Football: David meets Goliath as Huskies travel to UCF

UConn and UCF will kick off at 12 p.m. Saturday at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The ConFLiCT is back, because what is dead may never die. This Saturday, the UConn football team will travel to Orlando, Florida to face American Athletic Conference rival UCF in their toughest task of the 2017 season.

The Huskies (3-6, 2-4 The American) have been thumped in two straight games, by Missouri and UCF, respectively. The Knights (8-0, 5-0 The American) are undefeated, ranked No. 12/14 in the nation, gunning for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.

Under coach Scott Frost, UCF has rebounded from a winless 2015 campaign to emerge as a national power this season.

“I’ve watched all their games last year versus all their games this year. I’ve never seen an offense improve in one season the way this [UCF] offense has. They were not a great offense last year. This year, they’re the best in the country statistically,” UConn defensive coordinator Bily Crocker said at UConn’s weekly media availability Tuesday.

Quarterback McKenzie Milton is one of the nation’s most efficient passers, with a 70 percent completion rate, 11.10 yards per attempt and a 20-to-5 touchdown/interception ratio. Running back Adrian Killins Jr. is carrying the ball for 8.6 yards per tote, and just torched SMU to the tune of 145 yards on 14 carries.

“He’s a home run every time he touches the ball,” Crocker said of Killins.

The Huskies had their moments defensively against Quinton Flowers and the high-powered USF offense last week, but Flowers still entered the Bulls’ record books as UConn missed tackles all over the field. Crocker counted 28 missed tackles against the Bulls, and he believes that when that number enters double digits, it’s too many.

“We are yet to sustain a four-quarter performance,” Crocker said.

On the offensive side of the ball, UConn will have a new starting quarterback Saturday. David Pindell will replace Bryant Shirreffs, who suffered a concussion against USF. Pindell was the Huskies’ starter for the season opener against Holy Cross, but a 20-7 deficit and stagnant offensive play prompted head coach Randy Edsall to bring Shirreffs off the bench.

Pindell lost his starting job after that game, but now he’s back on the field to lead UConn.

“I have to step up and make sure I do my part,” Pindell said of his new starting role after weeks on the bench. “I’ve been taking the coaching one step at a time, doing what [UConn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee] tells me, learning a lot from Bryant.”

He may be stepping into a role as the backup quarterback, but he’s well prepared after having the reigns just two months ago.

“I feel like I have the offense in my hands, because I’ve been around it so much, just going over plays and the same stuff over and over, just taking reps of it. Now I know what to do in each situation, whatever coverage it is,” Pindell said.

Don’t expect many changes to the offense under Pindell, who, like Shirreffs, can beat a defense with his feet, having rushed for a 10-yard touchdown late against USF.

“Overall, not [a lot] changes,” Lashlee said of the offense under Pindell. “We’ll try to the things he’s most comfortable with, but in terms of our offense, I don’t think there’s many limitations.”

UConn and UCF will kick off at 12 p.m. Saturday at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida.


Tyler Keating is the sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.