The Connecticut faithful will get one more chance to watch their UConn Huskies during this dream season, as they’re going bowling. This Monday, Jim Mora’s squad will get a chance to post their first winning season since 2010 when they face off against the Marshall Thundering Herd (8-4) in the Myrtle Beach Bowl in South Carolina.
It’s been exactly a month since UConn’s last game, where they lost a heartbreaker to Army and aside from this defeat, they’ve exceeded expectations considerably this year. They started off on schedule, losing to Utah State, Syracuse, now No. 23 NC State and No. 2 Michigan, also soundly beating FCS Central Connecticut State. The Fresno State game was supposed to be another defeat, but instead the Huskies pulled out an upset victory over the future Mountain West champions. Connecticut followed that up with a resounding 21 point win at FIU, but blew an 11 point halftime lead the next week against Ball State.
After a two week break, they completely dominated Boston College at home and overcame first half struggles to beat UMass. They hosted No. 19 Liberty the following week and stormed Rentschler Field after a 36-33 victory. Overall, it was an incredibly successful campaign, but would undoubtedly be better with a win to close it out.
Marshall is riding a four game winning streak heading into this one and has been red-hot as of late. They started the year with a statement win at now No. 21 Notre Dame but followed it up with a pair of losses. The Thundering Herd had a 2-2 stretch before their active run of wins, establishing themselves as a solid Group of Five squad.
Marshall is a run-reliant team led by Khalan Laborn, a workhorse back from Virginia. He’s posted 1400 ground yards on the season, finding the endzone 16 times. Laborn’s also been efficient, notching better than five yards a carry, a respectable mark. Perhaps even more impressive is that he hasn’t recorded a fumble on his 281 attempts. Thanks to his efforts, the Herd’s running offense ranks in the top 25 nationally.
The Marshall defense is arguably better than their run game, completely shutting down their opponents. The Herd have allowed the seventh-fewest points in the FBS at just 16 a game. Micah Abraham is one of the elite defensive backs in the country, securing five interceptions to place him eighth in the country. UConn could have a hard time scoring against Marshall with an offense that puts up the 17th fewest points in the country.
Leading that UConn offense is Zion Turner, a true freshman who was thrown into the fire on just the second Husky drive of the season. He hasn’t been asked to do too much thanks to offensive coordinator Nick Charlton’s run-heavy look, but he hasn’t looked too much like a freshman either. Turner threw for over 1,200 yards on 231 attempts, also posting nine scores through the air and one on the ground. He only tossed seven picks in his 12 games, an impressive number for someone so young that was thrust into the role.
UConn’s rushing game has been all over the place, yet effective, as the revolving door of options has done a great job. The committee that finished the year as a top-35 ground offense was spearheaded by freshman Victor Rosa and sophomore Devontae Houston, both of whom tallied over 500 yards. Sophomore Nate Carter was the lead back early, but hurt himself in the fourth game of the year and is set to transfer.
Rosa and Houston have each had their moments, with neither particularly separating from the other. Houston has looked like the more explosive rusher and does more with each carry, but Rosa’s scored six more touchdowns and is apt at extending plays to get first downs. Both will look to have a nice impact against a strong Marshall defense–and will need to if the Huskies want to return to Storrs with some hardware.
At the end of the day, stats are nice, but what’s really going to make the difference is which team wants it more. Marshall has made a bowl in eight of their past nine seasons, winning five times in the span. One such victory came in UConn’s most recent bowl game in the St. Petersburg Bowl, another year where the Huskies entered 6-6. With Connecticut not having experienced a bowl in so long, there’s a good chance they’ll be more excited about their chance at seven wins.
Marshall is the betting favorite, favored by 10 points, but the Huskies have twice overcome bigger spreads, so anything is possible. The game will be this Monday at 2:30 p.m. and can be viewed on ESPN.