UConn football is looking to snap a two-game losing streak as it welcomes East Carolina in its penultimate home game of 2015.
“Losing has a contagious element, it’s an old adage but it’s true.” head coach Bob Diaco said. “Everybody is working very hard to beat that back to its appropriate spot, because it really doesn’t represent the work done, it doesn’t represent the improvement made, to have five of the last six end the way that they have. We need to keep that in its appropriate place as a team and a football family.”
Coming off of a 37-13 loss to Cincinnati in which the UConn defense was gashed for 612 yards of total offense, the Huskies will have their hands full with another of the American Athletic Conference’s top offenses. Pirates quarterback Blake Kemp is fourth in the American in passing with 228.5 passing yards per game, and his favorite target, wide receiver Isaiah Jones, averages 7.6 receptions and nearly 88 yards per game. As a whole, the ECU offense ranks fifth in the American in total offense with a total of 426 yards per game.
Kemp shares some snaps with James Summers, who has appeared in six games, mostly as a scrambling quarterback, rushing for 427 yards and six touchdowns in six games. Summers has had success in limited passing attempts as well, throwing for 428 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in 48 attempts.
“They have this two-quarterback platoon,” Diaco said. “(Summers) comes in and runs the ball more … scrambles a bunch. (Kemp) does some run and some perimeter control pass, but he really doesn’t run much. … This is a concept-conflict passing game, your standard intermediate passing concept game with (Kemp), so you get the tale of these kind of two cities.”
In their 24-14 loss to No. 22 Temple last week, the Pirates totaled 378 yards of total offense with 283 passing yards. ECU has eclipsed 500 yards of total offense twice this season, totaling 555 yards in a win over SMU and 518 in a loss to BYU.
While the defense was one of the Huskies’ strengths early in the season, it has been one of the main culprits for their two-game losing streak. During the streak, UConn has allowed 32.5 points per game, compared to just 18.6 points per game in their first six games where they went 3-3.
Despite the recent ineptitude on defense, Diaco trusts his players have talent and toughness to return to their true form.
“We have really good players over there and a talented staff and here we go,” Diaco said. “They’re going to tie down, they’re going to rub hard we’re going to tackle better and we’re going to build on the things we did well in the game. Because it wasn’t just a mess.”
As the UConn defense has encountered its fair share of problems, UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has continued to pose a problem for opposing defenses with his ability to run the ball. After rushing for 100 yards in the loss to South Florida, Shirreffs ran for 90 yards in the loss to the Bearcats.
His ability and willingness to run has come at a cost. While fighting for first downs instead of sliding, Shirreffs has been on the receiving end of some huge hits, none more than at Cincinnati. Despite the barrage of hits, Shirreffs will be under center for the Huskies against East Carolina.
“He’s tough. He’s a tough, tough guy. He took a good lickin’ and he’s sore,” Diaco said of Shirreffs’ condition after the Cincinnati game. “Some of that was self-inflicted. He could have thrown it down the field and slide, he’s got to slide better.”
While Shirreffs has had success on the run, Diaco would like him to use his arm and find open receivers to lessen the wear and tear on his body. Shirreffs has done well throwing the ball this season, ranking sixth amongst quarterbacks in the American with 215.4 yards per game.
“Throwing it down there is much better than you running it for half the yardage and taking a hell of a lick on the end of the play,” Diaco said.
The matchup marks the Pirates’ first-ever trip to Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Last season, East Carolina (4-4, 2-2 American) defeated the Huskies (3-5, 1-3 American) 31-21, with the Pirates scoring 10 points in fourth quarter to claim the victory in their inaugural meeting.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m., and the game can be seen on ESPNU.