Just over one week after capturing its fourth win of the season, the UConn football team will travel to New Orleans to keep their bowl-game aspirations alive against Tulane.
Since taking the head coaching job last season, Bob Diaco owns a 1-7 record in road games, including a 12-3 loss to Tulane at Yulman Stadium last season. The Huskies’ lone road win came this season in a 40-13 blowout of Central Florida.
“We’re excited moving forward to go on the road and battle through that adversity and work to win,” Diaco said. “We’ve got a great challenge this week.”
After exploding for 404 yards of total offense in their 31-13 win over East Carolina, the Huskies (4-5, 2-3 American) will have their hands full dealing with a tough Tulane defense. The Green Wave (2-6, 1-4 American) excels at stopping plays in the backfield, ranking second in the American Athletic Conference and 18th in the country in tackles for loss with 7.6 per game.
The main challenge for the improving UConn offensive line will be stopping defensive end Royce LaFrance, who ranks fifth in the American with 1.3 tackles for loss per game. LaFrance also has 18 career sacks, including a three-sack game against Central Florida this season.
“This Tulane front is as good or potentially better than anyone we’ve played up to this point,” Diaco said of Tulane’s defensive line. “It’ll be a huge challenge for our offensive lines and tight ends.”
On top of Tulane’s talented front line, the Green Wave boasts one of the best young cornerbacks in the country, Parry Nickerson. Nickerson was named a first-team Freshman All-American last season after leading all freshmen with six interceptions. The redshirt sophomore has yet to record an interception this season, but has six passes deflected and one forced fumble.
The Huskies have their own share of talented cornerbacks, including Jamar Summers and Jhavon Williams. Summers currently ranks 15th in the country with five interceptions, with two coming last week against East Carolina, and Williams ranks second on the team with three interceptions. Safeties Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu each have two.
As a whole, the Huskies rank third in the country in total interceptions with 14 and feature an improved defensive line that already has as many sacks (13) as the team did all last season.
“I think there is an overall awareness, deeper awareness as to the zone coverages,” Diaco said of the team’s knack for interceptions this season. “The players are more physically mature and more mentally mature as it relates to football intelligence. So they’re putting themselves in position to invite throws that they want.”
With the defense back in form with a strong performance against ECU after two poor performances during the Huskies’ two-game losing streak, the UConn defense is looking to take advantage of a struggling Green Wave offensive that ranks 121st in the country in total offense and averages just 18 points per game.
The Green Wave has trotted out three different quarterbacks this season, with Tanner Lee, Jordy Joseph and Devin Powell all taking snaps this season. Lee has started six of Tulane’s eight games this season, but Joseph played the entire game in the Green Wave’s 41-13 loss to Memphis last week, going 9-22 for 131 yards.
The Tulane depth chart lists Lee or Joseph as possible starters against the Huskies. After missing last game due to a finger injury, Lee will likely be back under center in some role.
“They feature a little bit more pass than the other alternative. Joseph can do both jobs, and Tanner can run a bit, but he predominantly hands the ball off and throws it,” Diaco said of Tulane’s quarterbacks. “(Tanner) can make all the throws. … He’s a talented passer. Not that Joseph isn’t, but Tanner is that next level of passer. Joseph, I think, they’re more willing to run with a bit more.”
A win against the Green Wave would be the first in program history, and would greatly increase the Huskies’ bowl chances as they round out their season against No. 25 Houston and No. 22 Temple. Kickoff for the game is at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNews.