The UConn football team (1-0, 0-0 The American) returns to the field after an unexpected bye week Saturday when they face Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC) at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Huskies defeated the Cavaliers 13-10 last season in East Hartford.
UConn was scheduled to play USF in their second game last Saturday, but the game was eventually cancelled due to travel concerns regarding Hurricane Irma.
“We would have loved to play, but I think we took really good advantage of the opportunity that was presented to us to continue to get better,” UConn head coach Randy Edsall said of the cancellation at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “It helped some of our guys to have some extra time to get some bumps and bruises healed up.”
The first-year head coach used the schedule change as an impromptu coaching moment.
“It’s one of these things where we had no control over it, and I think that’s one thing that we’re trying to get these guys to really understand. And I think they’re getting it. Let’s just worry about what we control,” Edsall said.
Thursday morning, UConn and USF announced that they had worked with the American Athletic Conference and its schools to re-schedule the meeting for Nov. 4 in Connecticut, moving the Huskies’ clash with East Carolina to Sept. 24, when the team was originally scheduled to take their bye week.
On Saturday, the Huskies will finally get to hit the field again, where they will meet a capable opponent in the Virginia Cavaliers. Like UConn, the Cavs handled an FCS opponent in week one, but they stumbled last Saturday with a 34-17 loss to Indiana.
Quarterback Kurt Benkert is no stranger to slinging the football. He torched William and Mary in week one and completed 39-of-66 passes against Indiana.
“He’s a veteran, he’s been around,” Edsall said of Benkert. “Guy that throws the ball very well.”
On the other side of the ball, the Huskies may have trouble if they cannot establish the running game. Virginia’s pass defense allows just 6.3 passing yards per attempt, which ranks 25th in the nation.
UConn will look for a bounce-back game from running back Arkeel Newsome, who found little success against Holy Cross in the Huskies’ opener. Instead it was redshirt freshman Nate Hopkins that stuffed the stat sheet, running for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Saturday will also represent UConn’s first road trip of the 2017 season. The program has not had success on the road in recent years; in three seasons under Bob Diaco, the Huskies won just two games.
“If you’re going to be a successful team and you want to be a really good team, then you’ve got to be able to win on the road,” Edsall said Tuesday. “Basically, what we have to do is have that mentality as we go – it’s 67 or 68 players, coaches, we’re going down focused and concentrating on getting a win.”
The team has prepared by practicing this week with artificial crowd noise pumped in from the speakers, but nothing can simulate what it’s truly like to enter a hostile environment. Edsall hopes that his team’s leaders are ready for the challenge.
“That’s where you hope that your leadership does a good job of keeping everybody focused. Some of these young guys don’t understand that it’s a business trip,” Edsall said.
UConn and Virginia kickoff Saturday at 12 p.m. in Charlottesville, Virginia. The game will be televised on ESPN2.