One week after a 9-6 loss on the road to then-No. 20 Missouri, the UConn football team returns home to open up American Athletic Conference play against Navy Saturday at noon.
The Midshipmen (2-0) played their first-ever conference game last week in a 45-21 rout of East Carolina. Prior to joining the American this season, Navy played football for 134 years as an independent.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds was the major factor in Navy’s first win in the American. Reynolds torched the East Carolina defense for 142 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns and 41 passing yards. Reynolds became the first Navy player to be named Offensive Player of the Week in the American for his efforts.
The senior currently holds an NCAA career record with 70 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Reynolds is seven touchdowns shy from tying former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball’s record of 77 career rushing touchdowns, and 13 away from Ball’s record for most total touchdowns.
“He’s a four-year starter, great athlete, (he) knows the triple-option extremely well, so it’s going to be a difficult matchup to try and stop him,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Julian Campenni said of Reynolds.
Reynolds leads a Navy offense that specializes in the triple option, just like their rival Army. When the Huskies (2-1) faced the Black Knights on Sept. 12, the UConn defense did an excellent job containing Army’s front line, holding them to just 265 yards of total offense en route to a 22-17 win.
“In terms of the tactical attack, there’s a little wrinkle here or there,” UConn head coach Bob Diaco said on the difference between Army and Navy’s triple option offenses. “They’re just doing it at a much higher level, at a much faster rate. The offensive linemen are bigger, the fullbacks are much bigger.”
While facing Army two weeks ago helped the Huskies prepare for the Midshipmen, they will still have their hands full keeping the Navy offense at bay due to the experience of Reynolds and the rest of the offense. Through two games, Navy leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 393. While the Midshipmen rarely pass, they are effective when they do, averaging 15.4 yards per completion.
“Nine of the 11 starters on offense are seniors and when you factor in the top 22, there’s only a small handful – maybe four players – of all 22 that are not seniors,” Diaco said.
UConn’s defense has had success on run defense this season, allowing 126.3 yards per game and ranking 37th in the country. In the loss to Missouri, the Huskies held the Tigers to just 106 yards on the ground, their second lowest total of the season.
While UConn looks to stop a prolific Navy offense, the Huskies look to get their own offense back on track after scoring just six points against Missouri’s top-ranked defense. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has continued to prove himself as an effective passer, completing 67.6 percent of his passes and averaging 209 passing yards per game.
However, the running game has struggled all season, as multiple backs have combined to average just 2.8 yards per carry. Running back Ron Johnson scored UConn’s only points of the game against Missouri on a 6-yard rush, but the Huskies may be hard pressed to get the running game going against Navy, who has yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season.
The Huskies will also need to clean up their play on special teams. Kicker Bobby Puyol has had a PAT attempt blocked in each of the first three games, and the team committed two kick catching interference penalties while punting for a total of 30 yards. Punter Justin Wain’s first punt against the Tigers was blocked in the end zone for a safety.
“You play a game like that in SEC country on the road, and you have special teams blunders, you can’t do that,” Diaco said. “I was surprised by it, I didn’t think that it would be an issue, and clearly it was.”
Navy owns the overall series lead 6-1, and has never lost to the Huskies in the state of Connecticut. The Huskies have not beaten Navy since taking down the Midshipmen 38-0 in Annapolis, Maryland in 2002.