Coming off a last-second victory over Virginia last Saturday, the UConn football team is back in action against another ACC opponent as they welcome former Big East rival Syracuse to Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
The matchup between the Huskies and Orange marks the first game between the programs since 2012, where Syracuse dismantled UConn 40-10 at the Carrier Dome. However, the Huskies lead the all-time series 6-3 and are a perfect 4-0 at home against Syracuse, with their most recent win coming in 2011.
The Orange boast one of the fastest offenses in football, best exemplified by their performance last weekend against USF in which they rattled off 105 offensive snaps in a 45-20 loss to the Bulls, tying an ACC record.
“They’re operating at a very, very fast clip,” Diaco said. “It’s like defending two games.”
Quarterback Eric Dungey threw for 350 yards on 50 attempts for the Orange and added two touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss to USF. As a whole, the Syracuse offense tallied 549 yards of total offense, marking the second time the Orange have eclipsed 500 yards of total offense under head coach Dino Babers.
Dungey’s passing prowess poses a challenge for a struggling UConn secondary that was expected to be amongst the best in the American Athletic Conference. His favorite target, graduate transfer Amba Etta-Tawo, has exploded onto the scene this season and quickly become one of the nation’s top wide receivers, ranking third in the country in receiving yards per game with 145.3, and fourth in the nation with 9.3 receptions per game. Etta-Tawo was also just added to the Biletnikoff Award watchlist, an award given to the country’s top receiver, this week after already accumulating 436 receiving yards and three touchdowns this season.
“It’s a great challenge,” Diaco said of defending the Syracuse passing game. “It will be a busy day for our defensive guys.”
Syracuse’s speed on offense poses yet another unique challenge for the UConn defense. After dealing with the triple-option against Navy and then a more conventional powerful tandem running attack from Virginia, Diaco expects the defense to continue to adapt to what their opponent brings to the table.
“I thought the defense played well in the Navy game, they had a few passes that set up scores but other than that they were on their word,” Diaco said. “So to transition from the triple-option back to conventional defensive football is a challenge, and I thought that they did that for the most part well.”
While the Huskies’ offense sputtered once again in the beginning, UConn showed resilience for the second-straight week by coming back and tying the game up in the second half. After rattling off 24 unanswered points to take the lead before losing to Navy, the Huskies scored 13 straight points against the Cavaliers to grab a win.
Arkeel Newsome was a major reason for UConn’s comeback against Virginia as the junior running back broke out for a season-high 77 yards on just 13 carries and giving the UConn offense countless big plays to extend drives.
Although Newsome wasn’t prominently featured in the Huskies’ first two games, UConn will continue to rely on him against the Orange and beyond due to the ability to his ability to make plays when the ball is in his hands.
"We want to make sure he gets his touches. We have to get Arkeel the ball.” Diaco said of Newsome. “He's got a pretty overwhelming role on offense either running it or catching it. We have to keep getting him the ball. He's a special player."
With Newsome more involved and another week of adjustments made, Diaco and company have a chance to wrap up their home nonconference slate of games undefeated and halfway to their second-straight bowl game.
“[Syracuse] is an exciting regional game that’s fun for everyone, not only just both teams but the supporters of both programs. I think it’s a fun, interesting matchup…we’re excited to get into the game,” Diaco said.
CORRECTION: In our preview and recap of the UConn football team's game against Syracuse on 9/24, both articles described the Biletnikoff Award as an award given to the nation's top wide receiver. The Biletnikoff Award is in fact given out to any player eligible to catch a forward pass regardless of their position.