On the surface, UConn football’s game against Syracuse may seem like a relatively normal game. Sure, it’s Coach Jim Mora’s first game under the lights at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Sure, UConn and Syracuse are old Big East rivals before the Orange fell into the irrelevant part of the ACC and the AAC and independence got the best of the Huskies. But this game has a deeper meaning that many will overlook: it is a perfect barometer for how many games UConn will win this season.
Looking at the Huskies’ schedule, Syracuse fits in as roughly the fifth or sixth best team. ESPN’s FPI rates them as the 42nd best team, but this is definitely a bit high. CBS’ Chip Patterson has the Orange as the 54th best team, which still seems like an overreaction to their 31-7 win over Louisville. That said, if UConn beats Syracuse, there are now five or six other teams that UConn would be within the realm of beating. UMass, FIU and Ball State would become near-gimmes and splitting the Liberty and Boston College games would seem reasonable too. All said, if UConn wins this game, they are in serious contention for a bowl game. If they don’t win, then three to four wins seem more likely, which would still be okay for this year.
Now that we know the implications, let’s take a deeper look at Syracuse. They’ve played just one game, the romping of the Cardinals at home. It looks like Louisville was not as good as projected, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also give the Orange credit for their win. They played a complete game, not allowing a score for the final 46 minutes of action. Not to mention how stellar their defense was–they forced three turnovers, two of which were picks, which could be a problem for the Huskies as they’re still developing freshman QB Zion Turner.
The Syracuse defense will really be the biggest challenge for the Huskies. UConn has been reliant on the rushing game so far, with 65% of their yards from scrimmage coming on the ground. This accounts for 260 yards per game, which ranks UConn 25th in the nation. Syracuse allowed just 137 last week vs the Cardinals. If the Orange are able to bottle up star running back Nathan Carter, the wheels will likely fall off. Turner likely isn’t mature enough to run a pass-first offense yet. The key for a UConn win is to establish themselves rushing, because if they can’t, then it will be a long evening.
The matchup on the other side of the ball to watch is the utility usage of running back Sean Tucker. The second-year back was fantastic last week in both aspects of the offense. He took 21 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown, while also catching six passes for 84 yards, which included a 55 yard touchdown reception. It goes without saying that Tucker will need to be the main focus for UConn’s defense. The spotlight will be on Jackson Mitchell to continue his heroics as the player with the fourth most solo tackles in the FBS. He’ll need to be on his A-game defending Tucker and making those tackles in the secondary.
Even with all of the matchups and implications, the biggest thing for the Huskies is just the need for the state of Connecticut to show out on Saturday night. If UConn can garner a solid crowd, then they’ll be able to really feed off it and get that extra boost. Announced attendances (which are a fair bit higher than the actual number of fans in the stands) of under 25,000 just won’t cut it. If anyone expects the Huskies to benefit from home field, there needs to be 25,000 to 30,000 people in the stands. If they can get a turnout close to this, then the team will have a much higher chance of living up to their potential and winning this all-important game.