The currently undefeated UConn football squad expects two of their most valuable players to take the field Saturday against Illinois after missing Week One.
Wide receiver Adrell Brown, who went into this season projected as quarterback Mike Beaudry’s top target, missed the first game of the season against Wagner with an undisclosed injury he suffered during training camp.
Brown is a graduate transfer from Division II Seton Hall, where he topped 80 catches and 1,200 yards with nine touchdowns. The 5-foot-10-inch speedster isn’t just dangerous with the ball in his hands, as he can also take the top off of a defense.
Last Thursday versus Wagner, Beaudry proved he can make some plays in play action but missed a few guys deep that had their defenders beat. Playing with the lead for most of the game, the Huskies opted to run the ball 60 times in 81 plays. Perhaps the addition of Brown will bolster UConn’s shot play potential in a more balanced offense than we saw against Wagner.
Defensive tackle Caleb Thomas will also be at the Huskies’ disposal Saturday. Thomas, who was originally suspended the first four games of this season for an NCAA academic violation, won his appeal after sitting out just one game. Head coach Randy Edsall was not pleased that Thomas had to miss any time at all.
“He was misadvised by somebody on our campus,” Edsall said after the win over Wagner. “It wasn’t the kid’s fault. We were all told that there were no eligibility issues.”
With the big man back in the middle of the line, the Huskies’ defense will hopefully plug some of the holes that left them exposed to Wagner last week. Dymitri McKenzie carried the ball just 13 times for the Seahawks, but netted 115 yards and two touchdowns, including a 55-yard touchdown run straight up the gut. Thomas’ presence should help close up a lot of those running lanes between the tackles.
Thomas’ return comes at a good time, as Illinois showed that their offense wants to set the tone with the ground game. Of their 71 offensive plays, 46 were runs. Though this could be attributed to the large lead Illinois was able to take early in the 42-3 rout of Akron, 13 of their first 16 plays of the game were still runs. Expect a steady diet of running plays to try and open up the passing game from Illinois.
When dual-threat quarterback Brandon Peters did drop back to throw, he was accurate and efficient. Peters went 14-23 with 163 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 36 yards and a score. His offense didn’t turn the ball over all game.
The dangerous part of Illinois’ offensive attack is just how many players they got involved against Akron. Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Robinson dropped back for three plays as a change-of-pace passer, in which he completed a 31-yard pass, threw an incompletion and was sacked. Nine different players ran the ball for Illinois, and eight different players shared the 15 receptions that went around.
Illinois tries to keep defenses off balance by utilizing fresh legs off of the bench, mixing up their rushing and passing attacks and getting different playmakers in open space. It will be up to the Huskies’ defenders to fly to the ball and tackle as a team to keep plays from busting open, which is something that they struggled with last year. A lot of improvement in that respect was evident in their opening game of the season, and we’ll see if it’s something that they’ll keep up for the rest of this season.
UConn and Illinois will play Saturday at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.