Coming off a 20-15 win over Villanova, the UConn football (1-0) team looks to win back-to-back home games for the first time in two years as they take on Army (0-1) at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field for a 12 p.m. kickoff.
Last season, the Huskies fell to the Black Knights 35-21 at Yankee Stadium. UConn trailed 28-21 with 2:06 left in the game, and recovered an onside kick to have a chance to send the game into overtime. After marching down to the Army 6-yard line, Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer threw an interception that was returned 99-yards for a touchdown to seal the Black Knights’ victory.
Last season’s loss dropped the Huskies to 4-2 all-time against Army.
“I would be disappointed if our team doesn’t play better than we did a year ago,” Diaco said.
The Black Knights are known for their triple-option offense, which gutted the Huskies for 363 total yards in their game last season, 325 of which came on the ground. In their season-opening 37-35 loss to Fordham of the Football Championship Subdivision, Army racked up 389 yards of total offense, including 256 rushing yards.
“This preparation is unique,” Diaco said on getting ready to face the triple-option. “It’s totally opposite of a lot of things we’ve done. It’s a real challenge as a defense, a real challenge as a team but a real challenge specifically as a defense.”
One of the major keystones of the triple-option is that it requires a true dual-threat quarterback. Last season, quarterback Angel Santiago torched UConn for 135 yards of total offense and two rushing touchdowns. With Santiago having graduated, sophomore Ahmad Bradshaw has taken over as starter. Bradshaw showed explosiveness in the loss to the Rams, rushing 143 yards and two touchdowns and throwing for 107 yards and two passing touchdowns in his first-ever start.
“We feel that he’s a more athletic player, faster. He’s got a darn good arm and he’s a fairly accurate passer for a young guy in his second year,” Diaco said. “He’s a talented player. Big and fast, athletic, so he’s a real weapon with the ball.”
UConn boasts their own weapon at quarterback in Bryant Shirreffs. The transfer from North Carolina State shined in his debut with the Huskies, going 12-20 for 200 yards passing and two touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore also demonstrated an ability to create opportunities with his legs, rushing for 33 yards on 10 attempts.
Shirreffs’ performance against Villanova earned him the Gold Helmet Award, given to the top weekly performer for a New England player at each of the three NCAA athletic divisions.
I’m pleased with Bryant at quarterback, and with him making some good reads and for the most part not putting the ball in jeopardy,” Diaco said. “He’s a coach-mentality kind of guy, he’s here studying on his own, he’s thinking about the game, he’s getting all the extra work in.”
Wide receiver Noel Thomas also figures to be an integral part of the offense against the Black Knights. After hauling in three passes for 39 yards and one 8-yard rush last game, Thomas could terrorize the Army defense with his ability to use his speed in open space.
“I felt like Noel took advantage of his opportunities [against Villanova] like we thought he would, and those [opportunities] should continue to increase,” Diaco said.
A win against the Black Knights would be the first since a 21-7 win at Rentschler Field in 2006. It would also mark the first time the Huskies start the season 2-0 since defeating Hofstra and Temple in 2008.