I am not a UConn fan. I was raised in Connecticut, but I was never swept up in rooting for the local team. Now I attend Georgetown University, and all ties to UConn are officially severed.
With that said, the teams have a spot in my sports fan heart (except for the men’s basketball team—I hate Jim Calhoun). Nobody can deny that Geno Auriemma is the one of the best basketball coaches in college history.
But the college once known as a basketball powerhouse has a new team to respect.
With an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl, the UConn football team has done something that has never happened in the university’s history. Yes, that sentence, or variations of it, has been said thousands of times in the past week.
So has this one, even if it hasn’t been put so bluntly: The Huskies, unfortunately, have no chance against Oklahoma. If they win, it will be an upset of the century.
It seems pointless to break the game down, but that is what I plan on doing.
But first, a little history lesson, just to demonstrate the absolute unprecedented nature of what has happened for UConn football.
It was only in 2000 that the program entered the highest division in college football. Only a few years later, the football program was invited to a BCS conference, another unprecedented accomplishment.
During this entire process, the team was led by Randy Edsall, a coach who is respected for building a defense built on the fundamentals—good coverage, good tackling but nothing special—and an offense centered on a power running game.
Since 2004, just two years after becoming a full member of the Big East Conference, the Huskies have won three bowl games, beating Toledo (2004 Motor City Bowl), Buffalo (2008 International Bowl) and South Carolina (2009 Papajohns.com Bowl). They lost to Wake Forest in the 2007 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Some notable players that have been produced from the fledgling UConn football factory are Giants tackle William Beatty, Raiders safety Tyvon Branch, Colts running back Donald Brown and the infamous quarterback Dan “Run Out the Back of the End Zone” Orlovsky.
Now, they are about to walk onto the biggest stage in the history of the program.
But it’s like learning to ride a bike. Just when you take off the training wheels and make it to the big time, you realize that you are heading straight for a brick wall. The Oklahoma Sooners are just too much of a challenge for the UConn Huskies.
Anyone watching the Huskies this season knows that they are a running team. They need to be able to start with a good lead and control the game from there. Against the only high-powered offense that they faced this season, Michigan, they were destroyed. The Huskies only managed 10 points against a Michigan defense that gave up over 60 against Illinois.
Really, they are a one-dimensional team. If people are trusting Zach Frazer to take control of the offense and give at least a reason for the Sooners not to put eight in the box, they should be institutionalized. This is a guy who missed 10 of his last 12 passes in the all-important game against South Florida.
What is worse is that Edsall seems to call one play each time. Rarely do you see Jordan Todman go anywhere outside of the tackles. Todman, who is following in Donald Brown’s footsteps to the NFL (he should just hope that a shotgun-passing team doesn’t draft him and completely misuse his workhorse back potential), generally is sent up the middle or off the left or right guard.
Any other running play—a stretch handoff, a toss, a sweep, really anything besides a run up the middle—is not called with enough regularity for the defense to need to respect it.
Regardless, expect Todman to get a lot of carries in the Fiesta Bowl, even if the running game doesn’t work. He got 33 in his last game, even though he averaged only 2.8 yards per carry.
The biggest weakness of the Huskies is their pass defense. Obviously, this is something that the Sooners can and will exploit, with 4,000-yard passer Landry Jones and Biletnikoff Award finalist Ryan Broyles. Coming from a historically offensive conference, the Big 12 champs are not surprisingly able to put up points easily.
Broyles has had an incredible season and has set many records. However, the most telling statistic (from soonersports.com) is that Broyles has at least eight catches in each of his team’s games this year. The offense runs through him, like UConn's runs through Todman. However, Broyles will be much harder to stop, especially with the Sooners’ vast array of weapons, including DeMarco Murray. It isn’t hard for me to see some record numbers set by the Sooner offense.
UConn has generally been coached by Edsall into a solid, consistent defense. However, this year’s team hasn't been. They have missed tackles, blown coverages and been taken for a few Nantucket Sleigh Rides.
It is especially too easy for teams to air it out against the Huskies, with the most glaring example of this being the way that Rutgers was able to seize control of a game late by scoring two quick bombs to near wide-open receivers or how South Florida was able to pick apart the soft zone of UConn’s defense to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Broyles and Jones should be able to hook up for some easy scores.
One bright spot for UConn is defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, who has been a force in the middle and will, hopefully for UConn, be able to plug up the middle of that line and potentially create some disturbances for Landry Jones in the pocket.
There is no denying that UConn football has taken a big step by winning its conference and going to a BCS bowl game, both firsts for the program. However, as stated above, it might be a little soon for the team at this point.
The Huskies won’t be able to stop Oklahoma, and it is doubtful that they will be able to match them score for score. They may be able to pull a win out of this game with some Boise State-like trick plays, but that’s a huge stretch.
Though people may bring up Bob Stoops’ trouble with handling big-time games (he’s lost his last five BCS games), the talent gap between the two teams is just too much for him to screw up. Oklahoma is going to win this by a big margin. UConn will have to get back up on the bike next year.