Q&A: Cougars face test in final road game of the season at UConn
Although the Cougars got their big test out of the way after last Saturday’s matchup against the University of Memphis, they have a big task at hand this week, as they travel to Connecticut to take on the University of Connecticut Huskies in another conference matchup.
Although 5-5, the Huskies are prepared and energized, fresh off a bye-week and having back to back wins against conference foes prior to their bye.
The Huskies look to seal a win for bowl eligibility against the undefeated Cougars.
Matthew Zampini, sports editor at The Daily Campus and UConn football beat writer, sat down with The Cougar to discuss how the Huskies can make a bold statement and take advantage of Saturday’s trap game.
Let’s talk about defenses. The Cougars have a solid defense, but UConn is right above them in the AAC in scoring defense, and they’re also ranked 41st in the nation in total defense. What does UConn’s defense have that Houston lacks?
MZ: I honestly haven’t seen much on Houston this year, but I could tell you a lot about the UConn defense. They have been very good this season. The Huskies are tied for seventh in the country in interceptions and tied for first in the American. UConn also ranks 18th nationally in turnover margin with Jamar Summers leading UConn with six interceptions.
UConn’s secondary, led by senior captain Andrew Adams, has some playmakers to keep an eye out for. Along with Adams and Summers, Jhavon Williams and Obi Melifonwu also have been very good this season.
What playmaker(s) do UConn have that the Cougars should be concerned about?
MZ: Houston should be most concerned about sophomore running back Arkeel Newsome. Newsome is explosive and can do a multitude of things within the game. He is currently 20th in the nation in all-purpose yards at 140 per game and has gained 674 yards on the ground and another 417 through the air this season. He’ll return kickoffs too, averaging 24 yards per return.
How hungry do you believe the Huskies are to get a win and become bowl eligible?
MZ: The Huskies are going to be very hungry to win this game. Not only will the Huskies become bowl-eligible with a win, but also it is the last home game and senior day. UConn hasn’t been to a bowl game since the 2010-11 season when they went to the Fiesta Bowl. So with UConn needing one win in two of its last two games, this will be the best chance for the Huskies to do so with Temple (University) coming up on the road next weekend.
Do you see the Cougars getting complacent due to seeing the Huskies as a trap game?
MZ: I don’t necessarily think that the Cougars are going to be complacent this weekend. I mean, I think that they will learn from last week’s game against Memphis and come out of the gate stronger. I certainly wouldn’t expect the Huskies to put up 20 unanswered points in the first half like the Tigers did. I don’t think that Houston has played in New England this year, and it is expected to be around 50 degrees. That isn’t particularly cold for up here, but I don’t know if Houston has played in those conditions this year.
What do you think needs to happen in order for the Huskies to contain Greg Ward Jr. and the Cougars’ overall game? What do the Huskies need to do to stop the Cougars from remaining undefeated?
MZ: It will come down to just containing their offense. Houston has scored over 33 points in every game this year, while UConn has only allowed over 33 points just once. UConn head coach Bob Diaco said it himself on Tuesday at his weekly press conference; Houston has some complex systems on offense. He even noted it is somewhat like a triple-option offense. UConn is 1-1 when facing teams that run the triple-option this year.
UConn is going to have to score around 30 points to win, and I don’t know if the Huskies are going to be able to keep up with the Cougars’ offense.
Do you believe the Huskies will be able to hand the Cougars their first loss of the season? What is your prediction for Saturday’s game?
MZ: I am going to say that Houston will win this game 31-21. The Huskies have enough offensive power to hang with the Cougars. It could be a close game in the beginning, but then Houston will get ahead late in the game and pull away.