Thursday, November 5, 2009
Hard-luck UConn takes on hard-charging Cincinnati Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
When Connecticut and Cincinnati meet Saturday night in Nippert Stadium, it will be a matchup of Team Hard Luck versus Team Hard-to-Stop.
David Butler II/US PRESSWIRE
The Huskies will likely need steadier play from Zach Frazer to hang with the Bearcats.
Has any team in the country suffered more adversity than UConn this season? The Huskies (4-4, 1-3 Big East) are still processing the death of teammate Jasper Howard, who was stabbed on campus hours after the Louisville game last month. Their last two games began with emotional tributes to Howard -- and ended with even more heartbreak.
West Virginia beat UConn on a long touchdown run by Noel Devine with 2:10 left. Rutgers dealt an even more painful loss, scoring just one play after the Huskies had taken the lead on Tim Brown's 81-yard touchdown catch with 22 seconds left. Connecticut has led in the fourth quarter of every game and its four losses have come by a combined 13 points.
"They're a team that could easily be 8-0," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "They're a dangerous football team. If you don't understand that, they're going to beat you."
Contrast the Huskies' season to that of Kelly's team, which has faced very little adversity this year. The No. 5 Bearcats (8-0, 4-0) have only let one opponent (Fresno State) stay within single digits all season. They rank in the Top 10 nationally in 10 different statistical categories, including both scoring offense and scoring defense.
Cincinnati's toughest setback this season was star quarterback Tony Pike's left forearm injury in the South Florida game. But backup Zach Collaros has a higher completion percentage (a whopping 74.6 percent) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (9 to 1) than Pike and brings the added ability to tuck the ball and run for big yardage. Collaros is likely to start again this week.
The Bearcats are legitimate BCS title contenders, and they want to put on a good show Saturday night in a rare ABC prime-time showcase at Nippert Stadium. Poll voters will be looking in to see how good this team really is.
So why believe that Team Hard Luck has a chance against Team Hard-to-Stop? Well, for starters, UConn is the last team to beat Cincinnati in Big East play, landing a 40-16 haymaker last year in East Hartford. Pike tried to play through his original left arm injury in last year's game but couldn't make it to the second half. UConn forced six turnovers and stopped the Bearcats on all 16 of their third- and fourth-down conversion attempts.
"That just shows they're beatable," Huskies linebacker Scott Lutrus said. "We beat them before, so there's no reason why we can't beat them again."
First, UConn must make sure not to beat itself, and that starts with quarterback Zach Frazer.
He began the year as the team's starter but lost his job to Cody Endres after hurting his knee in the second game against North Carolina. A shoulder injury to Endres in last week's Rutgers game forced Frazer back into action, and he demonstrated both the good and bad he brings to the table. The good: he led UConn on a fourth quarter comeback and a potential winning drive in the final minute. The bad: he threw three interceptions, giving him seven in just four games this year.
"I would think he will improve in a lot of areas just from being out there and having the experience he had earlier," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. "I think he'll go out and play well this week."
While the Big East undoubtedly needs Cincinnati to win this game to keep the league in the BCS title discussion, UConn needs something good to happen. Team Hard Luck has "winning the game of life," as Edsall says, but it would like to win a big football game, too.
"With everything we've been through, losing Jasper and losing close games, it's been a difficult year for us," Lutrus said. "So to go out and play a great team like Cincinnati and come out with a win would be a tremendous feat for our program."