We all knew this was going to get tougher.
After slight season-opening wins over Villanova and Army and a valiant (pillowfight?) rockfight at then-No. 22 Missouri (a 9-6 loss), UConn faced a legitimate Top 25 contender in Navy on Saturday, which just may be the best team in the AAC.
The Huskies afforded themselves well, hanging around at 14-10 late in the first half before Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who is now just four rushing touchdowns shy of the NCAA record, broke off two quick scores and buried UConn’s upset hopes.
There’s no doubt that the defense has been the strength of the team thus far this season, and it will get another test on Friday as the Huskies travel to BYU.
The trip will be the longest regular-season voyage in UConn history, at 2,000 miles. (Provo looks lovely on Google Maps). It’s a return of the game the Huskies played to open last season, when BYU crushed them, 35-10, and Cougars QB Taysom Hill became an instant Heisman contender.
Unfortunately for BYU, Hill was lost for the season in the first game of the year, so they’re riding and dying with Tanner Mangum, a 22-year-old true freshman who just finished a long LDS mission in Chile.
He obviously made good with Jesus on his trip, because upon replacing Hill in the Cougars’ first game of the year at Nebraska, Mangum did this:
And then, a week later, he did this:
So…yeah. UConn’s got to deal with that.
And late-game heroics aside, BYU is already battle-tested this season.
The Cougars have played one of, if not the toughest schedule in the country thus far, starting out with wins at Nebraska and at home over Boise State before nearly missing at the Rose Bowl against No. 7 UCLA (24-23), and then getting dump-trucked by Michigan (31-0) at the Big House.
BYU has already played in three different time zones this year, and will be settling in for the first of four straight at home. Three of those games will be against AAC competition, as the Cougs welcome in East Carolina and Cincinnati in the weeks following the Huskies.
Mangum is 66-for-114 with 719 passing yards and four touchdowns against three picks so far this season. He’ll be the main focus for the Huskies defense, as BYU is a pass-first offense.
Running back Adam Hine (54 carries, 312 yards, 5.8 average), is the team’s only real rushing threat, as no other active Cougar has more than four carries on the season.
Junior wideout Mitchell Juergens (15 receptions, 250 yards, 2 touchdowns) leads the team in receiving, though seniors Mitch Matthews (18 receptions, 189 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Devon Blackmon (15 receptions, 185 yards, no touchdowns) are also threats.
The Cougars give up 26.8 points per game, which ranks 78th in the NCAA. But again, they haven’t faced an offense as inept as UConn’s yet. Look for that number to go down after Friday. In fact, it’d be something close to a divine miracle if the Huskies put up that many points this week.
PREDICTION: Like most games on its schedule, Connecticut is going to have to run the ball to be successful on Friday. The Huskies have to try and control the clock, keep the ball for as long as possible and give BYU less time to work with on offense.
The Cougars’ passing game has the potential to wear down the Huskies’ D, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see BYU pull through with a big second half. They’ll likely be angry after getting shut out at Michigan.
BYU 28, UConn 17
If the Huskies can hold the Cougars under 30 points and keep the game within two touchdowns, they should consider it a moral victory. And if they do that, it’ll be a nice building block for the rest of the season.