Syracuse Orange Semi-Too Early Preview: Connecticut Huskies

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The Orange are now 3-3 after dropping two straight in Big East play to Pitt and Rutgers and in desperate need of a victory. Well fear not, the Orange now welcome the Connecticut Huskies and our dear friend former coach Paul Pasqualoni. No time to waste.

UConn Overview:

Coming off of a season where the Huskies somehow won the Big East and then promptly embarrassed the conference on National Television, Paul Pasqualoni was expected to do big things. He then proceded to fail to live up to any of those expectations. With 15 returning seniors, the Huskies went 5-7 and missed out on a bowl for the first time since 2006. This season, the Huskies are going to be a lot like the Huskies of last year. The offense is based around All-American freshman running back Lyle McCombs who had over 1,100 yards last season. The defensive secondary was awful but gains experience this year while restocking at linebacker. The two biggest question marks are at kicker and quarterback. UConn is replacing career points leader Dave Teggart with true freshman Bobby Puyol or junior Chad Christian. Chandler Whitmer was named starting quarterback for the Huskies this offseason as the JUCO transfer was expected to.

Oh and this.

How the Orange should attack the Huskies:

Last season, the Huskies had the fourth best run defenses in the country while one of the worst secondaries in the country (113). This season, the secondary is hoping to have improved with experience as three of the four starters are returning seniors. The playmaker is Blidi Wreh-Wilson, a corner who missed time last season with back injuries. The strength of the defense is in their run stuffing abilities. The defensive line isn't quite the same, but it is still very good thanks to sack machine Trevardo Williams. The linebacking unit is the strength and returns virtually the entire unit from last season. Phil Steele still thinks the defense will be very good, but that the defense will take a step backwards this year.

For Syracuse, the key will be taking advantage of the Dome. Instead of playing in potentially snowy/cold CN, the Orange get the climate controlled Dome, hopefully allowing Ryan Nassib to challenge the weakened secondary. The running game for Syracuse is suspect so I don't expect Syracuse to have much success outside of short yardage situations. The key will be stretching out the field to minimise the impact of the linebackers. If Syracuse hasn't figured out how to throw the ball deep by this point, this won't be the only game they struggle in.

How the Orange defend the Huskies:

As mentioned earlier, the Huskies offensive strategy is pretty simple: run the ball. They did last year against Cuse and with Lyle McCombs, don't expect that to change. While Whitmer has some experience, he's essentially a more seasoned freshman at the helm. Don't expect UConn to improve upon their 84th ranked passing offense because even if Whitmer shows promise, there's not many options to throw to. The Huskies haven't had a 1,000 yard receiver since 1998 and lost their top two options from last year. Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips is their projected number one.

The Orange are going through a stretch where they will need to stop the run week in and week out. Depth will be a big part of things as the Big East gauntlet continues to roll along, but the good thing about facing UConn is that their offensive line is not as good as the other run heavy teams on the schedule. Their line was so bad the Steele thinks a line with less experience and only three returning starters will be better than last season's. This all means Syracuse should play aggressively and press wide outs at the line in order to disrupt quick routes and be able to assist in run stopping.

X-Factor: Marcus Sales

By the middle of the season, Sales will have to have figured out his issues with catching the ball. He is a legitimate deep threat when he is on his game and a tight game like this will need his playmaking abilities.

Prediction:

UConn is a team no one is really sure what to make of. Athlon and Lindy's think the Huskies can be in the mid 50's nationally while Steele thinks the Huskies are definitively below Syracuse in talent. I believe that teams will force Whitmer to to defeat them... a task this offense is not up for. Syracuse wins a close game 17-14.

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