Football: Huskies open 2015-16 campaign against FCS power Villanova

UConn football head coach Bob Diaco on the sidelines during the Huskies' game against Temple at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut on Sept. 27, 2014. UConn opens its 2015-16 season tonight against Villanova at 7:30 p.m. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

After going 2-10 in head coach Bob Diaco’s first season, the UConn football team begins its second season under Diaco with a home opener against the Villanova Wildcats.

Villanova enters its matchup with the Huskies as No. 4 team in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as Division I-AA. In the last two seasons, UConn is 1-1 against FCS teams, falling to Towson 33-18 in the 2013 season opener and narrowly defeating Stony Brook last year.

Last season, the Wildcats took Syracuse to double overtime before falling to the Orange 27-26. Villanova is 3-16 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents.

“I think that model is gone. There’s really very little that separates one team from the next,” Diaco said on the difference between FCS and the Football Bowl Subdivision. “It’ll take everything any team has against this team.”

I think that model is gone. There’s really very little that separates one team from the next.
— UConn football head coach Bob Diaco, on the difference between FCS and FBS teams.

The Wildcats boast one of the most prolific offensive players at any level in senior quarterback John Robertson. 

Last season, Robertson threw 35 touchdowns, rushed for 1,078 yards, had 11 rushing scores and won the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Robertson also became Villanova’s career leader in total offense last season with 10,273 yards and has been named to this year’s STATS FCS Player of the Year Watch List. 

Containing Robertson will be one of the key focal points for the UConn defense. The Huskies’ defensive line will try to take advantage of an offensive line that experienced a significant turnover last year due to graduation and to keep Robertson contained.

“He’s a great player,” defensive lineman Julian Campenni said. “Like I mentioned earlier, if we don’t do our jobs this week he could really victimize us, not only throwing the ball but running the ball. So we have a great challenge ahead of us this week. “

For the third season in a row, UConn will have a new starting quarterback under center in their season opener. North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs won the starting position after a strong spring season and summer training camp.

“We’re looking forward to turning the keys to the car over to him and letting him drive it. He’s a football intelligent player, he’s a physically strong player, and he’s got good quickness and good speed,” Diaco said.

Similar to Robertson, Shirreffs has the ability to move the chains in a variety of ways. Diaco’s offensive scheme favors a dual-threat quarterback, and Shirreffs’ ability to create plays with his feet helped him earn the job over junior Tim Boyle. 

As Diaco enters his second season, goals have begun to shift from rebuilding and reloading to winning football games. After his first full offseason as UConn head coach, Diaco has managed to haul in another improved recruiting class and put them right into the heat of the fire. Four true freshmen have a spot on the two-deep depth chart on offense. 

With a young offense and an experienced and talented defense, Diaco has his team ready to compete for his second full season.

“Positive results become a critical piece to anyone, any collection of people trying to do something great,” Diaco said on the importance of winning the season opener. “Early positive results to build that energy and morale become a priceless tool.”


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