UConn head coach Bob Diaco knows the toughest matchup he and his team have faced this season is coming Saturday when the Huskies will travel for the first time to face the No. 20 Missouri Tigers.
It will mark the first-ever matchup between the two programs.
“You can’t beat it. We’re going on the road, first time this year, which is exciting,” Diaco said. “With a lot of guys that have already been on the road – been there done that – so we expect them to help the young guys who are going to be traveling for the first time.”
The Huskies (2-0) will have the chance to change their luck against teams ranked in the top 25. UConn is 2-23 against teams ranked by the Associated Press, with the two wins coming against No. 19 Louisville (Nov. 24, 2012) and No. 11 South Florida (Oct. 27, 2007).
“Whenever you’re going against something that’s a great challenge, you can’t help but prepare with a different energy and overcome those obstacles,” Diaco said. “So we look forward to that opportunity.”
But despite the hype that goes into playing a team from the Southeastern Conference, Diaco knows they can’t get caught up in it. The Huskies are 2-3 against teams from the SEC.
“I think that we need to stay focused on ourselves and really make it about what our program needs to do,” Diaco said. “What our positions and units need to do in this specific game.”
Diaco called going to Missouri “the pinnacle of a college game day experience in one of the top college football conferences in the country.” The Huskies are not only going to see the implications of get that when they travel to Missouri, but will face one of the most successful teams in the country over the past two seasons.
Missouri (2-0) comes into the season as the back-to-back SEC East champions. They also have produced the last two conference defensive players of the year in Michael Sam and Shane Ray. This season, they have yet another defense that is tough and gritty.
Through the first two games of the season, Missouri leads the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 11.5 points per game. The Tigers also lead the SEC in total defense, allowing 209 yards per game.
Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers leads the nation in tackling after notching 16 tackles in each of the Tigers’ first two games.
“Their defensive line is awesome,” Diaco said. “The four down guys are great, great players. 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.”
The UConn offense has looked immensely better in the first two games this season than it has in two years. Led by quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, they have only turned the ball over twice and have put several quality drives together against Villanova and Army.
Despite being 2-0 for the first time since 2008, Diaco knows they need to stay humbled and focus on the task at hand: Missouri.
“We’re about work and honest assessment and confidence through preparation,” Diaco said. “And we’re about the moment – now. So we’re not going to total the events to this point on either side of the ledger and were not going to look forward into the future to prognosticate what can be.”