With the Conflict rivalry (and the trophy itself) firmly in the rear view mirror, the UConn football team returns to action on the road against East Carolina.
“We are back to work against ECU. We need to do a lot of focus on ourselves, talk about correcting our own mistakes before we can really move on,” UConn head coach Bob Diaco said. “I’m excited about this week, the team is excited about this week and we have a great challenge.”
Last season, the Huskies (3-5, 1-4 the American) handled the Pirates easily at home thanks to a breakout game from Arkeel Newsome, who rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-13 win at Rentschler Field.
This season’s game provides a more difficult task. While East Carolina (2-5, 0-3 the American) has struggled, UConn has had little success away from home. The Huskies are just 2-11 on the road under Diaco in his three season at UConn, and have yet to win a road game in three tries this season.
“The other piece [to this week] is going on the road and getting the win,” Diaco said. “So make little different changes and little different mechanics moving forward to just add a little different energy and mindset to the week. Let’s go on the road and be productive, consistent and play four quarters.”
The Huskies’ road woes aren’t UConn’s only problem. The Pirates boast one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, ranking ninth in the nation with a total of 513.7 yards per game. The offense is led by senior wide receiver Zay Jones, who leads the country with 13.6 receptions per game and averages 129.9 receiving yards a game. Jones should provide a tough test for a UConn secondary that had high expectations but for the most part has struggled this season.
“He’s a great player, an awesome player,” Diaco said of Jones. “We need to be aware of where he is. He’s going to make some plays…Really fun to watch. Size and speed, explosive, runs hard, blocks well. He’s a very talented guy.”
While the UConn defense will have its hands full against Jones and the Pirates, the Huskies hope to get yet another strong performance from a rapidly improving offensive line. The improvement was immediately noticeable against the Knights, as UConn rattled off 171 rushing yards, the second time in three weeks that the Huskies rushed for over 170 yards.
“They are getting better, I thought Vesh [Brandon Vechery] did well. I thought Trey [Rutherford] once he settled into the game, he had a couple of early issues, but once he settled in it worked out,” Diaco said of the line. “Andreas [Knappe] had a really good game. He continues to get better and better. The offense as a whole is getting better and there are a lot more plays out there.”
UConn and East Carolina get underway Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Kickoff is at noon, and the game will be broadcasted on ESPNews.