays on both ends of the football.
Offensively, UConn needs to take care of the football, get the running game going early and avoid sacks. The offensive line, the team's biggest question mark by far, will need to show that they have improved under the new coaching staff.
Defensively, we need to play stout at the line of scrimmage and prevent the big play. The front seven are talented but they will need to step up to the challenge of containing Taysom Hill.
VANQUISH THE FOE: Bronco Mendenhall has made a living with his trusted 3-4 defense that gives the linebackers space to blitz and attack. On a scale of 1-10, how prepared is the UConn offensive line for the BYU defense?
Aman: Low. We're replacing four starters from a unit which wasn't even very good last year. Bob Diaco and the coaching staff have had their hands full just making sure this line is ready for the rigors of a college football season. I believe we will try to scheme around this weakness by trying misdirection and short passes to keep the defense off balance. Physically they may not be ready to handle an attack like that but hopefully the coaches have a good plan in place that can keep us competitive.
VANQUISH THE FOE: How do you see the game playing out?
Aman: Unfortunately I think BYU wins this one. UConn may be able to keep it close early but to hold on and win, even at home against a western opponent, seems unlikely. I'll go with BYU by 14.
Thanks again to Aman and The UConn Blog for helping with this article.