UConn-Virginia Football Preview: A second first impression for the Huskies

Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall works the sidelines during the season opener against Holy Cross at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. UConn won 27-20. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

(WTNH)–Just how good is this 2017 UConn football team?

We’ll finally begin to find out starting at noon on Saturday, as the Huskies travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia.

UConn didn’t look quite ready for showtime when it squeaked by Holy Cross in Week 1 (after trailing 20-7), but after an unexpected week off that served as a mini-training camp, they’ve got another chance to make a first impression.

As far as that game against South Florida, which wasn’t played last weekend due to Hurricane Irma, UConn athletic director David Benedict has tweeted that he’s “working to get the game back on our schedule.” He tweeted this again on Wednesday:

We’ll keep you posted on that front.

So, how much can the team improve in a week of practice? Randy Edsall is saying publicly that the week off was “time well spent.”

“It gave us some more time with some of the young kids that have played and who are going to continue to play as the year goes on,” Edsall said. “We really made it a point to get better.”

UConn should be better on defense, if only because senior linebacker Vontae Diggs will be back on the field.

Diggs returns tore a meniscus in his left knee in training camp. He was almost emotional in speaking about returning:

“I don’t know how else to put it, football saved my life way back when. It kept me out of a lot of trouble, it got me going, so having it taken away for an extended period of time when I should have been out there, it did something to my heart,” he said.

Junior Joseph will also be back on the field after injuring his shoulder against Holy Cross.

On to Virginia

The Cavaliers were schooled by Indiana, 34-17, in Charlottesville last week, bringing their record to 1-1. UVA beat FCS squad William & Mary, 28-10, at home in Week 1.

The Hoosiers have a high-flying offense cultivated under former coach Kevin Wilson and continued under Tom Allen, and they gave Ohio State all it could handle in the season opener, so this isn’t an embarassing defeat for UVA.

virginia football UConn Virginia Football Preview: A second first impression for the Huskies
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert (6) makes a toss as North Carolina defensive tackle Nazair Jones (90) closes in during the first half of an NCAA college football game between North Carolina and Virginia at Scott stadium in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Still, it makes Saturday’s game with the Huskies all the more imperative, particularly if the Cavs hope to reach a bowl game this year. That’s not great for UConn–you’d rather catch Virginia looking ahead to its next opponent (Boise State on the road) than delivering its undivided attention to you.

Virginia is led by senior quarterback Kurt Benkert, who has played well so far this season (66-for-105, 521 yards, 4 touchdowns, zero picks).

Junior Jordan Ellis is the Cavs’ leading rusher at 124 yards in 34 attempts (3.6 per carry).

The Cavaliers were awful under then-first year head coach Bronco Mendenall last year, finishing 2-10, and ending the season on a seven-game losing streak. He was lured from BYU after a long and successful run there, and Virginia wanted to escape the mediocrity of the Mike London era.

There’s already talk that he’s on the hot seat, which is absurd, but hey, that’s college football.

This game will mean a lot to the Cavs, with a brutal ACC schedule ahead.

PREDICTION: UVA is installed as a 9.5-point favorite over UConn, which seems high. We’re going to bet the Huskies will keep it closer than that. It’s hard to predict how this team will perform in its first game against a fellow FBS squad in the second Randy Edsall era, but if Bryant Shirreffs can keep the ball moving offensively, there’s no reason UConn can’t pull this one out, even on the road.

We’ll be bold: they get the W, 27-21.

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