Almost seven years ago, the UConn football team suited up for a game against undefeated No. 19 Houston for a Senior Day matchup. The Huskies came into the game at 5-5 in Bob Diaco’s second year, looking to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. Through a gutted-out performance that included a few trick plays, a pair of Noel Thomas touchdowns and four takeaways by the Husky defense, UConn sealed the upset and secured a spot in a bowl game.
This Saturday, in an eerily similar situation, Connecticut lines up to play the No. 19 Liberty Flames (8-1), which come in with a 5-5 record. Although the Flames aren’t unbeaten as Houston was, they still boast a resume with only one loss, against then-ranked Wake Forest. This is also Senior Day for the Huskies — and a game that they really could win if they’re firing on all cylinders.
Taking a deeper dive into what Liberty brings, let’s look at their performance so far. According to FPI, they have a strength of schedule that ranks No. 106, which is in the bottom 20% of the country. They started out with one-score wins over Southern Miss and UAB, teams that rank in the bottom half of the FBS. Then, they traveled to Wake Forest and lost by a point, which is impressive given how good the Demon Deacons were back then before the wheels fell off.
Their next four games came against extremely easy competition, beating UMass and Akron, two teams that currently fill bottom five spots in the FBS, by 18 and nine respectively. Liberty comfortably beat Old Dominion, a bottom 40 team and then defeated FCS Gardner-Webb by a single point. The past two games have been more impressive, as the Flames beat a decent BYU team by 27 and Arkansas by two.
None of these scores really jump out and tell you that Liberty should be ranked in the top 25. They know how to win close games, but they also know how to let much-inferior teams stay far too close. Using UMass as a direct comparison, they only beat the Minutemen by one more point than UConn did last weekend.
Quarterback Johnathan Bennett has been a fine replacement for now-Tennessee Titan Malik Willis, as he has provided average offensive passing stats. The gunslinger has thrown for over 1100 yards and 11 scores, but gives the ball away a bit too much, with defenses picking him off eight times so far.
Dae Dae Hunter has been in a timeshare as running back along with Shedro Louis, but Hunter has clearly shown himself to be the better back. He’s rushed for 850 yards in nine games on 6.6 yards per carry. He’s also gotten into the endzone eight times, which is the best on the team. It’ll be interesting to see how Hunter and the Flames offense are able to respond to the Huskies’ defense, which has been stellar in the past five games, allowing just six touchdowns in that span.
The UConn defense has really killed it lately. The squad now ranks in the top 15 in the FBS in interceptions and in the top 35 in fumbles recovered. This combines to make them the No. 16 team in the nation in turnovers. Two of the biggest players in this effort have been All-American candidate Jackson Mitchell, who now ranks first in the country in fumble recoveries, and Tre Wortham, who is second in the FBS in picks.
UConn has won four of its last five games, and the offense has done just enough to support the defense. Zion Turner has had a nice freshman season, posting over 1,000 yards and eight scores, with just four picks. It’s difficult to read into any negative qualities that Turner’s exhibited so far, as he’s been forced to rely on a very young receiving corps, thanks to injuries to the primary starters.
The running game has been a communal effort, with a new man stepping up and succeeding every time another player gets hurt. At the moment, Devontae Houston and Victor Rosa lead the way, with the duo combining for all three of the Huskies’ touchdowns last Friday. Houston tweaked his ankle against UMass, but should be good to go tomorrow.
UConn won’t need to play a perfect game to win, but they will need to keep things low scoring to pull out the surprise victory. Their offense has been limited with injuries, so the defense will need to continue to step up if they want to win. If they do, Jim Mora will cement himself as having the most prolific debut season in Connecticut football history.
Until then though, we’ll all be waiting for kickoff, which will take place at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network at 12 p.m. ET.