Football: Huskies prepare for stingy Missouri defense

Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers (10) celebrates with the defense after he intercepted an Arkansas State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Jonesboro, Arkansas. (Gareth Patterson/AP)

Through the first two games of their 2015 season, the UConn football team’s offense has looked better than it has in years, racking up a combined 722 yards of total offense in wins over Villanova and Army.

With the offense seemingly looking the best it ever has under head coach Bob Diaco, the Huskies’ offense faces a significant test against the No. 20 Missouri Tigers (2-0), who boast one of the stingiest defenses and play in college football’s best conference.

“You can’t beat it. We’re going on the road, first time this year, which is exciting,” Diaco said of heading to Faurot Field to take on the Tigers. “[Missouri is] really the pinnacle of college gameday experience in one of the top conferences in the country in the SEC.”

Entering the season, one of the major question marks for the Huskies was the offensive line. After struggling mightily throughout the season last year, the line has done better to start 2015, allowing four sacks in two games. However, this success has come against opponents with smaller defensive lines. As the Huskies prepare to face Missouri, the offensive line will face their biggest test all season against one of the best defensive lines in the country.

Since joining the Southeastern Conference for the 2013 season, Missouri defensive ends have won the last two SEC Defensive Player of the Year awards. Michael Sam won the award in 2013, and Shane Ray did the same in 2014. 

This season, the Tigers once again have a standout defensive end in Charles Harris. Just two games into the season, Harris already boasts a team-high six tackles for loss for Missouri, who leads the nation as a team with 25 TFLs.

“Their defensive line is awesome. The four down guys are great, great players,” Diaco said. “They’re big and fast. Just really exceptional, impact guys, and there’s a good amount of them too. They’ve done a nice job recruiting at the defensive line position.”

Linebacker Kentrell Brothers has also been an impact player for the Tigers so far in 2015. The redshirt senior leads the country with 32 tackles, tallying 16 each in Missouri’s first two games. In last week’s 27-20 win over Arkansas State, Brothers had two interceptions in the fourth quarter to help seal the Tigers’ second win of the season.

Brothers and Harris lead the way for a Missouri defense that has already established itself as one of the premier defenses in the SEC. In their win over Arkansas State, the Tigers registered 15 TFLs en route to snuffing out Arkansas State’s upset bid, holding them to just 37 yards in the second half. They also lead the conference in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of just 11.5 points per game. 

Despite the unique challenges the Missouri defense provides, the recent success of starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs gives the Huskies a cornerstone to build their offensive game plan around.

Shirreffs has demonstrated success with his arm, going 31-45 and passing for a total of 472 yards, and with his legs, adding a total of 64 yards on the ground. His ability to use his legs to extend plays adds another dimension to the UConn offense and gives the Tigers defense a challenge of their own to prepare for.

With the offense looking better than ever, Diaco and the Huskies are eager to go head-to-head against the two-time SEC East division champions. While the team is facing one of its most difficult challenges of the season, Diaco has embraced it and has the Huskies ready as they hope to defeat their first SEC opponent since 2010.

“[It’s] a great challenge ahead,” Diaco said of taking on Missouri. “Whenever you’re going against something that’s a great challenge you cant help but prepare with a different energy and overcoming those obstacles become some of the more special moments in your life.”


Dan Madigan is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.