Coming off a second straight loss, UConn football embarks on the farthest regular-season road trip in program history to face BYU in Provo, Utah Friday night.
The Huskies (2-2, 0-1 American) are playing in their final nonconference matchup of the season, which is scheduled to start at 10:15 p.m. EST, though that is only 8:15 p.m. in BYU’s local Mountain Standard Time.
While the Cougars (2-2) present a tough matchup themselves, the first challenge for the Huskies will be adjusting to the two-hour time difference on such short notice. However, head coach Bob Diaco doesn’t see it as a major issue.
“I don’t think there’s much to do I think you try to get on the west time zone situation,” Diaco said. “Just try to assimilate into that culture in that terrain right away. I think that’s the best thing to do and not overthink it. And listen, what 18-to-22-year-old is in bed at 10 o’clock? I think they’ll be fine.”
After opening American Athletic Conference play with a 28-18 home loss to Navy, the Huskies look to snap their two-game losing streak against BYU, which enters the matchup with a two-game losing streak of its own.
The Cougars opened the season with back-to-back wins on Hail Mary passes against Nebraska and Boise State, but lost a close game to UCLA before being blown out in a 31-0 loss at Michigan.
The injury bug has already plagued BYU this year, losing star quarterback Taysom Hill for the season with a foot injury in a season-opening win over Nebraska. Despite playing only five games in his career due to season-ending ligament tear in his left knee last season, Hill managed to rack up 15 total touchdowns, five of which came against UConn. Hill threw for 308 yards with three touchdowns and added 97 yards rushing with two scores on the ground in the Cougars’ 35-10 win over the Huskies in 2014.
“They were big, physical at all positions,” Diaco said about the Cougars’ win over the Huskies last year. “The offensive line is giant. The wide receivers are gigantic. They wear you out. They have a model for how they want to play. ... Thinking back to the game (from last year), that’s what I remember. They were a physically imposing group in all three phases.”
Freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum has filled in under center in Hill’s absence and done admirably, throwing for 719 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions so far. The UConn defense will look to pressure Mangum and force more turnovers by getting through the BYU offensive line, which has allowed 12 sacks with Mangum at quarterback this season.
The Cougars will also be without leading rusher Adam Hine, who suffered an ankle injury during the loss to Michigan. Hine leads the team with 312 rushing yards so far this season. BYU may also be without running back Algie Brown, who was injured during the Boise State game and hasn’t played since.
Despite these injuries, the UConn defense will need to make adjustments in order to find success against the Cougars. After facing triple-option offenses in two of their first four games, the Huskies will face off against BYU’s more conventional spread offense.
“It’s spread, but it’s not a pass-spread offense. It’s a run-spread offense.” Diaco said. “Running the ball is a necessary component (in the BYU offense), and running it with authority.
On the offensive end for the Huskies, running back Arkeel Newsome figures to once again get a fair share of touches with the hopes of injecting more energy into the offense. After periodically getting touches in the first three games, Newsome shined as the Huskies’ feature back against Navy, combining for 120 yards from scrimmage, including five receptions for 51 yards. While fellow running back Ron Johnson is listed as No. 1 on the depth chart heading into the BYU game, Newsome will be relied upon against the Cougars in both the passing and running game due to his speed and quickness.
“We’ll continue to give the ball to the appropriate player that matches up best against the opponent and run style, and Arkeel is a heck of a back. He also has some tools in the passing game,” Diaco said. “Outside of that, Arkeel was the starter, he had earned that up to that point. And he had done a nice job. So there was a few other factors that were a catalysts for it but I’m not sure any one of them is bigger than the conduct of the game.”