Opponent Breakdown: Connecticut

Andy Lyons

Louisville gets back to action against another team that needs a major upset to keep it's bowl chances alive. Can the Cards make Senior Day special, or will they kill their chances at a BCS bowl?

UConn is another team that the Louisville Cardinals matchup extremely well with. Louisville hasn't faced many potent offenses this year and the Huskies aren't much different. The issue obviously is that the Cardinal's defense hasn't stopped even the worst offenses in the country. The Huskies entered this season with, arguably, the best running back in the conference as well as having a talented passer for the first time in a handful of years. The talent hasn't translated very well as the offense has struggled to put points on the board.

OFFENSE:

Chandler Whitmer was thought to be a savior of sorts coming into this season. The JUCO transfer was a godsend for a program that had literally turned into a joke at the quarterback position. Whitmer was pretty highly recruited out of high school and played well at Butler Community College before landing in Storrs. Whitmer has a really nice arm and has thrown for a pretty good amount of yardage this year, but he's been turnover prone also. Whitmer leads the Big Eat in interceptions while also being last in the league in touchdown passes. The touchdown passes wouldn't be so bad if he weren't second in the league in attempts. The passing game has been relied on more than anyone probably expected and while Whitmer has had flashes of his great talent. The inconsistency has been a killer for the offense so far.

UConn has been known to have a run-heavy offense featuring a good running back for what seems like forever. Coming into the season Lyle McCombs was expected to garner national attention after his big freshman season. However, for reasons no one seems to understand, McCombs hasn't had the success we all expected. He only has two 100 yard games and is averaging a very pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. The Huskies are one of the worst rushing teams in the country for the first time that I can remember. Luckily for them they will be facing a defense that just can't seem to stop anyone in the run game. Even with his struggles this season, McCombs could be the most talented back the Cardinals have faced this year.

The one similarity I see in the two offenses we'll see Saturday is the way that they both spread the ball around. Uconn has six guys that they like to get the ball to and they also get the ball to McCombs out of the backfield. Ryan Griffin is personally my favorite tight end in the Big East. He has a complete game and is so effective in the intermediate passing game. It also doesn't hurt that he has the height of a basketball player. Geremy Davis is Whitmer's favorite target with 37 catches, I would imagine that Bedford is prepping his team to stop more targets than they've seen since UNC.

KEY PLAYERS: QB Chandler Whitmer, RB Lyle McCombs, TE Ryan Griffin, OG Adam Masters

DEFENSE:

UConn is testing the saying that "Defense wins championships". I'm a big fan of really good defense and I personally think UConn's has one of the best defenses in the country. They haven't played a lot of great offenses, but I honestly think they would matchup pretty well with most teams. Most teams are better at stopping the run or the pass, but they shut down everything. UConn probably has the most future NFL players on their defense in the entire league. They're not getting the attention they deserve because the team isn't winning but they're legit.

Trevardo Williams is living up to they hype from last season and this past offseason. Williams leads the Big East in sacks and is about as consistent as the mail. Williams has a sack in all but two games this year. He teams with a solid group of lineman to not only make plays behind the line of scrimmage, but they also so a great job of keeping the linebackers free to make plays.

UConn's group of linebackers need a catchy nickname. That's what I think when I watch them. They make an unbelievable amount of plays. Yawin Smallwood, Sio Moore, and Jory Johnson are easily the most productive group in the league and they help lead this defense to a top-ten ranking in run defense. The only letdown from these guys seems to be the lack of turnovers they've forced. Not to nitpick, but with 239 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks, you expect more than just 3 forced turnovers. Louisville has to be able to run the ball to succeed. It'll be a tough task with these three keying on it.

Statistics are a pretty good way of judging most players in football. Not cornerbacks. Great corners don't always have great stats because, if you're smart, you don't throw at them. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is that type of corner. He's a bigger guy that can press guys at the line and is very good in the red zone. Teams have mostly avoided him in the passing game this year, though. The issue that most teams run into with this strategy is that it means your other corner gets pick on. Dwayne Gratz has done a great job of handling all of the added pressure. He leads the defensive backs in pass break ups and interceptions. Gratz has been a solid corner across from Wilson for the last few years and helps to make up a duo that has the size, speed, and experience you need to have a great defense. The issue here is the same as with the linebackers. They haven't caused enough turnovers. The corners and safeties will have their hands full with Teddy and his receivers. If the offense continues to struggle they'll need to cause a turnover or two to give the offense a short field to work with.

KEY PLAYERS: Pretty much everyone. Seriously.

NOTES

  • Lyle McCombs leads UConn in rushing. He has less yards than both Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry.
  • Mario Benavides, Andrell Smith, Daniel Brown, and Nate Nord are the only seniors that have been on scholarship the entire time they've been at Louisville.
  • UConn went into last week as the only team in the country to run the ball more than 50% of the time and have 25% or less of it's total yards from rushing. (via Mark Ennis)
  • Ryan Griffin wears #94 because he's a rebel.
  • Nick Williams has returned two punts for touchdowns.
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